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The month of fasting known to the Muslim world is coming to an end. With less than 24 hours to go we eagerly wait for the sun to set and for the four days of festivities of Eid El Fitr to begin.

Eid El Fitr ‘The festivity of purification’, I think is the best way to translate the name of the occasion. If you haven’t read my previous writings about Ramadan or know nothing of the month, then this won’t make any sense to you. So, I will try to give you a brief summary. Ramadan, is a month where Muslims world-wide fast from sunrise to sunset, (are not allowed to consume any kind of food or beverage during sunlight hours), this strict act of discipline is to remind them of their blessings, to relate to those less fortunate of themselves, as well as time for reflecting on one’s acts and behavior for the past year. This month is special and sacred to Muslims because they are able to ask for forgiveness and erase their sins for the past year. Hence, the celebration of being ‘purified’.  

How is Eid El Fitr (or the small Eid) celebrated?

Days before the end of the fasting month, families go out and buy Eid clothes, to wear on the first day of the feast. For Non Muslim’s the best way to interpret the act is as new clothes that you receive for Christmas or wearing your Sunday best. Traffic in Egypt after Iftar and the Taraweeh Prayers is always manic! People will be shopping for gifts and clothes.

Ladies of many house holds will be preparing and baking traditional desert, (which is HIGH in calories, but very tasty) to offer visitors. The desert is called ‘Ka’ak’, which means cake in English. It doesn’t look or taste anything like the cakes you may be familiar with. Each Arabic speaking nation has its own unique way of making it. In Egypt is best described as a cookie/biscuit made out of semolina and stuffed with ground dates, nuts or some times Turkish delight. On the outside it is sprinkled with powdered sugar.  (http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ka’ak)

On the dawn of the first day of the month after Ramadan, (Shawal), there is a special prayer, most commonly known as ‘Salat El Eid’ (Eid Prayer). “Eid prayer is performed in congregation in open areas like fields, squares etc or at mosques. No adhan or iqama (call) is to be pronounced for this Eid prayer, and it consists of only two rakaʿāt with additional 6 Takbirs. The Eid prayer is followed by the khutbah (sermon) and then a supplication (dua) asking for forgiveness, mercy and help for all living beings across the world. The khutbah also instructs Muslims as to the performance of rituals of Eid, such as the zakat.[9] Listening to the khutbah of Eid is necessary (wajib) i.e. while the khutbah is being delivered, it is haraam to talk, walk about or offer prayer.[10] It is then customary to embrace the persons sitting on either side of oneself, whilst greeting them. After the prayers, people visit their relatives, friends and acquaintances.”  (The above quoted paragraph is from wikipedia, http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Eid_ul-Fitr )

The greeting that is said to those celebrating Eid is ‘ Eid Mubarak’, (Blessed Feast), ‘Eid Saeed’ (Happy Eid) or ‘Kul Sana Wa Inta Tayib’ (Happy New Year).

Traditionally after the prayer families will go to the cemetery to pay their respects to their deceased family members and then go home to enjoy breakfast together. Once home, families either exchange gifts or give money. Children often receive money from their adult family relations; this is known as ‘Eideya’. People will go and visit relatives, neighbors and friends often taking with them ka’ak, other deserts or gifts.

On the second and third day of Eid families usually go out for a meal. In Alexandria the restaurant or meal of choice would usually be fish. The reason for it is because for a whole month Alexandrian’s have avoided eating it because it’s salty and would make them feel very thirsty the following day and it would make their day of fasting more difficult.   Another popular out would be to go to the cinema, to watch the newly released Arabic movies for the feast.  A word of warning to those whom may consider venturing outside their front doors, the food courts, cinemas and arcades in the Malls will be busier than ever!

Now a days fewer people spend time visiting relatives and go away for the Eid vacation. Popular vacation spots are Alexandria and the beaches along the Red Sea. I personally try to avoid the popular vacation spots because, it will be overly crowded. When I go away, I like to go somewhere, where I can relax in peace and not have to worry about bumping in to colleagues, students and other people I know.

During the Eid most shops, banks and all businesses are closed for the first three days of the feast, much like Christmas and New Years in the West and Europe. If you aren’t going away and intend on staying in town, then I suggest you do your shopping before the holiday begins.

For those of you who celebrate Eid, I wish you all an Eid Mubarak and for those of you who don’t, just enjoy the time off!

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Published in the September 2009 issue of (in)sight Magazine.

Why Can’t It be Ramadan Everyday?

A few nights before Ramadan,
And all across the nation,
People were bustling with anticipation.

