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Not too long ago the region was rocked by The Arab Spring, people became active and experts in politics, everyone knew what was best and everyone wanted to be captain to steer the country forward into a new age democracy. Tensions rose between family, friends and acquaintances due to difference of opinion and being unable to agree, to disagree. Facebook news feeds were full of political articles, satire and propaganda. In this historical abyss, I began to lose myself and no longer recognized my people or my country. In the midst of the confusion a person whom I had come to know via twitter, introduced me to the world of Instagram.
Instagram for those who are not part of the social media platform arena, here is Wikipedia’s description of it: “an online mobile photo-sharing, video-sharing and social networking service that enables its users to take pictures and videos, and share them on a variety of social networking platforms, such as Facebook, Twitter, Tumblr and Flickr.”
I had always been fascinated with taking pictures and had been given simple cameras, with Kodak film to take pictures with. As my interest grew using my mobile phone camera to take pictures to post on Instagram, so did my desire to improve. I would experiment with the filters available on the phone to try and make the pictures look artistic, but in all honesty, I was never satisfied. I felt that it took away from the natural and simplistic beauty of what I was trying to capture. My family saw that I had developed a new hobby or passion and bought me a semiprofessional Nikon as a birthday present. I learned to use it through trial and error and like my shadow, it went everywhere I went. My friends and family members dubbed me Papparzi, because I would be taking pictures for every occasion, outing and at event, I or we took part in.
Two and a half years ago, the same person who had introduced me to Instagram and awakened my dormant interest in photography, is now one of Egypt’s most recognized and followed Instragramers, as well as interior designers, Karim El Hayawan. He invited me to join him on a Saturday morning walk in Downtown Cairo. I was humbled to have the opportunity to watch and observe how he chose his subjects and what angels he would take to capture the image he wanted. The first walk, I remember walking in silence and only talking if I had to. I was shy as well as intimidated by this person and his endless well of creativity. I felt like roles had been reversed, I had become the student, learning from a teacher.
I must have made a good impression, because I was invited to join again for future Saturday morning walks. It has been two years of walking and what a privilege it has been. Not only have learned from Karim H, but endless of others too. With each walk, more people joined and that is how, he initiated a group and named it, “CairoSaturdayWalkers”. Over the past two years, we have grown from just a handful, into a small network of patriots, who want to share the beauty of our country and her people with those online. We may not be able to abolish the negative image that the media has painted of our part of the world, but with every picture we post and every like we receive, it is an effort well made. Every person that joins brings something new to the group and I became more inspired an in awe of their perspective and creative approach to things. The people that joined are from various career backgrounds and a large range in ages. Some of our merry band of walkers are amateur photographers like myself, while others have clearly taken courses and have become professional. Walking with so many talented individuals has further enriched me. It has opened my eyes to see the beauty that surrounds me every day, but often miss due to our fast paced life style. The walks force me to slow down and look at what is in front of me and to appreciate the beauty in it’s simplicity, complexity as well as some of the historical and modern architectural wonders that are hidden in our large and mystical capital city, Cairo.
Before I started walking, I must confess that I had reached a level of frustration and saturation, where the thought of continuing to live in Egypt was unbearable. The post-traumatic stress of the revolution and the difficulty of being female trying to find her place in a male dominated society had gotten to me. My Saturday morning excursions have helped to calm me down and show me things that I miss when I am driving by in the comfort of my car. When I walk in old and lower income neighborhoods I see the Egypt that my father and my grandparents spoke of. I see the warm, friendly and hospitable people that Naguib Mahfouz and other well-known authors described in their novels. Through watching my mentors, I have overcome my shyness of speaking in Arabic and make more of an effort to communicate. On my walks I have seen first-hand how the ancient knowledge of craftsmanship or trade has been handed down through generations, from carpenters, jewelers, welders, brick makers, bakers, upholsters, engravers, shepherds and manufacturers just to name a few.
Roaming the streets with the group on a Saturday, is when I fall back in love with my culture, heritage and people. I can’t begin to express how much I look forward to my walks. My mind becomes clearer, ideas become fluid, stories and characters are created in my subconscious.
The walks and the walkers have been my silent saviors, they have ignited a passion and an interest in me that I didn’t even know I had. When I miss a walk, I am utterly disappointed, but I take my camera with me, where ever I happen to be, just in case.
I am still not as savvy with a camera as many of the people I have come to know, I prefer to aim my lens at my subject and try and capture the image. I don’t understand or know any of the technical approaches that many of them converse about, which is fine. I don’t feel judged or pressured to learn. When I am ready, I will learn, but for now, I’ll just continue to do what I enjoy and that is, aim and shoot🙂
To my fellow #cairosaturdaywalkers thank you for making Saturdays, my favorite day of the week! XOXO
If you would like to see my photos you can visit my instagram page @IrishAlexandrian, if you would like to see of the walkers photographs, check out the following hash-tags on Instagram and on twitter #cairosaturdaywalks #roamegypt #ThisIsEgypt and #cairosaturdaywalkers
Oh and one more thing, be the change you want to be…
What are you waiting for, put on your shoes, and go for a walk. You just might find your passion along the way.
In the summer of 2014, I started taking my health seriously. I went to a health Spa in the remote town of Piestany, in Slovakia. To get my eating habits sorted, treat my ever painful Achilles tendons, hip and lower back pain. After spending a month focusing on myself with no distractions, I came back rejuvenated, healthy, centered, positive and ready to take on my new administrative roll by the horns. For the first few months of the academic year, I was still on point, until the stress and negativity that surrounded me at work got the better of me and I let myself go. I reverted back to my old ways of numbing the pain to be able to cope. Comforting myself the only way I knew how to, by eating food, the more of it, the better. I put back on all the weight I had lost. By April, I had reached an all-time low. I was depressed and generally unhappy. I was desperate and in need of a dramatic change. I honestly didn’t believe I would make it to June. It became increasingly difficult every day to find a silver lining, to motivate me to get up and do my best. Unlike last year, I felt like I had fallen into a deep dark pit. I had lost hope of climbing back out. I honestly felt limp and defeated I had no fight left in me. This is something, I still find very difficult to admit and say out loud, because I have never been a quitter and have always gotten back up, but this time, I just wanted to stay down. I had, had the stuffing knocked out of me and my core was shaken, I didn’t have the will power or feisty fire to stand back up and dust myself off, again.
After teaching Summer School to third, fourth and fifth graders, I was ready to get on a plane and get as far away from my teaching life, my country, family and friends, (at least I thought I was). I needed to be on my own, to have an adventure and revive the fading inner warrior from within. Of all the countries I have visited and trips that I had been on, on my own, I was exceptionally nervous and terrified. It was as though my subconscious new, that this trip, was one that would be life changing. The feeling of fear stayed with me right until I landed in Thailand and was safely in my hotel room. The day I arrived in Bangkok, I had to kick myself out of my hotel room. Otherwise I would have just cocooned myself in the room until it was time to go to my next destination, Phuket. I was actually scared of leaving my room and had no desire to discover or explore, which was very out of character for me. On my first night, I took baby steps. I walked around the immediate neighborhood of where I was staying for just a couple of hours. The next morning I still felt uneasy about going on a guided tour that I had booked. A part of me wanted to just stay and watch the world go by from my hotel window. When I was on a tour of the Floating Market, sat in a boat in the murky water, watching the boats gently collide with one another and stall keepers literally reeling in passerby’s, I was beside myself with laughter, watching the disorganized chaos. In some bizarre way, it reminded me of Cairo traffic, but on water. When I got off the boat, I started to feel a bit more like me. I walked around the market on foot, taking pictures, haggling with sales people for good prices and just enjoying the chance to interact with people and their culture. I especially liked helping a group of students on a school trip, who were instructed to talk to tourists to practice their English whilst filling out a questionnaire.
By my third day, a chunk of my self-confidence had returned and I was enjoying walking the streets of Bangkok, taking in the sights, the markets, buying souvenirs and interacting with the people I could feel my old self slowly climbing back up and out of the dark Abbys.
On July 26th I landed on the island of Phuket, I had booked myself into a “spa” for a 21 day cleanse. I can’t begin to tell you how much I was looking forward to some pampering and relaxation. As the taxi began to slow down and I peered out of the window, I saw a luxurious hotel on my left hand side, a satisfied smile crept across my face, but the taxi didn’t turn in to the hotel drive way, it kept going further up the road and turned right up into another driveway. A place that looked like a sports center or a boot camp. My expression changed within a fraction of a second and the reality of the situation began to dawn on me. It wasn’t a spa, it was a fitness retreat! A fully equipped place with two boxing rings, punching bags, padded exercise floor, kettle bells, dumb bells, gym, TRX bands, various other equipment and a multipurpose exercise room. The only phrase that kept playing on a loop in my head was “Oh Shit, What have I done!” I reluctantly got out of the taxi and made my way to the office to check in.
