One of the many X-Ray's I had to take

One of the many X-Ray’s I had to take

Egypt has an abundance of doctors of all specialties! Like Pharmacies you can find a doctor’s clinic almost on every block! They are everywhere!

I always find it amusing how some of my fellow Egyptian’s who live in places like the Emirates, Europe and North America will not have lazic eye surgery or their dental work done until they come to Egypt for an extended visit. It isn’t because the doctors here are any better than the ones abroad, it’s because the amount you would pay for simple surgeries or checkups is cheaper here in Egypt than it is other countries.

However, if MAJOR surgery is needed then those who can afford to go abroad, will pay the hefty bill without hesitation. One of the main reasons is because the aftercare (nursing) here is appalling to say the least. Their skills are lacking in more ways than one and I wouldn’t trust most of them to care of a pet cat.

I have to be totally honest, there are a great number of doctors in this country who are phenomenal and are excellent in their line of work! They are very well-trained and knowledgeable in their field of expertise. Then you have those who aren’t as good as the others and often times misdiagnosed patience.

After returning from my summer vacation I had noticed that I had been getting sharp pains in my right him and my Achilles tendons were causing me pain as well. I went to an Orthopedic Surgeon and gave him all the details I possibly could. He gave be the basic examination and asked me to get an x-ray and a blood test. Neither showed anything serious thank goodness and I was told I only needed to take Vitamin B-12 shots for the hip and for my Achilles he advised me not to walk barefoot anymore and to always wear slippers. So, not having a medical degree myself, I did as I had been advised and the pain in the hip subsided for a while but my Achilles tendons were still hurting.

A month later, the pain came back with a vengeance and that’s when I decided that I would go for a second opinion. The second doctor asked me to get an x-ray, MRI and blood test. I did as I was told and came back with the results to be told that I had ‘Gout’ (high Uric Acid levels). Gout is a strand of arthritis and it’s hereditary. I didn’t think that the diagnosis could be wrong because my mother has it and a cousin has another form of arthritis. I did find it weird that I had it considering I don’t eat or drink most of the food that would cause Uric Acid levels to spike. So, I did my homework and researched how I can improve my way of living and what are all the foods I should avoid eating and what I shouldn’t eat during an attack. I quickly came to terms that I would be living with this for the rest of my life and started to rethink the activities I took part in. I was very upset that I had to pass on trying out and joining the Women’s CaiRoller Derby Team, because it would be too much strain on my joints. It also meant that Operation Megan Fox would have to be put on hold too (my goal to losing the kilos I had piled on to reach my goal weight). I watched what I ate and tried to exercise, but there were times when the pain was excruciating and wished for amputation.

Every Christmas I send a lengthy annual news letter to family and friends abroad filling them in on my news and adventures and my diagnosis was included in it. An old High School friend who has a strong medical background in diseases contacted me and asked me a series of questions about my diagnosis and strongly suggested I go to a Rheumatologist to get a more concrete answer about my Gout Arthritis. I had nothing to lose, so I asked friends to help me find a really good doctor and I have to say that they really came through for me! I somehow got an appointment with one of the TOP Rheumatologists in Egypt/Region, which is almost impossible; the waiting list to get an appointment is usually a few months!

The day of my appointment I went with all my tests, x-rays and MRIs for him to see and I gave a very detailed history of ailments as well as family history, which was recorded by the assisting doctor. He did a basic examination until the doctor came in. When THE doctor came in, he read over the details and asked for further details. As he read and I spoke you could see his mind at work making a list of possible diagnoses and with the answers you could see him mentally illuminate them too. He then put me through a series of tests and twisted my limbs in all directions making me feel like a human pretzel. Once he had pin pointed where the pain was coming from, he then checked all the x-rays, blood test results and MRI scans I had brought with me. I felt like I was sitting in the presence of the medical version of Sherlock Holmes and his trusty partner Dr. Watson. When he was done, he put my mind at ease and told me that I have nothing serious and that I did NOT have Gout or show any signs of getting it any time soon! (PHEW!!) What I did have was an old untreated injury to the hip and mild tendonitis of the Achilles heels and I needed to take anti inflammatory pills for a month as well as 1 months of physio- therapy and to come back for a checkup in 2 months time.

It took 6 months and 3 doctors to figure out what was wrong with me! I am among the lucky ones, some people don’t find out until years later, or never do. My mother is one of them, for eight years she had been suffering from back pain and was told it was a slipped disc. She wasn’t convinced and went to other doctors and did her own research until she discovered she was suffering from sacroiliac and a hip problem. For 3 years she was told she didn’t need hip replacement until she self diagnosed herself again and insisted on going to another doctor and found out she needed immediate hip replacement because she had not only worn away the ligament but the ball of the joint by 3cm, so she had one leg shorter than the other.

I guess the moral of the story is, sometimes you find the needle in the hay stack and get the correct diagnosis of the bat, other times you have to keep going back for second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth opinions until your instincts tell you not to look any further. It’s a gamble !

Three weeks after visiting the rheumatologist, I can honestly say that I do feel better. I am able to Zumba and Belly dance with little pain. I have been going to physio for just under a month and my Achilles is feeling better, but my hip is still aggrivating me. I am optimistic!

Kidnapped
My second or third year in Egypt I can clearly remember answering the phone at home. The person who answered the phone didn’t ask to speak to anyone; they didn’t identify themselves they just started talking in a very serious and angry tone.

