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For my sister’s wedding almost four years ago, I began my battle of the bulge with ‘Operation Megan Fox’. I was determined to look good for her special day and I didn’t want to appear like a shlumpadinka in my dress. I stuck to it and dropped the weight using the Slim Fast Shakes and watching what I ate.I looked better and healthier too. I had intended on following through, but life always throws us some curve balls. In all honesty, I fell off and got back on the wagon many times since then. I couldn’t figure out what the invisible force was that kept preventing me from accomplishing my goal of releasing my trapped thin self, until I did a detox earlier this year and discovered that unbeknownst to me, I was the invisible force, who kept poisoning my body with foods that I thought were healthy and good for me. While I had a silent allergy to them.
With this new-found knowledge of what foods weren’t good for me, I gave away and threw out a lot of products to make room for foods that were nutritious for me. During the clean out, I also got rid of clothes I hadn’t been able to fit into for a while, which served as a constant reminder of what I used to be and the intention of keeping them was to encourage me to get back into them, when all they did was depress the hell out of me, so I gave them to the needy. Throughout this process, I began to do a lot of reflecting. I looked within myself to see what baggage I had been holding on to and I found that I had quite a bit of unresolved issues, resentment and pain that had been weighing me down. It wasn’t easy to let go of somethings because, it made me feel vulnerable and emotionally naked. I didn’t like the feeling at first, because that’s all I seemed to focus on and once I realized how much lighter I felt, I knew I had done the right thing.
Last Summer, I did a lot of growing up on my adventure to Central America as a chaperon for students and then visiting friends on the East Coast of the U.S. This summer, I decided it was time to face the problem head on and grab it by the horns. So, I booked my trip to a wellness spa retreat for 3 weeks in Slovakia, to reinvest in myself.
As the day of my departure grew nearer, I was excited but mostly nervous. I questioned myself and doubted my decision to do this. I could have gone to England and Ireland to see my family and friends for the money I was spending! How would I communicate with the people, they speak Slovakian and Russian mostly! The best I can do is count up to 4, say ‘Yes’ (Da) and Good bye (Dasvidanya)!
Thursday 24th July
I am up before the alarm clock and dashing around the house like the Tazmanian Devil from Loony Tunes, putting a few more items in my carry on and in my case. As well as making sure that I was leaving my flat in a decent condition for when I returned. At 7;45, I made my way downstairs and got into the waiting taxi to take me to Cairo International Airport. I sailed through the ticket counter and passport control. I met two acquaintances who we there traveling to enjoy their summers holidays. At 10am, I made my way to the gate and waited to board. The time came and the flight hadn’t been announced. Travelers started to get nervous and began asking questions. ‘The Flight has been delayed for maybe 40 minutes, they are preparing the aircraft’ was the response from the men at the counter. A bad omen to the start of my trip, I wondered or am I being tested? The flight ended up being delayed for 2 hours and many passengers including myself were not at all pleased! It meant I would be arriving much later than expected and would lose out on my consultation with the doctors! The flight may have only been three and half hours to Vienna, but it felt like it took an eternity! When we finally landed, I whizzed through passport control, found my bag on the carousel and dashed out to find my chauffeur, who would drive the two hours or so hours to Piestany, in Slovakia. The ride was quite and long. The driver spoke very little English and it would have been difficult to make hand signals and explain myself that way, whilst he drove. So, I ended up just admiring the landscape and the green foliage until we arrived.
Thermia Palace is a large French like château on an island in the city/town of Piestany. The surrounding area around it was just so perfect and immaculate, I began to think I was on a movie set. It was so picturesque it could be on a postcard (I’m sure it is). I cringed at the thought of having to try to communicate with the hotel staff, but to my relief they spoke fairly good English. I checked in, was told my doctor’s appointment would be at 10am the following morning and then I would receive my schedule of treatments and meet with the nutritionist. I got to my room and the first thing I did was take pictures of it before I unpacked and contacted my parents to let them know I had arrived safely. My phone for some bizarre reason hadn’t automatically joined a network, so I had to depend on the hotel wi-fi to send messages.
