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Students and teachers alike look forward to the longest holiday of the year, ‘summer’.
In the past summers for me meant packing my bags with all that I would need and move down to Agami, a summer resort just outside of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea, where my parents had a beach house. There I would spend my days in shorts, t-shirt, swimsuit and flip-flops with my beach bag ready for the beach. Two to three months of swimming, tanning, reading, playing volleyball, running a summer camp for children and catching up with old friends whom I hadn’t seen since the previous summer.
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!
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.
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.
The recent story of foreign journalist Natasha J. Smith has been circulating Cyber Space. The reviews of the journalist’s first hand account of what happened to her in Tahrir Square has been received with mostly horror, embarrassment and extreme disappointment. While others are somewhat skeptical and feel like the whole story is a hoax and made up OR exaggerated. Here’s the link to her account, read it yourself if you already haven’t ( http://natashajsmith.wordpress.com/2012/06/26/please-god-please-make-it-stop/ )
I shared the link on facebook and I have to admit that I was shocked at some of the men’s responses to the blog post. Their inability to understand the trauma of the situation of being attacked by a large group of men and having no one come to your aid. From the perspective of an Egyptian, I can understand where they are coming from. Egyptians are/were known as very generous, helpful and friendly people whom welcome tourists and foreigners to their land, but less and less of a positive image is being seen by my fellow country men and women these days. It seems to be one that has been replaced with contempt, hate and maybe even jealousy.
After my mother had read Natasha’s account, it triggered a memory of an instance that occurred 30 years ago here in Egypt, during one of her visits.
” I was here on holiday from Canada with my two year old, who had never experienced swimming in the sea. My husband’s family owned a villa on the beach in Agami, ( a popular beach resort just outside of Alexandria). My husband had business to attend to in Sidi Kreer and suggested that I go to the villa with our daughter so that I could enjoy the beach and the sea. The villa was situated on the beach, so it’s not as though I had to walk far to get to the water. It was a case of walking directly from the terrace on to the sand. ”
“I was ignorant to the culture and the social taboos of the land and I was obviously a foreigner. Blond hair, blue eyes and fair skin and everyone appeared to be extremely friendly. So, I ventured forth with my two year old in my arms wearing my one piece swimsuit, which by western standards was quite modest. I walked the few meters to the shore and entered the water. As I entered the water, my daughter was nervous once the water lapped against her legs and clung to me tightly and I was talking to her calmly and explained to her that there was nothing to fear…etc. As I was continuing to walk into the water reassuring her that she was safe, I was momentarily unaware of what was happening around me. Until I felt something grab at my crutch area. I almost stumbled, but righted myself and began to realise what was happening around me. I was waist deep in sea water, surrounded by about 10-15 men who were systematically diving underwater and groping me. The beach was crowded with men, women and children who were watching the scene with what appeared to be great amusement at the antics of these people. It got so bad, that I was losing my footing and about to submerge underwater still holding my daughter and I was calling for help. Nobody came to my rescue, fortunately I had the key to the villa clutched in my hand, with the point of it facing downwards, I was frantically stabbing their heads as they came up for air. Eventually I was able to fight my way out of the water trembling with shock and disbelief that people who called out friendly remarks and welcomed you to their country could see the horror that was unfolding and not do anything. Not one person came to my aid or my daughter’s aid. There must have been at least a hundred people watching and what shocked me most was that they found it extremely amusing. How they would have reacted if it had been one of their own, I don’t know, but the feeling I got was, because I was a foreigner then I was seen as ‘fair game’. ” By this time my daughter was screaming and I was trying to fight my way out of the water and to the safety of the villa. It was anger and adrenaline that saved me.”
“My husband although Egyptian had left Egypt when he was seventeen years of age and Agami was a very deserted beach in those days, where you could swim freely without any problem, he was unaware of how much the culture had changed in his absence. ”
“It has left a lasting scare and impression on my psyche but I do know that if Egyptians KNOW you and know your husband’s family it’s a totally different story. They do come to your aid as has happened to me in a couple of situations since then. As for this young journalist, I truly believe that what she wrote is genuine and is totally possible and accurate because of my own experience.”