“Tell the Doctor, that he better pay what he owes or we are going to take his children.”
(Translated from Arabic)

I remember how scared I was when I heard the threat. I immediately went and relayed what I had heard on the phone to my grandmother and then had to retell it to both my parents. All of whom reassured me that my Dad didn’t owe anyone any money. The thread did seem rather odd because although my family live comfortably we are of no importance in society. Why threaten us? My father wasted no time in going and talking to every shop owner and vendor on both sides of our street from the beginning of the road right to the end, telling them to keep an eye out for his daughters as they walked to and from school every morning and not to allow any stranger to come near us. At that time, there was still a chivalrous code among men, where men would gladly come to the aid of a fellow citizen, neighbor, acquaintance or friend in their hour or moment of need. The code unfortunately seems to have not been taught to the younger generations and will soon be forgotten.

In 1996 Mel Gibson and Rene Russo stared in the thriller ‘Ransom’, where Gibson, a successful business man, his son is kidnapped and held for ransom. I remember watching that movie and thinking how I doubt I could ever be able to understand the terror a kid must go through in a situation like that or the long process of recovery that would follow afterwards. It never occurred to me that the horrors of that movie would become a reality to many affluent families here in Egypt.

I can’t give a comparison of numbers or statistics pre and post revolution of kidnapping threats, kidnapping attempts and actual kidnappings. What I can confirm is that THEY ARE happening.

After the revolution school buses were targeted and attacked by gangs. Going to work became a terrifying experience because you never knew if your bus would be the one that they decided to attack early in the morning as you made your way to school.

Monday, February 18th 2013 two sisters left their house early in the morning in Alexandria to go to school. They are from a well off family but they are not as wealthy as some of the other students they attend school with. They were ambushed by men armed with knives. The men got into the car with them and had the driver drive them to a place in Alexandria where they had another vehicle waiting. The men tried taking both girls, but the eldest sister put up such a resistance that they opted to take the younger one and sped away out of the city, leaving the sister and driver behind.

The kidnappers had the 13-year-old girl call her family to let them know they she was alive and well and gave the ransom demand of two million Egyptian pounds for her safe return.
The horror, worry and powerlessness that this family went through can’t ever be accurately put into words or imagined by another individual who hasn’t experienced the same thing. Every second, minute, hour and day that passed would have had anyone sick with agony. Those who knew the girls or the family in any way, (myself included), were gutted by the news, our hearts ached for the family and our prayers were with all of them, hoping and wishing for her safe return home.

Meanwhile, the police had suspected the driver and he had been taken in for questioning. Needless to say, their tactics whatever they might have been proved successful. He confessed to initiating the kidnapping and gave the police the address of where the young girl was being held captive. At around 9 PM on Wednesday February 20th, the police escorted the young girl back home. When she arrived all the children who knew her were standing outside her building on cars cheering and celebrating her safe return.
Fortunately for this family the ending to their terrible ordeal was a happy one.

This is just ONE of MANY incidents that are happening here in Egypt and it seems that nine times out of ten that it’s an inside job. A driver, the nanny, hired help or someone who works in the family business. Parents do not know who to trust, because the loyalty that once existed with the hired help is a thing of the past, it has been replaced by greed, resentment and jealousy.

One parent from Alexandria was discussing with me on twitter, if he should consider hiring bodyguards to take his child eight year old son to and from school. I have seen some left no choice but to resort to this because of threats made to take their children. The more I think about the idea of hiring bodyguards the more it feels like we are living the lives of the Columbian drug cartel!

It is VERY disturbing to think that Egypt has fallen so far and so quickly in only two years! One only dreads to think what other dangers will be fall us in the months, years to come.

Tahrir Bodyguards

Tahrir Bodyguards

As some of you may or may not know, some civilians have taken it upon themselves and formed a group, composed of men and women to fight off sexual harassment in Tahrir. They are known as ‘Tahrir Bodyguards’. The team of individual’s aim is to help women feel safe when going to Tahrir to protest. Before any protest they tweet out contact numbers of team members who will be in the square, they encourage people to save the numbers on their phones before they head down to march. The numbers are for people to call in and report sightings of sexual harassment and give the location of where it is happening so that they can dispatch members of the team to aid the person being wrongfully attacked.

Early last week they tweeted that they would be sponsoring a self-defence class and for those interested to sign up. I might not be a Tahrir goer, but I am one scores of women who experiences sexual harassment of one form or another on a regular if not daily basis. Frankly, I’m tired of it! I do not want to be the victim anymore, I wont to have the knowledge and skills that I need to be able to fend off an attacker and make them give up, or over power them enough to hurt them, so that I may get away. I took one on one lessons last year with a mixed Martial Arts expert and I learned a lot from him. So, why take this course? In my opinion, you can never know enough. I think the more you know the better and if I find myself in a situation a few of the techniques of the many I had learned will come to me when I most need them.

Thursday, 6th of February, almost 2 years since Lara Logan’s (CBS correspondent), assault took place in Tahrir after the downfall of former President Hosni Mubarak. When Logan’s story came to light, it sent shock waves through the world and gave Egypt a BIG wake up call!
Harassment has ALWAYS been here, but since the down fall it is more rampant than before and frankly, I would rather not go out and stay home than have to put up with it. However, staying home is a form of defeat and I have as much right to be out living and my life than hiding in the sanctuary I call home. Not going out and staying home is making myself a sub-conscience victim. It also means that those individuals who go around inappropriately groping women win. Why should they have the upper hand? Why should I not be out enjoying and experiencing life?

