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Old City, Bratislava, Slovakia

Old City, Bratislava, Slovakia

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

 

 

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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

    Bassem Youssef

    Bassem Youssef

    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.

    http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/93235/Egypt/Politics-/Bassem-Youssefs-ElBernameg-attempts-another-comeba.aspx

    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

    If you haven’t been watching the news for the past two or so years then you are way behind on the times. I’ll try and give you a quick summarised run through of what has been going on in the time you’ve been watching ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’.

    It will be three years in January when the Egyptian people took to the streets to demand the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak. (Why?) He had been in power for 30 years, he was not democratically elected by the people and his cronies were sucking the country dry of resources (billions of dollars), the poor were getting poorer, no jobs for graduates, inflation, no benefits (financial/medical) and we were under military rule. (Are just some of the many reasons why people were frustrated and fed up)

    After 18 days of clashes, resistance and protesting, former President Mubarak steps down. GREAT! (or so most of the people thought) Once he left office lots of the people who were activists and fighting for the cause of the revolution dusted themselves off and went back to their everyday lives, which was a HUGE mistake. They didn’t have a plan to put in place once the president had stepped down. Which is when the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic parties who had been oppressed/banned by our previous rulers (Mubarak, Sadat, Nasser), seized the opportunity they had been waiting decades for. They have had planned their ‘coming out party’ for years and they swept the elections and seats in parliament like a tsunami! They were prepared while liberal parties and activists were not. They were blind sided, had the rug pulled out from underneath them and the wool over pulled everyone’s eyes if truth be told. WE WERE NOT READY and we can’t blame them for being ready.

    About a year after Mubarak stepped down we had an interesting look at presidential elections. EVERYONE wanted to be president. If you could get 30, 000 signatures and were 100% Egyptian on both sides (mother/father family) then you could run. Over 3,000 people ran for presidency!! It was eventually filtered down to a handful of twenty or so, which split the votes every which way. A second round of elections came about between Mohamed Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood) and Ahmed Sahfik (former minister of Aviation), which to choose? Vote for someone who represents extreme conservative Muslims, or someone part of the regime that had just been toppled and many people had lost their lives for? Who would your vote go to? Many people didn’t go and vote, they boycotted the election because they believed that there was foul play. Morsi won by a VERY small margin (51% to 49% I believe).
    Congrats! Egypt has its first democratically elected president… who on June 30th 2012 takes office and is sworn in. Morsi vowed to represent ALL the people in Egypt.

    For the first five months of his time in office he took no action or decision on any important issues in the country. (I guess he was learning the ropes or getting comfortable in the chair that everyone seems to want) He did however pardon some of those who had been imprisoned for petty crimes like having a hand in the assassination a former Egyptian president.

    Then in November, he comes out and declares that he is above the law and that no judicial court or person can contest to his decisions from that point on wards. In other words he declared himself SUPREME PHAROAH & DICTATOR of Egypt.

    (SAY WHAT NOW? The Egyptian people didn’t have a revolution and people didn’t die for him to become another dictator, back to the streets we go!)

    A peaceful sit in takes place and Pro Morsi supporters armed and angry attack the sit in, killing some of the protestors. If the president or leader of your country did that, would you sit and take it and just break open another can of pop and bag of potato chips or would you voice your disapproval?

    (WAIT ! There’s more…)

    A few weeks later protestors take to the streets again this time to prevent the justices from meeting so to prevent any judicial review of the president’s decisions. Instead, President Morsi dissolves the (our equivalent to) the Supreme Court and labels all those who are members “traitors to Egypt”

    (It Gets Better!)

    A month later, he makes the ‘new’ constitution null and void and forms a constitutional committee to draft a new constitution in just FOUR days; those chosen to be on the committee were extreme Muslim conservatives and preachers. In a referendum not supervised by any judicial branch because judges all over the country boycotted it and the ‘new’ (biased, one sided) constitution narrowly won.