-K.E -IrishAlexandrian’s Mum
This clearly isn’t a ‘NEW’ phenomenon that has suddenly plagued our land, it has been here for quite some time but there is more and more light being shed on the stories that are surfacing thanks to modern media.
Men do not experience such traumatic experiences, they should be grateful. However, a part of me truly wishes that those who do harass women, have similar experiences so that they can get a taste of their own medicine and think twice before they attempt to invade a woman’s personal space.
PARENTS and TEACHERS, hear our plea, educate your sons on how to treat women ! It is up to us to eradicate this growing cancer that is polluting the minds of many.
August 21st of 2011 was the 40 day memorial service for my sweet departed friend. In this part of the world, 40 days after a person has departed there is a memorial service held in their honor. I hopped on a train and headed down to Cairo especially to attend the service.
Fabienne, Nathalie Atalla’s sister had asked me to read the Irish bereavement poem that I had used at the end of my written tribute to her. No matter how many times I read those few sentences allowed or to myself, I couldn’t help but feel as though that I was choking on held back tears and my lip would disobey direct orders from my brain not to quiver.
When I reached Cairo I busied myself trying to put my closed apartment in order, while thinking about the upcoming service. The reason the service weighed so heavily on my mind was because, when I heard of Nathalie’s untimely departure I had just arrived in London. As much as I wanted to get back on a plane and turn around and go back to Cairo, I couldn’t. So, although I understood that Nathalie would no longer be walking among us in the flesh, my mind hadn’t fully come to terms with it.
As I sat in the church and was a few pews from the alter, where a beautiful picture of her smiling back at all of those who were in attendance, the reality of it all came crashing down. My eyes burned with restrained tears as did my throat, but I knew that she wouldn’t want more tears to be shed and especially not on her birthday. Yes, her memorial service coincided with her 32nd Birthday. A day where we would have all come together to rejoice and having a gay o’l time, but instead we were remembering her life and how she touched each and every one of us.
At the service I saw her two brave adorable girls, standing at the front of the church with their aunt and grandparents, behaving beautifully and comforting their grandmother in the midst of the service. Once the service was over, the two girls greeted the attendees at the entrance of the church with angelic smiles on their face, warm hugs and handed every single person a brioche (it’s like a hot cross bun). As I watched them, I couldn’t help but admire their innocence and how they have bounced back from having their mother tragically taken away from them at such a young age. I could see many of Nato’s qualities and she would have been very proud of them.
In the reception hall on the grounds of the church, friends and family went to pay their respects. A group of friends sat in the hall and sang ballads, two other close friends of Nathalie’s stood up and said a few words about her. Fabienne, gave a very moving speech that brought us all to tears and moved us deeply. I agree with Fabienne, Nathalie wouldn’t want us to continue to cry and be sad, she would want us to celebrate her life, remember her and smile and apply the lessons she taught us to our daily lives.
With the over flow of emotion, my little speech was over looked, but that is fine, what really mattered, was that we were there for her sister, her daughters, her parents and that we were remembering her and what she meant to us.
I finally had closure and came to terms with her passing, but although she in no longer with us in body, Nathalie is still here with us in spirit and she continues to inspire us every day!
Nathalie, you have inspired me to love myself and to take care of my health. I have returned to my favorite sport, swimming. I could barely finish two laps without gasping for air, when I started at the beginning of July but with daily practice and persistence, plus having your voice encouraging and cheering me on, as you have for the past few months. I have now made it to 110 laps. I look better, feel better about myself and I’m beginning to feel more like my old self. Nathalie, thank you for motivating and inspiring me!
As the famous song goes; every breath I take, every move I make, every single day, every time I pray, I’ll be missing you…
http://www.nathalieatalla.com/ to leave your thoughts and comments.
‘Death is always more difficult for the living’- unknown
I have been mulling over wether or not I should write this and if I was able to bring myself to write about Nathalie, would I be able to do her justice? I decided to write it as a means to come to terms with her tragic passing.
Around this time in Alexandria, Agami 14-15 years ago, during one of the Paradise beach summer festivals, was when I first saw Nathalie. She and another dear friend of mine were contestants in the Miss Dove/Bianki competition. I remember that day clearly and I remember cheering both on to the finals. As I watched Nathalie on stage, I can recall thinking what a good-looking girl she was. Her eyes in particular caught my attention, their colour much like her personality were unique and they seemed to twinkle every time she laughed or smiled.
