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Monday 6th of February 2011

I am so excited! I am finally going to see my family. I have been thinking of every possible way to get to them ever since my friend was evacuated. The railway lines have stopped working and the roads out of Cairo had been closed too. The airport is over crowded with people trying to leave the country and there’s a strong possibility that their aren’t any flights.

I had done most of my packing last night but there are still a few items that I need to put in the put in the bag, but I have to wait for Meeza to wake up.

I am feeling very torn. I have formed a close bond with my host, (No….that’s not right), my surrogate family and I don’t want to leave them. I have enjoyed my time here with them, gotten to know them more and feel like I’m apart of the family. I dread to think what state I would be in, if I hadn’t come to stay with them and decided to tough it out on my own. Without their company, I’m sure I would have reached some level of insanity. Becs family will always have a special place in my heart for opening their home to me.

Bec’s Mum insists that I share breakfast with her. I’m not really hungry and I have been working exceptionally hard at reaching a target weight for my sister’s wedding in April, (Operation Megan Fox). I know it’s a silly thing to be worrying about in times like these, but God willing if all goes well, her wedding will proceed as scheduled and I won’t hate myself for not looking my best and being fit for the special occasion. So, I am adamant that I am going to remain focused on eating lots of fruits and vegetables, grilled meats and drink an excessive amount of water, Revolution or not! (would this make me stubborn or very determined?)

At around 11am my father arrives, I am so glad to see him. I waste no time in embracing him at the door and kissing his cheeks. I notice that he looks tired but a wave of relief washes over his face when he sees me. My father and I don’t see eye to ey very often and with us being stubborn and control freaks, we often but heads and clash, but with that put a side, he is my Dad, I love him to pieces and I don’t think I’ve ever been so happy to see him.

My Dad comes in to the house for no longer than twenty minutes. We can’t delay our departure due to heavy traffic caused by blocked off roads and protests. We also have to be back in Alexandria before curfew time. My Dad thanks Bec’s parents and as a small gesture of my families appreciation and gratitude for all they have done for me he gives them a bottle of Whiskey and a big box of sweet dates. I in turn hug both Bec’s parents and thank them and promise to come and see them as soon as I am back and settled again.

As soon as we are in the car we have to make a stop at my house to pay the landlord the rent and so that I can drop some unwanted items and collect more clothes (who knows how long the current situation is going to last).

As we approach my street, which is a big military area, I notice a crowd of twenty or more people near the Military Hotel, Triumph. I wonder what they are all doing sitting around staring at the Military compound’s huge metal gates. My father must have caught my gaze or read my mind and informs me that the people are waiting to see their loved ones that had been recaptured by neighborhood watch and military me as they were trying to loot the nearby areas. Upon hearing this slightly disturbing piece of information, I couldn’t help but feel relieved that I had followed my instincts and made the decision to go and stay with Bec’s and his family. The thought of having the escapees that have been causing fear and havoc in the city held across the street from my building, was not in the least bit comforting.

As soon as the car came to a halt, I waste no time in going in to my building and up to my apartment to leave an un-needed bag and gather some other belongings. I am whirling around the place like the Tazmanian Devil from the famous Warner Brother’s Cartoons. I am trying to be as quick as possible so that the echos of the last night spent in the apartment don’t come back to me. The feeling of being in my flat is an odd one. It is familiar and yet alien at the same time. ‘I hope to see you again soon’ I say to it before I close the door and lock it before taking the elevator back down to rejoin my father and the hired driver to head back to Alexandria.

During the drive out of the city my father ask me questions about the safety situation in Heliopolis, the sight of the barbed wires across the street and the tanks pointing outwards to wards the road. He tells me of events and situations that have taken place in Alexandria. That with in the first two days after the prisoners escaped from prison, the people guarding our street caught fourteen ‘baltageya’ (thugs/looters). He told me that other areas of Alexandria are experiencing much worse and that I know for a fact. My friend Shamel has been calling me daily telling me about his nightly watch and the amount of firing and killing that had been going on. Although I am living it, hearing it and experiencing it, my mind still has a difficult time accepting and believing that this is happening to us here in Egypt. It just boggles my mind! How did things spiral out of control so quickly? What lies ahead for all of us? Is it going to get worse? Will things ever get better? It is hard to tell…

At the Cairo toll gate leading to the desert road armored vehicles stand guard with their guns pointed at the center of the road. By the wayside, stolen, crashed and torched cars had been confiscated ownerless as you pass by the toll gate. For the past week we have been hearing horror stories of people’s cars being run off the road, cars being hijacked, robberies, rapes and killings along the desert road. On all the occasions I have driven back and forth on this road, I have never been so alert and watchful of every movement, car and person.