The description I had read on one of the booking sites, fell short of describing PhuketFit as a fitness retreat. They described it as a spa, where pampering and relaxation was the main focus. So, instead of seeing people wrapped in towel robes and slippers, they were all in sports attire and dripping in sweat! (I was very grateful no one could hear the colorful language that was going on in my head)
The staff were very accommodating, friendly, polite, cheerful and calm. They explained that in the morning I would meet the detox consultant, get weighed in and would be given my daily routines. I was given the schedule of the workout classes, shown the facilities and once I checked in I was shown to my room. The room on the grounds was spacious and clean. The bed was large but the mattress was too hard to my liking. I, personally couldn’t get comfortable and got little to no sleep my first night there. Luckily there was retractable sofa in the room, I made that my bed for the remainder of the stay, it was the most comfortable, but it was much better than the bed.
On the morning of the first day I meet the head consultant, Oiy to learn more about my program. Oiy is a lovely woman, who is very welcoming and helpful. She explained that every morning, to start my day, I would mix myself a detox drink, composed of apple cider vinegar, psyillium powder, magnesium and water, along with 6 supplement pills. At 9am, I would have a green smoothie for breakfast. 10:00am fresh coconut juice (I took great pleasure watching the ladies hack the tops off the baby coconuts), from 1-3pm lunch (salad, like non I had ever tried before) was served, 2-2:30pm coconut juice and a second dose of the detox drink. At 4pm was the liver flush drink, (which should be drank as quickly as possible, it’s very garlicy and it tastes like salad dressing), and from 6-9pm dinner (soup + salad)
All of my meals during my stay were prepared and served in the detox house. The food I ate for the entire duration of my stay was raw vegetables. I didn’t have any grain, dairy, oils/fats or animal protein in my 20 day stay, (Luckily, I love most vegetables). I was asked if there were some things I was allergic to or didn’t like, so they could accommodate me. Since I was, doing the 21 day cleanse, a scheduled daily massage was included in the package, as well as the choice of going to the sauna every day. (I didn’t know that the steam in the sauna not only cleared your pours, helped with respiratory the system, but it also helps boost metabolism).
The detox house is a cute little house on stilts, just up the hill from where the fitness facilities are. The house has a small pool, garden and veranda to sit out on. It’s also where the massages are given. There’s also an endless supply of fresh ginger cinnamon tea, (which I soon became very fond of and have learned to make at home). In this house, I met some of the most inspiring people, I have ever come across. They aren’t celebrities or billionaires they are just regular people like you or me, but with fascinating and humbling stories. Sitting on the sofa, listening to each person tell their tale of how they found their way to PhuketFit, I quickly learned that we should never be too quick to judge people. We are all fighting our inner demons to become better and healthier individuals. People’s appearances don’t always reflect what is going on, on the inside.
For the first two days I wasn’t very social, I was still disappointed that I hadn’t checked into a luxurious spa, so I kept to myself a bit. I also didn’t do any of the workouts, I needed to allow my body some time to adjust to the change in calorie intake and for the drained feeling to subside.
By day 3, I had given myself numerous pep talks and had finally made a conscious decision to stop behaving like the spoilt brats I despise, and suck it up and just make the best of the situation. As a true believer in fate, I had chosen to accept that I was meant to be there for a reason, and that no amount of beating myself up would change anything. I made more of an effort to socialize and initiate conversations. I attended Pilates and Yoga, to get some exercise and went to the sauna, to give my metabolism a boost.
One of the first people I met at PhuketFit was a very warm and friendly Australian woman of Greek origin, who made an effort to make me feel included. She introduced me to many if not all the people who were staying at the retreat. When she would see me passing by or sat alone, she always gave me a warm greeting or asked me to join. If it hadn’t been for her extending her hand of friendship, I don’t think I would have settled in as well as I did. People from all corners of the globe were there, Singapore, Philippines, Australia, Kuwait, Dubai, India, New York, England, Ireland, Venezuela, Switzerland, Sudan and South Africa we could have started up our own United Nations!
As the days went on the bond between the long term attendees grew stronger and so did my self-esteem. I could feel all the negativity that I had been harboring for the past few months shed with each passing day. I could feel my body rejuvenating with all the fresh vegetables I ate at meal times. My mind was clearing and my thoughts were not drowned by doubt and fear. With every yoga and Pilates class I could feel my strength returning my core becoming more engaged with the different forms of exercise. At the end of my second week I could feel the flexibility and elasticity returning to my joints and limbs.
The journey up until this point had not been easy at all. At times it was grueling with the muscle pain, the exhaustion and wanting to just quit because it was so damn hard pushing my limits and trying to let go of all the layers of protection that I had piled on for so many years to numb me from feeling hurt, feeling unworthy or rejected. Letting go and trusting the staff was the hardest thing of all. If it hadn’t been for the staff’s understanding and their encouragement “It is never too late, to get back in shape”, would be a phrase repeated by Kim, the TRX instructor, “take it one small step at a time, but the important thing is to take the first step and keep going.” as well as other participant’s motivation, I don’t think I would have survived those three weeks.
Another difficult experience was saying goodbye to the people you had seen day in and day out. When their time had come to an end, watching them leave was hard. Why, you might ask? Well, when you are in a small community, and you see the same people every day, eat with them, workout with them, share experiences, celebrate loss of kilos, encourage them to keep going even when they have not lost anything, they become your surrogate family away from home. You also know that there is a high possibility that your paths may never cross again, but they have taken a piece of you with them, wherever they go. I guess that is how a platoon of soldiers feel about one another. This rang true for me with a handful of people I met there. The handful of people that I am referring to, are spread across the world and although we keep in touch from time to time, I owe a lot of my success at PhuketFit to them.
By the third week, I decided to go full throttle I did as many workout classes as I could. I would push myself to do between two to five hours a day. I would force myself out of bed for the 7-8:30am Mai Thai class, after my green smoothie I would have a short rest before heading to Zumba or Pilates, Tabata and going for a walks and yoga.
On the morning of my final day at PhuketFit, I bade farewell to all the staff and left them with some parting gifts to thank them for helping me on my journey and to remember me by. I also met with Oiy, the detox supervisor again to see the progress I had made over the last few weeks. Her parting words to me were “Our Princess is no longer stressed, the light is back in your eyes and you are ready to go back.” (Princess was the name I earned, for being one of the very few (crazy) people to sign up for the 21 day cleans)
She had known from the moment I arrived…
Later that afternoon, I stood at the foot of the steep hill that had knocked the wind out of me the week before. It was a hot sunny day and the humidity was high, but I had made up my mind, “Go hard, before I go home”. With water in my backpack and the music from my ipod secured in my ears, I tackled the winding hill. Cheeks crimson red, sweat dripping from my brow and staining my t-shirt, a passerby, took pity on me and offered me a ride to the top. I graciously declined putting my hands together and bowing my head, “Kap Kum Ka” (Thank you in Thai) and trudged my way upwards, one step at a time. Once I reached the top, I felt as though I had not only tackled, but defeated a giant. I bought last minute souvenirs for family and friends, took pictures of the beautiful view from the top and slowly made my way back down the hill, to spend some time with friends, before I had to pack 3 weeks of my life into one suite case.
The morning of my departure, I stood in the drive way of PhuketFit and the feeling I had when I had first driven up at the beginning of my stay, was not the same feeling I left with. I actually wished I could take the place and everyone who worked there back with me to ensure my transition back into my everyday life. I knew without them, there was no safety net and it would not be an easy. I had to rely on what I had seen and learned in my time there and keep pushing forward through the obstacles that life would continue to throw at me.
As I made my way to the airport driving past the sites that had grown so familiar to me, watching the people going about their business, it suddenly struck me, that not only had
I found myself again at PhuketFit, but I had learned to like and care about myself too.
I don’t know when I will go back, but I do hope it is soon. I miss the staff, the food, the ambiance, the small Greek café around the corner, the kind lady and her family who do the laundry and ironing, nature, culture and the people.
It’s been two months since I’ve been back, it has been very hard, trying to keep and maintain a healthy diet. When you’re at PhketFit, you don’t need to worry about preparing meals, it’s done for you. When you’re working full time and have deadlines, meetings and paperwork to keep up with, it’s very easy to slip back into old habits. In Egypt, aside from soccer our second national sport is socializing while eating out. When I meet up with friends in a café or restaurant, I feel like I’ve walked into the lion’s den. I guess an alcoholic feels the same way if they set foot into a bar. I am very wary of what I choose on the menu, I usually stick to vegetarian dishes or salads. I was able to make it to 90 days without eating any desserts. When I did try a piece of a cup cake, I didn’t enjoy it and gave the rest away. I still have no desire for fried food; I prefer fresh fruit, vegetables and grilled chicken over most things on the menu. The area I am finding the most difficulty is setting aside time for me, to workout. I have recently found a yoga center not too far from my house, which I tried last week and I think I will join regularly, to help strengthen my core and keep my Zen state of mind.