Before entering the session I was approached by a CNN correspondent (Veronica), and asked if I would mind being interviewed. She asked me why I was taking part in this class. I can’t remember my exact words to her, but I was brutally honest. I said something along the lines of, Since the revolution, Egypt has become a lawless society and I no longer feel safe. There was a time when if I was being assaulted, people would run to my rescue, but now no one will, because people are more likely to think, that I deserved it. So, if no one is going to help defend me, then I have to learn to defend myself.
(This is MY opinion, based on situations I have been in, witnessed first hand and things that have happened to my friends. I’m sorry if it offends anyone but that’s just the way I see it)

In the class we were introduced to our trainer, Master Ramy Latchinian, former Tae Kwon Do U.S.A National Team Coach, and his student and former TEAM USA Patricia Stein. The Duo spoke to the class about the importance of being aware of what is going on around you in order to avoid putting oneself in an unnecessary situation. ‘If you feel that something isn’t right, get out of it, move away” Master Ramy advised. “If you see a group of guys ahead of you on the path and they make you uncomfortable, cross to the other side of the road, you don’t need to keep walking towards them.”

“The important thing when you are facing an attacker is to remain calm and have the upper hand by having the element of surprise. The attacker isn’t going to think that you are going to strike back. The best way to do this is to talk to the attacker and ask them to ‘Please’ leave you alone and while doing that grab their hand and pull a finger straight back or by placing your hand on the back of theirs and twisiting their arm in a way that gives you the power to control them.” Master Ramy explained and demonstrated.

As the course continued in the presence of photo journalists and news correspondents, a room of twenty or more women practiced the moves on one another. The grabbing and pulling back of a single figure can inflict a tremendous amount of pain and even break or dislocate it. The squeezing of the wind pipe with fingers and thumbs with a thrust upward is extremely painful. This particular move is not only painful but if too much pressure is applied you could sever the pipe and kill someone. Hooking your fingers and grabbing the perpetrator from behind the ears and pulling them downwards and giving them a swift kick with your knee is another swift and easy technique that anyone with little to no fighting experience can use to take back control of the situation.

As the session came to an end Master Ramy, sat us down and talked to us about the importance of chosing our battles wisely. If we are in a position where weapons are being used, the best thing to do is to give the attacker the valuables that they want, the confrontation in these circumstances are risky. If you’re attacked and told to get in a car and drive, do not go anywhere with the person, the best thing to do is throw your keys far away and sit on the ground. It is most likely that the car jacker will not want to spend the time searching for the keys. Another piece of advice is do not carry a knife or a gun if you DO NOT know how to use them, if you feel the need to have something get pepper spray or a taser. If you are unable to obtain them then use your keys, carry them between your fingers with the key poking out and you can use it as a weapon and you can use your handbag to bludgeon someone too.

Ayman Mohy El Din, NBC (former Al Jazeera English) correspondent based in Egypt, asked the women present ‘I’m sorry to ask, but how Many of you have experienced some level of Sexual harassment?” approximately 80% of the women in the room raised their hands. A sickening and staggering percentage, which just proves more now than ever that this has gone on for far too long and needs to be brought to an end.

The two-hour session was informative, enlightening and empowering. I can honestly say that I left the center having learned something new to add to my growing repertoire of self-defence moves. On another note, it was encouraging to see a room full of women of all ages and nationalities taking part. It gave me hope that if we as women can stand united in the fight to eradicate Sexual Harassment, by sending a clear message to the attackers that we will no longer cower or be silenced and that we are going to take a stand. I think the road to change maybe underway.

Patricia Stein ended the evening by adding advice of her own, “When you walk in the street don’t look down at the ground or have your shoulders hunched forward, that is a physical sign of weakness and makes you and easy target. Walk with you head held up and your shoulders back, it gives off the message that you are strong.”

A BIG Thank you to Tahrir Bodyguards for organizing the class!

If you would like to join the Self Defence course then contact @TahrirBodyguards on twitter or email them at tahrir.bodyguard@gmail.com or you can call the International TaeKwonDo Center in Maadi to find out about courses offered there 01096979766.

 

 

After a fun afternoon at a friend’s daughter’s birthday party, I agreed to join a couple of other friends to a late viewing of the recently released movie Argo, staring Ben Affleck, John Goodman and many other famous Hollywood names. The film is about the revolution in Iran and the American Embassy hostages that were held captive for over 400 days! The film mainly focuses on the 6 American Embassy employees who were able to escape the building by the skin of their teeth and sought refuge at the Canadian Ambassador’s residence until help came.

The opening scene with the protestors outside the American Embassy in Tehran not only sent chills down my spine but it shared an eerie resemblance to what is taking place presently in Egypt. The chanting of the angry mob and their determination reminded me of how easily influenced people can be and how quickly things can escalate and get out of control as it has done here in Egypt a few times over the past two years.

The movie struck a deep nerve with me. Egypt is literally teetering on the edge of heading in that direction. We are in a very tough and extremely delicate situation. Believe it or not, I saw it coming a mile away and when I spoke of it years ago. People laughed at me and said; ‘Egypt will never end up like Iran, because Mubarak will always be in power and won’t allow the Muslim Brotherhood to take over, he has them suppressed, so, don’t worry about it.” I was just a young teenager back then, studying business, what did I know of politics and the world?

Famous last words? Mubarak is gone and the Muslim Brotherhood IS in power. After seeing the movie it helped me understand an incident that happened to a friend of mine before the presidential elections took place. He was abroad and he met an Iranian, when the man found out that he was Egyptian, he dropped to his knees and begged him to tell his Egyptian country men and women not to make the same mistake Iran made, because once the extremists get into office they are very hard to get out.

