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women waiting in a long line to cast their vote at a poll station for Nov 28th parliament elections in Egypt

As the day for elections loomed nearer and my decision to go vote fluctuated between to vote or not vote due to the instability and safety of Cairo and Alexandria during the second wave of the revolution. I finally made up my mind and bought my train ticket and made my way up to Alexandria Sunday evening.

You could sense the excitement and anxiousness in the air in both cities. There was a state of confusion and worry among the citizens of this country. Numerous questions echoed everywhere you went; will it be safe to go and vote? Will thugs have been hired to attack polling stations? Will it be rigged like last time? Who do we vote for; we don’t know half the names that will appear on the ballots? There are over 60 -100 names to choose from on the ballot, how am I to know which person I want to represent me? These were just some of the questions that had been asked over the course of the past couple of weeks and on the train ride to Alexandria.

Once I got home a very heated debate and discussion ensued. The house was divided as to what to expect at the polling station and who to vote for in the Attareen area. None of us were familiar with any of the names of the political candidates, their parties or what their beliefs are. In the end I had to call up on a friend who was in the same boat as I was. We are both Alexandrian, from the same area and although we have very similar views of how the country should be run, we both come from different religious backgrounds, but at the end of the day we wanted the same thing, liberal civilian government. We talked about our options, he gave me a summary of the different parties’ beliefs and then when it came to the candidates, we were both stumped… There were far too many to choose from. He said that a friend of his was voting for 2 of 3 guys and that is what he was going to go with too. When I relayed the information I had just learned to my family, it was decided that we would go with the party that Naguib Sawiris backs, ‘El Kotla El Masreya’, whom are (supposedly and hopefully) liberal, they have both revolutionaries, young and old people. As for the candidates, I still know very little about them and found it hard to find any information on them so, I just followed the heard as they say. I had decided that I was going to give my vote for one labor and one professional and luck would have it, both belong to the same political party that I had decided to choose.

My Dad, God bless him had figured out where my Mom, Aunt and I had to go vote, got our registration numbers and which poll booth we belonged to. (A Great Time SAVER!)

Monday morning, when I woke up for a brief moment I had forgotten what day it was. Waking up in my room in Alexandria caused a brief moment of disorientation and confusion, being there usually meant that it was a weekend or a holiday of some kind. Memories of the night before came flooding back and I leapt out of bed and got myself ready for to go vote.

The weather wasn’t the best it could have been, it was over cast with dark gloomy rain clouds, the wind had a cold chilly bite to it but it didn’t dampen people’s spirits or deter them from coming out to vote. I was lucky, I didn’t stand for as long as other people did to cast my vote, other people stood in line for hours in the rain and cold. Their sheer determination to make their voices heard is uplifting as well as inspiring.

The poll station wasn’t too far away from where we lived but we did find it quite odd that we weren’t closer to our house, when there were other polling stations nearby. The school that we went to was the marooseya school, near the Raml area. It is down a very narrow and hard to find passage way, if my dad and I hadn’t done our research ahead of time I doubt we would have found the place. It was literally wedged between a cluster of buildings and a church. If you walked by you wouldn’t know there was a school there. (Thank you Google Maps!)

We got to our designated area fairly early and there was a cue of women waiting patiently in line. There were two lines set up, one for the elderly and those in need of assistance and a line for the younger and more able voters. There was a very noticeable and heavy security presence. Police officers and men in blue uniform, I believe either a sect from the navy or military police, I am not certain.

The poll station didn’t open on time due to the tardy arrivals of those who were in charge of the station or were meant to be working there. As we all waited patiently in line a man shouted out instructions but I couldn’t hear him well to be able to understand or pass on the information, which lead to people getting more and more confused.

Once the officials who were working at the poll station arrived things were slow going. My mother, who is still recovering from hip replacement surgery and is on crutches along with a few other elderly women were the first of a handful of people to enter the premises to begin the voting process that morning. My aunt and I had to wait in line for another hour while we waited for our turn.

I have great admiration for military in general and other security forces, but it is with great regret that I cannot say that my admiration extends to Egypt’s. They have shown their true colors over the past year and it is one that disturbs me greatly, having said that they showed a very polite and softer side of themselves on Monday. They were very helpful and respectful when addressing people when asking them not to take pictures or to stand in line. They were being too nice… which made me very skeptical. (It also made me ponder… if every poll station across the nation had this amount of security, where were they in January when civilians had to defend their neighborhoods and businesses?)

Things got a bit tense twice when I stood in line, a woman from the back of the line walked up to one of the high-ranking officers and yelled at him for not opening the station on time and inadvertently accused him of foul play, by this time it was 8:30. They apologized and tried to explain that it wasn’t them who were holding up the process. The second time was when screeching of tires was heard and guards ran to the main street to see what the cause was. thankfully a False Alarm!