It wasn’t until about 6 years ago I was introduced to her sister by my close-knit group of friends when I moved to Cairo. I became quite familiar with her charming sister Fabienne and would often chat and joke with her all the while not knowing that she was Nato’s sister or the cousin of people I knew in Alexandria. A couple of years ago a mutual friend of ours organized a camping trip to Wadi Hitan in the desert. A small group of us packed our bags and made our way to the pickup point where we were to wait for our desert guides. When Nathalie emerged from the car, I immediately recognized her from that day in Agami all those years ago.
The 24 hours spent together along with her two young daughters, sister and mutual friends camping out in the desert and hiking a trail looking at fossilized whale skeletons will forever be imprinted in my memory, The nervous fits of giggles when the 4X4 broke down at the start of the trip and the laughter around the camp fire as we tried to BBQ wieners and not being able to help but be somewhat disgusted at how they reminded us of a certain part of the human anatomy impaled on a wooden skewer , The impromptu sing along with Nadine and Nicole to the Mama Mia sound track all the way to and from our destination. In those hours I couldn’t help but be drawn to her like a fire fly to lamp light. During our short trip I came to learn what a strong and positive woman Nathalie was. You couldn’t help but notice how she made being a single mom and having a full-time job look manageable. She was also very humble, caring, kind, generous and a genuine person. As well as passionate about life, being a good mother and her job. (The list of her positive qualities is endless)
From that time onwards we were always in touch, via text messages, our groups e-mail thread, what’sapp and twitter. We saw each other frequently at birthdays, get togethers, outings, spontaneous meet ups and weddings.
I along with a great many others, are still trying to come to terms with her tragic death and how she was taken away from us too soon in a car accident on the 9th July 2011. I can’t believe that I won’t see her daily contributions to our groups email thread and she’ll no longer scold the boys for their crude comments or be the one trying to encourage and help find a location for our weekly Tuesday get togethers. I won’t have her reply to my tweets or chat with her on whatsapp where she would scold me for sending her rude jokes and then laugh about how funny it was, she’d also leave me with inspiring words to help motivate me and boost my self-confidence, give me sound advice when it came to matters of the heart, encourage and support me with my mission to get back in to shape, All that aside, I will mostly miss seeing her with her daughters and sister at gathering and outings, Greeting me with her warm smile and hug and face me and say, ‘How are you? I’ve missed you’ and genuinely mean it. I will miss early morning Friday calls to see if I’m awake and interested in grabbing breakfast at TBS. I now wish I had been able to go to more outings that you attended and had more breakfasts with you.
Nathalie has left a big void in many people’s lives and in our group. We all looked up to her and held her in the highest regard. She was a remarkable, loveable, charismatic, intelligent and an inspiring individual. I think she was our equivalent to Princess Diana. She was feminine, beautiful inside and out. She would turn heads where ever she went.
My eyes well up with tears at the thought of the devastating blow this has been to your parents, daughters, sister and other family members. We, your friends are only feeling a fraction of their pain and loss. My prayers and heart goes out to them and I hope that in time the pain subsides and it becomes easier for them to cope.
A little over a week has passed since you departed from this Earth and our lives, the messages on your facebook wall are still being posted as well as memoriams posted to blogs in your memory. You have touched so many people with your spirit and I hope that a part of you will continue to live on in each and every one of us. I can only speak for myself but I’m sure there are others who will try to do the same. I will try to live by your example and embrace every day and opportunity as they come; I will try to be more positive about situations and life, believe in myself and strive towards my goals to achieve excellence, be more courageous, try new things and to love unconditionally.
Dear God, Thank you, for introducing me to her and letting our paths cross. I am grateful for the time we had together. Please look after her and take care of her family and loved ones, they need you now more than ever.
On a final note and in true Irish form, I raise a glass in your honor and I toast your life and your family; Nato this one is for you;
In Memory of Nathalie Atalla
God saw you injured and a cure was not to be. So, He put His arms around you and whispered “come to me.” With tearful eyes we watched you, and saw you pass away. Although we loved you dearly, we could not make you stay. A golden heart stopped beating, hardworking hands at rest. God broke our hearts to prove to us, He only takes the best.