To stop at a rest house to use the toilet, gas up or buy something to eat is too risky and dangerous. Some of the escaped convicts are still on the loose and nobody wants to take any chances. The busy rest stops are empty, which is a strange sight because they are usually bursting at the seams with business, but now only the gas stations have clients. My father told me that he had stopped at one of the gas stations on the way and when he entered to building the owner was sat with a machine gun and bullets across his chest, the smell of freshly baked fiteer was absent in the air and the bustling of the waiters bringing the customers no longer existed.

We finally reach Alexandria after a two and a half hour drive, the security at the toll gate is more intense that the Cairo toll gate. There are more cars and the traffic is worse. Getting to the city is difficult, there is a hold up of some kind. We find out that the congestion is caused by a bus accident and large puddles of water.

As we pass by Carrefour City Center (a big shopping complex) there dozens of confiscated stolen cars parked on the side as you pass the shopping area. There are huge tanks and armoured vehicles positioned there too.

After two weeks of wanting to be with my family and a two and a half hour drive, I am finally home. I take my bags out of the car, get in to the elevator and press the button. The ride up seems to take longer than usual. “Hurry up!! I want to hug my Mum and sister!” As I finally reach my floor, I can see my mother’s silhouette through the glass with her arms spread wide ready to embrace me as I step out. I yank out the bags and drop them at her feet and just squeeze her tightly, while breathing in her motherly scent. There is nothing as warm or comforting as a mother’s embrace.

As I walk over the threshold of the apartment, my sister comes to greet me in the foyer of the apartment and we hug.  It is so good to be home and with family. They look well but tired from all the stress and constant worrying about their safety, the state of the country and me. At least now, they have one less thing to worry about. I am here, safe and sound with them.

We retire to the sitting room and talk for hours while pausing mid conversation every so often to hear the latest news up dates.

By 9pm I can no longer keep my yes open and got to bed.

I am home at last.

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It has been almost a month since I last posted something on my blog. It isn’t due to lack of interest or something to say…it’s due to over saturation of events past and present that are preventing me from expressing myself clearly. I have tried to sit down many times to continue typing up and posting my Diary entries during the 18 days of the revolution, but reliving it whilst still going through the post revolution events was getting to be too much for my mind and my emotions to handle. To add to the turmoil neighboring countries to Egypt, Algeria, Libya, Bahrain …etc are going through similar if not worse circumstances and to relive the past with the present became too much for me to cope with.

Messages from Family members, friends and readers whom have been reading the entries and following me on twitter have encouraged me to keep writing and posting. They say that my entries paint a clear picture for them from a person who is actually living in the country. So, I will try to work through the daily distractions of current events here and in the neighboring countries to get my story written and posted.

God Bless

I feel like a fish out of water! I can’t believe it has been over a month since I have posted anything. I have been caught up in whirl wind of events. Let’s see what, have I been up to?

Well;

I started one of my final Masters courses last month and I have 3 more weeks to go before it comes to an end! It’s a bitter sweat feeling. I am bitter because it’s taking up so much of my time and when I’m sat with my face glued to my lap top reading the material required for completing my course work, my friends are out enjoying themselves, while I have to force myself to be disciplined and get on with my work and convince myself that it will all be worth it in the end! The sweet sensation is knowing at the end of the journey, the money I saved up to be able to complete this and endless hours of writing, researching and reading I would have earned the title of ‘Master’ and the salary increase is always an added bonus too.

 On top of that my sister FINALLY got engaged! So, in the midst of my studies, there was a lot of planning, drama and celebrating. I am really happy and thrilled for her, because the groom to be is a really nice guy and he is going to be like the big brother I never had, but always wanted!

 I recently had to bid farewell and good luck to a dear friend of mine. He has been offered a position in the UAE and I’m feeling a bit lost without him. He was my confident and sounding board. I’m finding it rather difficult having to come to terms with the idea that I can’t just pick up the phone and call him when ever I like, or arrange to meet up for lunch to vent or to get some sound advice. I have to text, email or Skype now to keep in touch. I know everything I’m mentioning is quite selfish. I am genuinely happy that he is starting a new adventure in the chapter of his life, but apart of me wishes that I was one of the characters in that new adventurous journey.

 I can’t remember if I had previously mentioned this but, I was approached by an editor, who is launching a new magazine in Cairo, he had been reading and following my blog and thought I had an interesting perspective of what life in Cairo/Egypt is like from a half Egyptian, half Western point of view and would like me to write a column every month! So, look out for ‘Nadia, In The City’! The Magazine that is set to launch in November is called ‘Moments, Life Style Magazine’, keep a look out for it at a news stand near you!