So, as you can see the journey may have begun in PhuketFit, but it is continuing here, at home.
I don’t know why this memory has suddenly begun to resurface and has got me thinking about a guy I had met when I was in University. Perhaps the young woman I was back then, at one time had a clearer view of the person she wanted to be, and how she expected to be treated by a guy, but somewhere at some point in time during the relationship, she lost sight of that. The reason for sharing the experience now after so many years, is to let other women of different ages know, that these situations happen to all of us, they are not alone and that they can move on from them when they end.
This is my story;
Some friends from University and I went out one evening and one of the guys suggested that we swing by and pick up a buddy of theirs. I had no idea, who this guy was, I had never met him before and I wasn’t very impressed when I did.
He came across as moody and unfriendly. I tried to engage him in conversation, but he wasn’t interested in contributing and didn’t speak much. I gave up trying to make him feel welcome in the gathering after that.
Months passed and I didn’t see him again until one summer. The night was very warm and my friends and I were out at a popular club on a Friday night. We were busting out moves on the dance floor, when I noticed a face in the crowd, looking at me and smiling. He walked over to me and in Arabic said, “Do you remember me? I’m Z’s friend”. I told him “Yeah. I remember you, you’re the one we picked up and wouldn’t talk all night. I thought you were miserable and unfriendly”. As you can tell, I rarely held back and told people exactly what I thought.
He laughed and apologized for his behavior, he said he has been stressed out studying for mid-term finals.
“Let’s start again, My name is Irish. It’s nice to meet you.”
with a big grin, he took my hand in his to shake it and said “My name is X. It’s nice to meet you. Would you like to dance?”
We danced for some time. He wasn’t very good at it, but he clearly wanted to make a better impression this time round. After a while he asked if we could get off the dance floor and stand under a fan to cool off a bit. We talked for the rest of the night. He was quite a popular guy, many people came up to him to say hello and he introduced me to them. When I was leaving he took my number.
When summer came to an end and everyone closed up their summer residents to move back to reality and their homes in the city and the sand and surf became a distant memory. Mr. X called me up and asked to take me out. I agreed. We went to a cafe first and we talked. Well, in all honesty, I probably interrogated him about his likes, dislikes, his plans for his future and secretly hoping I might possibly be included in it.
* Important note* I think this was probably the first time, I had caught myself fantasizing about being courted by a suitor, which would end in matrimony. I had never, thought about it before… it was… new to me. My focus before that was, finishing University and building a legacy of some kind.
When we left the cafe, there was still some time before I was expected home, so we went for a drive that resulted in us going to a popular beach resort within the city. It was once the former Monarch’s summer retreat, with a grand palace, huge garden to take long strolls in and his own private beach. The place now is open to the public to visit with a small entrance fee to be paid at the gate.
We parked and got out of the car for a walk, being there brought back some memories of the summer of 96, when I had met my first love, but that’s a story for another time.
We walked and saw the shore line twinkling with city lights around the bay and down part of the city coast line. The autumn breeze gently nudged us and the waves hit the rocks and sand as they played their eternal and never-ending song. He held my hand as he led me across the sand in my high-wedge sneakers to prevent me from sinking and then pulled me close to him when we had reached the lifeguard chair and tried to make out with me. Without a second thought, I impulsively put him into a choke hold. (Yes, I am dead serious, I had him in a head lock). He was startled and confused by my reaction as he tried to pry my arm away from his neck.
“You brought me here to make out with me and you thought I would be okay with it” I remember exclaiming at him. “Look, you aren’t the first guy to attempt this with me. I know many guys think that just because my mother is a foreigner that I am easy and that I’m okay with things like this, but I’m not”, I went on to say. “Would you be okay with a guy treating your sister this way?” “No” came a forced reply from the captive. “Then you need to stop thinking of me as a foreigner and treat me with respect, like you would any of the girls here. After all, I am Egyptian too.” I demanded. “If I release you, will you promise not to try anything?” With a nod of agreement and a confirmed “I promise”, I let go. “Take me home please.” I ordered
We left and for most of the drive we were quiet. When we got closer to my house, he asked me if I really wanted to go home. “It’s not a question of, if I want to or not. I have a curfew and ?I need to respect that.” “Rules are made to be broken Irish, why don’t you just come with me to Far n’ Away, I’m meeting up with some friends and we can hang out more. (By this time, I thought the guy had little to no respect for me). I told him that I couldn’t and I wouldn’t, because I didn’t want to have to endure the dread shib-shib (it’s the Arabic word for slipper, a tool that many parents use to beat sense back into their children and other people). “Come on, what’s the worst that can happen to you? They shout at you and send you to your room?”
“The consequences of the action is not what is worrying me, it’s losing my parents trust and disrespecting them. As long as I live with them, I live by their rules. If you don’t like that, then I’m sorry, but that just shows, you have little respect for families.”
Thankfully he listened and dropped me off on time for me to not get in trouble. I thanked him for the evening (out of politeness) and went up to the house. I thought I would never hear from ‘X’ again after putting him in a strong hold and not bending to his ways, but surprisingly he called back and asked me out again. A romance bloomed and we dated for quite some time after that.
* That girl you read about had spunk and knew exactly how she wanted to be treated, with respect. She didn’t ask or assume it would be given, she demanded it and wouldn’t except being seen like an object to be used for recreational use. That’s the kind of girl/woman we should all attempt to be. We shouldn’t allow ourselves to be doormats, that are walked over and used, by men or anyone else for that matter.
In the months leading up to the summer, I remember a shift in my inner balance. I had never been religious and began exploring it again after over a decade of pushing it away. A result of something that happened in my childhood. The reason for my new-found curiosity of my faith was Mr. X. He was not an angel, but his family were modest and some what conservative people and ‘I’ wanted to know more about their train of thought, beliefs and be a good candidate for their son, ‘if’ things continued on the path we were on. The more I learned the more consumed I became. I began to pray regularly, fast, stop wearing certain clothes that I felt were not appropriate and became more selective of whom I hung out with. I stopped greeting my guy friends as warmly as I once hand and going to places, that I felt were full of sin.
As I look back now, I can distinctly remember, feeling distanced, self alienated, sad, miserable and negative. It puzzled me how, I could feel such darkness, from something that should be giving me peace and light. I know the answer now, but I didn’t know it then. My reasons for my quest were not pure, they were selfish. I had given up a part of my true self, so that another or others would like me more. I had unknowingly turned myself into the dread doormat.
Like most relationships, there were rough patches. We broke up when he went abroad for a few months to get some experience in his field. I told him, I would wait for him and he asked me not to, so we broke up.
My religious phase continued for a short time afterwards, as I subconsciously held on to the hope, that X would return and come back to me. The spell ended up being broken during the summer, when less and less of my old friends wanted to hang out with me. I no longer wanted to go to the beach to swim, go to pool parties or out at night. I was alone and discontent. My mother, sister and dear friends voiced their concerns and pleaded with me to go out. I was resistant at first. However, something that had been dormant, awakened inside me and eventually persuaded me out of the house and I drove to the location of one of the big summer parties held at the American compound, which was allegedly hosted by MTV The Grind. Up until I stood at the gates of where the party was being hosted, I was still debating with myself as to why I should turn back and how this was wrong, but my feet had a different agenda. I walked across the threshold of the gates, my ears guided my feet by following the sound of music being played. I stood taking in the scene of people laughing, dancing, singing along to the music, splashing around in the pool and swimming. I remember, one of my thoughts, ” I have been missing out on so much! What had I done?” My friends saw me and watched intently, waiting to see what I would do. My arms worked fast, taking off the shorts and t-shirt while my mind was still processing everything it was seeing and dove in to the pool. My friends cheered and hooted “She’s back!”
We later got back together some time after he returned. He pursued me and after numerous attempts, I caved. Not long after getting back together he became distant. I thought I had done something wrong and tried to talk to him, but he never flat-out told me what happened. Until one fateful day, I found out that he had gotten engaged to another girl.
Needless to say, I was stunned by the news. It takes a lot for me to be speechless and this was one of those moments. I was hurt, I couldn’t believe that he didn’t have the nerve to break up with me face to face or tell me he had found someone-else and that he was getting engaged. I wasn’t as angry with him as I was with myself for forgetting who I was and my self worth.
In time I got over the experience and put it all behind me. I wish I could tell you that I learned the lesson and it never happened again, but that would be a lie. It took a few more experiences until I realized, what I had been doing and put a stop to it. I am not happy with how things ended between us, but I’m glad that I wasn’t the one who married him, I may have been lost forever. The amusing thing is, to this very day, when our paths cross, he still can’t look me in the eye or be in the same vicinity as me for more than a few minutes.
I have learned that every experience has a lesson. This experience taught me something very valuable, never, ever, try to be something I am not for someone else’s approval, because you can very easily lose yourself and forget who you truly are. Never be a chameleon, like the character Julia Roberts played in the film ‘Runaway Bride’. Always be true to yourself and who you are and if someone truly cares about you, they will be honest.
