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When I was little, I used to come to Egypt in the summers to visit my grandmother in Alexandria. This would have been in the 1980s and I can remember the electricity constantly going on and off, especially at night and we would have candles lit in the room we were all sitting in and down the hallway and outside in the stairwell in case someone in the building got caught in the dark. As a young nipper I thought it was fun, but with the global warming and hot temperatures that we have now, I fail to make light of the situation.

The power cuts started to make a come back this past May and I know many people are blaming the newly elected President for this, (which personally just baffles me, because last I checked he wasn’t an electrician and he doesn’t spend his time at the power plants, but HEY! what do ‘I’ know?).

The person I think people’s anger should be directed at, is the Minister of Energy. If he had been doing his job to the best of his ability by calculating the population growth, with the number of air conditioners that have been purchased in recent years, as well as the number of illuminating billboards we see in the streets …etc I think he could have gotten a ball park figure of how much energy would be needed and how the number of watts being used has increased dramatically over the past decade.

Secondly, I recently read in an Al Ahram article that they are only now just cutting off electricity for people who are way behind in paying their bills. By people I don’t only mean private citizens but factories, business and shop keepers? When the man who goes round reading the electricity meters and takes down the number carrying a  hand-held briefcase or pouch with bills, why doesn’t he ask them to pay and if after two to three months of not paying why hasn’t he informed the power station so that they can turn off his electricity so that they do pay up? (Is this another side of corruption that we are unaware of?)

I am dreading moving back to Cairo in two weeks time if this is what I am going to have to put up with. The heat is unbearable as it is and I don’t want to have to constantly climb up and down 6 flights of stairs or teach students under extreme weather conditions can you imagine how hot and bothered a room full of 24 eight year olds will be? (It would be on a par with a waiting room of expecting mothers!)

Secondly, the street lamps should not be among the lights that should be sacrificed to keep energy flowing. Streets should be well-lit, for the safety of those on the road and pedestrians.

If over consumption of electricity is occurring then wouldn’t it be logical to communicate with the public, make them understand and possibly even campaign about it to educate the public and students of the problem at hand and how they might be able to help?

The power shortages are not just happening in one area, they are happening across the country and for the residence. I bet it’s really frustrating, especially during the month of Ramadan, when they are fasting from sunrise to sunset and they can’t drink any fluids to help cool their body temperatures, let alone using a fan!

I really hope that the situation doesn’t escalate and that things are more under control by the time I am back, otherwise I will be joining the hot tempered masses.

What I don’t understand is why the water keeps being cut off too?

Al Ahram Article;  http://weekly.ahram.org.eg/2012/1108/eg5.htm

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.

Operation Megan Fox

I am going to be completely honest with myself and whoever else is reading. For the past few years I have been dealing with lots of changes, recovering from heart breaks, disappointments, injuries to both feet, physio therapy and lack of confidence in my appearance. So, I took to self-medicating myself by eating my way to almost 90KG!! For a person of my height (5’4’’) and build that is OBESE! I had always been fit and somewhere along the way I lost myself…
With my sister’s wedding in April, I didn’t want to be the frumpy maid of honor on the video or in pictures. So, my new year’s resolution to myself was to get back in shape and to drop the pounds. So, I purchased an elliptical bike and took all my Mum’s Slim Fast shakes and stuck to it for four months. I am proud to say I lost 10Kg (22Ibs)! I felt lighter, more energetic and for the first time in a long time I felt a bit attractive. I looked healthier and the best I had in years. I must confess that my Gillian self-made boot camp didn’t continue past the wedding. Why, you might ask? Well, in the months that followed I was not only working full-time, but I was studying for my Masters comprehensive exam and finishing the academic year and writing up report cards. However, I was still wise in my food choices but my exercising went to pot!
Now, that I am on summer vacation I have no reason or excuses for not exercising. So, I stepped up to the plate and got back in to swimming after decades of not training. I am not going to lie, it was far from being easy, I started swimming at the beginning of July and I could barely complete two laps without gasping for air! Panting after only swimming two laps scared me. There is a history of diabetes, high blood pressure and heart problems in my family and I didn’t want to fall victim to that if I could have a hand in preventing it. I went  to a sports shop and bought two kinds of kicking boards to help me get back in shape, one to hold on to for just leg movements and the other one prevents me from using my legs and forces me to use just my arms. The first week was a killer and my shoulders and arms were killing me! It had been over a decade since I had actually used all the muscles in my arms. By the second week I could feel my strokes getting stronger and my stamina improving too. By the end of July I was able to swim 50 laps none stop!! I am so proud of myself for persevering!
I have gotten on the scale at home a few times and the scale hasn’t budged, which is very frustrating! I eat lots of fruit, vegetables, yogurt, and grilled meat. I have cut out juice and soft drinks but I do drink LOTS OF WATER! I do occasionally indulge in a bar of chocolate or ice cream.
With Ramadan being here I thought this would be a perfect time to get my healthy eating habits back on track and get back on the Slim Fast regiment as well as swimming! I can tell you that after swimming laps without having had breakfast, by the time I’m done, I am HUNGRY and could eat a horse! By Iftar time, (the meal we eat at sunset after a day of fasting) I am more thirsty than I am hungry and when I’m eating I try my very best to watch my portion control and not to eat too many carbs.
So, why Megan Fox? You can’t deny it; she does have a killer body! My target is to try to get myself back in to tip-top shape and looking as HOT as Megan Fox (not like Megan Fox, if that was my ultimate goal then I would have paid for cosmetic surgery) I need to fight my way back to bring ‘ME’ back. Justin Timberlake’s song ‘Bring Sexy Back’ is my theme song to keep going!
So, what’s my ultimate goal? I am presently stuck at 75 Kg I would love to lose between 10-15kg. I want to see my body toned, the flabby stomach reduced and my thighs slimmer. I have no set time for wanting to reach this but if I can reach it by December or by April! I am not going to rush the process, I want to do it at my bodies pace and healthily.
August 4th 2011- I was able to swim 70 laps none stop, alternating between different swimming boards and just swimming.
I will keep you posted on my progress over the coming weeks and months.

