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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 :)
Students and teachers alike look forward to the longest holiday of the year, ‘summer’.
In the past summers for me meant packing my bags with all that I would need and move down to Agami, a summer resort just outside of Alexandria on the Mediterranean Sea, where my parents had a beach house. There I would spend my days in shorts, t-shirt, swimsuit and flip-flops with my beach bag ready for the beach. Two to three months of swimming, tanning, reading, playing volleyball, running a summer camp for children and catching up with old friends whom I hadn’t seen since the previous summer.
Times have changed and friends have moved on. I have not been back to Bianki since 2007. I miss the times, I had there during my teenage years. It is there where I made some of my most memorable memories and met some very interesting people and dear friends. To date, my summers are split between Alexandria and going abroad to various destinations to get away from the stress that the post revolution has left and the political roller coaster of electorial disappointments we have had to take part in, witness and accept the results of.
The beginning portion of my summer for the past two years has been spent in Alexandria with my parents. My mother and I have been motivating one another to get back in shape and eat healthy. (This as some of you may know has been an ongoing process for me. After 1.5 years of battling the bulge, I am 13Kg away from my target weight!) I would spend an hour working out at home, doing various crunches and sit-ups as well as using an elliptical bike and 3 hours of the day would be spent swimming laps and using various apparatus to help strengthen and tone my arms and legs. For a few weeks, I or we would go abroad.
To go abroad for me is a chance to recharge, re-evaluate, relax and look at things from a different perspective (the change in scenery and climate is also an added bonus). This year my mother and I ventured to London to visit briefly with my sister and to Ireland to attend a family wedding and strengthen family connection with our cousins, whom we had lost contact with over the past few years.
I am fascinated with our family genealogy, especially on the Irish side. I have found that not only do I look Irish, I have a lot of the Irish family traits in me and from listening to stories, I find I learn more and more about myself and why some of the members of our family are the way that they are.
As a young girl London never appealed to me, I had formed an image of it being a dark, grey and gloomy place, much like the Industrial time in England. My opinion changed quickly when I first visited 3 years ago. I look forward to my visits there now, not solely due to it’s undeniable allure but because I actually feel normal there. I don’t worry about what I’m wearing and if I’ll be harassed as I walk down the street or how long it will take me to get to my destination. When I am there the stress of constantly having to be aware of the people around me and looking for signs of possible sexual harassers trying to invade my personal space drops from 100 to 1.
Time spent with my sister, her husband and other members of our family are precious and they always take priority. I try to spend as much time with them as I can, to keep our family bond strong and because I simply love being in their company. There is never a dull moment when we congregate! On extended visits I like to walk around and take in the sights, museums, shows, take pictures and of course shop! (One has to make a contribution to the economy of the country one happens to visit, no?)
It was also exciting to have been there pre-Olympic ceremony. To see the city decorated with flags of the different nations taking part in the games. The excitment and pride of the nationals to host the games. My mum and I missed the ceremony but watched many of the highlights and events once we had made it back to our hotel room and back to Egypt after our trip. The athletes are phenominal in their dedication and inspring!
I have always been very proud and patriotic of my Irish heritage. When I visit I can’t help but be in awe of her beauty. Her beauty, in my opinion becomes more enhanced by her people, who have such a cheerful, friendly, helpful and funny disposition about them. I can’t help but find so many similarities in them and the ‘old’ Egyptian culture that I grew up knowing, ( it saddens me to think that what remains of the ‘old’ Egypt, might soon be lost, if things are not sorted out soon).
During this trip to Ireland, I made sure that I would not be rushing through like a forest fire, but I would actually have time to walk the streets, visit historical landmarks, eat in pubs, shop and talk with the locals, as well as visit with family.
I can not tell you how much I enjoyed touring the capital, learning about how Ireland earned its Independence, driving through the grounds of Phoenix Park, visiting Trinity College and sitting in its grand library of ancient manuscripts and books that were written and read by some of the greatest minds on earth and where some members of my family attended. Although my connection to the country itself isn’t strong, I think this journey has definitely strengthened it.
My cousin whom I had only reconnected with over the last three years and hadn’t seen in twenty, invited my family and I to attend his wedding. The place in which the nuptials took place and the ceremony itself was unlike any wedding that I have ever been to or seen before. It was a Humanist Wedding/Ceremony, filled with spirituality, tradition and love. It was held on a bridge on a beautiful summer’s day with beautiful landscape encompassing the couple and their families and friends. Nothing could have made it more magical, meaningful or beautiful in my opinion. The two-day event was packed with entertainment, food and great times. Most importantly it was shared with people who truly cared for the couple and genuinely wished them nothing but happiness in their future life together. It was at this event, where I made new connections and bonds with members of our family whom I had lost contact with and those I had never met before. (Now, I know where I get my energy, drive, motivation to succeed, love of learning, sense of humor and love of partying from, The McSorley Clan)
The third part of our trip was spent visiting the area of where my grandmother and generations before her had come from. In some strange way, Wexford, a small county by the sea reminded me of Alexandria. It is here where my mother attended boarding school as a young girl and where she spent many summers with her aunt, uncle and cousins at a nearby resort called Rosslare. As I walked the quay and breathed in the fresh Irish sea air and took in the scenic views, I couldn’t help but be grateful for the opportunity to have traveled to the land of my ancestors, to see where half of me is from and to be able to pass down the stories that have been told to me by my aunt, mother and cousins, so, that our history isn’t lost or forgotten.
In Wexford we strengthened existing ties with family we are in touch with. It was also a second opportunity for my mother to spend time her aged aunt of 97 years and to thank her for all the wonderful summers she had spent with them as a child and all the other things she and her late husband did for her growing up. (Moments like that should be seised, because they may never come again).
There is so much more for me to see and learn of Ireland but I have an itching desire to learn as much as I can about my family as I can. I hope to be able to go back there again soon in the near future.
Upon returning to Egypt I couldn’t help but feel depressed. Ireland might be in dire straits economically but the people have the drive to rebuild the country to get it back on its feet again. Egypt, a nation of great potential and historical as well as cultural wealth seems to be sinking before our eyes and very few seem willing to get their hands dirty. I have said it before and I will say it again. I fear for Egypt’s future and her children. I pray that I am wrong and that she will not suffer in the hands of men like Rasputin. Perhaps the Egyptian Olympians who preformed so well at the London 2012 games, might inspire their country men and women that hard work does pay off and that they can not only achieve great things but be recognised for them in the long run, if they pull together and move forward in rebuilding the country rather than pointing the finger of blame.