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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!
I love traveling abroad and visiting my family and friends who are scattered around the globe. I love buying them trinkets and gifts from Egypt too, but it can be difficult finding something that doesn’t look cheap, isn’t made in China and is authentic to the country or region. This summer I’m traveling to England to visit family and see a few friends and for the past couple of months I have been racking my brain trying to think of gifts to take. I’m sure that there are many people going through the same dilemma that I am experiencing so, I thought I would give you some insight.
The first time I take something to people, who are not from Egypt or have never visited the country, I take papyrus (paper the ancient Egyptians made) with ancient Egyptian scenes painted on or hieroglyphics. They are really nice when they are framed and hung on the wall.
Silver here is quite cheap, so some times I may buy silver khartooshes as bracelet charms, key chains or necklaces with their names written in hieroglyphics (ancient Egyptian writing). There is also the key of life and evil eye charm that could be bought and put on a chain. They also have a wide selection of Bedouin jewelry too that is very nice. I am a fan of the bracelets and necklaces. I do need to point out that Egyptian silver tarnishes easily, so you may want to ask the vendor to dip them in platinum or something so that it stays nice and shiny.
Alabaster is a type of stone that is very Egyptian and you can find some small vases and statues made out of the sand colored stone. To test the quality of the alabaster you need to hold it up to the light. If the light shines through the stone and lights it up, then its real alabaster. Don’t buy too much of it, you fortune in access baggage.
In some shops you can find small clay statues of Egyptian men and women selling vegetables, smoking a sheesha (hubbly bubbly), sitting reading the Quraan and other typical scenes you would see while you are here in Egypt. I think they are very cute! I bought a few for myself to have at home.
Leather in Egypt is of good quality. Wallets, shoulder purses, hand bags and Aladdin like shoes are a popular item to buy as gifts. Some people even prefer buying the small leather poof cushions to take back with them.
If baggage isn’t a problem, then you could buy your very own sheesha (they come in all sizes and colors) or a Tableya, a large bras plate that is the top of a table with designs etched in to it and the wooden legs that hold the table up an in place. The Bedouins use these in their tents.
If you are in to smoking Sheesha’s then I strongly recommend that you buy the tobacco for it here, it is highly over priced when you buy it abroad. Plus another advantage is that here we have all the flavors, while back home they don’t have the variety.
While we are on the subject of smoking, I know a lot of people like to burn incense to make their homes smell nice. This is the place to buy it!
If the gifts that I am taking are for kids then I get them little statuettes of pyramids to take for show and tell at school, camels, Bedouin head-dress with the white galabeya (long shirt like dress), belly dancing costume, both are good for Halloween costumes. Then you have the tabla (the drum musicians place under their arms to play) and sagaat (finger castanets that belly dancers wear). In some toy stores you might find Egyptian puppets. There are also the touristy T-shirts with hieroglyphics on them and the death mask of Tutankhamen (the youngest Egyptian Pharaoh). One of my favorite things to get kids is an inexpensive watch where the numbers of the face are in Arabic.
A place to go to buy all the trinkets and souvenir’s your heart could possibly desire is at Khan El Khalili, in Cairo. There you will find every kind, color, shape and price possible. I personally like going there to buy the Bedouin embroidered shirts, linen tops, Bedouin cushion covers and to haggle! In Alexandria, you would want to take a guided tour of Zanet El Sitat. Both are market like places.You have to be a good bargainer. Never settle for the first price they offer you!
The above are some of the typical gifts that people would buy as souvenirs or gifts, but what do you take the next time you go? You can’t keep getting the same things! I am quite creative and I like to put a lot of thought in to the gifts that I buy people. This year I have really racked my brain and kept my eyes peeled for something less touristy and more tasteful. I am happy to inform you that I have been successful.
Carlito’s, jewelry store in Maadi is will make you a bracelet, pendent or even a key chain with your name in Arabic. It is done in Arabic calligraphy, which is very artistic. They will make it to your specification. By that I mean on the size of the pendent, charms for the bracelet and key chain. You also have 3 other choices; all silver, all gold or silver and gold (I like the silver and gold combination). I have had 7 pendants made for necklaces, 1 silver key chain and 1 charm bracelet and they have all come out really well! Another thing that he does which I think is pretty cool, is that he takes the new Egyptian 1 pound coin and makes it in to a necklace too. Why is it cool, because one side of the coin is Arabic writing and on the other side is King Tut.