August 16th 2011- I finally was able to swim 80 laps, alternating between swimming boards. The scale is being discouraging and the needle isn’t pointing south, it’s actually stuck on 75Kg, which isn’t reflecting what I’m seeing in the mirror. However, I tried on a cocktail dress I bought 2 years ago and I FINALLY fit in to it! I don’t have to worry about a protruding tummy or love handles coming over the sides of the dress! I still have a stomach but it has shrunk a great deal and so have the unwanted ripples. I have till the 24th of August to reach my target of 100 laps, then I need to find a pool in the Heliopolis area of Cairo where I feel comfortable swimming for the next 3 months to keep on going with my efforts until the weather turns colder, then I may take up plates or yoga! If not that then back to Salsa dancing !

August 18th 2011, My goal was to increase my stamina and grow stronger, so that I could swim at least 100 laps before I head back to Cairo, to start the academic year of 2011/2012. There was an element of doubt in my mind, but I did as Dori in ‘Finding Nemo’ did and just kept on swimming. I am not going to lie, I use different swimming apparatus to help strengthen my arms and legs. I am proud to say that I didn’t’ just reach my target I exceeded it! I swam 110 laps in a 20 meter pool, none stop for 2 hours, alternating between swimming and using the different apparatus, without stopping once! I have to say, I feel lighter, fitter and toned. I can now look at myself in the mirror without having a deep cringe on my face! I just have to keep the momentum going once I’m back at work ! (fingers crossed)

Thursday, November 10th, 2011; It has been over 2 months since I last up dated you with my progress since I started work. I wish I could say that my exercise routine has been great, when the fact remains it has been none existent. Up on starting my new position at my place of employment I had hoped to be able to use the pool to keep up with my swimming but the building in which the pool is situated was declared unsafe and won’t be functional till January (fingers crossed), my work keeps me on my feet till 4pm and by the time I get home I am too tired to lift a finger. I have been trying my darndest to watch what I consume and I had been doing very well up until 2 weeks ago when I had a MAD CRAVING FOR CARBS and Chocolate!! The cravings are subsiding and I am getting back in to my healthy habits of eating and eating more fruit and vegetables. I have made a conscious decision to make more of an effort to stop working late every day and to go to an exercise or dance class at least twice a week.

Saturday, November 12th; I am ready to get back on track to reach my goal weight and shape! I know that the final 10-15Kg are going to be the hardest to lose and I am going to have days where I would threaten to throw in the towel and just indulge in calorie and sugary sin, but I am at an age now, where I really need to treat my body as a temple and look after it as best as I can, because although in my mind I’m still a wee lass, my body is reflecting a different image. So, I am going to bring this mission to a new level; It is now Operation Megan Mila Kunis Fox (2 HOT women, with attitude). When I posted my intentions on my status a friend of mine commented and said; “Call it operation N E. You will be a healthy weight that will make you look your best.” She does have a point, But I know I will never look like those two ladies, but I can be my own bombshell, which is what I am striving for… The real name of the mission is ‘Improve My Health’, but I think the one I go by sounds much cooler! I start exercising tomorrow morning… I’ll keep you posted on how I do this week, keep reading!