    (Meanwhile)

    The Egyptian economy was plummeting, foreign investors pulled out and our main source of income, tourism was not revived because the tourists were warned to stay away, plus the president and the minister of tourism never did anything to beef up security to make tourists feel safe, so it died!
    In the warmer months of his term in office, in a country as hot as Egypt electricity/power cuts were a daily occurrence. Some people were lucky to have it cut once a day, while others would be without power for hours on end.

    Egypt a country rich in fuel witnessed never seen before lines at petrol/gas stations that went on for blocks and were 8 hours long in some cities. Eventually petrol/gas stations had NO gas to sell?!
    Egypt that has direct access to the river Nile, suddenly was having sever water shortages! Schools, Businesses and homes would have water shortages some for a few hours others for days on end.
    Unemployment has almost doubled, and the value of the Egyptian pound was almost worth nothing. The exchange rate on the black market for the dollar reached 8 Egyptian pounds!

    (Still not convinced…need more proof?)

    President Morsi outlines his plan to lease the Suez Canal for 50 years giving full administrative control!
    Then we had the endless accounts of sexual harassment of women (veiled and non veiled) who would be targeted by groups and assaulted along with the attacks on Christians in and around the country. Not one member of government or the President ever came out and condemned or demanded it to stop. Due to these actions and many of the above decisions hundreds of people have sought Political Asylum in other countries across the globe, some desperate enough to cross the borders into Israel to build a better life for themselves there. If that isn’t fear or desperation I don’t know what is?!

    The above is just some of the crap that the Egyptian people have had to endure over the past year under President Morsi’s governing. Months before the 30th of June, a group called El Tamarod (Rebellion) started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the President, because they honestly did not feel that he represented them and did not have the countries best interests on his agenda. For them to be taken seriously they needed to collect 15 million legitimate signatures, they collected over 22 million. One June 30th, 2013 on the anniversary of the Presidents one year in office, over 30 million Egyptians took to the streets to demand his resignation. They stayed there for four days!

    Hearing the cries of 30 million people, the army gave President Moris an ultimatum, (this came after months of trying to negotiate with him), he had 48 hours to come out with a clear all party inclusive road map for the country or they would remove him from office. Just before the deadline Morsi came out and said that he would agree to hold early Parliamentary elections.

    (uh, too little, too late dude!)

    As promised the military removed him from office and placed him under house arrest.

    (Coup or not a Coup?!)

    Weikipedia’s definition: “A coup d’état typically uses the extant government’s power to assume political control of the country. In Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook, military historian Edward Luttwak states that “[a] coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” The armed forces, whether military or paramilitary, are not a defining factor of a coup d’état. Lately a view that all coups are a danger to democracy and stability has been challenged by the indication of the phenomenon of a “democratic coup d’état”, which “respond to a popular uprising against an authoritarian or totalitarian regime and topple that regime for the limited purpose of holding the free and fair elections of civilian leaders.”[5]”

    We had no extant government takeover of the country; outside parties are temporarily in place until elections are held in 6 months time. The actions that were taken were to save democracy because the Egyptian people were NOT being represented.

    Foreign Media and foreign governments all began clucking like chickens and called it a Military Coup; The Egyptians call it the People’s Coup! As you can imagine the Pro-Morsi supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood did not take to the news very well, so they took to the streets hurting and killing people who were Anti-Morsi supporter and Christians. General Sisi, in a speech came out and asked the Egyptian people to show their support by going out into the streets if they agreed to him protecting Egypt and her people from the terrorists who have been trying to divide Egypt and cause anarchy. The people answered and 30+ million people gave him their consent.

    That brings us to the Pro-Morsi supporters and their 6 week sit-in in El Nahda and Rabaa Adaweya in Nasr City Cairo. The residents and business owners in the area were being obstructed from going about their daily lives, the area became inaccessible. Those who were part of the sit in and had torn up the tiles on the sidewalks to build walls/barricades across the streets preventing vehicles from entering the area. They had set up tents and make shift day-care centers too. Many attempts to negotiate with the protestors/squatters failed because they would not agree to anything, their one demand was that Morsi be reinstated.