They’d hustle, they’d bump, they’d swear as they drive,
Men fight with each other as well as their wives.

Boyfriends continue to ruin girlfriend’s lives,
With their cheating and lies, Oh, what a surprise!

Girl’s eye their competition with looks of despise
Stay at home Moms cook up rumors and lies

You liar! You thief! You crook! You stinker!
Are the words we hear and are left to linger.

On the eve of THE night and with a blink of an eye,
Halos are out and consciences rise
All must be good, for Ramadan has arrived.

The Month of Ramadan is upon us again. T’s a time for giving to the needy as well as a time for forgiveness and reflection. I love this time of year because families gather and spend some quality time with one another, break their fast together at Iftar and the gathering can some times go on until Suhour. People give willingly and in abundance to the less fortunate and what I love even more is that people’s tongues are curved!
From sunrise to sunset people pay close attention to what they say out loud to others instead of damning someone’s house to fall down on them and flaring in to a temper and cursing every member of another person’s family! (You know which words I mean! We’ve all used them!). People are more conscious of their actions and use of words. Our day to day lives are stressful, there are times when you vent and say things that can be really hurtful. You’re always on the go and rushing here and there for appointments and social gatherings. Spending an hour or two with the kids when they get home from school to ask how their day was and what things they learned, is something you would love to be able to do, but you have to work late or you can’t because you have to get your hair done and have a manicure done for a dinner party you’re going to. Guy’s don’t think you’ve been let of the hook so easily! The men have business appointments at all crazy hours. Then there’s the male bonding time with buddies and there’s also maintaining that Baywatch chiseled physic by paying a daily pilgrimage to the gym. Be honest, most of you would much rather watch paint dry than be stuck at home listening to your mothers moaning, kids running round asking endless series of questions and your wives nagging.
There are two things that truly amaze me during this incredible month. The first is how ‘good’ everyone becomes. The tangled webs of deceit cease to be spun, hell even the thieves stop stealing. It’s as though a wish or a spell has been cast where everyone becomes honest and angelic, like Jim Carey’s character in the movie ‘Liar, Liar’. The second thing that completely throws me is how by some miracle and with a wave of a magic wand, during Ramadan people make the extra effort and can find the time to help the needy, spend time with their family, and be courteous and kind to others. Now, if memory serves me correctly there are 24 hours in a day every month of every year, no matter which calendar we go by. So, could someone please explain to me ‘Why is it ONLY possible in Ramadan and not throughout the year?’ Surely, if we all spoke nicely to one another all year round, there would be less rudeness and negativity and there would be more cheer and it would set a better example for the younger generation. If we gave more to others throughout the year, we would feel better about ourselves all year long instead of just for a month. If we did practice the lessons of Ramadan throughout the year we would appreciate everything we have and count our blessing, instead of constantly complaining and wishing that we had more.
I know what you’re probably thinking, “She’s one to talk. I bet she doesn’t practice what she preaches!” I will admit that I am not a saint! I was just as guilty as everyone else. However, this time last year that changed. I decided that if I can be genuinely good for a month, then what is preventing me from doing it all year? For the past year I have made the effort to be more respectful and giving to others. Honestly speaking, I do feel better about myself and there isn’t a day that goes by where I forget to be grateful for the people that I have in my life and the blessings I receive. So, if I can do it. Why can’t you? You can’t use the excuse that it costs too much because it doesn’t cost anything to be courteous and time doesn’t cost you a piaster either. The resources you need for the job, you already have; it’s ‘YOU’.

Happy Ramadan Everyone!

 They say; “If you can drive in Egypt, you can drive anywhere in the world!” I used to laugh when I heard that phrase, but once I learned how to drive, I knew exactly what they meant.

 If you have ever dreamed of being a race car driver, loved playing bumper cars at the fun parks and enjoyed playing tag as a kid. Driving in Egypt is the three games rolled in to one BIG experience!

To be able to drive in Egypt you must have the following;

1- Excellent Reflexes. (to avoid cars, animals, pedestrians, objects)

2- Balls of Steal (courage) or a Guardian Angel

3- Judgment, (speed, distance ..,etc)

4- Working Seat Belts.

 5- Breaks.