Here we are, in that very position…

We are up against a strong, well-organized group of people, who have been planning for this very moment for decades. To have them step down or remove them from their positions is going to take a very well planned and thought out strategy, because they will not go without a fight. They had been suppressed and oppressed for so long that they will do everything in their power to not be put back into their box.

So my question is….. Do we have a plan?

Let us not repeat our own history! We forced Mubarak to step down but we didn’t have a plan to put in place once he did and because we weren’t ready and the MB knew it, they snuck in very easily and hijacked the movement and got into office. The vicious cycle will keep repeating itself unless there is a P.L.A.N of action!

I don’t know about you, but I really don’t want to end up like Iran or Afghanistan …

So let’s get it right this time.

 

On A side note, I highly recommend that you go and watch the movie, especially if you are Egyptian living in Egypt. On a second note, I really hope Argo wins the Oscar this year.

 

Two weeks ago on a Saturday morning, I awoke to the tragic news of a terrible , (yet preventable) accident that took place in Assiut, in upper Egypt. A school bus was crossing train tracks to take a group of students to a school located 20+Km  away from where they lived to their school, because there isn’t a school nearer to them. The crossing guard was fast asleep at his post with the television on and supposedly with a sheesha in hand too. He didn’t pull the lever that could have saved many lives. The crossing guard, a government employee failed to do his job, which resulted in the death of fifty young lives, whose blood stained the front of the train. Those at the scene couldn’t find words to describe it, they said it was unlike anything they had ever seen in reality or in any horror movie.

This is not the first accident of its kind in Egypt and it will not be the last either. Why? Simply because, our government is and has always been negligent and does not put money back into the system to help maintain machinery, buildings, roads, trains …etc. (God forbid that people should ever feel safe when they have the opportunity to line the inside of their pockets). I am not surprised that it happened again but I am deeply saddened at the suffering and loss that so many families have to endure due to greed. Two of the many families have lost ALL their children in the accident and to add insult to injury, the government initially offered them 5000 Egyptian Pounds blood money per child, which is approximately 817  U.S Dollars. That is less than the price of an IPhone!!

An Egyptian T.V. Talk Show host, Amr Adeeb, totally lost his temper on his show and was infuriated not only because the accident had happened but because the amount of money was a despicable amount to pay for a life of a child. He called all Egyptians, President and the country a failure and said we should be embarrassed. (I would have to agree, we are great at talking the talk but do very little to improve our situation. we would rather sit back, ezzaz (nibble) on lib (sunflower/pumpkins seeds), watch T.V, smoke sheesha and have someone else do it). Adeeb’s ranting and raving did have an impact though… The blood money was bumped up to 50,000 Egyptian Pounds. It’s still not worth the life of a child and it will never take the pain or loss away. I still think they could dig deeper into their pockets and pay a few hundred thousand pounds more per child especially if they are able to spend millions on finding ways to block porn sites.

With bated breath last Thursday I hopped on a train to Alex to see my parents for the Thanksgiving weekend, after the train accident in Assiut,  I couldn’t help but wonder if I would reach my destination intact. Not long after I arrived and was sitting with my mother updating her on what’s been going on in my life the past couple of weeks, I logged into face book and twitter  and saw my news feed full of colorful descriptions of Egypt’s President elect. (eyes rolled in their sockets and ‘What has he done now’ said the voice in my head)

As a storm brewed over head I wasn’t able to watch ‘THE’ mother of all speeches on satellite so I turned to BlackBerry messenger and Facebook Chat and what I was being told by friends was equally worrying and humorous. Our ‘Democratically’ elected President Morsy had declared himself above and beyond the law. He’s so far above the law that any cases against him from the time he had taken office will be dropped. No one but ‘He’ has the right to dissolve the Shuraa part of the Parliament. He has new evidence against the Mubarak family and their constituents, so they will be retried, (just to name a few) . In less than a year he has given himself more power than any president this country has ever had. He declared himself Caesar/Pharaoh! (yeah, Ceasar/Ramsis II has been reincarnated and is alive and well in Morsy). People sat on their couches with their mouths gaping wide open, with eyes buldging out of their sockets in disbelief! He just pulled the Coup D’Etat card on us!

Naturally people went ballistic!!!

This very man gave his acceptance speech just months ago swearing that he would do right by his country, his people, those who lost their lives, preserve the revolution and will do everything legitimately…. IF he’s forgotten, we can play it back for him, it’s been recorded and there were thousands up thousands of people watching him here in Egypt and throughout the world! If I was to pull the Coup D’Etat card on my country men (not that, I would but if that was my plan) I wouldn’t have done it now… I would have done it after I had won the hearts and minds of the people. NOT NOW when you’re still going through the public’s probation period!

Did he honestly think that people would take it lightly? We got rid of a 30 year dictatorship, we didn’t sign up for it to be replaced with another one with MORE POWERS than the previous one. This is like  something out of Greek Mythology, Slayers behead the beast and the people hail their bravery and victory of slaying the beast, only to find out later that the beast wasn’t dead, it had grown another head !

So, now what?

Do we all run out and buy Aabayas (burkaas) and galaabeyas? Do bars, cinemas and night clubs go extinct or underground? Does the age for marriage drop below puberty? Do women find themselves back behind the kitchen counters mastering grandmother’s old recipes and popping out kids every 9 months?