    (If UK’s Prime Minister or NY’s Mayor had a 6week sit in Trafalgar or Time Square, would they leave it or clear it? If you chose clear it, how would you go about it? (let me jog your memory, think back to occupy Wall Street))

    After several attempts of negotiating, meetings of what to do, advice on how to clear the squares and warning of not to do it, the Interior Ministry (who are by no means saints themselves and are responsible for many deaths during the 2011 uprising), felt they had no choice but to go in and clear the squares. Early Wednesday morning, when the crowds would be sparse, they went in with police forces, bulldozers and tear gas. They were met with resistance.

    What the foreign media is showing the world is tunnel vision reporting! They are failing to show the WHOLE picture. Many (NOT ALL) of the supports were (and still are), heavily armed with machine guns and rifles, who shot at the armed forces.

    When word spread of the clearing of the sit-ins, this angered lots of the Pro-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood supporters who took to the streets with anger in their eyes and fury in their hearts. Some of these protestors were peaceful in their protest, while others vandalized, burned public property and churches (and I mean OLD churches, like 4th and 5th century), they also stormed several police stations, killing and mutilating the bodies of police officers. (Peaceful and misunderstood protestors right?) This has not been reported on any of the International News Stations and when someone being interviewed would bring it up or mention it; they would make no comment or act as if they hadn’t heard it.

    Now that you have a clearer idea of what is going on in Egypt, would you have let your President/Prime Minister drag your country into the ground, or would you have done what the Americans did, when Nixon was in office?

    If Egypt and the US’s had facebook accounts, their relationship status would read “it’s complicated”, they are on the verge of a devastating break up. Which would make Russia and China really happy, because they would gladly swoop in and come to Egypt’s aid.

    (That would be a WORLD game changer!)

    If you require more evidence photos or videos get on twitter or youtube and you can see it yourself. You be the judge, don’t let your media censor the information, speak or think for you.

    Here is a link to an article written in an American perspective;
    http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/putting-egypt-in-context-what-if-president-obama-did-what-morsi

    The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

    The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

    If you missed my last blog post I have just returned from my summer vacation. The first two weeks of my trip was spent in Central America, in the country of Belize, formerly known as British Honduras and shares its borders with Guatemala and Mexico.

    A colleague of mine was an archeologist and used to work on a site there before a career change and joining the league of International Teachers. My colleague’s friend has been running an archeological like camp, (AFAR), for highly selected High School Students in Belize for several summers and extended the invitation to our staff and students. I have always been fascinated with the ancient civilizations and I thought this would be a great opportunity to travel to a new country, experience a new culture and learn about the Maya.

    The morning of the 21st of June, I waited nervously at the airport for my colleague and the two students to arrive to begin the adventure. Once the gang was assembled and we had become acquainted with one another, the long journey across land, sea and ocean began. The afternoon of the 22nd of June exhausted and hungry, we landed safely in beautiful Belize and met up with and were introduced to the rest of the student body and staff whom we would be working alongside for the next two weeks.

    The following day we were taken on a tour of Cahal Pech (Place of Ticks), with Mr. Saunders, Dr. Marc Zender and Mr.& Mrs. Pritchard, they talked to us about the site and the Maya way of life as we walked around and through Plaza’s A and B. Cahal Pech was the site where we were to help excavate. My first impression of the site was how quiet, secluded, nicely shaded and small it was. In my mind I had imagined a much larger complex and a huge temple like the one in Luxor, never the less it was still spectacular in its own right. As we walked around the site there were several excavation projects being carried out by BVAR (Belize Valley Archeological Reconnaissance Project), in my little mind I assumed that we would be helping them. When our tour of the site came to an end, a physically fit man who looked like he might be in his late fifties, with graying black curls, glasses and a big smile came striding across the floor of plaza B towards our group, this man turned out to be the renowned Dr. Jamie Awe an archeologist and expert in the Maya, (he would be the equivalent to the Zahi Hawas of Egypt). He greeted us warmly and explained what it was that his team was doing and what he would like us to do.