November 22nd 2011; So, almost 2 weeks after Eid, I feel a difference in my figure! I had started an exercise routine and was doing well but report cards completely messed that up! I have been so stressed about them that I hardly slept. I went 4 days without sleeping and I am still recovering from the effects. I started back on SlimFast, which seems to be a bit of a waste of formula considering that my appetite has shrunk to less than the normal calorie in take a person should take. I think the break up I recently went through also contributed to my disinterest in nourishment too… . The current situation in the country, has just added to my worries and stress level and I can’t think of exercising to be honest. I should use my elliptical bike to tear myself away from twitter, the net and TV just to keep the blood circulating! I’ll let you know if I am able to get myself out of this slump… stay safe, stay healthy.

March 3rd, 2011:

It has been almost 4 months since I last updated my blog or my progress on my mission to regain control of my life again and get healthy. The slump that I faced back in November passed thankfully and I am back on track. I signed up for Zumba classes twice a week and was getting really in to them. I just LOVE latin beats and moves, that’s the way I enjoy exercising and let me tell you I didn’t hold back! After each class I felt rejuvenated and PUMPED! I would leave happy and my endorphins would be KICK’N! Unfortunately the instructor suffered some health problems and was instructed to take to her bed. So, a colleague at work, suggest that we walk around the track on the days that we would have been taking Zumba classes just to keep in the spirit of exercising. After hearing what happened to the female UN employee a few weeks ago, along with people trying to kidnap children out of their mother’s arms in cars, I decided to add self-defence classes to my regiment! For 2 reasons, it’s not just about the grueling boot camp style work out, it’s also the knowledge and skill that I would need to defend myself that I am enjoying. The great thing about the walking and the self-defense classes is that they are all at where I work, so I can take my workout gear with me and not slack off, everything is right there and I don’t have the excuse of being too tired after a long day at work or having to endure a long ride home.

In addition to working out regularly I am also watching what I eat at home, at work and when I go out to restaurants. I try to make healthy choices! Lots of Vegetables/Fruit for fiber and vitamins, protein (mainly grilled chicken or fish, occasionally I’ll crave red meat) and I try to minimize my carb in take, but if I have a craving for it, it’s usually brown pasta! As for my love of sweets…I have been fairly good, but it isn’t easy to walk away from chocolate (cake, candy, ice-cream), so I allow myself some indulgence every once in a while.

In January at the school I work at, the idea of having a Biggest Loser challenge to help those drop the holiday pounds was brough up. I signed up for it. I weighed in at 77KG (12KG away from my goal weight), the second week of the way in I had dropped to 75.5KG!! (I have no idea how I did that!!) The weeks that followed were very discouraging I plateaued and lost nothing. 2 weeks ago I finally lost a quarter of KG! I am trying not to let this minor hiccup damped my spirit, but it is disheartening! I haven’t taken a picture of myself recently, but as soon as I do, I will post it!

June 28th, 2012 ; The Biggest Loser Competition was nowhere near as challenging as the TV series. I wish Bob or Gillian had been included in the package. It just wasn’t enough to motivate me and although I didn’t win, that hasn’t stopped me from continuing to eat healthy. I have to admit the last two months of work, I stopped exercising and that’s when I lost my will power and let myself go slightly. The stress of work and deadlines had gotten to me and I began to indulge in many guilty pleasures, (I just can’t resist Ice Cream and French Fries, just not served or eaten together). I got on the scale last week and I expected to read that I had put on a few Kg, but to my surprise, I had only put on 1Kg. That extra Kg, did feel like a lot more. It made me feel bloated, heavy and it really added extra strain on my joints. Now that School is out for the summer, I am seizing this opportunity to do what I did last summer and that is swim and work out daily. For the past 5 days (so far), I have been watching my daily in take and I am pleased to say that I haven’t had a single carbonated drink, juice box, or anything with refined sugar! I am feeling a lot lighter, healthier and energetic. I wake up early in the morning and use the Ab Master that my parents have been using as a laundry rack and the Elliptical Bike which is used as a towel drier. Later in the morning, if the club that I swim at isn’t being used as a venue for an event, I go and swim/exercise in the pool for 3-4 hours. Where I do laps, use different boards to strengthen my arms/legs and do some resistant exercises with my Mum. I had expected to be out of shape and back at square one again, where I could barly do 2 laps without gasping for air, but my exercising throughout the year, has helped. I was able to do 10 laps none stop, before I took a break. A big improvement from last year! I am hoping that by keeping this up for the next 3 weeks, I will be trimmer as well as toned before leaving to go on my summer holiday to England and Ireland to visit my family and attend a cousin’s wedding.