Zafir in Zamalek is one of my new favorite stores to go to, to buy gifts for friends in Egypt and abroad. They print Egyptian designs on t-shirts that are unique to Egypt. I just bought my cousin a t-shirt that says ‘Shit happens’ but in Arabic writing. They have a few other English sayings written in Arabic as well as famous Egyptian quotes too among other designs too. I will have to pay them a second visit before I am due to leave to get a few more. They are so popular that they go out of stock quickly. .http://zafir-tshirts.com/
A colleague of mine had a gorgeous leather bag that she had bought in Maadi from a shop on road 216. It also has very cool arabic caligraphy on the exterior! The price tag on a bag like that is 300LE which is the equivalant of 30 sterling pounds or 60$.
If you have Egyptian female family members abroad and you want to take them something patriotic and elegent, famed and reouned jewelry designer, Azza Fahymy has designed bracelets in honour of #Jan25. The collection is known to many as ‘Anna Masry’, (I am Egyptian). The price tag for each bracelet, I have been told is 250 LE.
It’s a small street on 15b Taha Hussein Street.
Zia Candles in Alexandria, in the new extension of Carrefour city center has a stand near Debenhams. If you ask them to make a candle for you and have a name written on it in Arabic Calligraphy, they will do it for you. It will take about 2 weeks for them to get it done, but it is well worth it! We had one made for our cousin and it is so well made and original that we have asked them to make two more for us. They will be bringing their original idea to Cairo soon.
*** Update! Unfortunately due the recent Revolution the owner has closed shop! If they ever re-open I will let you know
There are stands in City Stars and Carrefour that sell soaps and other beauty products along with bath robes and towels. The stall sells things made from natural products grown here in Egypt. The stall in Alexandria is called ‘Nefertari’; I am not sure what the one in Cairo is called. Some of their hand towels have ancient Egyptian symbols stitched on them or the words ‘Ahlan Wesahlan’, which is welcome greeting we say when guests arrive at our house and some times when you meet someone for the first time.
Egypt and the Middle East are known for dates. Some times it’s nice to take back some of or oriental treats for the people back home to try. Quaidar in Cairo makes chocolate covered dates that can be quite addictive. Manna in Alexandria sells an assortment of date treats. We bought 5 boxes last summer and took them to our cousins in Ireland and my Uncle in Canada.
If the person you are buying a gift for is a book-worm or in to photography then I highly recommend ‘Impressions of Alexandria, The Awad Collection’. The pictures in the book show the evolution of Alexandria. Mr. Awad has spent years searching and collecting pictures of the ancient city belonging to Alexander the Great and has compiled his findings in to a book. If you are interested in seeing the collection first hand you will find it on display at the Alexandria Library. There is also a book of Poems and Prose written by an Irish man, Desmond O’Grady, who used to teach at AUC, (The American University of Cairo) and Alexandria University, it is titled ‘My Alexandria’. If your friend is from the region and can read Arabic, a book that has been getting a lot of hype and is said to be very funny is ‘Taxi’, (I just bought it for my Dad’s cousin).
If there’s someone that you know that likes music, Arabic CD’s here are cheap. I would suggest buying Oriental Belly dancing music, it’s just instrumental. If you want to buy a CD of famous singers, the classical ones would be Um Kathoum and Abdel Halim Hafez and Dalida. Modern day Egyptian Pop singers would be Amr Diab, Hisham Abbas, Tamer Hosni, Sherine, Wust El Balad and Hakeem. Other popular Middle Eastern singers are Asala, Elissa, Nancy Ajram, Nawal El Zoghbi, Ragheb Allama just to name a few. One of my favorite CD’s to buy as a gift that can be found at Virgin Record Stores is ‘Belaaks’, (opposite) it’s easy on the ears and the tunes are familiar English classics but sung in Arabic, plus there is a DVD that goes with it too.
I hope these ideas help you if you have found or know of something that would be a great gift to take to family or friends I would REALLY appreciate the input.