In addition to all of that I am working full-time! The school year has finally kicked off and my new students have now been with me for the past 4 weeks. I have to say that I it’s good being back in the classroom. I don’t know what it is about being in a classroom, but to me it feels like it’s my stage or domain, where I can make magic happen. This year’s batch of second graders are a handful! They are very opinionated, have fascinating characters and are full of ENERGY!! To keep up with them, I have to get up earlier than usual and do at least half an hour on my elliptical bike to get my endorphins jumped started for a day of teaching!

There are times when I just need to drop everything I’m doing and have some ‘ME’ time. Which either means getting out of Cairo and going up to Alexandria and visiting my family OR doing something fun and joining ‘Weekend Trip’ for an adventures day of fun and some times spontaneity. The owner of Holiday tours and co-founder of ‘Weekend Trips’, Yehia El Decken, has asked me to blog about EVERY ‘weekend trip’, I go on with his team. So, you’ll be reading a lot about my adventures with them this year.

 My romantic life you ask? Emmmm…..Well, what do you think? Do you honestly think with all that I’m juggling right now, I have time for a romantic interlude!??! I will say this though, since I’ve started focusing on myself and looking after myself more, I seem to have re-ignited ‘The Old Me’, which is attracting some attention. Other than that…there is nothing to report!

How about you? What have you been up to?

Have you ever had a childhood dream of wanting to do or become something?
I had many career ambitions when I was a little girl, I wanted to be a WWF wrestler because I was a Tom boy and I liked the idea of being to lift someone high above my head and throwing them (very lady like!), It then changed to wanting to join the Navy Seals because I really liked their combat boots and defense tactics (but mainly for the boots), then I wanted to be a teacher for the deaf after seeing a movie where people taught children to sign, from there I decided that I would much prefer to be a lawyer so that I could argue my point all day long and get paid for it and then I wanted to be a child psychologist because they charged a lot of money by the hour while helping disturbed children. I didn’t join the World Wrestling Federation or the Navy Seals to my father’s relief. I ended up being an Elementary School teacher and a Writer, neither of which were on my dream job list as a child. I can’t complain, I really enjoy what I do and I do it well, (I’m not trying to blow my own trumpet).

My Father on the other hand, did fulfill his childhood dream of understanding how aero planes functioned and how to fly them. After studying and obtaining a degree in Mechanical Engineering like his Mother wanted, he furthered his studies in Aerodynamics and Fluid Mechanics and even went a step further and obtained his flying license as a commercial pilot. The only thing he didn’t get to do was fly for an airline. He had applied to work for one, but the head of the airline at the time said the only way he would ever fly for that company was if he paid him 10,000 pounds. My father being a man of integrity refused to cough up the money. He wanted to earn his job the right way.

Over the years my Dad taught ground school at a flying school in Montreal, lectured in Saudi Arabia and taught his students Engineering, how to build wind tunnels, aerodynamics and even took them for a ride in a plane as their pilot. His students always learned a lot from him; perhaps it’s because he’s so passionate about aircrafts and is like an excited little boy playing with a toy. If there is a movie, program or a news report related to airplanes, he will focus all his attention on what is being said.

Last year, my Dad taught ground school at one of the flying Academies in Amman, Jordan.  I went to visit him during the Easter break and on Friday we went to Carrefour to have lunch together, to my amazement a big group of his students go there every Friday too and they all sit together, have lunch and talk about flying. As I ate and observed I could tell that these young men had great respect for their teacher and felt at ease in his company. They were really upset that he didn’t stay on a second year and put their allowance together to buy him a model airplane as a farewell gift.
His colleagues were sad to see him go as well. They have kept in touch and have recommended him to other flying academies in the region.

Their recommendations didn’t go unheard, because now, My Dad is a consultant for two of the Flying Academies in Amman, Jordan and a Student recruiter for the flying schools in Amman and one in Montreal, Canada. I don’t think they could have asked for a better representative, because he has the passion for flying and can answer almost any question related to planes and engines. I’m not saying that because he’s my Dad, I’m saying it on the basis of being a teacher myself. I know what it takes to get students to be interested in a subject and to love it as much as you do.

As a kid my Dad would take my Mum, sister and I to they flying club in Montreal, and we would go up in a small four seated, propeller jet engine. He would teach my sister and I how to use the controls and fly the plane. I was useless! My parents had trained me ever since I was a baby to fall asleep on planes, (especially during long Trans Atlantic flights) so just minutes after getting clearance from the tower, and taking off. I would be fast asleep. My younger sister was a natural! Much to my father’s delight!
When my Dad is up in the sky in a plane, he is in his element. It’s almost as though he was meant to be up there.

If you have dreamed of being a pilot or going in to the field of aviation and you live in Egypt. Check out Captain Nabil El Abdin’s web page on facebook. Get in touch with him and he can tell you how to apply to the flying Academies in Jordan or in Montreal, Canada.