Rest in Peace Nathalie… I will remember you.
below are other blog posts in memory of Nathalie;
Last week in Egypt there have been two rumors flying around the country that there is something wrong or faulty about the soft drinks.
I received a whatsapp message on my phone on November 29th 2010, it read;
‘This is serious I just received a phone call from someone who works for “Pepsi” please do not drink Pepsi, there is a fatal ingredient that was added to Pepsi by mistake, which kills immediately, they are still thinking to make and ad. in the newspaper, but god know how many will die till then, this is not a joke, and it’s not something Coke Cola made up. Please spread it. “
I asked some of my friends about it and apparently they had heard about it too. I have searched on-line to see if anything had been written about it, but I had no luck. There isn’t even anything mentioned on the Pepsi home page and they haven’t released a statement to the press either. So, who knows how true the rumor about Pepsi is and if it is true, drink Pepsi at your own risk.
Four days ago, on December thirds, another friend sends another message to my phone telling me that there is something wrong with the fizzy drinks and there was something written in the Al Ahram news paper page 3.
I asked another friend of mine who had the paper to tell me what it said and what he told me was quite mind-blowing!
There’s a factory in Sharkiyah that imitated the bottling of some of the well-known brands of soft drinks and sold it on a massive scale to leading supermarket chains. The government had seized 20,000 bottles. The worst part is they haven’t gotten all of the distributed products back, there is more being sold to unknown consumers as you read this.
I couldn’t help but think how good the knock off products must have been to be able to full the supermarket chains and the consumers who have bought the bottles of soda. To stay on the safe side, when I have a soda craving, I’ll by the can rather than the plastic bottle.
If you think about it, this could be the biggest scam of all time in Egypt.
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.
Alexandria is where I call home in Egypt. It’s where I spent my teenage years, graduated from High School and University and where my family still lives. There is a mysterious charm about the place and I can’t get enough of it. It has a unique mix of culture, you can still sense the European presence that once existed, and the Mediterranean laid back attitude and the Egyptian hospitality.
When I am in Cairo I long to be in Alexandria with my family and going for early Friday morning walks along the Corniche (sea road).
It is an unspoken ritual/tradition that Fridays are family days and on that day we give our mothers a rest from laboring in the kitchen and go out to eat. My Dad loves food and I think I inherited his passion for it. He enjoys trying new restaurants and cuisine.
In this post I am going to recommend some of the restaurants my family and I have been to and like and others that I have tried and have gone back to several times.
Carrefour Shopping center
Of all the Egyptian restaurant chains, Makani is my favorite. It has a western twist to its food. I am a sucker for their chicken corn salad. My sister on the other hand can’t get enough of their Sushi. The Restaurant is located in the new section of Carrefour.
A Canadian chain that has opened in Carrefour is a nice place to go for a light lunch. I was there last weekend with my mother and sister and I really enjoyed my plate of Quesada’s and I heard no complaints from my mother or sister.
Supremo is the only place in Alexandria that has bagels. If you had a craving for one, then you need to head down there. It is as good as the real bagels you buy in Canada but its close enough.
* My last two visits to the place were in October and in April and i found the service to be a bit slow, waiters forgetful and disorganized at times.
If none of those interest you, there is a food court in the mall too.
The Cairo restaurant that serves food similar to Coffee Roastary and reminds me a lot of pub lunches have opened in Alexandria. It has two locations. The first is in the Downtown complex opposite Carrefour City Center and the other is inside Montazah.
My parents have gone there a few times in my absence and have enjoyed it. They especially liked the deserts that were on the menu.
I went with them on two occasions since having posted the post months ago and I have to say that I enjoyed both meals I had there.
Balbaa Restaurant is located in the Downtown complex opposite the Carrefour City Center shopping mall. The restaurant has two levels; the first is for more traditional food like Kofta, Kabab, Pigeon and other tantalizing dishes. The fresh basket of mini baked Arabic bread and Mezzas are served before the meal. They are so good that you find it hard to restrain yourself from eating too much before your main course arrives. Everything is cooked fresh.