If you have those five things you’re good to go! When you look at the roads from a bird’s eye view, it looks like anywhere else. The rules however are very different to most places in the world. Yes, you have the pretty traffic lights that change colour and nice white and yellow lines painted on the road, but that means SQUAT! The traffic lights are changed by a traffic Cop who is stuck in his light booth all day long. If the drivers are restless, they will inch their way forward until they have blocked the flow of cars, (who have the right of way). Their license plate numbers won’t be written down unless there is a Cop with a booklet in hand. If the cop with the booklet is accompanied by a Cop with stars on his shoulders then you are in BIG trouble. (Cops with stars on their shoulders are high-ranking officers, don’t mess with them.)

Here are some pointers to get you on your way,

Egyptian Driving Logic for Dummies

– Driving is simple, you put your foot down on the gas pedal and go!

– Your license has expired or you don’t have one? No problem, just don’t get caught.

 – Don’t worry about traffic signs the majority of the population doesn’t know what they mean and if they do, they don’t abide by them.

 – If your side mirrors are broken or closed that’s fine, you don’t really need them. You only need to see ahead of you.

– The speed limit in the City is supposed to be 60 Km/H, but there are those who like to exceed that and drive like bats out of hell. Drive quickly like you have some where important to be.

– Weaving from one lane to another is a popular past time. As is weaving between cars while they are moving.

– When you come to over take a car, over take from any side you please. Left or right, it really doesn’t matter as long as you are on the side you want to be on.

– When an ambulance is trying to get by, if you don’t let them pass, someone else will.

– If an ambulance is getting through traffic, follow it. You will get to where you want to go faster.

– If the road is a three lane road, you can squeeze between the cars and make it a 5 lane road. The objective is to be at the head of the pack.

 – If you want the person in front of you to move out of your way, you get as close to their bumper as possible, while flashing your head lights and honking your horn simultaneously. Scare the driver, so he will move to the next lane so that you can pass.

– Indicating, is such a civil way of letting drivers know what you plan on doing. In Egypt it’s all about pushing your way to where you want to go. When you indicate, that tells other drivers they need to speed up before you move in to that lane. You have to indicate and push in to the lane at the same time; otherwise no one will let you pass.

– Drinking and driving is a popular Thursday and Friday night sport. (No Breathalyzer tests here! Hit and kill a person and you go to jail for a long time and pay the family blood money. If the person is hit and injured and the injury takes more than 21 days to heal, you go to jail free!)

– Honk at a STOP sign or any intersection. If you don’t hear a honk back then no one is coming and it’s safe to pass. You don’t even have to look to check!

– OPRAH’s ‘no phone zone’, doesn’t apply here! Text and talk while you drive just don’t let a cop catch you.

 – You do not stop for pedestrians or animals. You swerve out of their way. (Just don’t hit the pedestrians, animals are ok)

– Play your music as loud as you want in the car, sharing is caring. Let everyone hear what you are listening to.

– Only break if you have to.

– Stay clear of buses! The BIG public and micro buses are the rulers of the roads don’t mess with them.

– Ask a taxi for directions while you are driving and hold up the traffic behind you.

– You took the wrong exit on the bridge, that’s ok. Just reverse and beep at the same time!

– Someone has really ticked you off and you want to swear at them, don’t waste your breath! One long blow on the car horn and they will know exactly what you want to say.

– Radar/ speed detector warn other drivers in the opposite direction of traffic by flashing your head lights.

– You see a cute guy or girl in the car in front of you and you want to tell them, move your indicator from left to right a few times and flash your head lights.

– Can’t find a parking space, just stop in the middle of the road and put your flasher on! (it may get towed, it may not)

– Park any way you like. Diagonally, horizontally be creative! (you could get a ticket on your window, but if the cop with the pocket-book and no stars is writing it give him 5Le and it will be forgotten)

Before, you go out and buy yourself a BMW, Jaguar or a Mercedes and tear up the streets with your Formula One driving skills, I think you might want to buy a second-hand car to get around in first before you buy brand new wheels. Drivers in Cairo can be ruthless and they can smell a rookie on the streets. If you aren’t fearless then say a prayer and turn on the ignition.