August 11th 2012; From June 23rd- July 16th I kissed soft drinks goodbye and took up drinking water like my life depended on it. I have only had 2 soft drinks since then because I had an upset stomach. I can honestly tell you that it does make a world of difference. I feel the difference in my skin as well as my body. For food, I would eat healthy and regularly and not eat passed 8pm. For exercise, I needed to intensify it to make up for the months I had fallen off the wagon, so I put myself through my own self inflicted boot camp. I would wake up early and do several sets of crunches, sit ups, jumping jacks and use the toning elasticized bands and get on the elliptical bike for at least one hour. Then I would go to the pool for 2-3 hours almost daily. I was pleased to see that I hadn’t lost all the strength and stamina I had gained the previous summer, but I wasn’t able to complete 100 laps at the get go either. I kept pushing myself like this until my mother and I were due to leave on vacation. By the time I left, I could see traces of the ‘old’ me in the mirror, my waist line was shrinking, my arms were getting toned and my stomach was getting flatter and my appetite for junk food and sweet treats was also diminishing. I have to admit that I was worried that I would pile it all back on again while I was away, but to my surprise I was quite sensible in my food choices. I made a conscience effort to make sure I drank water, ate decent sized portions of vegetables and fruit and I didn’t feel bloated when I got back. I didn’t ‘exercise’ but I did do a lot of walking in London and in Ireland. While I was away I summoned enough courage to get up on to a scale that tells you not only your weight but how much body fat you have. I am happy to say that i am now down to 40% body fat and I have 13 Kilos to lose to reach my ideal weight! (this will be the hardest to lose, but I will by hook or by crook, within this year or the next!)

Having returned, I can’t seem to get the momentum going, the temperature is not encouraging and they have heated the pool! (Don’t ask! I’m still trying to figure out why ANYONE would heat the pool in August in Egypt! It is a conundrum, that I can not fathom!) The heated pool makes me feel heavier and really knocks the breath out of me. I can’t do two laps without panting. The water is supposed to help cool your body down, but this does the complete opposite, it overheats it. The temperature outside of the pool is cooler than being in the water! I have 3 wedding to go to in the next 4 weeks, so I am being very tough on myself. I have come a long way from where I began and I don’t want to roll backwards.  When I’m back at work, I think that I will go back to self-defense classes as well as re-learn how to Salsa and take up a form of Yoga, once I have been to an Orthapedic Surgeon to make sure the pains that I have been getting in my hip and feet are nothing to worry about. As always, I will keep you posted on my progress, till then; Drop it like it’s hot!

My before and after pictures thus far…

Top left in Grey is me at my heaviest in September 2010

 August 15th 2011, sorry about the picture quality!

sorry about the picture quality. August 13 2011October 21st 2011 dressed for a friends wedding

October 21st 2011 dressed for a friends wedding

October 21st 2011 dressed for a friend’s wedding
 

The month of fasting known to the Muslim world is coming to an end. With less than 24 hours to go we eagerly wait for the sun to set and for the four days of festivities of Eid El Fitr to begin.

Eid El Fitr ‘The festivity of purification’, I think is the best way to translate the name of the occasion. If you haven’t read my previous writings about Ramadan or know nothing of the month, then this won’t make any sense to you. So, I will try to give you a brief summary. Ramadan, is a month where Muslims world-wide fast from sunrise to sunset, (are not allowed to consume any kind of food or beverage during sunlight hours), this strict act of discipline is to remind them of their blessings, to relate to those less fortunate of themselves, as well as time for reflecting on one’s acts and behavior for the past year. This month is special and sacred to Muslims because they are able to ask for forgiveness and erase their sins for the past year. Hence, the celebration of being ‘purified’.  

How is Eid El Fitr (or the small Eid) celebrated?

Days before the end of the fasting month, families go out and buy Eid clothes, to wear on the first day of the feast. For Non Muslim’s the best way to interpret the act is as new clothes that you receive for Christmas or wearing your Sunday best. Traffic in Egypt after Iftar and the Taraweeh Prayers is always manic! People will be shopping for gifts and clothes.

Ladies of many house holds will be preparing and baking traditional desert, (which is HIGH in calories, but very tasty) to offer visitors. The desert is called ‘Ka’ak’, which means cake in English. It doesn’t look or taste anything like the cakes you may be familiar with. Each Arabic speaking nation has its own unique way of making it. In Egypt is best described as a cookie/biscuit made out of semolina and stuffed with ground dates, nuts or some times Turkish delight. On the outside it is sprinkled with powdered sugar.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ka’ak)

On the dawn of the first day of the month after Ramadan, (Shawal), there is a special prayer, most commonly known as ‘Salat El Eid’ (Eid Prayer). “Eid prayer is performed in congregation in open areas like fields, squares etc or at mosques. No adhan or iqama (call) is to be pronounced for this Eid prayer, and it consists of only two rakaʿāt with additional 6 Takbirs. The Eid prayer is followed by the khutbah (sermon) and then a supplication (dua) asking for forgiveness, mercy and help for all living beings across the world. The khutbah also instructs Muslims as to the performance of rituals of Eid, such as the zakat.[9] Listening to the khutbah of Eid is necessary (wajib) i.e. while the khutbah is being delivered, it is haraam to talk, walk about or offer prayer.[10] It is then customary to embrace the persons sitting on either side of oneself, whilst greeting them. After the prayers, people visit their relatives, friends and acquaintances.”  (The above quoted paragraph is from wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_ul-Fitr )

The greeting that is said to those celebrating Eid is ‘ Eid Mubarak’, (Blessed Feast), ‘Eid Saeed’ (Happy Eid) or ‘Kul Sana Wa Inta Tayib’ (Happy New Year).