No!!! We make our voices heard and let him and his bearded buddies know that not everyone supports his decree and that he needs to take it back! The following day, Friday November 23, people across Egypt who opposed Morsy’s decree took to the streets in protest! Several Egyptian governorates made their voices heard! They did not and would not accept his ‘temporary’ power at the helm of Egypt! He infuriated people so much that they stormed the Freedom of Justice Party offices in several cities, looted them and in Alexandria they found a bra, which the stormers held out onto the balcony to show the watching public! Then they torched the place.

Last Tuesday another protest was scheduled and the friction between the pro and anti Morsy fractions could be felt on the streets. Many schools decided to not open that day for fear that there might be violence and that students and teachers might not get home in time before the show down.  The MB in Cairo were scheduled to march that day too, but decided to post-pone it to a later date for fear of violent clashes. In Alexandria there was a stand-off between the two parties but I didn’t hear of any major incidents. Mansoura demonstrated their disapproval of the president’s decree and also stormed the FJP headquarters there. Mahalla got the brunt of it, Morsy supporters were out in full force and fired live ammo on the protestors, resulting in many casulaties.

Today is Friday, November 30th and another protest is scheduled to take place today… tensions are running very high especially with the threat of MB and Morsy supporters threatening to lash out on those who do not support Morsy.

Presently Egypt is divided into two unequal fractions. Those who support the president and his decree and those who don’t. If we are going to be honest, we are out numbered by the supporters, which automatically reminds me of Lord of The Rings and the battle for middle earth. I hope that things end as well as they did in the book for Egypt and her people’s sake!

taken from the following web page. This is not my work.

The eve of November 1st, a friend of mine hosted a Halloween party at his house in the Heliopolis area in Cairo. I can’t begin to tell you how much I had been looking forward to his party! I couldn’t wait to get into my costume and character and dance the night away to de-stress after a week of teaching. The party lived up to expectations as always!

As the time went on my energy levels began to decrease and I was in need of sleep. By the time I decided to call it a night the host and his adoring wife insisted that I spend the night and not drive home alone at such a late hour. There was a little voice in my head that tugged at my conscience telling me to accept, but they still had guests, the music/party was still going and I was nearing being awake for 24 hours and all I wanted was to sleep in my own bed. So, against my better judgment I changed out of my costume washed the face paint off and thanked them both for an amazing night and left.

As I walked towards my car I noticed a group of young men sat on the corner of the curb at the end of the street directly opposite where my car was. I didn’t make eye contact, just got into the car and drove off. My house is less than 10 minutes away and the roads were traffic free so I got home to my area very quickly. As I was approaching my house I noticed headlights in my back window. Unfortunately I my rear window was fogged up and the rubber from my windscreen wipers had been taken so I had no way of identifying the car behind me. So, I randomly parked to see if they were just trying to pass me or had been following me. It turns out they were following me, because the parked perpendicular to my car, blocking me. I kept the engine running and headlights on, so if I need to ram them and wake up the neighborhood I would. Having noticed that I had noticed them, they thought they would drive further down the side street to see what I would do. I could see the reflection of their break lights on parked cars, so I kept the engine running and turned the headlights off. They drove off.

I quickly moved my car and parked it elsewhere. I didn’t want to park it in the garage because I’d have to wake up the attendant to give them my keys and I had to go out early in the afternoon for a lunch appointment with family. As soon as I had grabbed my stuff, locked the door and turned around and was about to head towards my building. The car was back!

This time I could see there were four males in the car parked on the main street directly opposite the door to my building. I was stood and parked in a side street next to my building… my brain went into over-time and over-drive. I was measuring the situation carefully and weighing my options. 1- If I jump back into the car, this could lead to a very bad car case resulting in an accident of some kind. 2- If I go back to my friend’s place it could escalate the situation and many of them are in no condition for this kind of confrontation. 3- If I go into my building they will know where I live. 4- Create a disappearing illusion.

I went with option for, it was a big risk… but I decided to go with it. I walked across towards the building and ducked between the parked cars and watched them through the windows. Two of the guys got out of the car. They couldn’t see where I had gotten to, so one stood at the top of the road looking down the side street to see if he could see where I had walked off to, while the other looked down along the side-walk and over the roof tops of the cars. At this point I am still calm, collect and cursing Vodafone. My phone for some odd and strange reason for a good portion of the night couldn’t pick up the network! I wouldn’t have been able to call anyone for help even if I wanted to. Aside from that I was just praying that the two cars that were covering me didn’t have car alarms to alert them of my whereabouts, just when I thought they were about to give up and drive away. I heard the loudest smashing sound I can ever recall. Looking through the windows I saw one of the men pick up a huge rock from the road side and he began smashing the driver side window of a random parked car! The other male picked up a rod or a stick of some kind and rammed it through the windshield of the same car. Once they were done, they got back into the car and sped off in the direction of downtown. I just stood completely stunned; I couldn’t believe I had just witnessed such an act of vandalism.

Knowing the car and its passengers had sped off, I walked over to my building and as I stood in front of the door, the blood drained from my face. The porter had decided to lock the front door with a chain and padlock it from the inside. If I had decided to go to my building and not create an illusion, I would have been a sitting duck! Someone was watching over me that night and I cannot begin to thank them enough for having my back! Needless to say, I woke the porter up and went and parked the car in the garage after that!

In the afternoon when I was leaving to make my lunch appointment, the garage attendant told me that the guys were EXTREME Ahly fans (Egyptian Football/Soccer Team) and the reason they smashed the car up was because it had Port Said license plates. They were still mad over the match that took place last February where several people were killed and injured.