‘Weekend Trips’ a branch of the Holiday Tours travel company, came up with another interesting day trip. The trip was to spend a few hours trekking across an island located in the middle of the Nile in the heart of Cairo. Gazeerat El Dahab, (Island of Gold) is approximately 9Km in length. It is inhabited by people who farm the land. There are no bridges, roads or cars that take you to the island. The only way to get to and from the island is by boat. Many of the inhabitants work in the city so they take the 1Le Faluka (Egyptian sail boat) to the shore every day. The available forms of transportation on the small island are on horse/donkey back or by foot.
On the morning of the trip my colleague and friend, Nora accompanied me and other eager explorers at Sky Lounge in downtown Cairo, for coffee and mingling before making our way to the deck to board our private boat. The weather was clear, the sun shining as bright as always and there was a cool gentle breeze to dull the heat.
Aboard the boat we were greeted and briefed by the Weekend Trip team. We were told that the residents of the island are wary of strangers. They are constantly being visited by people who are trying to coax and even force them off the land. Rumor has it that the government may want it as a base; there are also other rumors of wanting to turn the island into a resort or a night club scene. We were asked not to ask them any questions pertaining to the ownership of the land and other related questions that might make them feel uneasy. We were highly encouraged to be courteous towards them; after all we would be their guests on their island.
The boat ride was beautiful. The view on the Nile looking towards to shore lines was fascinating. It gave you the opportunity to look at Cairo from a different perspective and angle. It is a wondrous city, and I can understand why many are captivated by it. Having said that, I don’t think Cairo can hold a torch to Alexandria. Perhaps my opinion is a biased because I lived in Alexandria for well over a decade and I am and always will be Alexandrian.
When we docked at the island, our eyes were greeted by a vision of a girl not older than fifteen years old with 2 younger girls by her side washing their clothes next to the Nile bank. They looked upon us like we were intruding on their privacy. I have to admit that I did feel like I was imposing upon their privacy at the beginning of the trek, but as time passed the residents became more relaxed and were friendlier towards us.
I thoroughly enjoyed my day spent walking the length of the island. I found it hard to get my head around the fact that I was on an island walking through fields of plantations in the middle of the city’s capital. Never the less, the scene on the island was a pleasant change from the concrete pillars of buildings and endless streams of vehicles crowding the main land. It was just relaxing to see open space. I was dumbfounded by the locals and their ability to live the way they do. It reminded me of the film ‘The Village’. Where the inhabitants were cut off from the modern-day world and lived a similar life style to the Amish. I felt as though I had stepped back in to a different era, where houses had no electricity or running water. Water had to be pumped and fetched for cleaning, washing and cooking. Their freshly grown produce is part of their nutritional diet. No fast food delivery or microwave meals. Animals were around every corner in every field. The animals that I saw on the island were better looked after than the donkeys and horses you see on the main land. All though the people of Gizeerat El Dahab lead a much simpler life style, they have a better understanding and appreciation for nature and God creatures that the educated individuals on the mainland. The sound of congested traffic was a distant memory. Instead your ears were filled with sounds that are usually downed out by the cars, the breeze rustling through the trees, birds twittering away to one another, sound of your footsteps on the dirt path and the sound of water irrigating the fields.
I am a nature girl at heart. I really appreciated being able to walk in the fields and see the patch work of the fields and not worrying about being hit by a car. It reminded me a little of the summers I sued to spend in England and the pleasant walks I used to take.
 On the island I was surprised to see a gigantic church. I think my surprise is due to the number of mosques I see everyday. So, I automatically presumed that it was Muslim dominated. Seeing the church there actually comforted me. It meant that on the island both faiths co-exist with one another. It also gave me a little hope too. If these people can do it, then so can everyone else.
         The sounds of the call for prayer rang out from the mosque and could be heard throughout the island, calling its followers to come and pray. I can’t remember the last time I went to pray in a mosque. So, since the majority of the group was going to, I thought why not! I washed for prayer (‘wudoo’ is a certain way of washing, before you pray) and went up to the ladies section of the mosque and waited for the prayer to begin.
When the Emaam started the prayer, everyone came together as one and were united in their faith and all quarrels and differences were laid aside. I found it fascinating how things can change in a matter of seconds. Just moments before my friend and I were being looked upon as strangers by curious individuals and then we were no longer strangers, we were sisters of the same faith. If only people of the world could recognize that we are all made the same way. There would be less hatred and more understanding.
      After successfully walking the entire length of the island it was time to retrace our steps and head back to the meeting point under the ring road bridge that runs through the island. When we got there we sat on the ridge, under the shade of the bridge with our feet inches above the Nile. Some of the group wanted to experience the Feluka ride the locals take every day to and from the main land first hand. From there we went to the local bakery or ‘Fino’ as they call it on the island, to have a taste of the traditional ‘Fiteer Mesheltit’. It’s many layers of filo pastry baked in a circle and cooked in an oven. It can be a sweet or savory dish. The locals laid down mats for us to sit on and served us the freshly baked fiteer with ‘aasal iswid’ (molasses) and ‘mish’ (aged and spicy cheese) on the side. From the way everyone dug in, it was obvious they had all worked up an appetite. Once we had satisfied our pangs of hunger, we walked back to the dock to board our boat and headed back to the main land.
       I really enjoyed the hours spent on the island. To me, that was seeing ‘the real Egypt’ in its natural form. I really do hope that the residence of the island will not be tempted by money and give up their land and way of life.

