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walkers

Photo by Raymond Khalife

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.

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  • Thermia Palace, Piestany, Slovakia

    Thermia Palace, Piestany, Slovakia

    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

     

  • Part of letting go, is being honest with yourself, admitting your mistakes or fears and being able to face your past.

    Part of letting go, is being able to admit things honestly and face your past.

    For the past seven years or so, I have built a cocoon of fat around me along with invisible barriers to keep certain people out of my life, to prevent them from further plaguing my mind. After a lot of falls and revelations I discovered that negative people like vampires suck the positiveness right out of me and leave me, with nothing but voices that fuel myself loathing and doubt.

    One particular person who I believe to have caused the most damage was an ex of mine. One of his many hurtful and parting phrases to me were; ‘You ruin the reputation of Egyptians and have no respect for your religion’, along with ‘No other guy will want you’. You would have thought that I had committed treason of the highest order or brought shame to my family and their name, but in ALL, SINCERE honesty, my only fault was being helplessly in love with him. The onslaught of verbal character bashing came after I had told him that a jealous ex had called with the intent to rein revenge on me by destroying my reputation and sullying my family name on social media. Why? What did I do? I must have provoked him. That was All because I refused to see him or go out with him, due to being faithful and informing him, that I was in a serious relationship. Instead of my beau being gallant and coming to defend me, the wool had been yanked away from my eyes and I was met with another arrogant being.

    (I later found out he had been cheating on me and used this as his means of ending the relationship)

    That all happened in 2007, it has taken me all this time to follow the trail of bread crumbs that lead back to that particular moment in time, where I have been harboring so much hate and resentment towards him for saying such degrading things to me. Secondly I was angry at the person I was back then for allowing him to trample on me like that and not standing up for myself and just cowering and hiding away in the shadows. Since then, I have not really dated or been in a long (or short) term relationship with anyone. I have gone out with a few gents, but all the while, I would keep them at a safe distance because I deeply feared that history would repeat itself and the thought of having to pick up the broken pieces of my shattered heart and put it back together again sickened me to the core. So, I subconsciously tried to make myself undesirable and unattractive to ward men off, like a scarecrow in a field.

    I found that when I do start to let my guard down and allow gentry to approach me the echoes of the girl in the shadow, who resembles a female version of Smeagol (Gullom) from Lord of the Rings, is always whispering words of doubt and negativity; “He will turn on our precious”, He will hurt precious just like the other one did, we can’t have that. “It’s best precious stays away.”, He doesn’t really like our precious, he just wants to use precious”, Precious is not good enough or good-looking enough for him/them”, “precious must stay away, stay in the shadows where it is safe.”

    My inner Smeagolina would win and I would end up pulling up the draw bridge, manning the battlements and using every trick I had to provoke the person to show their dark side or simply push them away. To put it in simpler terms, I would put an end to it before it’s even had a chance to begin. In recent months, I have grown stronger and clearer headed than I have been in years. I now know that I can no longer live my life lurking in the shadows alone. I need to come out into the light and tap into my inner Celtic Saeedy warrior and meet each challenge as it comes.
    When a guy would pay me a compliment, I wouldn’t believe him. I would automatically think he was being sarcastic or trying to get in my good graces so that I would lower my guard and the drawbridge. Just last week, I caught myself doing that whilst catching up with a very handsome, successful entrepreneur friend of mine when he had told me I was pretty. I snickered and gave him a look that read ‘Yeah! Right! You must be crazy.’ He was taken aback, because out of the many people I know, he is probably one of the most straight forward and honest.

    When he or others pay me a compliment like that, I would instantly think, ‘WHY ME?’ ‘ WHAT COULD THEY POSSIBLY SEE IN ME?’ ‘THEY NEED A CATSCAN OR A TRIP TO THE OPTHAMOLOGIST TO GET THEIR HEAD OR EYES CHECKED’ or ‘THEY MUST HAVE A HIDDEN AGENDA?’ It’s a terrible habit and a train of thought! I have to put a stop to IT, because if there is any chance with this guy (or any other), and I allow Smeagolina to override my brain, I’ll lose whatever chance I have with him/them.

    On a positive note, at least I recognize the signs now.
    I am still working on peeling back the negative layers that have been encompassed around me. I am slowly beginning to see and believe that I am good enough, smart enough and pretty enough for the opposite sex and that they aren’t all assholes in sheep skin!

    It isn’t just about the men, it’s mostly about ME. I have been learning myself worth these past few years and months. I have found that I AM worthy of being spoken to and treated respectfully and politely, because I don’t have to put up with disrespect. Why should I have to?!

    I have been a bit more adventurous this past year and come out of my hiding place a bit more. The first step was when I went to Central America last summer and was alone with myself, for the first time and got to push my limits and see what things I could overcome. This year, I have traveled quite a bit, taken to going out of my way to reconnect with old friends, who were dear to me and making more of an effort to keep the lines of friendship open. I have also pushed myself far out of my comfort zone and gone on photography walks and a caving trip with people who within the first hour were strangers, but by the end of the walk/trip became valued acquaintances. Some of whom I found share similar views and passions as I do.

    I am feeling optimistic because, I have decided to be honest about my past and to let go. I am letting go of all the animosity that I have been holding on to for so long. It has been a heavy burden to carry around all this time, it has also been weighing me down and draining me of my positive energy. In addition to preventing me from reaching my full potential and holding me back from being social, adventurous, taking risks, climbing the ranks and trying to start projects that I genuinely and firmly believe in.

    Enough! Is enough! It is time to believe in me and to prove to those that lead me to believe that I couldn’t amount to anything, That I CAN and I WILL!

    It’s time say good-bye to Smeagolina and to allow my inner light to shine as brightly as it can, while I take a stand and make my mark in this world.

    I hear by free myself of the shackles of my past! I give myself permission to move forward!

    P.S I recently heard the sone ‘Human’ by Christina Peri and I felt that it reflected a lot of what I had been through. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5yaoMjaAmE