What really boggles my mind, is that if you saw these guys, they looked like any regular person. Well dressed and in a decent car. They didn’t set off any alarm bells or make me uneasy….

Lessons learned from this experience….

1-      Do not stay out later than necessary.

2-      If you do stay out late, stay over at a friend’s house or check into a hotel.

3-      It’s always better to have a buddy (male friend) take you home.

4-      Have a spare phone and 2nd number, just in case!

5-      Park your car in the garage.

6-      Always be aware of what is going on around you at ALL times.

 

I wanted to warn others of the dangers that are going on around us that we might be oblivious to. I have learned my lesson and will be extra cautious from now on… I hope you will be too!

Stay Safe!

Dear Lebanon,

A couple of weeks ago, towards the last few days in October, I, along with some other travelers chose your country as a destination to visit during the Eid Al Adha. The trip at one point was almost canceled after the unjustly and devastating assassination to your head of Police Intelligence, Wissam Al Hassan. Our Embassies warned us that going to Lebanon at such a time would not be wise and extremely unsafe.

After speaking to several of your country men and women, who reassured us that we have nothing to fear, the plan to come went ahead and I can honestly say it was one of the best decisions we could have made.

My first morning in Beirut, I walked along the Corniche from Rawcheh to Zaitunay (St. George) Bay, during the walk I was able to observe and experience the essence of the Lebanese people. I could sense not only their self-pride in whom they are, but the pride they have in their country, a pride that exuded patriotism. Their joie de vivre was something that also fascinated me and earned my respect. After all Lebanon has been through and continues to go through, your patriots stand tall, unnerved and more determined to see the assailants fail in their mission to provoke fear, defeat and unity. I for one salute you!

As I traveled touring your historical and natural sites I began to fall in love not only with your country, but your people. Your people have a charm about them; they are very hospitable, friendly, and helpful. Your people’s strength and your country’s beauty is reflected in them, a recipe that guarantees that your visitors will return to visit again and again.

Visiting Lebanon made me homesick for the 3 flags that I declare my allegiance to. Your greenery, scenic landscapes and fun-loving people made me long for Ireland. The pride and cosmopolitan atmosphere reawakened a desire to go back to Canada. The charming people, the Mediterranean vibe and Corniche,  reminded me of what Egypt once was decades ago.

May you and yours continue to stand strong against those who wish to harm you. May your flag always fly high and until we meet again, May God  continue to bless Lebanon and her people.

The IrishAlexandrian

I was recently invited to make a guest appearance in a High School Social Studies & Politics class in Vermont by the teacher who follows my twitter feed and reads my blog. I was deeply humbled by the invite and by the fact that the teacher had gone beyond the call of duty to ask someone from the Middle East to answer student’s questions.

I liked the idea a lot from an educator’s perspective. What better way to build bridges and to shatter false images and misconceptions painted by the media than by exposing students to someone who is Egyptian and actually lives there?

A trip to Vermont would have been ideal but out of the question at the beginning of the academic year, so thanks to modern technology, I could be in two places at once with the help of Skype. After  a couple of test runs and agreeing on a day and time that suited both time zones, the questions which the students wanted to ask were sent to me in advance so that I could mull over how I would answer them and what I would say. As well as checking information and sources to make sure the information that I was discussing was indeed factual.

As the day approached my nerves were on edge as well as boiling over with excitement. I was nervous because I was stepping out of my comfort zone and talking to a group of young strangers thousands of miles away and I felt a bit like a diplomat representing my country. I posted the event in my group on facebook so that my readers would know. I was quite flattered by all the words of encouragement from friends and acquaintences who sent me words of encouragment and told me how proud they were of me for doing this.

The day of the interview I was invited to my sister’s in-laws for brunch. I was terrified that I would not make it home in time for 3pm, so I took my laptop and all my research with me just in case, (and it was a good thing I did too). I have to thank my brother-in-law and his family for allowing me to take up a corner of their sitting room while they session took place. I am very grateful.

Friday 28th of September at 3P.M Cairo local time the Skype video call began …                                                                                                                                          (I can’t remember all of my answers verbatim, but I will do my best to recall my responses as best I can)

The teacher that I had been communicating with was present along with another Social Studies teacher, the Principle of the school and the students        (talk about nerve-racking!!).  For 45 minutes I was asked questions and discussed Egypt and the region.

The first question I was asked was ‘Why did you agree to Skype with us?’

My answer was simple, Why not? How else are we going to build bridges and destroy misconceptions if we don’t learn from one another?

The second question was ‘Would there be any repercussions for speaking with us?”

No, not in my case, I’m not a political blogger and I don’t write anything negative about the government, the president or religion so I have not been red flagged.

What is the current political situation in Egypt?

Well, we finally have a president! Part of the parliament has been dissolved, the president tried to overrule the decision and allow them to be reinstated but he was over ruled again by the Supreme Court, so we don’t really know what’s going to happen with them.  Then there’s the writing of the new constitution.

Can women run for public office in Egypt?

Yes, they can. We had a woman named Bothaina who was in the presidential elections but, she didn’t get enough votes to carry her through. We also have other women in parliament.

 

What was it like for you during the Arab Spring?