It’s never too late to fulfill your childhood dream.

Wadi Al Hitan means (Valley of the Whales)

I have always wanted to camp in the desert beneath a star littered sky for as long as I can remember. My wish finally came true last October, when a friend of mine proposed that we go camping. When he suggested it to me I was leaping for joy!
I was packed and ready days before we were due to leave.

Our guides in to the desert were two Bedouin men, the best guides you could ever possibly have. Bedouins are desert dwellers and know every sand dune and cave there is to know about. They were fabulous; they wouldn’t let us assist in constructing the wind breaker, the fire or cooking the night meal. The night we happened to be camping there was a full moon. The moon lit the desert up and made the ground look like the surface of the moon. The star littered night sky was better than I could have ever imagined.
Tucked safely and snug in my sleeping bag, in the desert under the sky, in total seclusion and in silence was so peaceful. I think that it was the best night’s sleep I have ever had. I only slept 4 hours but I woke feeling refreshed. There were two reason why I woke up so early, I had forgotten to turn off the 5am alarm that I have set for getting up every day (Yeah,….I know!!, I’m just grateful I didn’t wake anyone up), the second thing that woke me was dawn breaking. I had seen many sunrises by the sea, but none could ever compare to that! It was watching a documentary in the making.

The area we camped at was a few hours drive away from the UNESCO World Heritage site. The reason it is protected is because there are thousands of whale and other ocean fossils scattered on the ground of the Valley. Since the valley became protected in 2005, a clear and easy trail has been marked out and the information center offers a map of the Valley for you to be able to view all the fossil remains. The fossil remains of whales have been roped off, so that visitors don’t step on them or attempt to steal them.  (It’s a great place to take students for a Geography field trip).

The fossils were very well intact and fascinating to look at but what really blew my mind was the incredible landscape and rock formations that had been carved and smoothed out by the extinct sea that had once flowed through the valley over hundreds of years ago.
To tour the Valley you don’t have to do it on foot, there are camels available and I believe that you can bike it too, just as long as you stay on the path.
There are a few sheltered areas along the path way that have been constructed for visitors to rest in. It’s a good thing there are too because the temperatures out in the desert are scorching hot and resting in the shade of the rest area helps to bring down your core temperature whilst you sit and enjoy the view.
While you sit and take in the scenery your lungs fill up with clean air, the pollution that had been clogging your mind suddenly evaporates and your thoughts are clearer than they have ever been. Your mind feels open and your thoughts move freely without a single worry or interruption.

For October the weather was hotter than usual and thankfully I had my Bedouin scarf that I tied around my head to protect my self from getting sun stroke and I had a huge bottle of water, which was bone dry by the time we got back to our guides who had been busy preparing our lunch while we had been trekking in the desert for hours. (Bless them!)
We were absolutely parched and famished by the time we had made it back to them.

From there we made our way back to Cairo, but along the way we stopped an oasis. As we were driving toward it we thought it was just another mirage because we had seen many of them along the way, but when our four by four came to a halt and we got out, we couldn’t believe that in the middle of the desert there was a huge lake with turquoise blue sparkling water. It was phenomenal, breathtaking and captivating at the same time. From there we went to a waterfall in the middle of the desert!!! It isn’t man made, it’s all natural! It was no where near as spectacular as the Oasis but it was interesting to see.

When we entered the city limits I could feel my mind cloud again and the camping trip like the sea that had once flowed through the valley became a distant memory. 
This year 2010-2011, I would really like to be able to go camping in the White Desert when there is a full moon. People who have been said that if the moon is full, the light from the moon reflected on to the sand turns it blue.

To read more about Wadi Al Hitan click on the link below
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Wadi_Al-Hitan

BE WARNED, THIS IS A LONG POST.

I have seen the “Marriages from around the World” segment on OPRAH twice now. I have to say that I am happy that Egypt was represented but I think that one of the Egyptian representatives, Heba, an interior designer in Cairo, didn’t paint a clear picture of what life is really like here in Egypt, While Inji the journalist was more realistic.

There were a few things that really ruffled my feathers when I watched the show the first time and the rerun. I took notes when I watched the show the second time around so that I could remember the points that I wanted to refer to. (I can be such a nerd at times!)