As I stood in line tweeting away my eyewitness accounts of what was going on, people in line were talking and communicating with strangers about what they think about the revolution, who they are voting for and why and what the results of this election might mean for the future of Egypt. As I stood listening and tweeting I heard a women confess that she didn’t vote during the referendum last spring and she had now wished she had. She said that this time she was determined to have a say and to vote for what she believed in. At this polling station there were women of all ages and social classes standing in very close proximity of one another and it was in that brief moment that everyone looked equal. There was no division of class, rank or education; we were all just women, who had finally been given a voice.

Although many have mixed feelings of those who are standing their ground in Tahrir Square and in other areas around the country, one thing is for certain, that our presence at voting stations today would not have been possible if they hadn’t stood up to corruption, poverty, injustice and demanded their given right to have their voices heard. Many lost their lives so that we would have that chance today, others bare the wounds of the battle that may heal and then there are those who will have the wounds that serve as a crippling reminder every day of their lives a price they were willing to pay for us to have a chance to make a change and a difference. As I stood in line listening to the women around me conversing, I recalled a conversation I had, had with a former president’s nephew years back. I told him that the day will come when another revolution will happen and the people will rise up either because the poor are getting poorer or the mentality of the people will change and Egypt will become a religious state like Iran. He laughed at me and said he doubted it would happen… I wonder if he’s laughing now?

As I gazed around at the hodge podge of women, it became apparent that there was quite a strong Muslim Brotherhood following at the station I had been assigned to. One I find worrying, but not as worrying as Salafi supporters. I have to give them credit though; they have been the most organized party and have been promoting themselves well, so if they get voted in, they would have earned their places. After all they have been working towards this moment for decades. I do not endorse nor support them in any way, if they do get voted in, then I fear for Egypt’s long term future. If the country turns in to another Saudi Arabia, Iran or Afghanistan, that I will have to abandon Egypt with a very heavy heart and move elsewhere. I lived in Saudi Arabia for 10 years, I do not want to have to watch women’s rights wash away and be forced to cover up again.

After an hour of waiting a desk was brought out and a man sat at it with booklets of photocopied papers, with people’s names and ID numbers, he was trying to speed up the process and tell people which room they should go to, to cast their vote and to ensure they were waiting in line at the right place.

The were two  highlights to my day, the first was seeing my mum emerge from inside the school with a victorious look of satisfaction on her face. Although she is not of Egyptian blood, she got the nationality from being married to my Dad for (well) over a decade and she made it a point to go and vote! The other was the feeling of self accomplishment after having voted.

When, I was finally allowed to make my way in to the school, which was a lot further in than any of us had thought, we had to walk through the school playground (square patch of sand) and up almost 2 flights of stairs. 3 classrooms were designated for voting rooms; luckily mine was empty, so I spent less than 10 minutes waiting, while other people had to wait longer because they would only allow two people in at a time, which slowed down the process. The officials in the room wore vests that indicated that they were overseers of the voting station and checked our IDs, had us sign and gave us our ballots. There was a small cubical for you to go and cast your vote. The ballot boxes were made from glass and had wooden frames encompassing the glass and a big padlock on each one. Things seemed to be in order.

The ballots were 2 different colors and 2 sizes. The ballot to vote for the political party was a light salmon pink and was slightly smaller than A4. The ballot of individual’s names was an A3 paper, with numbers, symbols and names of the political candidates. I checked the back of both my papers to ensure that they had the official stamp on the back to make sure that my vote would be counted, otherwise it would have been void and I would have had to insist that the judge of the polling station sign it.

Knowing who I was going to vote for and what party made things really easy, otherwise, you would have had to read through the entire list of names and that is what took people a long time! By the time I left with my Aunt the line where we had been standing hand quadrupled in numbers and went around the block in 2 directions.

When I got home I continued to follow the elections on twitter across the country and to tweet my accounts. Some of the accounts that were coming in were very hopeful and others were not. A lot of people had to blow the whistle on many polling stations, politicians and parties for not following procedures. There were reports of poll stations not opening on time, ballots not being stamped, judges refusing to sign the ballots to make them valid, polling stations being closed without an explanation, party members trying to buy voters votes are just some of the things that were made. There are still mixed feelings about the elections in general. Some people believe that this is a step towards democracy and change. Others see it as a scam and that it won’t matter what people vote, the decision by security forces has already been made. In all honesty, I am not convinced that this will work, but I had nothing to lose by voting today. If I am wrong and this is legit, then my vote counted for something. If it is all just a smoke screen for what is to come, I didn’t lose anything by trying. I know one thing for sure though, if I hadn’t come to Alexandria, to be here today, I know I would have regretted it for a very long time.

Now all we can do is wait and hope…

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Operation Megan Fox

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

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

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

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

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

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

March 3rd, 2011:

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

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

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

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

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

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

My before and after pictures thus far…

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

 August 15th 2011, sorry about the picture quality!

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

October 21st 2011 dressed for a friends wedding

October 21st 2011 dressed for a friend’s wedding