Play the Game.
The best place to start any story is always at the beginning. In my case, I’m not quite sure where the beginning is to be honest. So, how about I get the ball rolling with my earliest memory of when I first moved to Alexandria, from Saudi Arabia. We left my childhood home of Dhahran, the year of the Gulf War in 1991. I wasn’t at all happy to be moving to Egypt. I felt like a prisoner in the confines of our large family apartment. I was used to opening the front door of my house once I had done my homework and would hop on my bike and go for a bike ride around the compound, or play outside in the playground with the neighbors until my parents called me in for dinner time. I had been used to certain freedoms and it was very hard getting used to only going out on weekends. I was not at all pleased about the new school, I had been enrolled in. It wasn’t close to resembling the International Schools, I had been accustomed to. The structure of the Language School was jerry built,the classrooms were small and cramped, poor lighting, windows that didn’t shut well, some windows had missing glass, the room was crammed with poorly built desks that splintered and chairs that had nails that stuck out and tore your tights. The chalkboard was so old that it had grooves in them and the paint was so cheap it would rub off on our uniforms if we lent against it.The greatest irony was, that it was at this school, where some of Alexandria’s high society attended. The lessons in the classroom, were not the ones I remembered or the ones I took with me when I left. It was the hard lessons of how to ‘play the game’, that I learned from the masters of the game, that have remained with me. They weren’t lying when they said, that some of the greatest lessons a person learns are NOT in the classroom.
I was raised to be honest and to tell the truth, no matter what. However, those were not the set of rules that governed the social circles there. There were two core rules that any newbie would be grateful to know, if they wanted to get by and not fall victim to the flock of popular girl harpies. Rule 1- “Do as I say, not as I do”. For example, if you’re invited to someone’s house for a gathering or a birthday party and they order you not to eat the food, then you don’t eat the food, even if they do. If they decide that someone is ‘Persona Non Grata’ because they aren’t respectable enough, then you don’t speak to them, but if they do, that’s o.k. If they say it isn’t o.k to slow dance with a boy, then you don’t do it, but it’s o.k if they do. In today’s world, it’s called ‘Double Standards”
Rule 2- ‘Being two faced is an art form” You LOVE everyone to their face and introduce everyone as your best friend! When they aren’t in your company, that’s when you can bitch about them to your coven of loyal followers. Never ever, confront someone and tell them what your really think of them to their face. That will just rub people the wrong way, and you will be targeted and become a social outcast, where hardly anyone will talk to you and malicious rumors will start flying around. The silver-lining in this situation is that when you are the target, some other poor soul is being left alone. Over time, the stories will be forgotten and life goes on.
I unfortunately didn’t know those golden rules, and had to learn things the hard way, after the ‘New Girl’ – everyone wanted to be my friend phase came to an end. Which brings me tor Rule 3- “Anything Foreign is Good” Other wise known as the foreigner complex or 3odat el khwaga. I was some what of a rare breed because of my foreign blood, which made me instantly cool. I had lived and been schooled abroad (check), My clothes were all bought abroad (double check), I spoke English fluently (check), I had a foreign passport (check), oh and I had fair skin (with freckles), wavy straight hair, colored eyes, and I didn’t look Egyptian (Triple check). The downside to this upside, is that I was female! Why is that a downer… well thanks to Hollywood and their positive portrayal of women, it meant that I was easy. It apparently goes without saying that any member of the female species with some or non Arab/Middle Easter/ North African blood lines, is game for any kind of ‘sport’. By that I don’t mean the kind of sport you need a coach for! Oh and we are o.k with it. Rule 3 took a little bit longer for me to comprehend and learn to correct guys perception of me.
Rule 4- “Treat them badly” or ‘Demure, Caring and Alluring” Alexandrian girls and women have the reputation for two things in Egypt. The first is how gorgeous they are ‘A7la Banat, Banat Eskindareya”. The second unfortunately is not as flattering as the first. They are the masters at being the most manipulative, think Scarlet O’Hara from the ‘Gone With The Wind”. Like every rule… there are exceptions. I have been luck enough to meet some very nice, decent and genuine women from my city. I have also had the terrible luck of crossing those who are true to the rule!
When a lad shows interest in a girl, if she is interested in him, then instinctively you reciprocate the feelings, right? WRONG! When a guy likes a girl and let’s his feelings be know, the correct reaction is to ‘Tidilu bil gazma’ treatment (hit/give him the shoe) from the get go. In some odd and twisted way, it is a form of taming. It is a way to get the individual to do your bidding and respect you. The trick is NOT to completely castrate his manhood or humiliate him to the point of breaking him. But, so that he feels like he has won the chase and earned the right to have her on his arm. Knock the guy down, treat him badly, ridicule him and when he’s about to give up be sweet to him in a one to one setting a few times, just to give him hope and not to lose interest. However, when he attempts to interact with you in front of your friends, you go back to the gazma treatment. Many of the girls I know and their mothers before them, have had Egypt’s finest gentry pop the question by this method.
The other skill, is to be a Snow White with a twist. This is perhaps the most deceiving tactic of all. It reminds me of the praying mantis, because the poor chap has no idea, what his fate is, the only difference is he doesn’t get eaten. The girl will act like the sweetest thing ever, gentle, thoughtful, kind, soft spoken, feminine, delicate, sugar and spice and everything nice! :Until she is officially the Mrs. THEN she drops the act and begins to show her true colors.
This skill is either passed down genetically or taught at a very young age. I haven’t quite figured it out yet and I doubt I’ll ever learn how this unspoken skill is acquired. Although, I now know how to crack the gazma whip, it is not something I enjoy practicing. I would never ever like to be on the receiving end of that whip and I know that Karma can be a bitch. As for playing the ‘dream girl’… I have no desire of ever learning or implementing it.
Rule 5- Never put all your eggs in one basket.
Now, this rule is very hard to learn and use and that is why only some of the very skilled and cold hearted are capable of executing the plan without getting caught. If they do get caught, they then play the victim and cut their loses. How? Let me explain; a young man courts a girl for a length of time and she has him under her spell. He thinks the world of her and that she can do no wrong. She likes him, but is aware that there might be better fish in the sea, so when she isn’t with her loyal love, she keeps her keen eyes open for someone who might be better suited for her needs (whatever they maybe, financial, social…etc). If she does find someone, it is best to choose someone, not from the city, someone who lives in a different city or abroad. Alexandria is a small city, and the chances are someone will know either lad or both, which increases the chances of getting caught.
This situation can go three ways;
1- The loyal lover, the knave of Hearts gets dumped for the King of Hearts and she weds him and become the Queen.
2- The Knave of Hearts turns out to be a King after all and keeps him, because no one could trump him.
3- Both knaves find out through a source what is happening and they team up against her. The temptress then plays the victim, the most gullible of the knaves decides to give her a second chance.
I often find myself on the side lines watching and observing people and couples. The more I watch and learn, the more I realize that a majority of people consider dating a game of both mental and emotional skill and NOT an attraction. It’s like a game of cat and mouse or the hunter and the prey.
An important note, is that, the men also play by these rules too. You’ll read more about that in my upcoming posts…So stay tuned!
Wednesday 30th July
Thursday, will be the one week mark for me at Thermia Palace and I’ll have 12 days left before my experience here comes to an end. I do feel that I have grown stronger this past week and that the pinched nerve in my back is becoming less and less of a problem with each Elector session, heat treatment and massages. My Achilles tendon is not as easily agitated by my movements and walking around. (Knock On Wood!)
Today is the last day for the remaining 4 Egyptian ladies, I have had the pleasure of meeting. There company is always enlightening as well as full of amusing conversation. When they leave, I will be the remaining Egyptian here. It will be my duty to represent not only Egypt well but the other counties that I am patriotic to, too.
Going from session to session reminds me of high school. Schedule in hand along with the necessary items I’ll need for the treatments and I have to make my way from one place to the other and be on time, break for lunch and then go to the next session. Attendance isn’t taken but the instructors or those providing the treatments, sign your schedule to indicate you attended. I’m just grateful I don’t have reading or written assignments that I have to turn in at the end of the 20 days.
I checked my list of treatments for the day and found I had two new treatments, that I’ve never had before. Dry Carbon Bath and Mud Pool. How does one have a dry carbon bath, I thought to myself? The other sessions were familiar and I knew what to expect, or so I thought!
I found my way to the floor and corridor where this new kind of bath is given. It was in a place I had never been to before and I wasn’t quite sure what I should do. One of the employees came out of one of the rows of identical doors, looked at my schedule and said to wait one moment, while she called her colleague to come. Moments later a short red-haired, stout woman came bounding down the hall way towards me, with quite a bit of make up and lead me to the last door in the corridor where a big CO2 sign was. I went in and there was no bath tub!?!?! I was confused? How do you have a bath without a tub? Instead of a tub there was a medical table/bed and a sheet on it. The woman went to a small cupboard and pulled out a long white plastic bag and placed it on the bed. She then turns to me and says; “Madame, Please take off clothes and get in bag”, then leave the room to let me prepare. (PREPARE FOR WHAT?!? IS WHAT I WANT TO KNOW!!)