After I had unpacked, I went for a leisurely stroll on the island to get my bearings. It was so nice to walk under the glow of street lamps and to the rhythm of rustling leaves in the summer breeze and not be harassed or gawked at by anyone. On my way back to the hotel, I held open the door for 3 women staying at the hotel and guess what…? 2 were from Egypt and 1 was from Lebanon!
Friday 25th July
I was up early after a much-needed rest. i dressed and went down for breakfast. I helped myself to the buffet, but chose my items wisely. After all, that’s the whole purpose of the trip. Once I had finished, I went for a walk to see the island in the light. It was a warm day and everything was so fresh looking, like a crisp salad.
At 10am I went for my doctor’s appointment, where I had my blood pressure measured, along with my waist, thighs and my height. My weight too! (how could I forget). After asking if I suffered from any pain, the doctor asked me to strip down to my undies to get a better look at me, (Talk about exposure, or so I thought). She checked my bone agility, my problem areas (tummy, waist, thighs) and feet. Once that examination was completed she had a brain storm while muttering in Slovakian an she finger pecked the keyboard all the treatments she wants me to do. The whole process took 20-30 minutes.
Once I got my schedule, I then visited the nutritionist, who gave me apple cider tablets to take with breakfast every morning and asked what I would usually eat, eating habits and if there where certain foods I didn’t eat. When the meeting was done, I dashed back to my room, to grab my bathrobe and all the other items I would need for my afternoon of treatments.
First on the list was mud packs; sounds squidgy!
I get to the waiting area of where I need to be and a woman dressed all in white comes out and looks at my schedule and in a Slovakian accent asks me to wait one moment. Not long afterwards, I’m shown to a room, where, I am instructed to strip down to my skin and then I’m called into an adjoining room where, another woman also all in white, slabs down a cow pat of warm mud onto a bed covered in 3 different kind of sheets and instructs me to sit in it, while smearing mud on my tush. As I sit in the warm mud, I can feel it ooze into places, I wish I could prevent it from going to, I am then asked to lie down, where more mud is being generously applied on my problem areas; hip, knees and feet. As I’m being wrapped up like a new-born baby a cold metal ringed disk is placed on my chest and I am left for 20 minutes in dim lighting. Being cocoon with warm mud smeared on you, makes you drowsy. If it wasn’t for the cold metal thingy-m’bob I think I would have turned into a soft-boiled egg. Every 5 minutes a person comes to check on you to make sure you’re o.k and to wipes your face from sweat.
When the alarm goes off, after twenty minutes, you are unwrapped by two of the attendees and the mud is lightly scrapped off of you, so that you can get up. You are then led to a shower close by and left to wash off the mud. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Just when you think you have gotten it off, you find more! (You’ll find that when you take a shower later… more mud runs down the drain and for the life of you, you can’t figure out where it had been.)
Once your cleaned off, you go back into your cubical where you are given a cup of sparkling water (Perrier) and then told to lie down and rest. Where you are wrapped up again and left to… rest. After a short length of time, the attendee comes in to unwrap you and declare the session over. You get dressed and she returns your schedule with a signature on it and with that, you’re free to leave and make your way to your next treatment.
It’s important you get there 5-10 min before your appointment and you have to take your schedule with you everywhere, they are very punctual when it comes to timing and won’t allow you into a session if you don’t have your ‘card’, schedule.
I have never really enjoyed the thought of someone’s hands kneading my body like dough, until I had my first Thai massage in Gouna, so, I was looking forward to this. I know understand why people from Thermia Palace walk around in bathrobes. It saves them dressing and undressing several times. So, off come the clothes again and I lie on a bed in all my nakedness as a tall tanned short heard blond Slovakian woman massages my back for twenty minutes as I flinch when she works on the areas that are troubling me and then melt like butter when she massages the rest of my back with her oiled strong hands.
After the massage I am whisked into another room nearby, where I am asked to hop on to another bed and there’s no need to take anything off. I lay on the bed and this plastic arch connected to a machine is slid and positioned above my mid-drift to allow magnetic waves to travel through my body. Again, I am left to drift off into the depths of my mind as the waves are left to do their work.
Behind door three, I am then asked to sit on a bed and put my foot on a stool. I am handed a funky pair of glasses to put on. The glasses remind me of the ones Doc and Marty wore in ‘Back To The Future’, except they were cooler and everything had a green tint to it. A gel was applied to a device that was then put to my Achilles heel as a woman with pale turquoise talon like nails rubbed it against my weak tendons on both feet for less that 5 minutes. When the machine sounded, my session was over. Now, I had some free time… before my last session of the day. What would I do?