If you have ever been to Khan El Khallili or to any jewelry store in Egypt, I am sure you have probably come across a pendant or a charm in the shape of an eye or a hand. Some of these eyes have a blue stone in the place of the iris. You can even find them to hang in your car or in your house. The reason why these eyes and hands are so popular is because Egyptians like many other cultures are superstitious and they believe that the ‘eye’ can ward off other peoples ‘evil eye’.
What is the evil eye? It is believed, that some people have the power to look at someone in an envious way that can cause bad luck or injury to befall them. People who would give you the evil eye are said to be jealous or just plain bad. There are some measure that can be taken to ward off the evil eye, some people wear the eye or the hand on their necklaces or have them hanging on the door of their houses or at the entrance of their houses to ward off those who wish to cause harm away. (Yes, I wear an eye)
I haven’t been having the best year at work or health wise. At work someone has been spreading rumors about me and the administration have caught wind of them and have come to question me on a couple of occasions. Plus the atmosphere at work is very negative and is starting to take a toll on me. Health wise I have had tendonitis of the achilis heel in my right leg and my left heel bone pierced through the muscle and tissue in my left foot (both at the same time. You can’t imagine the pain I was in. I had to have 4 months of physio therapy), tonsillitis twice, sprained knee, chronic diarrhea for a week, and now a chest and pysnus infection. I eat healthy foods and I take vitamins and stay away from carbonated drinks and caffeine, at work I’m the energized bunny and I bend over backwards to ensure that my students have a great learning experience. Call me superstitious but I’m seriously beginning to think that there is some truth to it. So, I decided to do a little research to find out where ‘the evil eye’ came from and to see if there was any truth to it.
This is what Wikipedia had on the subject;
In many forms of the evil eye belief, a person — otherwise not malefic in any way — can harm adults, children, livestock, or a possession, simply by looking at them with envy. The word “evil” can be seen as somewhat misleading in this context, because it suggests that someone has intentionally “cursed” the victim. A better understanding of the term “evil eye” can be gained from the old English word for casting the evil eye, namely “overlooking,” implying that the gaze has remained focused on the coveted object, person, or animal for too long.
While some cultures hold that the evil eye is an involuntary jinx cast unintentionally by people unlucky enough to be cursed with the power to bestow it by their gaze, others hold that, while perhaps not strictly voluntary, the power is called forth by the sin of envy’
Belief in the evil eye is strongest in the Middle East, East and West Africa, Central America, South Asia, Central Asia, and Europe, especially the Mediterranean region; it has also spread to other areas, including northern Europe, particularly in the Celtic regions, and the Americas, where it was brought by European colonists and Middle Eastern immigrants.
Belief in the evil eye is found in Islamic doctrine, based upon the statement of Prophet Muhammad, “The influence of an evil eye is a fact…” [Sahih Muslim, Book 26, Number 5427]. Authentic practices of warding off the evil eye are also commonly practiced by Muslims: rather than directly expressing appreciation of, for example, a child’s beauty, it is customary to say Masha’Allah, that is, “God has willed it”, or invoking God’s blessings upon the object or person that is being admired. Aside from beliefs based upon authentic Islamic texts, a number of unsubstantiated beliefs about the evil eye are found in folk religion, typically revolving around the use of amulets or talismans as a means of protection.
A blue eye can also be found on some forms of the hamsa hand, an apotropaic hand-shaped amulet against the evil eye found in the Middle East. The word hamsa, also spelled khamsa and hamesh, means “five” referring to the fingers of the hand. In Jewish culture, the hamsa is called the Hand of Miriam; in Muslim culture, the Hand of Fatima
It is tradition among many Muslims, that if a compliment is to be made, you are always supposed to say “Masha’Allah” (ما شاء الله) to ward off the evil eye; it literally means “It is as God has willed”. It is a testimony from someone that he/she believes that either good or bad will only happen if God wants it to. Persian speakers in Afghanistan use the phrase “Nam-e Khoda” (translated, “The name of God”) occasionally in place of “Mashallah”, as well as another phrase with a similar purpose: “Chashmi bad dur” (translated, “May the evil eye be far”) also used in Urdu. These phrases are found in Tajiki as well, but in a slightly different form.
I am still not sure if it is true or not but if it is, someone has done one hell of a number on me!!!