To see some of the photo’s I took, click on the link.

http://www.facebook.com/album.php?aid=152130&id=512092363&l=3e18df71ae

Believe it or not but there are still some people in Europe and the West who believe that Egypt is so far behind in technology that they are under the impression that we still ride around on camels to get from one place to another. In some strange way I wish it were true. At least then the roads wouldn’t be so congested with traffic and the air wouldn’t be polluted with the gases that all the cars emit. All we would have to worry about are camel thieves, where we would park our camels and cleaning up after the animals in the street.

For those of you who are not familiar with what transportation that is available in Egypt let me give you a quick run down. We have planes that fly locally, regionally and internationally. We also have trains that run on train tracks to and from major governorates and cities. We have public buses of every size and shape, there are cars EVERY where.  There are tube stations and trams as well. The most recent addition to our transport system are the Asian tuk tuks. We still have Camels and Horses but we mainly use those for tourists not to get from one part of the city to another.

I own a car, but I gave it to my sister to use when I moved from Alexandria to Cairo. I have seen how the people in Cairo drive and to be perfectly honest, I don’t know if I’ve got the balls to drive here. When I need to commute long distances I’ll either hitch a ride with a friend heading in the same direction or take a cab. You maybe wondering why I won’t take the bus, tram or tube. I don’t want to come off sounding like a snob but the public transportation in Egypt isn’t the most comfortable or friendly. The buses are usually jam-packed like a tin of sardines and most people don’t use deodorant so the smell of peoples sweaty B.O will knock you sick!!

In Cairo there are 3 kinds of cabs;

1- The old black and white ones.

2- The Yellow Cabs (City/Cairo Cab (company name))

3- White cabs with black checkers (new)

The old black and white ones have been on the road since ‘taxi’s’ first started being used in Egypt. The drivers  can either be very helpful, polite and friendly or be very aggressive, rude and temperamental. One thing is for sure though, they probably know the streets better than anyone who’s live in Cairo their entire lives! They will get you where you want to go. Depending on the driver they may take you the short or the long route to make extra money. Their meters no longer work, so you will be at their mercy if you don’t agree on a price before you hop in to their cab. They have no air conditioning and they like to crank their radio up loud and blast your ear drums. Some times the rides can be entertaining and other times you can be scared to death at the speed they drive. They can drive so fast some times that if you though you needed a face lift, you may no longer need one! Most of the cars would be taken off the road in Europe or the West. They would be considered ‘CLUNKERS’. I swear some of them are held together with cello-tape!

The Yellow Cabs are privately owned. What I like about them is that if you need to call a cab and reserve it for a certain time to pick you up from some where, you can. You just call the hot line number give them your details and the address to pick you up from and the address of the destination. The Yellow cabs are comfortable, air-conditioned and some even have seat belts. Their meters work, so you won’t have to haggle, you just pay what is owed and out you get. The meter starts at 3.50 LE. I use Yellow cab when I’m going somewhere that is new and unfamiliar or if I am going to be heading home late from a night out or from a wedding. The down side is that some times your reservation gets lost or the driver comes REALLY late!

The new white taxis are presently my new favorite mode of transportation. Most of the chauffeurs used to drive the old beat up black and white cabs and traded their old car in for a new Hyundai. The cars are comfortable and have meters that work. The meter starts at 2.50LE.  So far I have nothing negative to say about them. Just make sure that their meters are working first before you get in, otherwise, the driver might decide to charge you a ridiculous amount.

The war of the cabs! The black and white taxi cabs are not fond of the new white ones. They think they are traitors in some way and resent the fact that people would prefer to ride in a white cab rather than theirs. I’ve noticed the glares the white cab drivers get from the other cab drivers. The reason I like to take white cabs is because, I know they can’t over charge me like the other cabbie do. They see me and think ‘foreigner, CHARGE TRIPPLE’.

LADIES, do not get in a cab wearing tight or short items of clothing! You will be asking for trouble. Make sure you are well covered to avoid any form of harassment and always sit in the back seat of the cab. Try and avoid eye contact in the rear view mirror. Some drivers may mistake it for an ‘invitation’!