I can’t begin to tell you all of the thoughts and phrases that were whizzing around in my head! Some of them are just too vulgar, that I won’t dare write it out, because my mother reads my blog! One thought was ‘I wish I’d written my will and final testament, if Id’ known I was going to voluntarily get in a body bag!”
I do as I’m told (I’m so obedient), I get undressed, climb into the bag and wait for further instructions. The woman returns shortly after, I’ve got myself in the bag. She comes over and helps me get further in the bag and tells me, my arms have to be inside too, (OH! #$%^ me!, I think to myself). A towel is wrapped around my neck and the bag is pulled up towards my neck and then an elasticated clip is put in place, so, I look as thought I have a Victorian collar. I am then made to lie down and a pipe is then stuck into the bag through the neck piece and the gas is turned on. The bag slowly fills up with carbon gas and when I look like a human sized helium balloon or a super giant-sized bag of Kernels Pop corn. I am left to lie in ‘dry carbon gas’ for 20 minutes. (Well, now I know what it is, I thought to myself. How does this benefit me in any way?) I lay there, thinking and listening to the light relaxing music and at some point in time I drifted off to sleep. I woke up with a jolt when I felt myself teetering off the edge of the bed, (PHEW!!! that was close!). The woman came in and sat me up, not long after I saved myself from a carbon tumble and released the gas from the back of the bag. I was then told the session was over and that I could dress and leave. (I later found that it benefits the skin, and gives it more elasticity)
I make my way across the next building for my healthy back session. I was sincerely hoping that it was going to be like Pilates or yoga, but it was more like a Jane Fonda workout and again it was with the Trunchbull! Seeing this woman at the head of the class each time puts fear in me but also reassurance. I fear I may never walk again and reassurance that my ass will get whipped into shape in her class! Some of the routines I used to do when I was much younger with the greatest of ease, especially having been double jointed in the hips. After letting myself go, I find some of them strenuous, but I don’t let it deter me. I keep pushing myself… I will not give up and I will not be defeated I repeat to myself! By the end of the class, I have worked up a sweat and without a moment of rest, I make my way back to the main spa to experience the mud pool.
Before going into the Mud pool, I have to spend 10 minutes in the mirror pool, once the time’s up. I make my way downstairs to where the pool is. I thought the mirror pool was warm… HA! the mud beats it when it comes to heat. The pool itself is of an interesting design and shape. The water is dark and not very inviting. I made my way into the pool slowly so as not to slip and because my very active imagination made me believe that there was a possibility a swamp monster my inhabit it. The temperature of the water was ok, but once my feet touched the bud, it was I would imagine walking on hot coals would feel like. It was very warm that I couldn’t stand in one place for a long period of time. I had to keep lifting my feet up and moving around. I also had to keep my upper body out of the water to keep cool. “10 minutes in this?” I thought to myself. “I might melt in this before the time is up!” While I was in the pool one of the attendees came to me and asked if I’d mind bringing my next exercise session forward, because I was the only one taking it. I didn’t mind at all, it meant I wouldn’t have a two-hour gap between this and my slim class.
After a very long and slow passing 10 minutes, i showered myself off and went to one of the resting cubicles. I was wrapped up like caterpillar in a cocoon and I was sweating like crazy. Eventually the warmth got to be and I dozed off for a while. I woke up about 30 minutes later. I threw off the sheets and covers, put on my robe and went to the changing room to get dressed in to my exercise attire.
At the exercise class I expected it to be similar to the last two sessions, either on a ball or in a standing position. No, this time, I was going to do pretty much the same workout I did earlier in the healthy back session on an elevated massage table. Not only did I get my butt kicked but I was terrified that with one false move I would end up on the floor! In all honesty, the thought of moving afterwards made my muscles ache. I was done for the day!
For the rest of the day, I went into town and did a bit of shopping, blogged and then went down for dinner. At dinner time, I was messaging a friend of mine back in Cairo, keeping him informed of how may day and sessions are going, while in the garden enjoying the rare nice weather. On my way back, I saw the Egyptian ladies dining in the restaurant and went over to talk with them and to wish them safe travels before I turned in for the night. That didn’t happen, they insisted I sit and stay with them and join them in the bar afterwards. They are so charming that I couldn’t refuse. I joined them in the hotel lounge, I listened to them tell stories of their youth as the pianist played old hits in the background, which then led into a mini sing along when it was a song that they remembered the lyrics to.
They may be a few decades older than me, I thought, but their spirit is still young and their minds are sharp. I hope I’ll still have that spark and sense of joie de vivre at their age.
Thursday, July 31st
I wasn’t fortunate enough to see all the ladies again before they left. I did bump in to Mona after my second session one of the morning. We said our final farewells and hoped to meet up in Cairo once we were all back and settled in to our daily lives.
My routine today wasn’t too packed and wasn’t too strenuous. I attended all my sessions and once I was done, I dashed back to my room to change, have a quick lunch before I went on a short excursion to the capital city, Bratislava with a tour guide. I was the first to be picked up, so the guide was kind enough to give me a summary of the history of Piestany and a brief rundown of the the sights we would stop and see. I was the only English speaker on the bus, so I had to rely on my language decoding skills to pick up tid bits of information in German, because there was no way I could do it in Russian. As we drove, I dozed off a few times. I have trained myself to do that on long car journeys, to prevent myself from getting car sick, especially when the A/C isn’t strong and I couldn’t open a window. After what seemed to be ages, we reached the Bratislava, it wasn’t as bustling as I had expected it to be for a work day. It was quite calm and quiet, which was a pleasant surprise. We drove by the Presidential Residence, it looked like a miniature one story version of the White House in DC. From there we drove to the top of a hill to where a reconstructed castle stood. If the original hadn’t been destroyed in a fire a century or so ago, I think I would have been really impressed with the architecture and air about it, but because it looked ‘new’, I wasn’t that interested. I was mainly focused on the gateway, which had four armored white soldier busts at the top of them and the panoramic view of the city.
Our next stop was the old city of Bratislava. The bus dropped us off and we made the rest of the way on foot because it was a pedestrian zone. We walked down cobbled alley ways and I was in heaven, snapping away capturing unique architecture, statues, a clock tower and few other scenes with my camera as we walked a long. The area reminded me of two places O’Connell street in Dublin and downtown Beirut. It felt familiar and I enjoyed listening to the different languages being spoken. It was more cosmopolitan than Piestany. After we had been shown the highlights, we were given some free time to wonder and were told to meet at a certain place at 5:50, to head back to our hotels. Well, without hesitation I was off, there was an Irish pub I had spotted along our walk and I wasn’t going to leave without getting a Guinness fix. The last time I had one was in March and as everyone knows it’s rich in iron and has fewer calories than beer! I went straight up to the bar and ordered a half pint, so I wouldn’t be too full for the ride back and to make sure I had time to get some souvenir shopping done too.
Once I had happily consumed my favorite black drink, I went and found a souvenir shop close to the meeting point. Inside I picked up three magnets, a post card and some Slovakian mead. I’ve recently started a collection of magnets of places I have visited to put on my fridge. They are easy to carry and don’t take much room in the case or in the house, I also by two other magnets to put on my sisters fridge and my parents, because they can never have too many magnets! While I was at the cashier, I was stood next to a young lady whom was speaking to the cashier and my ear picked up on not only her accent, but the slang phrases she used. So, I turned to her and asked if she was Irish. She said she was and I then told her that I was half Irish. The young lady then asked where about my family was from and when I told her they were from County Tyrone in the North, she had an astonished look on her face, ‘That’s where I’m from’, she replied. Jokingly, I looked at her inquisitively and asked her if she was from the McSorley family. She giggled and said no, but her sister was married to one!! WHAT WERE THE CHANCES!?!? Of all the souvenir shops in the old city, I happened to be in that one standing next to an Irish lass from my grandfather’s county!! The world and the powers that be never cease to amaze me!
When I got back to the hotel the first thing I did was message my mother and she was just and amused by the encounter as I was.
Friday 1st August (2 weeks left)
I have officially completed by first wee. I am feeling the benefits of the treatments and I have to say the thing that I am enjoying the most are the simple freedoms people take for granted, like being able to wear what they want without being taunted by harassers, going on long walks or riding a bicycle while breathing in clean air and being surrounded by nature. There are days when I just want to crawl back into bed and sleep, but I force myself out, because, I know if I don’t, I will come to regret it once I’m back in Cairo and taking a stroll is enough to raise your blood pressure.