I- Safety for Women

When Nana, the Danish representative asked Heba if Egypt is a safe place and she answered, ‘Yes, it is very safe” I couldn’t help but cackle in disbelief.
If I was to compare Egypt to Iraq, Afghanistan or Harlem, then I would whole heartedly agree, but if I was to compare it from where Nana is from, the answer would be ‘NO’!
I don’t know the women in that interview but from the way they held themselves and the way that they spoke I think it is safe to guess that they aren’t considered ‘common folk’; they are higher up the ladder than most of the population of Egypt. I am also willing to wager that most of them rarely walk the streets of Cairo and commute 96% of the time in their privately owned cars.
I walk both in Cairo and in Alexandria and I can tell you that it is a man’s country. If a woman is or isn’t veiled but looks nice, 99 times out of 100, you will either hear a crude comment or be harassed in some shape or form.
Let me give you an example of a well know incident that happened in Cairo about three years ago. It was during Eid El Fitr, (the celebration after the holy month of Ramadan, where Muslims fast) and in down town Cairo a mob of men had been to see one of the newly released Egyptian movies and they were wired! They were so tightly strung that they attacked innocent women who just happened to be passing by the cinema at that time. How bad the attack was, the news papers didn’t report. A taxi driver tried to save one of the women by pulling her in to his cab and driving away but the mob jumped the car and proceeded to attack them both. Not long after the incident and the story came to light, Imam’s in mosques didn’t condemn the mobs behavior, but they blamed the women who were innocently minding their own business!
A more recent story was published in The Community Times magazine about two girls who almost got harassed after one of the matches played by Egypt and Algeria. They had to seek refuge in a shop until the group of men gave up waiting.
These two examples are extreme cases of what may happen here in Egypt. It is more likely to happen to natives than it would be a tourist or a foreigner living here because they know that the police and the embassies would get involved.
So, I have to say that Nana’s intuition was spot on.
She probably felt even more insecure because she’s fair skinned and a blond.
What happens abroad happens here to, but it is kept very quiet.
If anyone wants to dispute this then, I am willing to provide examples from my own personal experience as well as examples that have happened to people I know.

A word to the wise;
The best way to avoid situations like these is to dress modestly, not to walk in dodgy streets alone, it is best to have a couple of male friends with you when you are out walking, try your best not to be out walking on your own late at night and never sit next to a taxi driver.

II – Conservativeness and the veil.

I loved Nana’s observation of how some of the veiled women were dressed ‘women who are covered and walking around in tight clothing and make up, it makes it very contradicting”

 I personally think Nana hit the nail on the head. There are lots of contradictions in our expectations of behavior and society and for an outsider to notice it should ring some alarm bells.
I can’t tell you how many times I have been absolutely gob smacked by the double standards that exist here.
I have seen veiled women at night clubs, drinking Stella (local beer), dating men and holding hands and some times going further than second base (if they are religious and conservative this is a big NO! NO!), go into a changing room and come out wearing a bikini in front of men in public! Who are they fooling might I ask?
Granted, some girls have been forced by their families to wear a scarf on their head, so I can understand them rebelling behind their parents backs, (I’m not saying I agree with it, I’m just stating I understand it), but what excuse do grown women who made the choice have?

I have the utmost respect for the women who chose to wear the veil as a devotion to their religion and their beliefs. It is admirable when I see women who are doing it for the RIGHT reasons. It takes a lot of will power and devotion to be able to wear it.

III- Tension between veiled and non veiled women

If memory serves me correctly Oprah asked if there was tension between the veiled and non veiled women. Nana who hadn’t been here very long said she did sense it.
Again, I would have to agree.

When I first moved to Egypt in the early 90s the ratio of veiled to non veiled women was below par. There were hardly any menaqaabeen (completely veiled with only their eyes showing). It’s with in the past decade that more and more women are veiling. Some of it has to do with many Egyptians returning from the Gulf States and bringing their new-found religious beliefs that they picked up from there, back to Egypt. The second is it is the fashion, “everyone is doing it so, I better do it too so people don’t think any less of me”. The third has to do with the economic situation in the country, when the poor get poorer and the middle class is heading towards extinction many people turn to religion for solace and comfort.

My sister and I are unveiled and we have experienced quite a few things in recent years.
We would step out of our apartment building and some times a men who would happen to be walking past our building door would swerve away, turning his head in the opposite direction, whilst uttering ‘Astaghfar Allah’ which is a term said when asking God for forgiveness’ and all because our hair is showing!
 (for further translation of the phrase go to the following link,  http://shiastrength.blogspot.com/2010/04/shiastrength-superiority-of-astaghfar.html)

My Mum would get the same reaction too when she used to take a taxi home from work. The cab driver would utter it under his breath when she got in and out of the car.
I remember a second incident that I found quite amusing. We were at a beach resort just outside of Alexandria. The place I’m referring to is Agami, it’s a well-known place where many people go to vacation by the beach for the summer months and people walk around in their shorts, t-shirts, swim wear and summer attire. Anyway my sister and were heading home after picking up some groceries for our Mum when this woman who was very conservatively dressed comes rushing up to my sister and I and tells us that we should be ashamed of ourselves and that we should cover up and veil. She made us feel like we were walking around naked, when we were in our mid-thigh shorts and T-shirt at a beach resort.
Some times at traffic lights there will be people handing out fliers or pamphlets that promote veiling ‘Naam lil Hijab’ which means ‘Yes, to veiling’.
My sister and I usually don’t wear any religious jewelry so people automatically assume that because we are not veiled then we must be Christian.