Traditionally after the prayer families will go to the cemetery to pay their respects to their deceased family members and then go home to enjoy breakfast together. Once home, families either exchange gifts or give money. Children often receive money from their adult family relations; this is known as ‘Eideya’. People will go and visit relatives, neighbors and friends often taking with them ka’ak, other deserts or gifts.

On the second and third day of Eid families usually go out for a meal. In Alexandria the restaurant or meal of choice would usually be fish. The reason for it is because for a whole month Alexandrian’s have avoided eating it because it’s salty and would make them feel very thirsty the following day and it would make their day of fasting more difficult.   Another popular out would be to go to the cinema, to watch the newly released Arabic movies for the feast.  A word of warning to those whom may consider venturing outside their front doors, the food courts, cinemas and arcades in the Malls will be busier than ever!

Now a days fewer people spend time visiting relatives and go away for the Eid vacation. Popular vacation spots are Alexandria and the beaches along the Red Sea. I personally try to avoid the popular vacation spots because, it will be overly crowded. When I go away, I like to go somewhere, where I can relax in peace and not have to worry about bumping in to colleagues, students and other people I know.

During the Eid most shops, banks and all businesses are closed for the first three days of the feast, much like Christmas and New Years in the West and Europe. If you aren’t going away and intend on staying in town, then I suggest you do your shopping before the holiday begins.

For those of you who celebrate Eid, I wish you all an Eid Mubarak and for those of you who don’t, just enjoy the time off!

Published in the September 2009 issue of (in)sight Magazine.

Why Can’t It be Ramadan Everyday?

A few nights before Ramadan,
And all across the nation,
People were bustling with anticipation.

They’d hustle, they’d bump, they’d swear as they drive,
Men fight with each other as well as their wives.

Boyfriends continue to ruin girlfriend’s lives,
With their cheating and lies, Oh, what a surprise!

Girl’s eye their competition with looks of despise
Stay at home Moms cook up rumors and lies

You liar! You thief! You crook! You stinker!
Are the words we hear and are left to linger.

On the eve of THE night and with a blink of an eye,
Halos are out and consciences rise
All must be good, for Ramadan has arrived.

The Month of Ramadan is upon us again. T’s a time for giving to the needy as well as a time for forgiveness and reflection. I love this time of year because families gather and spend some quality time with one another, break their fast together at Iftar and the gathering can some times go on until Suhour. People give willingly and in abundance to the less fortunate and what I love even more is that people’s tongues are curved!
From sunrise to sunset people pay close attention to what they say out loud to others instead of damning someone’s house to fall down on them and flaring in to a temper and cursing every member of another person’s family! (You know which words I mean! We’ve all used them!). People are more conscious of their actions and use of words. Our day to day lives are stressful, there are times when you vent and say things that can be really hurtful. You’re always on the go and rushing here and there for appointments and social gatherings. Spending an hour or two with the kids when they get home from school to ask how their day was and what things they learned, is something you would love to be able to do, but you have to work late or you can’t because you have to get your hair done and have a manicure done for a dinner party you’re going to. Guy’s don’t think you’ve been let of the hook so easily! The men have business appointments at all crazy hours. Then there’s the male bonding time with buddies and there’s also maintaining that Baywatch chiseled physic by paying a daily pilgrimage to the gym. Be honest, most of you would much rather watch paint dry than be stuck at home listening to your mothers moaning, kids running round asking endless series of questions and your wives nagging.
There are two things that truly amaze me during this incredible month. The first is how ‘good’ everyone becomes. The tangled webs of deceit cease to be spun, hell even the thieves stop stealing. It’s as though a wish or a spell has been cast where everyone becomes honest and angelic, like Jim Carey’s character in the movie ‘Liar, Liar’. The second thing that completely throws me is how by some miracle and with a wave of a magic wand, during Ramadan people make the extra effort and can find the time to help the needy, spend time with their family, and be courteous and kind to others. Now, if memory serves me correctly there are 24 hours in a day every month of every year, no matter which calendar we go by. So, could someone please explain to me ‘Why is it ONLY possible in Ramadan and not throughout the year?’ Surely, if we all spoke nicely to one another all year round, there would be less rudeness and negativity and there would be more cheer and it would set a better example for the younger generation. If we gave more to others throughout the year, we would feel better about ourselves all year long instead of just for a month. If we did practice the lessons of Ramadan throughout the year we would appreciate everything we have and count our blessing, instead of constantly complaining and wishing that we had more.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “She’s one to talk. I bet she doesn’t practice what she preaches!” I will admit that I am not a saint! I was just as guilty as everyone else. However, this time last year that changed. I decided that if I can be genuinely good for a month, then what is preventing me from doing it all year? For the past year I have made the effort to be more respectful and giving to others. Honestly speaking, I do feel better about myself and there isn’t a day that goes by where I forget to be grateful for the people that I have in my life and the blessings I receive. So, if I can do it. Why can’t you? You can’t use the excuse that it costs too much because it doesn’t cost anything to be courteous and time doesn’t cost you a piaster either. The resources you need for the job, you already have; it’s ‘YOU’.