(Never a simple answer and I couldn’t help but let out a big sigh)

Having lived in Saudi Arabia and remembering the signs of what happened during the Gulf War, I knew something was going to happen. I started to read and follow many of the revolutionaries on twitter. I prepared myself for the worst, made sure I had provisions in the house and on the 28th of January I asked a Canadian friend and colleague of mine to come and stay with me because she didn’t know what was happening and didn’t speak the language. There isn’t a word in the dictionary to describe what we experience. We had no clue what was going to happen from one minute to the other. There were riot police and then the police were dissolved. Saturday 13000 prisoners were released from prison taking the ammunition that was in the stations and that’s when chaos broke loose. Boys your age and younger were out in the streets armed with whatever they could find, planks of wood, kitchen knives, candle stick holders, Molotov cocktail bombs to defend their neighborhood and their homes from petit thieves and dangerous criminals who were heavily armed. It was a terrifying experience. Things have calmed down a lot since then, but even months afterwards you always looked over your shoulder.

How do Egyptian people view the United States? Is there a difference between how they view the government and the American People?

Egyptian’s don’t hate Americans. They don’t dislike foreigners. We need foreigners to come to Egypt for our tourism. Tourism is our source of money (I had meant to say income, but the word escaped me). We just don’t like your foreign policy.

(I am sure many will disagree with me on this point, but that is how I perceive things to be)

There were many questions that followed these but I cannot remember their chronological order or how I answered them.

While answering the questions I didn’t notice how fast the time had passed and when the bell rang I couldn’t believe a class period had flown by. I wasn’t sure what the student’s impression of the video call was. It was hard for me to see their faces and to know if they found it engaging or not. Once the student left the class I spoke with both teachers for a little while longer. I won’t know the verdict on the experience until next week, but I did get an email from the class teacher the following day. It read;
“Hi Irish!

A number of students have come to me and said they enjoyed speaking with you and wondering if they would be able to do it again. That’s a good sign. Our principal who left three quarters of the way through was very impressed with you and happy that you too took the time to speak with our students. He actually said he got chills up his spine a couple of times when you were speaking. Again that is a good sign. Thanks so much for taking the time to do what you did. It’s a great learning experience for myself and my students. Hopefully we can find some other ways we can break down some of the misconceptions of both Egyptians and Americans with our students. If there is anything you can think of or anyway we can bring students together through this source of media please let me know. “

An even further update on how the skype talk went;

” You have received many positive comments and none negative. Greg who you talked with after the class felt that you had a great persona on camera. I agree with him on that and its not easy to do on skype.

I spoke to one student’s mother who said her son came home and talked  about the class’s conversation with you. He said he really liked it.  This is from a student who usually doesn’t appear to interested in  class.
The students commented on your English and how good it was.. They wondered if it would be hard to understand you. They all said they would like to do it again.

I hope you would be willing. As I told you I think if they get more comfortable with you and you them it would be interesting to see where the conversation leads just in regards to daily life in Egypt and the United States. Perhaps the average person’s goals, dreams, hopes for the future etc, so that they see people are not really that different regardless of what country they live in.

I asked them if they felt you had answered their questions and they felt you had done a good job of that. I heard them laugh a number of times during your talk due to the expression on your face in regards to a question or answer. This indicates that they picked up on your facial expressions and body language. I believe they felt that you were much like them instead of this perception they may of you. “

Another wave of turmoil hits the Middle East like a Tsunami with an Anti Islamic movie that went viral and caused hundreds of tempers to reach boiling point.

I haven’t been able to get my hands on the full film but the clip that I did see was a pitiful attempt at movie making to say the least. The quality of the cinematography was clearly of that of a rookie and the dialogue was so baseless and lifeless that I think a bunch of Elementary students could have done a better job. As for the content of the script and portrayal of the Prophet Mohammed (May Peace Be upon Him) was sick and twisted! The clip I saw portrayed him as a disoriented fool, who could be suffering from schizophrenia or was a junky of some kind that rambled on about none sense and didn’t make sense. I can now see and understand how upset, insulted and appalled Muslims around the world were.

Nakoula Basseley Nakoula (aka”Sam Bacile” or Mark Basseley Youssef) the film maker who sparked the wave of rage has proven to be a man of many names and a sly con artist with a very long rap sheet from the reports that are coming out about him. I wonder if his (wrongful) depiction of the Prophet was based on his own troubled soul?

Nakoula, an Egyptian born national collaborated with a U.S. religious group called Media for Christ. In a humors twist, these so-called “Right Wing” Christians had their dubbed anti-Islamic film directed by a pornographer (thought I recognized the 80’s style from somewhere). Forgive my ignorance…but, ummmm, doesn’t pornography go against Christian beliefs? Secondly why would they dream of having a director who directs sinful media associated with their ‘Media for Christ’? Surly, Christ himself wouldn’t condone such a person to make a film on his behalf and secondly the Son of God (Prophet or Messiah depending on your belief ) who endured crucifixion for his love of humanity wouldn’t want such a ‘Blasphemous’ film being made and have his name associated with it. After all aren’t we all God’s children?

Nakoula and the other right-wing people behind the making of this poor excuse for a documentary film knew exactly what would happen the moment his film was released to the public. He may have anticipated rage, which would then heighten the popularity of his poorly made and fact less movie but I doubt he could have known to what degree the anger would have reached and that blood would be shed.  I do wonder if he ever for one moment put his own people, by own people I mean the Coptic community of Egypt into consideration? Did he not think that this could backfire and that people might turn violent on them and persecute them for his stupid actions?