So, the answer is Yes, There is more pressure for women to veil today than 20 years ago.

IV- Marriages and Divorces

I wrote a post not too long ago about middle and upper class marriages in Egypt and I was recently contacted by a male reader who was able to identify himself with what I had written. Most middle and upper class marriages are based on business arrangements, (please note that I said, most and NOT all).

Marriages can also be formed as an escape from living with their parents and wanting freedom from all of their rules and expectations. Which is another myth, because their life won’t be about going out all the time and having fun, it’s about responsibilities, working and taking after the home. It can often be leaving regarded as leaving one dictating house hold for another, (demanding and controlling husband/wife).

Marriages solely to cure sexual frustration are another popular reason for getting married.
The fairy tale that has been repeated over and over again from one generation to the next about how marriage is a wonderful thing and that the girl will be the lady of her own home and can do as she likes is a sugar-coated illusion of what reality is. These girls by their late teens (17 on wards) are keeping their eyes open like a hawk for an eligible bachelor. When the wedding and honeymoon is over reality sinks in and the fights begin.

There are arranged marriages, where someone would suggest that perhaps two people would make a good union. So, a meeting with the two individuals is set, either at a neutral party’s home, where the individuals can meet under the watchful eye of their parents. A few meetings may follow so that they can get to know one another better, if a match is made then an engagement will ensue and wedding plans begin. One on one dating will not be prohibited there will be a chaperone with the couple when ever they meet or go out. This happens with more conservative and religious families.

Then there are marriages based on all the right things, finding a partner to be with because they are happy with them for who they are.

When the marriages are based on all the wrong reasons, how can you not expect the divorce rate not to be high here? During my Grandmother’s era it was almost on heard of and for a couple to divorce was a rare occurrence. Now it’s has become the norm.

I have a lot more to say about the topics mentioned in the segment but if I don’t stop my ramblings now, I would go on and on forever!
I will right more about at a later date in time.

In Egypt we don’t just tip the waiter in the restaurant or the bus boy who transports your bags to your room. In Egypt you tip for almost everything!

If you are trying to park your car and can’t find a parking space, you will 9 times out of 10 find a man directing cars in to the tightest spots and for that you tip him. While you are out going about your errand he will be watching over you car and if you ask him to, he will even wash it for you, (just make sure you tip him well, because the next time you park there, he will treat you like a Pacha or a Brincessa (princess))

When you go to the cinema and the usher shows you to your seat, you tip him a pound or two.

When you pull in to the gas station and ask the attendant to fill her up and the other to clean your windows. You tip them for their services.

When you are at Metro or some other super market and the person packing your bags helps you carry it out to your car, you tip them for being so helpful.

When you go to the bathroom at a rest house, mall, and restaurant you will most likely find that there will be a person there handing out paper towels when you go in to the stall and when you come out. You tip them for maintaining the place.

When the porter in your building helps you carry your luggage in to the building and up the stairs to the elevator or right up to the apartment, you tip him for the extra effort he has made.

When a delivery is made to your house by the pharmacy, fast food restaurant, dry cleaners, grocery store and whom ever else provides that service you tip them for risking their lives on their vesper to deliver the goods to you.

To have a parking or traffic violation ignored or canceled you tip the traffic cops who’s uniforms are tattered and almost thread bare. DON’T even try to approach or tip the men who have brass stars on their shoulders. If you do, incarceration will be the gift he gives to you! 

The men who come to collect the due amount owed for your electricity and water bill should be tipped for walking around the streets of the city and ringing the hundreds of door bills to bring you your bill instead of you getting lost and trying to find where the companies are tipped for the door to door service.

By now I think you are getting the idea. I bet your asking yourself the same question that I had been asking myself for many years. Why and what for?

Well, to put it simply they have government jobs and don’t earn enough to live off of. So, to increase their monthly allowance all the tips they make give them a little bit extra to put food on their table. I think of it as me contributing and helping people in need.
Always make sure you have a wad of 1 pound coins handy!

Train Rides to and From Cairo As some of you may or may not already know, I am currently living and working in Cairo. My father’s family home is in Alexandria. I have become an expert of some sort when it comes to taking the train to Alexandria. I have been commuting between the two cities regularly for the past 5 years now.