I tried very hard to find the travel agency my mother ha d told me about when she had been here last summer because I wanted to rent a bicycle and see what day trips they offered to nearby cities and countries. I followed her directions to the ‘T’ but couldn’t find the place. So, I decided to just walk. A past time I enjoy, but rarely do since the revolution, because Sexual Harassment was rampant on every street no matter how conservatively I dressed. While I’m here, I will be walking my little socks off until my butt cheeks wince in pain, begging me to stop! (I did, just that!)
I sat outside the room where the session was to be held on a hard wooden like bench. It was very reminiscent of films where students were sat outside the Headmaster or the Principles office when in trouble. Randa, the Lebanese woman whom I met my first night here was taking part in the class too. At precisely the time scheduled on the schedule, a small framed young girl came energetically up the stairs and opened the door. We waited a few moments for stragglers, but non came. We had our own private class. We each got an inflatable ball and sat on it as instructed. For a full 20 minutes, were bouncing on the ball waving our arms and hands and occasionally lifting our feet off the ground too. I had visions of one of us ending up like Humpty Dumpty, and going splat on the floor, just like the old children’s nursery rhyme says, but we all made it to the end!
Wooohooo!! All sessions completed for the day!
After the session I had quite a bit of time to kill before dinner, so Randa and I got to chatting and we ended up walking across the Danube River and into town, as we talked about our lives and occupation. It was very pleasant to talk to someone who had been to Piestany many times before and someone from the region. After our walk I went up to my room to shower, change and read a bit before dinner.
As I entered the restaurant for the third time that day, the Manager of the restaurant informed me that it was assigned seating. Everyone had their own table for the entire duration of their stay. Which was new to me, but I just went with the flow. I was also told the nutritionist had sent down my meal program for the 20 days that I would be staying there. Having studied it while having dinner, I was impressed. They all sounded really tasty on paper, and I looked forward to trying each one!
Saturday 26th July
I awoke early and went down to breakfast early.My breakfast was quite a hearty and healthy one. A slice of toast, cottage cheese, slice of cold cut, one slice of Emmental Cheese, 2 boiled eggs, yogurt and on helping of raw oats, with a glass of fresh juice. Along with the two apple cider tablets, that I was instructed to take with breakfast. I was a stuffed dumpling after I was done. Seeing my first appointment wasn’t until 9 am, I decided to help my digestive system and take a walk until it was time for my treatment. The calmness of the spa island is very relaxing. The stress I may have come with was no longer with me. The quietness, was deafening to my ears, they were not used to such quiet surroundings. I could actually hear my thoughts without the interruption of loud shouts coming from the street or the endless blazing of car horns and tire screeching from Cairo’s bustling traffic.
In my robe, I sat in the waiting area of the pristine IRMA spa building, and waited to be called in for my appointment. I was asked to bare my back, lie face down and what looked like our rubber suction cups were placed on my back and as the attendee switched on the machine, the electric impulses began… I felt like Frankenstein! The current was strong and a bit uncomfortable to begin with, but I quickly got used to it and the sound of the machine lulled me into a light nap.
With an hour to spare I had enough time discover where the next session would be held. Once I had found the place I sat outside on a bench watching birds go about their life and the people passing by. When the time came for Water Gymnastics, the receptionist handed me a key and I followed the scent of wetness, until I found the changing room. They key was for a private vestier to leave my belongings in I quickly put on my swimsuit and made my way to the pool. As I rounded the corner and found the hook to hang my key and robe on, I couldn’t help but gasp. The pool areas was of stunning architecture, it resembled an old fashioned conservatory or solarium, with a sky light. It would be something you’d expect to see in the hit TV series Downton Abbey. Being the photo junky that I am, all I wanted to do was run back and get my phone to take a picture and capture it. I resisted the urge and ascended into the warm water of the pool. I found a place to stand and followed the instructors motions and enjoyed the session. After changing out of my swimwear and was about to leave for the next session, I snuck back to the pool area, unseen and took a picture. ( I couldn’t help myself!)