Happy Ramadan Everyone!

BE WARNED, THIS IS A LONG POST.

I have seen the “Marriages from around the World” segment on OPRAH twice now. I have to say that I am happy that Egypt was represented but I think that one of the Egyptian representatives, Heba, an interior designer in Cairo, didn’t paint a clear picture of what life is really like here in Egypt, While Inji the journalist was more realistic.

There were a few things that really ruffled my feathers when I watched the show the first time and the rerun. I took notes when I watched the show the second time around so that I could remember the points that I wanted to refer to. (I can be such a nerd at times!)

I- Safety for Women

When Nana, the Danish representative asked Heba if Egypt is a safe place and she answered, ‘Yes, it is very safe” I couldn’t help but cackle in disbelief.
If I was to compare Egypt to Iraq, Afghanistan or Harlem, then I would whole heartedly agree, but if I was to compare it from where Nana is from, the answer would be ‘NO’!
I don’t know the women in that interview but from the way they held themselves and the way that they spoke I think it is safe to guess that they aren’t considered ‘common folk’; they are higher up the ladder than most of the population of Egypt. I am also willing to wager that most of them rarely walk the streets of Cairo and commute 96% of the time in their privately owned cars.
I walk both in Cairo and in Alexandria and I can tell you that it is a man’s country. If a woman is or isn’t veiled but looks nice, 99 times out of 100, you will either hear a crude comment or be harassed in some shape or form.
Let me give you an example of a well know incident that happened in Cairo about three years ago. It was during Eid El Fitr, (the celebration after the holy month of Ramadan, where Muslims fast) and in down town Cairo a mob of men had been to see one of the newly released Egyptian movies and they were wired! They were so tightly strung that they attacked innocent women who just happened to be passing by the cinema at that time. How bad the attack was, the news papers didn’t report. A taxi driver tried to save one of the women by pulling her in to his cab and driving away but the mob jumped the car and proceeded to attack them both. Not long after the incident and the story came to light, Imam’s in mosques didn’t condemn the mobs behavior, but they blamed the women who were innocently minding their own business!
A more recent story was published in The Community Times magazine about two girls who almost got harassed after one of the matches played by Egypt and Algeria. They had to seek refuge in a shop until the group of men gave up waiting.
These two examples are extreme cases of what may happen here in Egypt. It is more likely to happen to natives than it would be a tourist or a foreigner living here because they know that the police and the embassies would get involved.
So, I have to say that Nana’s intuition was spot on.
She probably felt even more insecure because she’s fair skinned and a blond.
What happens abroad happens here to, but it is kept very quiet.
If anyone wants to dispute this then, I am willing to provide examples from my own personal experience as well as examples that have happened to people I know.

A word to the wise;
The best way to avoid situations like these is to dress modestly, not to walk in dodgy streets alone, it is best to have a couple of male friends with you when you are out walking, try your best not to be out walking on your own late at night and never sit next to a taxi driver.

II – Conservativeness and the veil.

I loved Nana’s observation of how some of the veiled women were dressed ‘women who are covered and walking around in tight clothing and make up, it makes it very contradicting”

 I personally think Nana hit the nail on the head. There are lots of contradictions in our expectations of behavior and society and for an outsider to notice it should ring some alarm bells.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been absolutely gob smacked by the double standards that exist here.
I have seen veiled women at night clubs, drinking Stella (local beer), dating men and holding hands and some times going further than second base (if they are religious and conservative this is a big NO! NO!), go into a changing room and come out wearing a bikini in front of men in public! Who are they fooling might I ask?
Granted, some girls have been forced by their families to wear a scarf on their head, so I can understand them rebelling behind their parents backs, (I’m not saying I agree with it, I’m just stating I understand it), but what excuse do grown women who made the choice have?

I have the utmost respect for the women who chose to wear the veil as a devotion to their religion and their beliefs. It is admirable when I see women who are doing it for the RIGHT reasons. It takes a lot of will power and devotion to be able to wear it.