 Why the train you may ask? Well, there are many truths to the matter. When I moved to Cairo I decided to give my sister my car, so that I wouldn’t have to deal with the traffic and the tedious task of trying to find a parking spot whenever I decided to go some where. Plus, it reduced my expenses greatly! I suppose that in some very indirect way, I am also doing my part in trying to reduce the pollution that now looms over the city like a constant black rain cloud. Another reason I take the train is because after a long week and day of work, the last thing I would want to do is add to my stress level by driving through Cairo on a Thursday afternoon and fight my way to the desert road. I would much rather unwind. In addition I don’t really think I would have the energy or the alertness that I would need to drive. At least while I’m on the train I can sit back relax, watch a movie on my laptop, enjoy the view, read a book, listen to my iPod and even take a nap. I wouldn’t be able to do that if I was in the car. It is always best to book your tickets ahead of time.

The earliest you can book is two weeks before you are due to leave. If you live in Heliopolis, Cairo (the ancient city of the sun), then you have no idea how blessed you are. Instead of having to trek all the way down town, to Ramses station, you can just hop over to Central Almaza. There you can buy your train ticket. If you are visiting the country and would like to pay Alexandria a visit, then I am fairly sure that you can ask the receptionist at the hotel to book and purchase your tickets for you. Just make sure that you give the exact date that you would like to go. 1st class ticket 50LE. (If you are in Alexandria then you have no choice to go to either Sidi Gabr or Alexandria station to get you ticket). If you’re a spontaneous person and like to take trips on the whim, you can get on the train and try you luck. You will be able to purchase a ticket at the ticket booth, if you don’t you can buy one on the train, it will cost you double though and you may not have a seat for the entire duration of the train ride.

IMPORTANT NOTE!! Be warned that not all the trains are direct. (It makes a difference) A direct train will get you to Alexandria (or Cairo) in two and half hours, with a brief (possible) stop in Tanta. If you don’t take a direct train, then you will be stopping at every station between Cairo and Alexandria and that could take you 4 hours or more!

If you are planning on taking a trip to, or from Alexandria, then may I be so bold as to suggest that you should ALWAYS travel first class. The reason being is that the cars are air-conditioned, the seats are comfortable (they recline, have a foot rest and a pull out table) and it’s not as dirty as the rest of the classes. The up keep of the trains are unlike trains in Europe or North America. It’s quite….ummmm…..disappointing to say the least and misleading, especially since it is classed as 1st class. The pocket that is in front of your chair is caked in years worth of dust and dirt. The pull out tables that are in the arm of the chair are not as bad, because many people haven’t discovered their location. To be on the safe side bring along your hand sanitizer and your wet tissues to wipe it down before you place any perishables on it. The water closet is a HEALTH HAZARD! I don’t think it has been cleaned since the train was first put on the tracks. I don’t think you could carry enough wet tissues or toilet seat covers to make you feel safe. So, my advice is make sure you go to the toilet before you get on the train and try not to drink at least an hour before you depart for the station, you don’t want to be sat crossed legged with a bladder that is ready to explode for the whole journey.

There is a food cart that passes up and down the isles a few times during the trip. They offer drinks (water, canned soft drinks, tea & Nescafe) and pre-packed sandwiches. You can also order breakfast, lunch or dinner on the train too. It smells delicious but after seeing the condition of the toilets, I wouldn’t risk eating a meal on the train. I fight enough germs and bacteria on a daily basis. I strongly recommend that you have lots of change, to pay for the beverages or food you buy. Another helpful note; the man pushing the food cart will no charge you when you order the food, he will charge you 15-20 minutes before you reach your destination. (Don’t ask me why, I am still trying to figure it out)

 You will also need change to tip the man in charge of the car you are in, if you entrust him with your luggage or if he carries it on for you and places it over you seat. If you don’t have one or two bags 5 LE is sufficient. If you have more then 10-15LE is very generous. If you need a porter to take your luggage and push it on the big trolley, they charge the locals 5LE for that service. Don’t get suckered in to paying too much.

The train is usually arrives and leaves promptly. There have been occasions when the train pulls in to Sidi Gaber (1st stop in Alex), really late because of work on the tracks or problems with other trains. I hope this helps you. Enjoy your trip

http://www.egyptrail.gov.eg/docs/index.html

This past Sunday I accompanied Grade 5 on a trip to the museum with their Social Studies teacher who has 20 years experience as an Egyptologist and Tour Guide. I had heard about how informative her trips are and that they were a lot of fun. I had been to the museum the previous year with my Grade 2 students and I hated every second of the trip. For a museum that big with some of the most fascinating antiquities that the world has ever seen, you would think it would be air-conditioned a child friendly.