The 2nd level is for sea food. I am a sea food junky!! I love fish! I enjoy picking the fresh fish that I’m going to eat, along with calamari, muscles and occasionally shrimp and instructing the attending mongers my preference on how I like it cooked. While you are waiting Mezzas and a fresh basket of bread are put down in front of you whilst you wait for your meal. I have been to many fish restaurants in Alexandria, but this I find to be the best and great value for your money. I recommend going before the restaurant gets too busy, It’s best to go at around 2pm.
If you like American/Mexican food, then Chili’s is the place to go for your Nachos and cheese, crispy chicken, Texas fries, Fajita’s and Burgers. I must admit that the food is good. I especially enjoy their salad selection, country fried chicken, their refill basket of salsa and chips and their chocolate molten lava cake!
De La Vega
Is a café and restaurant located above Chili’s. I like going there to chill and relax with a large number of friends. It’s open air and the seating is really comfortable. If you want to go for a snack and sheesha then I would recommend going there.
I love the name of the place and the décor too. The place has that Greek atmosphere about it with its white walls and blue shutters. My sister and her friends really enjoy going there for their sheesha. I treated my family for lunch there and if my father had no complaints about the service, location or the food then it has to be good. Having worked in restaurants and bakeries during his student years, he has very high expectations when it comes to where he eats out.
There are 2 other restaurants next to Mykonos that you may also enjoy. I believe all 3 are owned by the same person(s) because if you wish to order something from either of the other restaurants you can.
In the same area and line as the restaurants mentioned above is Weiner Café unfortunately doesn’t serve my favorite hot dog brand, but if you like chocolate like the ladies in my family do, then this is the place in Alex to indulge. Their chocolate fondue with Belgian chocolate is not to be missed. My parents, who aren’t big coffee drinkers, do enjoy going there to have a Cappuccino and Café Late.
* I went there in April and found that the standard of service has dropped and the place seems to be a bit run down. The chocolate is still good!
If you drive behind the Alexandria International Gardens you will find a string of clubs and restaurants.
It is a private club that mainly expats go to, to spend the day by the pool and to have lunch. You pay for the use of the facilities (Pool & Gym) each time you go there. If you aren’t interested in swimming, tanning or working out but would like to go somewhere open aired and with foliage, then you might be interested in going there for lunch. I have eaten there several times and I really enjoy the food as well as the ambiance.
This is a very modern and hip place to go to in the evenings. It is especially popular on Thursday and Friday nights, to guarantee a place from 9pm on wards on either of those nights, you need to book in advance. You can have a meal there or order a variety of delicious appetizers while you socialize or listen to the D.J spin some tracks.
According to their facebook group;
Sundays they have live Guitarist playing.
Tuesdays is Karaoke themed night
to reserve call; Michael, Mobile: 0182878224 , Tel: 03-3822797
The restaurant and bar is named after the Swiss owner. Christina is a Swiss trained chef, who moved to Alexandria with her husband many years ago. She lives in Agami and the restaurant is a part of the house. It is a very quaint and cozy place to go to for a meal or to have drinks with friends. There have been many occasions where people will start jamming on the piano and before you know it everyone starts belting out songs and joining in on the fun.In Kafr Abdu, Roushdy area there is a restaurant/café called Ole. It has a Spanish theme and is very nicely decorated. My mother loves going to Ole for a meal. Her favorite dish there is the fish and I have to admit that I love their sea food paella and California salad. The food is delicious and the service is friendly and old school. Their deserts are something not to be missed either.
Another good thing about Ole is that if you are having a dinner party and aren’t a very good cook, they will cater.
Cilantro is one of my favorite cafes to go to and hang out with friends. The juices, sandwiches and salads are made freshly every day. It has a very calm atmosphere.
The café is located next to Ole and opposite the building where the Tamarin Center (exercise) center is. There are several branches in Alexandria and Cairo.
Fresca and Blue
Both cafés are located in the newly built Four Seasons Hotel in San Stefano overlooking the sea. Fresca is on the ground floor opposite the main entrance to the hotel lobby. I like going there during the day for a light lunch. It’s a very popular place to go out to eat. Blue is located on the 2nd or 3rd floor of the hotel. It’s open air and overlooks the cornice and sea. It’s a great place to be at sunset. I haven’t eaten there but my friends enjoy going. I like going for the view and to relax and chat with friends.