First thing this morning, Elena, who is the lovely women who has been giving me electro treatment everyday since my arrival said that she would be going on vacation and that today is her last day and that she wished me well and all the best and gave me a hug. I was very touched by her genuine well wishes and couldn’t help but like her more than I already did. I couldn’t help but wondered who her replacement would be and if she/they would be as efficient.
Today was one of those days where, I had to keep dressing and undressing. I can’t tell you how many times I had to go from being fully clothed, to half-dressed, to stark naked. I felt like I was becoming talented enough to have my very own, Las Vegas, Quick Change show! It will be very strange once I leave to be wearing the same thing all day long, without having to change into gym clothes, swim suite, rob or something suitable for dinner.
During the Healthy Back exercise class with the Trunchbull, there was some Saudi entertainment for the class participants,
(I say this with tongue in cheek and a lot of sarcasm)
An older Saudi Woman came into the class with her Sri Lankan maid. It is hard to estimate how old the Saudi woman was, because some women look far older than they are and her weight added years to her face too. She enters the class and is somewhat confused and caught off guard. The instructor tells her to come in and grab a mat but she doesn’t understand. I translated for her so that the class won’t be held up any longer. “But I’m not in sports clothes” she frets and says almost objection-ally. “It’s up to you” I inform her on behalf of the instructor. The Saudi woman then orders her lady in waiting to place an exercise mat on the floor for her, and tells her to remember next time she’ll need a blouse and pants for this. She then hands her, her black head scarf and Abaya (the long black cloak they wear) to the Sri Lankan woman, who then leaves to wait outside till the end of the session. The lady gets down on to the exercise mat make making a lot of grunting sound effects and ‘OW’ing and ‘AAH’ing noises, while the rest of the class watched her in complete bewildered puzzlement. I can’t begin to imagine the what thoughts were going through their heads. As the class goes on the grunting and complaints of pain grow less and less. At one point there’s no sound at all and I look up to see if the woman is still alive. Over the participants bodies and across the room, I see a pair of legs up in the air as she is lying on her back, following the instructor. Her galabeya (dress) is hitched to her knees, revealing what appears to be leg warms (that may be used to conceal her ankles from men) or medical socks with the bottoms cut off and her face is beetroot red. I have to prevent myself from laughing out.loud at the vision I saw.
When the class came to an end, she remained sat on the mat and watched everyone step around her so that the can put the mat away and make their way to their next appointment. She beckons for her maid to come, who is through the doors within seconds with a wheelchair and Abaya. I leave shaking my head in sadness and disbelief.
I make my way to my next session, which is the mud pack. I arrive a few minutes before my slot. When my time comes, I’m lead into my chamber for the session to undress and walk into the adjoining room, where I lay and get wrapped up in mud for twenty minutes. There are usually two people who are responsible for this, but only one of the ladies is on duty today. Once i’m settled and wrapped up tightly like a shawerma she moves on to the next client, whom happened to be another Saudi woman. From the conversation, it sounded as though she had never experienced this before because when she heard what she had to do, she put up a little protest ‘Laa, Laa, Laa, Aida, yimkin hathi ghalat’, which translates to ‘no, no, no Aida, maybe this is wrong/mistake’. The maid asked the attendee if it’s possible the doctor made and error. The Slovakian women in her broken English answered ‘Doctor, no make mistake, lie down, on back please.” The Saudi woman grumbles and mutters words that are inaudible for me to hear as she does as she’s told. The moment her flesh touches the heated mud the sounds of disgust fill the air and I chuckle quietly to myself. You are usually given a choice of 15-20 minutes, but the old woman wasn’t given a choice, the timer was set for 20 minutes, the lights were switched off to allow her to relax and the sound of the door shut behind her.
After these two incidents, I couldn’t help but wonder, if the girls from Asia whom are employed by families from the Arabian Gulf, ever get satisfaction from watching their employers in these situations. The thought then reminded me of two films that had been made ‘The Nanny’ with Scarlet Johansen and ‘The Help’ with Emma Stone. I wonder if these girls felt the same way as those characters did in the movie.
I finished my treatments at around one o’clock and went back to my room to change, answer messages, chat with my parents and tell them of the entertaining events that happened today. Which they found to be quite humorous that my mother laughed till she was red in the face. Once I had lunch, I went and rented a bicycle to ride around to burn off lunch. Well, that was my plan, but the weather had different plans altogether. I hadn’t been riding 10 minutes when Zeus threw his lightning bolt across the sky and a thunderstorm filled the sky. I rode as fast as I could peddle to my hotel, jumped off the bike and tried to lock it to a pole, but the damn lock wasn’t cooperating. The rain was beating down faster and harder and I was getting wetter by the second! I finally got it to lock and ran inside where I waited it out for the next 3 hours! Just when it sounded as though the storm was subsiding, I would think, maybe now I could go out and ride, it would start-up again. I went down for dinner, defeated. It looked as though I wouldn’t be riding the bike and would have to return the bicycle tomorrow, so I asked the receptionist to kindly inform the hotel I had rented it from that I would pay the extra amount. When I had finished dinner the sky was clear, the rain had stopped and I didn’t waste the opportunity, I got paper towels tried off the seat, unlocked the bike and rode! The sky was a palette of sunsets, the air was so clean and fresh my lungs couldn’t inhale enough of it. The hours I had to wait to ride, were worth it! If only it were like this in Cairo, I thought wishfully to myself!
I have come to one conclusion, Slovakian weather doesn’t like me riding a bicycle!
Part VI is coming up!
Later that day, I was catching up with my Mum, who is visiting my sister in the UK
Sunday 27th July
Sundays are days off at the retreat! I was very grateful to have a sleep in for a change. Since the end of the Academic year, I’ve been on the go, and a slower pace, even just for a day was nice.
What would I do with myself for a whole day in a place where I can’t speak the language? sleep? naaa! The sun is shining and the air is clean! I should fill my lungs up with as much of it as possible while I have the chance. But before I decide, first order of business is; breakfast!! I dressed hastily, made sure I had everything I needed in my hand bag and my camera, so that I wouldn’t have to come back to the room if I decided to head straight out.
By now, I knew what the nutritionist had planned for my breakfast off by heart; a glass of fresh juice, a slice of toast, cottage cheese, a slice of Emmantal cheese, 2 small 50 gm triangles of processed cheese, 2 boiled eggs, yogurt and a bowl of oats. Meh! is right! It is quite bland to the palette and doesn’t sound or look anywhere near as appetizing as the croissants, slices of tea cake, fresh pineapple, scrambled or boiled eggs, BUT I am here for the purpose to drop my weight and to clean my insides of a decade worth of poisonous crap that I had consumed, so I will suck it up! It’s amazing how a little dash of pepper and salt can change how food tastes!
Just before I was done Rana walked into the restaurant with her father. I went up to greet them both, she was very surprised to receive the little box of chocolates that I had left, “shoo hay, wahdi be wahdi’ , she said in her strong Lebanese accent, s “what’s this? one for one.” I told her it was a simple thank you gesture for giving me something I loved so much. “I want to see you in Beirut next time. I’ll send you my contacts so you can call me next time you come.” I promised the next time, I was there I would most certainly contact her. I wished her and her father both safe travels in case I didn’t see them before they both left.
After breakfast I went in search of the small travel agency (again), that organizes short trips to neighboring cities both in Slovakia and countries close to its borders. I followed my mother’s description to the letter and I couldn’t find it. I was slightly perplexed about it but I decided to continue on with my stroll and worry about it later. As I walked the island and saw the other hotels that shared the area, It was without a shadow of a doubt that I had booked into the jackpot! The other hotels were of modern architecture and from what I could see they didn’t give off as bright and relaxing ambiance com as Thermia Palace. I’m sure the service is good, there too, but I like the places I stay in to look cheerful both inside and out. I snapped a few pictures along my walk and kept a look out for where I might be able to rent a bike for the hour or for the day.
The thought of riding a bike was exciting as well as Terrifying! Since moving to Egypt in the early 1990’s I haven’t ridden one. I was genuinely worried that I had forgotten how to and that I would fall and that would be the end of my holiday and I’d spend the rest of it all bandaged up like a mummy! When I last rode a bike the world wasn’t as safety conscious either, I didn’t want to violate any rules or collide into another biker, pedestrian or car. So, I also took a mental note of where the bike lanes were, so if I ever did find a bike to rent, I had some idea of where I could ride.
I had no such luck, so I went back to the hotel after a lengthy walk and decided to check in with my family. As I was about to go up to my room, I bumped into Rana again. I stood chatting with her and her father, and was then introduced to 3 more Lebanese gents who live and own a travel agency here. Rana introduced me to Farag and said, ‘This is Nadia, she’s a lovely girl, please keep an eye on her. Nadia, Farag is a very old and good friend of mine, if you need anything please don’t hesitate to ask him.” It’s moments like these when you see the true spirit of the people from the Middle East, hospitable, helpful and generous. The media has plagued their image with false assumptions that we are all blood thirsty born killers, who have only thoughts of terrorism on our mind. It was very nice to see abroad as well as back in the region. Once they left and we said our final goodbyes, I went up to my room and sent my mom pictures of the area she had described and asked her to pin point exactly where the travel agent was supposed to be. After a lengthy discussion it turned out I had walked by the place quite a few times! So, once we had ended the conversation I headed back downstairs to check it out.