The world is familiar with the term and the sport of ‘Snowboarding’. It has gained even more recognition since it has become an Olympic winter sport. Unfortunately for  most Middle Easterners we will never have the experience of skiing, skating or snowboarding because we don’t get any snow. We do have a hell of a lot of sand though!!! So, while there are nations who enjoy their winter sports, here in  Egypt we are able to enjoy the experience of ‘Sandboarding’.

Picture this, your in the desert with nothing surrounding you but dunes and flat plains. Everything is so still and quiet that time could have stopped and you wouldn’t even know. The only thing that reassure you that you are not dreaming is the sound of your beating heart and breathing and the humming of your 4X4’s engine. As you ascend from the car and look ahead of you, you are taken in by the enormous sand dune. Next to it, you feel like an ant next to a building. ‘I’m supposed to climb up that and board down it?’ you ask yourself while gazing up at  a tall virgin sand dune that may have never been climbed before you. You take your board, wax the bottom of it and carry it up to the top of the dune. Once at the top of the dune you place your board gently down on the sand as you prepare yourself for a thrilling ride. You carefully get on the board, whilst extending your arms to maintain your balance, you take in a deep breath and finally tilt your weight forward. The second the weight has been tilted there is no going back, you are well on your way boarding down the dune, with waves of sand blowing up on either side, you gather speed the further down you go and you just keep on going! Your heart pounds as fast as a humming birds wings and you have a mix of terrified and thrilling emotions! You lose your balance and wipe out! The fall is cushioned by the soft sand and although you have stopped your board kept on going and is waiting for you to pick it up again and go back up the dune.

This isn’t something I thought up. I really wish I could take credit for it, but Alas, I can’t. However, more and more travel companies in Egypt are getting creative and are coming up with fun trips and weekend trips that people can do. A friend of mine has one of these companies. His family owns Holiday Tours. Yehia, is a big fan of the out doors and is trying to show his fellow country men that there is more than going to restaurants and going to cafes. There is so much more to do and see in Egypt.

I decided to go on some of his trips companies weekend trips. So far I have been to Islamic Cairo, A Hike up the Chain of Red Sea Mountains in Ein El Sokhna, Horseback Riding in the Sakara desert and Sandboarding. Every trip was very different from the other and each time I had a fun-filled experience. My appreciation for the outdoors has grown a lot. I’ve come to realize that I’m more of a desert gal than I am a mountaineer. I enjoy spending the day away from the noisy, crowded streets,  unbearable traffic and polluted air. I find it to be rejuvenating to be out in the middle of no where, away from civilization and giving my ears a rest and filling my lungs with clean unpolluted air. I look forward to receiving updates on facebook telling me what ‘Weekend’ trips have planned. I am not always able to join them, but when I am able to I don’t think twice about going.

I can’t wait to go sandboarding again and horseback riding!!!

If you are planning a trip to Egypt, please do go and see some of the historical sites, but do try something adventurous too. You will have a lot of stories to tell your friends when you get back home. If you are a resident of Egypt, then do something different!!

Sunday, 31st of January 2010 was the final match of the African Cup of Nations. Egypt Vs Ghana for the cup and African Champion Title.

Ghana who , for the World Cup had their sights on the cup and title, while Egypt being the defending champions for the two years running were looking to make it three.

The traffic in Cairo is usually terrible but on Sunday it had reached a peak. People were leaving school and work early so that they could be home in time to watch the match. Cairo Stadium was full and busting to the seams of Egypt’s National football team. By 6 pm most of the country were huddle around a TV set crammed in a sitting room or a cafe to watch if the team would make history. The air was not as thick with anticipation as it was last Thursday when Egypt was faced with Algeria in the semi final, but we were curious to see how the boys in red would play and if they could win the title for the 3rd year in a row bringing their total wins to seven.

At 6:15 the game started and like a pack of wolves both teams chased and kicked the ball and defended their goals like their livelihood depended on it. Egypt came close to scoring a few times in the first half of the game but Ghana was determined not to let the reigning champs score. Egypt at one point looked as though they might not keep the title when three of the their players were yellow carded and Ghana was awared penalty kicks, but each time their attempts were blocked by the goalie ‘Hadary’ who has been nick named ‘ El Sed El 3aly’, which means the High Damn. The first half the game ended nil, nil.

The second half of the game was just as eventful as the first until Gido was sent on. This 26 year old Alexandrian footballer has become Egypt’s new ‘it’ boy. 87 minutes in to the game Gido has the chance to score and makes it. Braking the tie and bring the score to 1-0! For the remaining thirteen minutes of the game, the country and fans held their breath praying that Ghana wouldn’t be able to score. When the whistle blew, the cheers that broke out around the country could be heard every where! Egypt had won again for the 3rd consecutive year in a row bringing their wins to a lucky number 7! The Pharaohs may have died but the Egyptian soccer team are the reigning kings of football in Africa.