III- Tension between veiled and non veiled women

If memory serves me correctly Oprah asked if there was tension between the veiled and non veiled women. Nana who hadn’t been here very long said she did sense it.
Again, I would have to agree.

When I first moved to Egypt in the early 90s the ratio of veiled to non veiled women was below par. There were hardly any menaqaabeen (completely veiled with only their eyes showing). It’s with in the past decade that more and more women are veiling. Some of it has to do with many Egyptians returning from the Gulf States and bringing their new-found religious beliefs that they picked up from there, back to Egypt. The second is it is the fashion, “everyone is doing it so, I better do it too so people don’t think any less of me”. The third has to do with the economic situation in the country, when the poor get poorer and the middle class is heading towards extinction many people turn to religion for solace and comfort.

My sister and I are unveiled and we have experienced quite a few things in recent years.
We would step out of our apartment building and some times a men who would happen to be walking past our building door would swerve away, turning his head in the opposite direction, whilst uttering ‘Astaghfar Allah’ which is a term said when asking God for forgiveness’ and all because our hair is showing!
 (for further translation of the phrase go to the following link,  http://shiastrength.blogspot.com/2010/04/shiastrength-superiority-of-astaghfar.html)

My Mum would get the same reaction too when she used to take a taxi home from work. The cab driver would utter it under his breath when she got in and out of the car.
I remember a second incident that I found quite amusing. We were at a beach resort just outside of Alexandria. The place I’m referring to is Agami, it’s a well-known place where many people go to vacation by the beach for the summer months and people walk around in their shorts, t-shirts, swim wear and summer attire. Anyway my sister and were heading home after picking up some groceries for our Mum when this woman who was very conservatively dressed comes rushing up to my sister and I and tells us that we should be ashamed of ourselves and that we should cover up and veil. She made us feel like we were walking around naked, when we were in our mid-thigh shorts and T-shirt at a beach resort.
Some times at traffic lights there will be people handing out fliers or pamphlets that promote veiling ‘Naam lil Hijab’ which means ‘Yes, to veiling’.
My sister and I usually don’t wear any religious jewelry so people automatically assume that because we are not veiled then we must be Christian.

So, the answer is Yes, There is more pressure for women to veil today than 20 years ago.

IV- Marriages and Divorces

I wrote a post not too long ago about middle and upper class marriages in Egypt and I was recently contacted by a male reader who was able to identify himself with what I had written. Most middle and upper class marriages are based on business arrangements, (please note that I said, most and NOT all).

Marriages can also be formed as an escape from living with their parents and wanting freedom from all of their rules and expectations. Which is another myth, because their life won’t be about going out all the time and having fun, it’s about responsibilities, working and taking after the home. It can often be leaving regarded as leaving one dictating house hold for another, (demanding and controlling husband/wife).

Marriages solely to cure sexual frustration are another popular reason for getting married.
The fairy tale that has been repeated over and over again from one generation to the next about how marriage is a wonderful thing and that the girl will be the lady of her own home and can do as she likes is a sugar-coated illusion of what reality is. These girls by their late teens (17 on wards) are keeping their eyes open like a hawk for an eligible bachelor. When the wedding and honeymoon is over reality sinks in and the fights begin.

There are arranged marriages, where someone would suggest that perhaps two people would make a good union. So, a meeting with the two individuals is set, either at a neutral party’s home, where the individuals can meet under the watchful eye of their parents. A few meetings may follow so that they can get to know one another better, if a match is made then an engagement will ensue and wedding plans begin. One on one dating will not be prohibited there will be a chaperone with the couple when ever they meet or go out. This happens with more conservative and religious families.

Then there are marriages based on all the right things, finding a partner to be with because they are happy with them for who they are.

When the marriages are based on all the wrong reasons, how can you not expect the divorce rate not to be high here? During my Grandmother’s era it was almost on heard of and for a couple to divorce was a rare occurrence. Now it’s has become the norm.

I have a lot more to say about the topics mentioned in the segment but if I don’t stop my ramblings now, I would go on and on forever!
I will right more about at a later date in time.

Having been abroad on vacation for a month has done wonders for my psyche and my spirit. I can’t remember the last time I felt  so relaxed and rejuvenated. The daily stress of everyday life was put aside and the only worries that I had whilst I was away were 1-Is my sister taking care of herself while we are away? 2-What/where am I going to eat out today. 3- What wondrous bargains will I find on today’s shopping expedition. (You can’t walk by a 70% clearance sale and not check it out? T-shir for 10$ or less you buy it even if you hate the colour and the way it looks on you! You won’t find T-shirt’s back home for that price, It’s a steal!)