I headed down stairs and went directly to the place, my mother had described only, only to find a tiny note pad size piece of paper stuck to the window, that said they had relocated. I took a picture of the new address and asked the reception at the hotel. They informed me that it was on the bridge to the left of the hotel but would be closed on a Sunday. I asked if they knew of anywhere else I could rent a bicycle and I was told the hotel Balnea Esplenada rents them. They called the hotel for me and made sure that they had bikes available for me.
I walk to the hotel and went to the reception. I thought I had been transported back to Cairo and began to panic. The place reminded me a lot of the Intercontinental- Semiramis Hotel, near Tahrir Square. It was a modern architectural structure, with black tiled floors, tan colored leathers seats in the reception area and full of Gulfies.
(Yeah, I’m definitely staying at the classiest joint on the island! Phew!)
At the reception I gave my name, and the room key card holder with the details of how long I’m staying at Thermia Palace and room number. To rent the bike, it’s 5 Euros for 4 hours. Once all the details were taken and I paid cash, rather than have it charged to my room, I was taken a long, a long corridor to where the bikes are kept. I chose one, adjusted the seat, took the key for the bike lock and went on my merry way.
At first, I had forgotten, how one should actually start to peddle. So, I had one foot on a peddle and the other was pushing along the ground, like you would a scooter. Eventually, I got both feet up on to the peddles and I started to move forward, holding on to the handle bars for dear life, as I wobbled from side to side, like a drunk! I eventually found my equilibrium and was riding the bike! I rode along the bikers path along the river banks, the more I rode the more confident I became. By lunch time my thighs, abs and my butt cheeks were in agony. In addition to that I was famished. I headed back to the hotel, parked the bike outside, inhaled my lunch and was soon out again.
I rode for another hour, until the sky turned a gloomy dark color. I rode the bike back to Esplenada, took it to where I had been told to leave it when I was done and locked it, turned the key into the reception AND the heavens opened with a loud CRACK of thunder and a whip of lightening flashed across the sky!
Monday 28th July
I love walking! I find that I see more and learn more about a place and it’s people, when I’m on foot. On Saturdays, I join a small group of photography enthusiasts who, walk around areas of Cairo to take pictures. I enjoy it a great deal, not only because I take pictures, but I get to walk and see some of my ‘real’ countrymen/women going about their day to day lives.
First on the agenda for today is Nordic Walking.
All I knew is that it involved sticks and walking (obviously)! After a very quick breakfast, I went to the spa building Irma, as it stated on the paper to await the person who would be leading the group of people on the walk. I was greeted by a tall blond, blue eyed, fit young man called Jan (pronounced Yaan). In fairly good English he informed me that he would be leading the walk and it looked like I would be the only one participating. He adjusted the length of the sticks, showed me how to strap them on to my hands. I thought I looked like a marionette or some kind of shadow puppet. which then queued the ‘Pinocchio’ song ‘I’ve got no strings’!
The sticks took some getting used to. Jan told me to have the arm go with the opposite leg and to not focus on it, otherwise I would trip myself up. He was right the less I thought about them the better I was at walking with them. I asked him questions about what life is like living in Slovakia and how he got into fitness to distract my mind from the sticks. We walked a circuit for about 20-30 minutes at a fairly quick pace. It was great cardio and my lungs appreciated inhaling the fresh morning air.
Once done, I ran to my room to get ready for my other sessions… I had a fairly easy day, I only had 4 sessions. An hour after the walk I got into my robe, because second on the agenda was the mud pack. An experience that takes some getting used to at first. I don’t mind having the warm mud slathered on my bare skin and being wrapped up like a shawerma. It’s trying to get the mud off in the shower! No matter how thorough, I try to be, I always end up missing some! The Mud pack was closely followed by my Electro Magnetic treatment for my back , where I was greeted by the ever so lovely and very friendly and kind Elena. A middle aged Slovakian woman, with short hair and kind eyes and face.
My last treatment wasn’t till later in the afternoon, so I went for a long walk around the town, discovering new areas and just taking in the scenery and architecture, stopping every now and then to take pictures with my phone. I also went to the mall to get some long sleaved tops. I had only packed short sleeved t-shirts and if the forecast predicted rain for the week, I would need something warmer to wear. , (Another excuse to shop and spend money! Why not! I’m helping the economy, well at least that’s what I tell myself😉
I was looking forward to my work out class GG Slim, last time we bounced around and exercised on balls! This time we had a different instructor, who looked a lot like Rhald Dhals character, the Trunchbull from his book ‘Matilda’. A medium height, square looking blond Russian woman, with knee length shorts, socks half way up her calf, white nurse like shoes and her hair tightly tied back. One look at her and I knew this would be one session where my muscles would be so soar by the end of them that if they could scream mercy, they would. Even the Saudi woman taking the class with me, looked as though she was scanning for an escape route. “Laa Laa Laa, mu hathi, Wahda thanya”, which in Gulf Arabic translates to “No, No, No, not this one, another one!”
We both took a deep breath and did as we were instructed. We got our mats, lay them on the floor and did what reminded me of the early 80’s Jane Fonda work out, minus the music! We did all sorts of stretching, lifting of arms and legs and stomach crunches. I could felt my muscles wince in pain, as I pushed myself to the exercises, while reminding myself, this is why I am here, to get fitter, thinner and healthier! Without any pain, there will be no gain!
By the time the session was over, I was exhausted and the Saudi woman was panting and gasping for air. I thanked the woman for the session, took my card and went to my room to change and go for another walk around the premises before dinner.
After dinner I went back up to my room and sat down and began writing part I to my experience at Thermia Palace.
I got so carried away with what I was writing that I lost track of time. I had been asked by one of the Egyptian women, Su, whom I had met on my first night in Piestany and had kept an eye open for me everyday to see how I was getting along asked me earlier on in the day, to make sure that I spent some time with her and her friends later on in the evening. Su and her husband were due to depart the next morning to head home back to Egypt after spending a month at Thermia Palace. I was very fortunate to find them all still sat around the round table that they had reserved for tonight. When I walked in I was greeted warmly by all those who were there. I was invited to sit and take part in the on going discussion. I was the youngest person at the table, sat among two doctors, an ambassador and 3 other highly intellectual individuals of 3 different faiths. It was while we sat and talked and exchanged contact information, I had a ‘moment’… ‘I am sat at a round table, with Christians, Muslims and Jews, there is no conflict or hate, just people.’ How poignant and more symbolic could that moment have been? If only the media, would stop fueling the hate and showing more moments like this.
Tuesday 29th July
It was another very early start to the day kicking it off with Nordic Walking. I fared much , better today and I was able to keep up more. The time seemed to just fly by. I felt cheated and would have gladly done the circuit once more. Since my arrival, I had been trying to figure out where the gym was. In the end I just asked Jan, where it was, since he was the fitness instructor. He showed me which door I had to go through and which corridor, I needed to walk along. The place is like Hogwarts (less like a gloomy castle thought), more like a maze! There are so many doors and corridors, that it’s easy to lose your way. (Now that I had an idea of where it was, I would definitely make an effort to use it (I hope!).
The rest of the day, was spent between Irma and the Napoleon III and 1B buildings. Bustling about across a courtyard between buildings with a gym bag and flip flops in a robe can be a workout in itself I tell you! It was a busy day, with Electro treatments, Parafango, Water gymnastics, Mirror pool and 20′ Massage.
The water gymnastics was lead by the Trunchbull! It wasn’t the usual red headed lady with a somewhat cheerful air about her. The members of the class looked worried. I related to their fear. There’s one thing to do those exercises on a mat on a floor, but in a pool? I hoped I wouldn’t drown!
The class went pretty well to tell the truth, the water created resistance and I felt like I had worked a lot of my muscles, especially my upper body. From there I showered off, changed into my robe to make my way across the court yard yet again to Irma, to take a much needed 20 minute dip in the warm sulfuric water of the Mirror Pool.
I usually shy away from getting naked. I don’t even like looking at myself with no clothes on. I’m fine when I’m looking at myself from the collarbone up, because when I look below that’s when I see all my faults and areas of imperfection that are so loudly pointed out and dictated to us by the media. So, I was genuinely quite surprised at how well I was adjusting to the numerous of times I had to bare-all and be in the presence of other women too. (I wondered what Freud, would have to say about that?)