In all honesty, (I know I’m going to get booed for this), I find it to be very cluttered and disorganized. The artifacts aren’t displayed as well as they could have been and not all the antiquities are described and those that have an explanation were done by that ancient machine, called a typewriter and the paper has yellowed with age. They haven’t been up dated in god knows how long. If I was to describe the museum, I would have to say an over priced warehouse for tourists. However, having said that, if you are in Egypt you have to go to the museum, to see the mummies (which is in an air-conditioned enclosure, Thank God! But, it costs a whopping 100LE for foreigners and 20 LE for Egyptians), The Tutankhamen exhibit (is partially air-conditioned, the room which holds the famous gold death mask along with other breath-taking items are in a small room. This room is very crowded).

 If I were you I would go there as soon as it opens at 9am, otherwise you will not get any pleasure out of the trip. If you are in Egypt between the months of May and October, then the earlier you go to the museum the better. It will be cool enough for you to tolerate from 11am on wards you will be in a furnace and will come out of the building drenched and stinking of perspiration. Make sure you have a bottle of water with you too, you will need it. You may want to have some tissues hand too, incase you need to tinkle.

When you go on vacation a camera is a must have! You would think that you would be allowed to take pictures in the museum….consider this a BIG heads up, the Cairo Museum does not permit ANY pictures taken inside the building. If you have a camera you have to turn it in, take a number and it will be taken and put in to holding until you come out and reclaim it.

On my most recent excursion to the museum with a pro, I found it to be really enjoyable! It makes such a difference when you go with someone who knows the place and all the ins and outs of the place. The Social Studies teacher had all the kids and accompanying teachers wear earphones that were on the same frequency as her microphone. It was GREAT! We could hear everything that was explained and pointed out to us. The noise of other tour groups was just background noise to us. The frequency of the packs are really good, I had to leave the students to find the newly opened Children’s Museum. I had to go out of the main museum and I could still hear the teacher. (I believe it costs 10LE per pack, I’m not 100% sure, and I’ll have to get back to you on that)

If you have your back to the entrance of the museum and walk to the right side of the building and turn right there and follow the signs you will find the children’s section below the building. I have to be totally honest, I wasn’t expecting much! I thought it would be a hogpog of things thrown together, but to my delight and surprise it is actually very well done and the set up is better than the main museum, (sad but true).
The explanations of things have been simplified and among the ancient artifacts are Lego replicas of some of the famous statues and portraits that we have seen on documentaries and in history books. If you have children or are planning to take your class to the museum on a school trip, then I highly recommend that you go in to the main building first before it gets too crowded and over heated and then make your way to the Children’s museum. (Entrance is free)

From dreading my trip next week with my class, I am actually excited about going there and teaching them about all the new things that I learned from the Social Studies Teacher. I will let you know how the trip goes.

As the weather in Egypt starts to climb so do the risks of getting food poisoning. I used to think that I had an iron stomach, but 7 years ago I learned the hard way. I had sever food poisoning, I had para typhoid! To this day I am unsure where I got it from, because I would go out quite a lot with my friends in the evening after spending the day on the beach in Bianki, Agami. What made it even harder to pin point was the incubation period, its approximately two weeks. Since then I have become very anal about where I eat out and when I eat out.

During the HOT season, the shelf life of produce is cut in to a quarter, food rots faster.  Any dips, sauces made of cream and especially mayonnaise will go off really quickly if it isn’t refrigerated and covered well. Flys seem to multiply during the summer and they seem to have hyper SENSORS. They can detect food from miles off and before you can tuck in, you are being bombed by kamikaze flies  left, right and center. They will pull out every trick they have just to have a chance to land and spit on your food.

Consumption of water and Sodas sky rockets during the summer too. Before you pop open a can of your favorite carbonated drink to chug down to quench your thirst, wipe the surface of the can really well or even go as far as washing it. When the cans are waiting to be shelved, the roaches have a field day climbing all over them and sometimes even lay eggs on them. When buying bottled water make sure that the plastic seal is on the bottle. If the removable seal is not there, there is a possibility that it isn’t a fresh bottle of mineral water

Restaurants and Cafes get really busy too, so the pressure on the dishwashers in the kitchens is tripled. You will often find that the plates, glasses and cutlery are not very clean. If you have an inkling that it isn’t very clean or you are uncomfortable with the way it looks, then go with your gut instincts and politely ask the waiter to change it for you. It’s better to be safe than sorry. It isn’t fun being quarantined during the summer and having typhoid isn’t anything I would wish on my worst enemy.

Just last week a friend of mine went out to satisfy his sweet tooth and bought himself ‘Ruz Bil Laban’ (Rice Pudding) and regretted it a few hours later. Luckily he only had very mild poisoning, he was fine the following day. AUC (American University of Cairo) has had to have Tobasco close on campus because of cases of food poisoning. (I wish other restaurants would do the same and have a BLITZ clean)

I try very hard to eat at home more during the summer to avoid mild or even extreme food poisoning.  Your home is the only guaranteed place you can be sure of having  well-cooked food and clean utensils.