Life abroad is a lot simpler. Simpler in the sense that the chaos that we have here in Egypt is minimal there. Chaos like the traffic and having to plan your daily activities and life around the traffic. ‘ If I need to be in Mohendisseen by 7pm, then I will probably have to leave Heliopolis between 5:00 and 5:30pm, giving me some extra time in case traffic is really congested or if I get lost.” If what your wearing is conservative enough for going out in, “Am I going to get hassled if I wear that in a taxi or walking down the street somewhere? Are the pants too tight, skirt too short, is the shirt see through or is part of my cleavage showing?” Having to get something repaired in the west you look up a couple of plumbers, carpenters or electrician in the yellow pages, give them a call and tell them what the problem is. They theny give you an estimated quota and if your agree with the price, then Bada boom! They give you a date and time of when they’ll be starting. The great thing about that is THEY ACTUALLY SHOW UP and KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING! Here you have to turn in to a serial nag of a stalker and practically pass by them at their place of work, beg them to come, drive them to your house , make them endless cups of tea while they repair what ever it is that needs fixing and drive them back, leaving your house in a mess and the stench of cigarettes behind them! If you don’t go and get them you could be waiting days or weeks before they show up. I’m DEAD serious!! My Dad takes great pleasure in hounding workmen. Just when they think my Dad isn’t looking, he’s there standing over their shoulder watching their every move like a Doberman. Grocery shopping is bliss abroad. I could spend an entire day wheeling a trolley up and down the isle. It’s so QUIET and the shelves are neatly stocked, labeled clearly with the correct price for the item and  when you are at the check out counter everyone stands waiting PATIENTLY for their turn.  Carrefour is like that at 10am but somone must have told someone who told some one becuse now, it doesn’t matter what time you go! It’s crowded and noisey like a mokeys cage at a zoo. To add to the fun of grocery shopping, Ramadan is right around the corner, you have people who think that they need to get to the supermarket before Ramadan becuase the shelves will be empty and out of stock. (It’s funny how EVERYONE has that very same thought!)

 If you have never experienced the scene of pre Ramadan, Ramadan and Eid shopping you have been spared! It’s like watching bulls in a china shop. I’m guessing that this is what goes through a shoppers mind, “Ramadan is going to start in the next week, so, I better go to the super market now and stock up on 60 Liters of oil, 13 Kilos of rice and pasta, I mustn’t forget about the kilos of onion, garlic and potatoes that I will be needing. I almost forgot Milk for the Um Ali and Rice Pudding, Oh and at least 20 packets of sugar, OH, I almost forget about the cheese, butter and drinks that we will need to break the fast with. Yohgurt lots and lots of yohgurt for the vine leave dip and suhour (a light meal that is had by most before dawn prayer, to commence another day of fasting from sunrise to sun set.) !!”  It’s Ramadan!!! not a hurricane or a draught!!! The food and items will still be there!!! They get so stressed out! I’m sure it isn’t good for them.  Another thing that I love about being abroad is that people don’t want to know your business or care to know. While here they make it their business to know EVERYTHING!! “Look their back from their vacation, they brought 6 bags back with them, when they only left with two. I wonder what they bought. The food there must have been good, she’s put on weight. Are those new sunglasses and shoes she’s wearing?”

It’s such a shock to your system when you land. The first thing that hits you is the increase in temperature, then the noise level is cranked up a few decibels and the organization and simple logic fades  to a distant memory and the motto of  ‘One for all and all for me’ comes back. You shake your head in disbelief, look at your family members to see if they are feeling or at least sharing your thoughts of ‘We’re Baaaaack! Why did we come back again?” You need a vacation after the culture shock!

Having said that, ( I know I’m going to sound like a hypocrite) there are lots of things I miss when I am away. My own bed, my house, my friends, the warmth of the sun, the agami sea with all it’s magary (sewerage)  but especially one of the GREATEST inventions that in my opinion is right up their with the air conditioner and that is the SHATAFA or as my Uncle in Canada has so aptly named it ‘The Shit Offer’. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a hose that is located next to the toilet and after one has gone about doing their business they can clean themselves. The French have a fancy name for their contraption, they call it the bidet (pronounced beday). Theirs, however looks  more like a sink to wash your tush in. While I was away, I was getting so tired of having to have a shower every time I wen to the loo!! Can you imagine how many showers a day that is?! (now times that by 3 (each person in the flat) ). I know what your thinking, why not use wet wipes. I’ve tried it and it’s just not the same. I was getting so desperate at one point I was considering purchasing a garden hose or a water gun! I seriously think that someone needs to export the Shatafas or toilets with a built in one to the West and Europe. They would make an absolute FORTUNE!!!

All in all, with the daily chaos of life, pre Ramadan grocery shopping obsession, traffic, noise, pollution and unbearable heat. It’s good to be home!

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