The hotel sometimes has a café open on the hotels private beach.
Is a café located on the cornich very close to the Ramada hotel. It’s a nice café to go to in the evening with friends to have sheesha, a light snack and drinks (nonalcoholic). If you sit in the outside area of the café you have a nice vie of the sea.
Down Town Alexandria
The Greek Club (serves alcohol)
There are 2 Greek Clubs (that I know of) in Alexandria, one is located in the Alexandria bay area, next to the yacht club and the Qayat Bay Fort. It has recently been renovated and has an elevator that takes you up to the restaurant. The view from the restaurant terrace at any time of day is breath taking! They menu has many familiar Greek dishes, I have to say since the last time I was there a couple of years ago the standard has improved and the food is good, but not GREAT.
The second Greek Club is located next to the Azzareeta tram line, across from a gas station. If you are not a member you need to pay an entrance fee to go in. The club is nothing luxurious but it’s a great place to go to, to get away from the daily harassment that one is exposed to. The club is mostly open air and spacious. It is quiet and with all the Greek, French and Armenian that you here, you tend to forget that you’re in Egypt. There is a quaint little restaurant and bar on the premises. The owner, of the restaurant Nicolas is usually there in the evenings over seeing how things are run. The food there is fresh and tasty. A great place to go to for a brief get away.
Athenos (serves alcohol)
This old restaurant/café is over 100 years old. It is just a few minutes’ walk from Mahatat El Raml Square. The place isn’t as glorious as it used to be back in its day, but I have to admit that its location is nicely located. It is right on the Corniche and if you are lucky enough to have a window seat then you have an excellent view of the Mediterranean.
There aren’t many places you can go to in Alexandria where you will be served Alcoholic beverages, but you can get a cold beer there. I sometime like to go there early in the morning for breakfast to have a chocolate croissant and lemonade.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina (Alexandria Library)
Outside on the premises of the Library grounds there is a string of cafe’s that have an outside view of the Planetarium, Library and Cornish Sea view. Hilton Cafe, Cilanto, Cinnabon and a few others.
The Cecil Hotel
One of the oldest and expensive hotels in Alexandria has still got its charm and class. Did you know that Churchill and Agatha Christi stayed there? The place has a lot of history, so much in fact that it was on CNN. On the roof of the hotel is a Chinese restaurant. I am not a huge fan of Asian food but I have to admit that it is very good. The view from the roof top at night is magical. You are sitting under a blanket of stars an can see Alexandria bay lit up and on a clear night you can see the lights from ships in the distance and if you ever think of proposing to someone, this is probably the best place to do it.
The Imperial Cafe
Is a cafe right next door to the Cecil Hotel overlooking the square. It is newly renovated and i have to admit it was my first time to set foot in the place in July and I have to say, I was pleasantly surprised by the service and it’s over all standard. I would definitely drop by again in the near future.
Delice (has a bar, cafe and restaurant)
Is another other café that has been around for decades. I enjoy going there because when I sit and look around I can imagine myself sitting next to some of the colonials back in the 1930. This is another place where I enjoy going to have breakfast early in the morning. Their pancakes are nice, but if you want to try something different, then try the Greek cheese pie. They have a nice bakery too. I love their giant macaroons and meringues. My elderly neighbor, Madame Yamna (God rest her soul), loved their petit four biscuits from there. So when ever, I would go to visit her, I would buy her a box. This is another place you can go to, to have a beer.
St. Lucia (serves alcohol)
This fine dining restaurant is located opposite Cinema Metro and the Elite Café, where the famous Greek writer Cavafy used to sit and write. I used to go to St. Lucia when I would come to visit my Grandmother in the summers. I loved going there because the waiters spoke at least 5 to 7 languages. My Dad liked it too because he would practice his Greek with them. The restaurant has changed hands since then, the waiters are long gone but the history of the place is still there.
It has been renovated and the prices have sky rocketed. If you want to go out for a night of wine and dining this is the place. Next to the café is another old café called Asteria. It’s a very quiet place and few people go in there. My Grandmother and I used to go there together after having begged and dragged her to the Toy shop to buy the latest Barbie doll (I collected them), she would have ice cream and tea, while I would have sport cola and ice cream.