I was very excited about this session because it sounded like a form of dance. I thought it might be a combination of Tango and Flamenco, at the back of my mind I was fretting about whether my sneakers were appropriate shoes for the class. I was somewhat disappointed when I found out that it was not a dance class but another treatment session with mud. Only this time it wasn’t messy! For this treatment I was only required to be half naked from the neck to the waist and to lie on my stomach as warm solid blocks of mud were placed on my back from the nape of my neck to the bottom of my spine for 15 -20 minutes. I must admit that the warm mud blocks were very soothing and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I didn’t fight it and I enjoyed my little cat nap.
It may not have been a dance class but it certainly was enjoyable. I’m looking forward to my future sessions!
(I have no idea how this is meant to benefit me, but it was lovely)
At lunch time, I met the Lebanese woman in the restaurant where she informed me that it was her last day and she would be leaving tomorrow to spend some time in Paris. Before I headed back to my table, she said ‘wait’ and handed me a bag of Zaatar ‘hadi ilik’, which translates to ‘this is for you’ in the Lebanese dialect, she said as she handed it over to me. I was deeply touched. It was on our walk the previous day she learned how much I loved the herb mixture, when I told her that I had been in Zaatar heaven, when I visited Lebanon 2 years ago. I didn’t want to insult her, by refusing the gesture, so I gladly accepted it. I was so touched by her generosity that I couldn’t help but post about it on my Facebook page.
Unlike it’s name there are no mirrors (Thank Goodness!), this experience might not be for everyone. The pool is filled with sulfuric water, that is naturally warm and full of minerals. It is said to be very good for your body. You may bathe in the pool with a swim suite on, almost everyone bathes nude. My mother who had come to Piestany last summer had told me, you didn’t have a choice but to go in starkers, so I had enough time to mentally prepare myself to fully exposing my body and seeing other naked women as well. (The pools are segregated, so don’t panic too much! I don’t know if I could have summoned up the courage to have to see both genders in their birthday suites!) Coming from and living in a fairly conservative country, where kissing scenes are censored in films and T.V shows this was going to take some getting used to.
Lucky for me, I arrived early for my appointment, which was great because I had the pool to myself. I de-robed, took the necessary shower before entering the pool and ascended slowly into the water, to allow my body to get used to the temperature and not to slip on the stairs that are barely visible through the murky sulfur water. I checked the time on the large wall clock, so that I could time the 20 minutes that I was meant to stay in. The pool reminded me of the hot spring in Siwa Oasis, except it wasn’t in the open air in the desert and I wasn’t wearing a swimsuit. As I waded around and the nice warm water encompassed me, it felt like I was having a bath, but in an enormous tub. I began to wonder if this was how Cleopatra felt when she bathed in the hot springs? Before my time was up more women arrived to bathe in the pool. ” Oh!Great!!” I thought to myself, “so much for getting in and out without anyone seeing me. I suppose, I’m just going to have to walk out gracefully and pray I don’t slip, so that I don’t draw attention to myself”. That’s precisely what I did and no one even batted an eye lid in my direction. After all we were all in the same boat and I suppose it was the respectful thing to do.
Once you leave the mirror pool, you shower off again and then go down to a resting area. I supposed it’s so that your body can return to it’s normal temperature gradually. The resting room reminds me of how dormitories were depicted in old movies. The Beds are separated by wooden partitions and have a small over head light and a side table. You’re asked to hop on the bed and then you’re wrapped up again.
By the time I got back to my room after all my sessions and treatments I was refreshed and relaxed but drowsy. I forced myself out for a walk around the town. I enjoyed admiring the little cafes, glancing at the display windows of little shops, the unique architecture, which I couldn’t help but take pictures with my phone, so that I could upload them later on to instagram. I found my way to the little mall and got a few necessity items that I had put on my mental check list and then continued walking for a little bit longer.
At dinner time, I ate slowly in the hopes that I would see Randa again. She hadn’t come by the time I had finished so, I placed a little thank you note on the table that she and her father sat at, if it wasn’t for the bowl of Zaatar there, I may have placed the note with a small box of chocolate on the wrong table. I left the restaurant, full, tired and ready to turn in for the night.
There’s More To Come! Keep a look out for part II
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.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org 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!
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.
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;
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!