The Celebrations broke out almost as soon as the Referee declared the match officially over and that Egypt had won the game. The streets were crowded with people drumming, whistling, chanting and waving their flag with pride. Cars speeding up and down the roads beeping and honking till the early hours of Monday morning.

The Egyptians have regained their pride after their humiliating loss to Algeria during the World Cup qualifying game  and the disastrous media coverage that followed! They will return to Egypt with their heads held high and as national hers.

I wish the four African nations that did qualify for the World Cup the best of luck!

Thursday, 28th of January was a day of great tension and anticipation for the football (soccer) fans. Fans of the Egyptian national team dressed in the flags colors, painted their faces with black, white and red face paint like soldiers going in to battle. televisions sets and Plasma screens were turned on to a sports channel that would be airing the match live from Angola.

At 9:30pm most of Cairo had become a ghost town. Very few people were out and about at that time. While a great majority of the population of the City and the country were huddle in doors our at a cafe waiting for the match to begin.

The game had both Algerians and Egyptians on edge in the first half of the game. For the first twenty minutes it was like watching two Alpha males battling. Egypt fighting to redeem their pride and keep their title and Algeria fighting to prove that they had won the right to go to the World Cup fare and square. For the first 20 minutes of the game the defense of both teams was high and then Egypt earned a penalty kick! The goal earned during the penalty kick put them in the lead! The cheers could be heard echoing the city.

In the second half my family and I anticipated that the Algerians were going to come back and play with a vengeance and boy did they ever!!! They were so determined to keep in the game and score against their Egyptian opponents that many fouls were made by three Algerian players, but that didn’t deter their aggressive tactics and plays which earned them 3 red cards, sending 3 players off the field. One of which was the Algerian goalie who almost head butted the Ref (not a wise move, just ask Zein El Din Zedan, he head butted a player in the Final match between Italy and France in the last world cup and the world hasn’t forgotten it).

With only 8 players left on the Algerian team, there was no stopping Egypt! They scored 3 more goals before the match came to an end.

My father who has never been a fan of the sport was leaping out of his chair jumping up and down and cheering!

The streets of Cairo were chocka blocked with fans cruising around in cars beeping and waving the Egyptian flag, fans in the street drumming, chanting and setting of fire works causing traffic jams and a hell of a lot of noise! All with good reason too. After Algeria defeated the Ivory Coast in their last game, Egyptians were skeptical whether or not their national team would be able to beat the Algerian team. Low and behold, they did! 4-0

Both teams played like Spartans, they should both be very proud of themselves.

The next game Egypt will be playing is against Ghana.

Just when I thought I couldn’t get more addicted to the net, they introduce twitter! I wasn’t too impressed with the idea at first but now, I tweet away like tweety does in his cage!

I seem to be slowly gathering some readers and followers so, I have created a facebook group which you may be interested in joining, it’s called ‘The Irish Alexandrian’ and if you would like to follow me on twitter just look for ‘IrishAlexandria’, I ran out of characters that’s why there’s no ‘n’ on the end of Alexandrian.

On the facebook group you’ll be updated with up to date publications and where you can find them, as well as participating in discussions. The discussion at present is, ‘Is there a solution to the Cairo traffic?”.

Twitter just keeps you up to date on what I’m doing on the spot!

Having been abroad on vacation for a month has done wonders for my psyche and my spirit. I can’t remember the last time I felt  so relaxed and rejuvenated. The daily stress of everyday life was put aside and the only worries that I had whilst I was away were 1-Is my sister taking care of herself while we are away? 2-What/where am I going to eat out today. 3- What wondrous bargains will I find on today’s shopping expedition. (You can’t walk by a 70% clearance sale and not check it out? T-shir for 10$ or less you buy it even if you hate the colour and the way it looks on you! You won’t find T-shirt’s back home for that price, It’s a steal!)