After years of being closed and undergoing renovation, it has finally reopened. I must confess, that I have not ventured in side (yet) but I fully intend to. This cafe holds a great deal of history and many childhood memories for me. At this very cafe sat some of the greatest modern day writers of the Mediterranean. One of which is the famed Greek writer Cavafy, who is best known for his poem Ethica. The old lady, who used to own the cafe, would tell you stories of when they would come in and sit and write. As a child when I used to come on holidays, this was one of the cafe’s we would sit at in the evenings and I would drink my 7 Up and have a bowl of ice cream.
Abu Sid (used to be Pastroudis)
On the corner of Cinema Amir, there used to be one of the most popular cafes, Pastroudis. I remember many summers going for a walk with my parents to this location on Fouad street, just a few minutes’ walk from my Grandmother’s house and sitting there watching the men with hantours (carriages) taking their passengers for a ride.
It has now been transformed in to the very popular oriental restaurant Abu Sid. I haven’t gone to eat there yet, but my mother went with a friend of hers for lunch recently. She said she really enjoyed the meal, but was flabbergasted at the prices.
Chez Gaby (serves alcohol)
When I first moved to Alexandria, there were very few good restaurants. The number of restaurants since I move here in the early 90s has more than quadrupled. Chez Gaby was one of the best places to go to. I remember going there after school with my friend and her mother for pizza. It was the best pizza I had had in months. To this day their pizzas are still very good. Their food reminds me a lot of Maison Thomas in Cairo. The restaurant is located very close to St. Lucia. It’s a couple of streets behind it.
* Alcohol is served
Déjà vu (serves alcohol)
Déjà vu (formally known as Far and Away) is a pub, (one of the very few in Alexandria)
it’s probably one of the most popular places to go to on a Thursday or a Friday night. If you want to go and have a bite to eat, the food there is good and if you want to go watch a football match or have a dance this is where you need to head.
It’s very close to the Said Darweesh Theater.
Grand Café, Chicken Tikka and Fish Market
The three restaurants are located in the same area. They are on the sea side of the Corniche road. The three are very popular places to go for a meal in Alexandria. The food there is always good. The staff is friendly and professional. The portion size for the price they charge is something that I don’t agree with. I don’t mind forking out the money every now and then when I want to treat myself.
Of the three, I prefer the Fish Market and Chicken Tikka.
Agami is a very old beach resort outside of the city. If you take the new road to Bianki Agami it should take you about twenty minutes driving. If you take the old route via the desert road it would take you half an hour or more.
I have spent almost 2 decades of my summers there. My Great Uncle had a villa right on the beach and when the family sold it my father bought and built his own. If you can’t afford to go abroad for the summer then you have to spend it somewhere by the sea. (Just make sure that it is private beach that you go to, otherwise you will be harassed!!!)
I met some of my closest and best friends in Bianki. The majority of them are like me of mixed ethnicity. It’s also where a lot of the old Alexandrians prefer to go during the summer. At one point Agami was like the Rivera of the Middle East. It has lost its status to the more modern and posh resorts that have been built further up the North Coast.
Two of my favorite Restaurants are in Agami.
Wagihe’s Steak house.
The owner of this little restaurant is a one man show! He runs the place, cooks the food and serves. The word I would use to describe the food would be…German! I have no idea why…but I think it has a lot to do with the ambience of the place and the German memorabilia he has on the walls. The steak there is mouthwatering; the French fries are homemade steak fries! Going there once is not enough! It’s a popular place people go to when they are heading back from the beach and want to tame their hunger pains.
The restaurant is on the main street of Bianki.
The restaurant and bar is named after the Swiss owner. Christina is a Swiss trained chef, who moved to Alexandria with her husband many years ago.
She lives in Agami and the restaurant is a part of the house. It is a very quaint and cozy place to go to for a meal or to have drinks with friends. There
have been many occasions where people will start jamming on the piano and before you know it everyone starts belting out songs and joining in on the fun.
If there are places you have been to and liked, please recommend them to me and my readers by leaving a comment.