In an odd way it was starting to feel more natural. When that thought crossed my mind, I even shocked myself! One of the many outspoken voices in my head, piped up; “More natural! Have you lost your mind girl? Next thing, you’ll be thinking about how cavemen or tribes people in the Rain forests of South America, are more civilized than we are, and we are over complicating life! The sulfur must have gone to your head!” I’m not saying, I’m by any means ready to give up my wardrobe or start vacationing at nude beaches or becoming a nudist. What I am trying to say, that perhaps we have been going about things the wrong way. There is a lot of shame that is brought on to those that don’t have a certain figure or that breaks the mold shall we say. A bodies shouldn’t be ‘a one size suites all’ mentality. If you look at the statues of women from the time of Ancient Greece or Rome or portraits from the Renaissance, women were not stick thin, they were busty, voluptuous and curvy. Why is it in the past few decades that perception of beauty has changed?
Three years ago, I wanted to have a body like Megan Fox. I won’t be hypocrite, I’m not going to lie about it. Having been here less than a week, my perception of beauty is changing. When I’m out walking and riding a bicycle, I see people who are healthy, active and they come in all shapes and sizes. So, my goal now is not to go back to Cairo looking like runway model, but to be a healthier person, who is comfortable in her own skin. I don’t want to get down to a size 4, I’ll be content if I can make it to a healthy 10/12. There’s nothing wrong with that!
Stay tuned for part III
I was on my way to a family event this past October (2013), when my brother-in-laws aunt was talking about how she didn’t like Bassem Youssef’s crude sense of humor and she thought he needed to tone it down, as well as rethink his choice of vocabulary. I was very amused by this, so I asked her if she was a fan of the king of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Priestly. ‘Yes’ she answered as I saw memories come flashing back, while her eyes flickered and twinkled as she remembered a time when she was young and he was popular and still in his prime. I then asked her what her parents thought of him and his music. She said that it wasn’t their taste and they didn’t particularly like the way he dressed or danced. My response to that was, Bassem is our Elvis of comedy, our generation find him to be humorous, while the older, more traditional generation find him to be vulgar. It’s a sign of a new fashion or trend, that is why his approach is met with such controversy and disdain. She sat quietly for a moment and thought about it, and answered ‘I never thought about it like that’.
For anyone who lives in the Middle East or speaks Arabic has probably heard of Bassem Youssef and his show ‘El Barnameg’. El Barnameg is very similar to, John Steward and Steve Colbert’s shows in the U.S. It is the first satire show of its kind in our region of the world. Before Bassem made his way into our living rooms every Friday night, he would record his own segments and post them on YouTube. His humor and wit soon earned him a large following.
When CBC, a television network station picked him up and aired him, he became one of the most recognized and powerful people in the Arabic speaking community. Here was a man who gave up his career as a heart surgeon to follow a passion in not only making people laugh for a living, but making them stop and think about what is being said in the media and how it can sometimes be manipulated and how some speakers are hypocrites. His program became so popular that people would schedule their Friday nights around it, so that they wouldn’t miss it. Facebook status updates would be almost instantaneous whenever he gave an ingenious punch line.
In his first season on air, he was untouchable and unrivaled. He was adored by the masses for making fun of the first elected president, Mohamed Morsi and many of the Muslim Brotherhood members. They didn’t take too kindly to it. It was no surprise when Bassem was accused of insulting the president, being anti-Islamic and in addition to that received death threats. Most people would have quaked in their boots, but Bassem didn’t retreat into the shadows and wait for everything to blow over, he just got a bigger soap box and continued to stand tall and speak out.
The night of the first episode of the second season, three or four months after President Morsi, was removed from office; his fans eagerly awaited his return to television. His show was met with mixed reviews and the country was once again split. His loyal followers thought his return was exceptional, while those who favored the hero General did not appreciate him making fun of their admiration for the man who had stepped in to save them from three more years of Morsi rule.
Alas his return to our living rooms was a very short one. His second episode never aired and the rumors and conspiracy theories began to whiz around the internet like a wild-fire. The second episode had been taped but never aired and this left a lot for people to speculate. Did the General not have a funny bone, couldn’t he take a joke? Was he the one who flexed his muscle from backstage and had the plug pulled? Or was it someone else? To date, no one really knows why the network canceled the show without notice.
This is not the end of the tale of Egypt’s satire revolutionary and trend setter. Although we have not had the company of Bassem Youssef in our sitting rooms for the past three or so months, he will be making a comeback. Another station has decided to pick him up and he will be back with us this Friday night, 7th of February. Some believe he might not be as popular as he had been before, others feel he will be more so now, that he has once again, beaten the odds.
Perhaps we could all learn something from Bassem. Never give up, no matter how hard people try and knock you down.
‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall’- Confusius
I do not know Ahmed, but I have his written consent to post his eye-witness account of what he saw first hand when he went to investigate what was happening at the El Fat7 mosque in downtown Cairo.
By Ahmed Amin
Before I begin, I would just like to say that there are numerous perspectives to the events that have been occurring over the past few days, and these perspectives are all altered by your vantage point – or the angle at which you are witnessing the events. This was my vantage point today:
As soon as I neared the Metro exit, I could hear loud crowds and gunshots. I exited the Metro and took a minute or so to look around and try to grasp and decipher the situation to decide which direction I should head in.
It is important to say that those that surrounded the Muslim Brotherhood inside the mosque were not thugs or hired mercenaries as a lot of news sources have been reporting, but rather vendors, shop owners, and residents of the area who had their belongings destroyed by the Brotherhood. They were there seeking revenge.
I walked up to the mosque’s main entrance and noticed that it was completely void of security, and was manned by civilians. I walked around the mosque to another corner, which I could recognize as the “dead zone” that TV cameras don’t show. At this corner, there were a lot of officers and CSF soldiers standing. I thought a group on the ground was a human shield of Brotherhood members denying them entrance to the mosque. Little did I know, those people – about 50 or so sitting on the ground – were all arrested. The officers refused to escort them outside until the situation was a little cleared and calmed. The residents were crazy for revenge and seeking blood.
One officer – very high in rank and was the guy in charge – was extremely harsh and exercised police brutality at its best. He was cursing and hitting the Brotherhood members. I asked a conscript why he was so harsh and he explained to me that his little brother – who also a police officer – was shot at and killed last night. I felt bad for him, but that still didn’t justify the insane police brutality.
Another officer approached him and told him that they were ready to escort the Brotherhood members outside to the police trucks. The divided them into two groups, and I went with the first group. As soon as the exited the mosque grounds, the residents began charging them trying to beat them, but the CSF conscripts cordoned off the area. This happened twice with both groups. Nobody was technically allowed back into the mosque grounds, but I somehow walked right past the officers and conscripts into the mosque grounds. As I was taking a picture of the mosque (as you can see on my timeline) I was pushed inside by a charging group. I turned around and noticed they were MOI special forces. An officer looked at me and asked what i was doing inside. I had no answer so I just said I was a friend of “3ameed [colonel] Ahmed”. I have no idea who that is, but I heard the name being thrown outside by the conscripts. He looked at me and asked me to follow his team, and that if I took pictures he would break my phone.
The special forces team was a team of about 12 soldiers that diverged into the different sections of the mosque seeking out armed perpetrators inside. In one side room about half a floor up, we found four Brotherhood members hiding behind a large wooden shelf. They were armed with homemade pistols and sticks. They surrendered immediately and we took them outside. As soon as I came outside, the special forces went back in to continue clearing the mosque. An officer started questioning who I was and thought I was a Brotherhood member, especially since I just came inside. i was about to be detained, but a conscript and other officer who I had given my water battle to earlier recognized me and let me go. For the next 30 minutes or so, the Special Forces team would constantly open the door and throw people outside the mosque. I thought it might be best to leave the police lines just so I don’t get caught in the mix up and wrongly arrested.
This entire time, I could hear the sound of gunshots. I didn’t know who was shooting or where, but i could recognize the sound of different caliber ammunition. As I walked away from the mosque and towards the Metro station, I came across a group of military personnel carriers. They all had the intimidating “Sa3ka” badges on their uniforms. I stood around talking to a few of the officers there and that’s when I noticed the mosque’s minaret was peppered with gunfire. I asked what had happened and they explained to me that there were Brotherhood snipers inside the minaret firing at them. Because of the size of the minaret and the numerous floors and windows, it was difficult for them to shoot at them from the outside (hence the peppering). They eventually called in an army helicopter to rappel soldiers down to the roof of the mosque to take care of them. And they did.
They also spoke to me about street battles that they felt helpless in because they had not been given orders to fire, until one of their men was shot through his bulletproof vest. That’s when their commander gave them orders to shoot to kill. He continued to tell me that the armed gunmen they were dealing with were not what they were expecting. They were not amateurs and were trained and armed pretty well compared to what they’re used to.
That’s basically all that I saw today.
The conclusion, however, is that things are a complete mess. There is no visible distinction to sides and nobody really knows what’s going on. In the midst of all this chaos, innocent people are losing their lives, and it truly is a shame.