Life abroad is a lot simpler. Simpler in the sense that the chaos that we have here in Egypt is minimal there. Chaos like the traffic and having to plan your daily activities and life around the traffic. ‘ If I need to be in Mohendisseen by 7pm, then I will probably have to leave Heliopolis between 5:00 and 5:30pm, giving me some extra time in case traffic is really congested or if I get lost.” If what your wearing is conservative enough for going out in, “Am I going to get hassled if I wear that in a taxi or walking down the street somewhere? Are the pants too tight, skirt too short, is the shirt see through or is part of my cleavage showing?” Having to get something repaired in the west you look up a couple of plumbers, carpenters or electrician in the yellow pages, give them a call and tell them what the problem is. They theny give you an estimated quota and if your agree with the price, then Bada boom! They give you a date and time of when they’ll be starting. The great thing about that is THEY ACTUALLY SHOW UP and KNOW WHAT THEY ARE DOING! Here you have to turn in to a serial nag of a stalker and practically pass by them at their place of work, beg them to come, drive them to your house , make them endless cups of tea while they repair what ever it is that needs fixing and drive them back, leaving your house in a mess and the stench of cigarettes behind them! If you don’t go and get them you could be waiting days or weeks before they show up. I’m DEAD serious!! My Dad takes great pleasure in hounding workmen. Just when they think my Dad isn’t looking, he’s there standing over their shoulder watching their every move like a Doberman. Grocery shopping is bliss abroad. I could spend an entire day wheeling a trolley up and down the isle. It’s so QUIET and the shelves are neatly stocked, labeled clearly with the correct price for the item and  when you are at the check out counter everyone stands waiting PATIENTLY for their turn.  Carrefour is like that at 10am but somone must have told someone who told some one becuse now, it doesn’t matter what time you go! It’s crowded and noisey like a mokeys cage at a zoo. To add to the fun of grocery shopping, Ramadan is right around the corner, you have people who think that they need to get to the supermarket before Ramadan becuase the shelves will be empty and out of stock. (It’s funny how EVERYONE has that very same thought!)

 If you have never experienced the scene of pre Ramadan, Ramadan and Eid shopping you have been spared! It’s like watching bulls in a china shop. I’m guessing that this is what goes through a shoppers mind, “Ramadan is going to start in the next week, so, I better go to the super market now and stock up on 60 Liters of oil, 13 Kilos of rice and pasta, I mustn’t forget about the kilos of onion, garlic and potatoes that I will be needing. I almost forgot Milk for the Um Ali and Rice Pudding, Oh and at least 20 packets of sugar, OH, I almost forget about the cheese, butter and drinks that we will need to break the fast with. Yohgurt lots and lots of yohgurt for the vine leave dip and suhour (a light meal that is had by most before dawn prayer, to commence another day of fasting from sunrise to sun set.) !!”  It’s Ramadan!!! not a hurricane or a draught!!! The food and items will still be there!!! They get so stressed out! I’m sure it isn’t good for them.  Another thing that I love about being abroad is that people don’t want to know your business or care to know. While here they make it their business to know EVERYTHING!! “Look their back from their vacation, they brought 6 bags back with them, when they only left with two. I wonder what they bought. The food there must have been good, she’s put on weight. Are those new sunglasses and shoes she’s wearing?”

It’s such a shock to your system when you land. The first thing that hits you is the increase in temperature, then the noise level is cranked up a few decibels and the organization and simple logic fades  to a distant memory and the motto of  ‘One for all and all for me’ comes back. You shake your head in disbelief, look at your family members to see if they are feeling or at least sharing your thoughts of ‘We’re Baaaaack! Why did we come back again?” You need a vacation after the culture shock!

Having said that, ( I know I’m going to sound like a hypocrite) there are lots of things I miss when I am away. My own bed, my house, my friends, the warmth of the sun, the agami sea with all it’s magary (sewerage)  but especially one of the GREATEST inventions that in my opinion is right up their with the air conditioner and that is the SHATAFA or as my Uncle in Canada has so aptly named it ‘The Shit Offer’. For those of you who don’t know what I’m talking about, it’s a hose that is located next to the toilet and after one has gone about doing their business they can clean themselves. The French have a fancy name for their contraption, they call it the bidet (pronounced beday). Theirs, however looks  more like a sink to wash your tush in. While I was away, I was getting so tired of having to have a shower every time I wen to the loo!! Can you imagine how many showers a day that is?! (now times that by 3 (each person in the flat) ). I know what your thinking, why not use wet wipes. I’ve tried it and it’s just not the same. I was getting so desperate at one point I was considering purchasing a garden hose or a water gun! I seriously think that someone needs to export the Shatafas or toilets with a built in one to the West and Europe. They would make an absolute FORTUNE!!!

All in all, with the daily chaos of life, pre Ramadan grocery shopping obsession, traffic, noise, pollution and unbearable heat. It’s good to be home!