As the weather in Egypt starts to climb so do the risks of getting food poisoning. I used to think that I had an iron stomach, but 7 years ago I learned the hard way. I had sever food poisoning, I had para typhoid! To this day I am unsure where I got it from, because I would go out quite a lot with my friends in the evening after spending the day on the beach in Bianki, Agami. What made it even harder to pin point was the incubation period, its approximately two weeks. Since then I have become very anal about where I eat out and when I eat out.
During the HOT season, the shelf life of produce is cut in to a quarter, food rots faster. Any dips, sauces made of cream and especially mayonnaise will go off really quickly if it isn’t refrigerated and covered well. Flys seem to multiply during the summer and they seem to have hyper SENSORS. They can detect food from miles off and before you can tuck in, you are being bombed by kamikaze flies left, right and center. They will pull out every trick they have just to have a chance to land and spit on your food.
Consumption of water and Sodas sky rockets during the summer too. Before you pop open a can of your favorite carbonated drink to chug down to quench your thirst, wipe the surface of the can really well or even go as far as washing it. When the cans are waiting to be shelved, the roaches have a field day climbing all over them and sometimes even lay eggs on them. When buying bottled water make sure that the plastic seal is on the bottle. If the removable seal is not there, there is a possibility that it isn’t a fresh bottle of mineral water
Restaurants and Cafes get really busy too, so the pressure on the dishwashers in the kitchens is tripled. You will often find that the plates, glasses and cutlery are not very clean. If you have an inkling that it isn’t very clean or you are uncomfortable with the way it looks, then go with your gut instincts and politely ask the waiter to change it for you. It’s better to be safe than sorry. It isn’t fun being quarantined during the summer and having typhoid isn’t anything I would wish on my worst enemy.
Just last week a friend of mine went out to satisfy his sweet tooth and bought himself ‘Ruz Bil Laban’ (Rice Pudding) and regretted it a few hours later. Luckily he only had very mild poisoning, he was fine the following day. AUC (American University of Cairo) has had to have Tobasco close on campus because of cases of food poisoning. (I wish other restaurants would do the same and have a BLITZ clean)
I try very hard to eat at home more during the summer to avoid mild or even extreme food poisoning. Your home is the only guaranteed place you can be sure of having well-cooked food and clean utensils.
Requested and Reserved for a future issue of (in)sight Magazine
When ever I am at a wedding a social gathering where my parent’s friend are present or seeing parents of former students one of the first question they always ask me is ‘eh inti lisa matgawizteesh?’ (you still haven’t gotten married yet?) Frankly I’m tired of it !
Here I am a three decades plus one year young female who still hasn’t managed to nab herself a fish of any status or size. Here in Egypt it is considered close to tragic! I should have hooked a fish by my second year of university and been wed not long after graduation and been with child returning from the honeymoon. Being a single female at this age leaves some people to conclude one of two things. One, that there is something wrong with me if an eligible bachelor hasn’t claimed me for his own and Two, (my favorite) I’ve passed my expiry date.
My response to that is as follows; The reason I haven’t been picked off the shelf is because I am such a rare piece that the average Joe doesn’t know how to appreciate me. I am a woman of rare substance, intellect and culture and men fear what is unfamiliar and unknown to them. Very few are man enough to step up to the plate to take a risk of actually looking past my physical appearance and getting to know what goes on in my cranium and those that do peek underneath the silky blondish brown wavy hair that sprouts from my head and falls upon my shoulders are more than often scared away because they know that I can not be their puppet and I have a mind of my own.
I won’t settle for being a prize that he shows off and parades around by his side like a Barbie doll at weddings and other social engagements. I want more and I demand to be treated as an intelligent equal of great worth.
If there is a man who is unafraid of venturing in to the un known and would take a risk to get to know me through intellectual conversation and is capable of winning my respect, trust and lastly my affections he will be far richer than any king that we have come to know. The riches that I will bring to the table of the relationship are far more valuable than gold, gems and land put together.
As for the question of my expiration, well, I beg to differ. With time, comes knowledge, skill and aging. The perfect process to make a bottle of mixed ethnic wine. I consider myself the wine of the universe. I age like a fine wine and improve with each passing day and year. So, I just keep getting better and better!