The reaction to the movie I can understand. The actions that people took, I DO NOT and I certainly DO NOT and cannot justify in any shape or form. In my opinion it was over reacted, only to fuel media interest and popularity in the movie. The attacking of Embassies, Ambassadors and Embassy employees was uncalled for and barbaric. Reactions like these just fuel the false impression and misconception that the world has about people from Egypt, Middle East and Muslims. When we go out with hot heads and tempers blazing they are ready and waiting to catch it on tape to stream on their networks to make us out to be the crazed ‘savages’ that they have painted us to be. Fueling ignorance and making us out to be psychotic trigger happy ignoramuses ready to declare ‘jihad’ and kill at a drop of a hat.

I don’t know about you, but I am sick and tired of hearing that we are all terrorists, uneducated, uncivilized….bla bla bla bla bla!!  Violent reactions like these make those avid watchers of FOX network think that what they are watching and what they are being told is true. It makes them out to be right in the eyes of the public and we keep playing into the palm of their hands. We need to STOP, THINK about our actions before we react and the best way to shatter the public’s image of us is to beat them at their own game. The best way I have found to beat bullies is to ignore them or to treat them nicely, (easier said than done, I agree. Then again nothing comes easy, but every time we resist the urge to fall into their trap and they find less to say to fuel their image would be well worth the effort.  It takes a lot to bite your tongue and not want to slap someone, but it can be done. If Gandhi could do it, then by George so can we!)

WE ARE BETTER THAN THIS!!! We have thousands of years of history, culture and ancient CIVILIZATIONS that WE originate from! The world of Mathematics and Science is what it is today because of OUR ancestors. Let us not forget that and while we are at it, let’s remind them and show them who we truly are.

Let us not allow the minorities that are captured on film doing these acts be the source of people labeling us and the basis for their generalization of people from the region. They do not represent me, they do not reflect who I am and I know they do not reflect the majority.

 

In the very early hours of Sunday morning my sister and her husband arrived from England for their annual two-week visit to Egypt to visit family and friends. During their stay, I though I would make their lives a little easier by lending them my car to help them get about in Alexandria as well as Cairo rather than relying on people for rides or public transportation. While I was at work they made their way to Alexandria to spend their first week there.

At around 11:30 pm I was awoken from my slumber to the sound of my blackberry ringing and a illuminated screen with a name across the screen. I would usually ignore any calls while I’m getting my rest, but I found it odd that my sister would be ringing at such an hour. When I answered I could sense that she was in no mood for pleasantries and wanted to get straight to the point. “Hi, did you have anything of value in the car?” Having just woken up unexpectedly, my brain got another jolt! (thinking to myself) ‘Why would she be asking me such a question at this time of night???? (brain kicks into gear) unless ‘…)  “No, nothing of value, just change in coins and my CDs, WHY?” I ask waiting to her the answer I already knew. “Someone broke into your car by smashing the passenger window and stole both license plates off your car and the car emblems, nothing appears to be stolen from inside, we are on our way to the Police Station to report it now.”

Upon hearing news like this, you would have expected me to have had more of reaction, but I took it really well and had no trouble going back to sleep. When I woke the next morning the memory of the conversation came crashing down on me like a tidal wave! License plates stolen, window broken …WTH!? Thoughts of the pains taking task that lay ahead to get the report stamped with the Egyptian Police seal, to go to the Traffic headquarters to get all the papers needed to replace the stolen plates with new ones and reissue a new car license with the new plate numbers on is worse than registering a newly bought car!! Then thoughts of my sister and her husband came to mind. They hadn’t been in the country 24 hours and this happens to them? Geez! That is not the way to start your vacation.

After work I called my Mom who gave me an update on the situation. She said it took my sister and her hubby a while to file the report and they didn’t get home till after 1am. She and my Dad (God Bless Them) got up at 8am to begin procedures to replace the plates and issue a new car license as well as running other errands in the scortching heat.

It turns out, my sister had arranged to meet a lot of her friends at the Greek Club by the tram in Alexandria the evening of her first day there. She had parked on the tram side of the street next to the club, which is where she has always parked pre and post revolution. While they were inside catching up with their friends the security guard came in and told one of the regulars that there was a space in front of the club for him to move his car too. Jokingly my sister said ‘What it’s not safe to park by the side of the club anymore?’ The security guard and friends said that is wasnt. The guard said he’d go and look and see if there was a place for her to move her car to, not long after going out to check he returned and informed the owner of the restaurant in the club that my car had been targeted. Apparently that area is watched by a gang of window smashing, plate stealing jerks!

Earlier that day, my sister’s friends had gone to Cairo and the very same thing had happened to them. Passenger window broke, plates stolen, but their car was taken, but later found with the wires dangeling down from the dashboard, (it had been hot wired) and quite a few items stolen from inside the car.

The reason the gang choose to smash the passenger window is because many people keep the car license in the car’s glove compartment. The license plates are taken to put on other cars transporting drugs and if caught, the plates won’t be traced back to them but to the owner of the car they stole the plates from! God forbid if the same should ever happen to you, report it immediately because if you don’t you’ll be held liable for any crime the plates have been involved in. Secondly do not leave your car license in your vehicle, because if you do and they take it, well they have evidence of owner ship and could sell it or find some other use for it.

I am very grateful that my sister and brother-in-law were not harmed in any way and that the car wasn’t stolen. I am also very grateful to them and my Dad for taking car of all the legal procedures in my absence and getting it all done.

Let this be a warning to you out there, be careful where you park the car. Try and avoid poorly lit streets.

Since the Revolution the crime rate appears to have risen drastically. Crimes like these occurred during the Mubarak rule, but they wouldn’t be as frequent because thieves knew what the consequences would be if they were ever to get caught. Now, it’s like a popular past time or accepted profession!

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