    He pointed towards one of the large structures in plaza B, that had stairs and an a rectangular archway and said that, that structure had been excavated many decades ago and parts of it had been reconstructed and conserved, he also asked us to follow the wall to see where it abruptly ends or disappears beneath a huge mound of dirt that had numerous tall trees deeply rooted and growing out of it. He explained that when the Maya abandoned the city, the place was left to ruin and with time the hurricanes caused a lot of structural damage to fall and deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. Seeds that had been carried by the wind or deposited (pooped), by animals fell and took root, which caused more damage to the city. He then turned to this fairly big hill and said and pointed at it and said, that he would like for us to uncover the remains of the wall.

    As I stood there taking in the length and height of the hill, I couldn’t help but wonder how, he or anyone else for that matter expected us to uncover a wall with just brushes? Surely that would take forever. He then added that it would take probably the first week for us to find structure… (Yeah, right! I thought to myself). For the remainder of the afternoon, students learned how to measure out units using measuring tape, thread, compass and a construction plumbob, (A plum what? (was my first reaction when I heard it too), the definition from Weikipedia; A plumb-bob or a plummet is a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom that is suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line). The boys got busy carving wooden stakes to put into the ground to tie string around to divide the units up. Others picked up rakes and started raking away small rocks and fallen leaves to clear the ground.

    The following morning the students and staff were divided and assigned to the units that we would be working on for the next two weeks. I chose to be with unit one, “The Silverbacks”. There were a couple of logical reasons as to why I chose that particular unit; One of which was because they came highly recommended (most of them had a lot of experience excavating and had been coming for the past couple of summers), the unit was the closest to the already excavated wall and I was certain that we would find a lot of stuff.

    In all honesty the mound that we were expected to get through intimidated me (GREATLY)! I seriously began to question why I was there and what had possessed me to want to do this in the first place when I could be doing something that would not require me to tap into my inner badger. After a little mental pep talk, I got myself ready for the challenge ahead. I am somewhat stubborn by nature, but I hoped that I had the resilience, stamina and persistence to keep up with five teenage boys and that I would be able to make a difference. I walked over to them and introduced myself to them one by one and that is when I was presented with a pick axe. I looked at the manly tool with puzzlement, (where were the brushes? I thought to myself). I jokingly asked if these were to break knee caps, (I hoped to hide my ignorance and break the ice. I’m not sure how I did). The team leader, a graduated high school senior very politely and patiently explained what we needed to do first and how the tools were used to excavate the area. First we needed to clear the surface of the rocks and make a pile because some of the rocks will be used to reconstruct some of the structures at the site. Once that was done we take our pick axes and start picking away at the layers of dirt. The dirt would then be scooped up into buckets which would then be taken by one of the team members to the big hanging sifts, to make sure that pieces of pottery (clay) or chert were not accidentally thrown away. If pieces of clay or chert were found, they would be placed in artifact bags. At the end of the day an artifact card would be filled out in black pen to explain what the contents were and how many bags of each had been collected. Sounded simple enough, but I tell you…it sounded a lot easier than it actually was. This job is not for lazy bones, wimps or girls worried about ruining their manicure. The students and staff took it seriously and expect those who come to take part to work hard. Some of the rocks were the size of my torso or just as heavy as the bucket full of dirt that had to be carried over to the sift. The shade of the canopy and the light breeze could cause you to forget that you were hot and in need of keeping hydrated. In the first half of the day, I found pieces of clay and beautiful pieces of quartz. These little finds gave me the incentive to keep on going. At lunch time (noon), I was hot, sweaty, hungry, thirst and exhausted! I couldn’t believe that we had been working for almost four straight hours and were expected to continue till four o’clock.

    After a much-needed lunch break, soft drink and a bit of socializing, our hour was up and it was back to the grind. I found it very difficult to get back into the rhythm that I had been working to before. My heart was beating rapidly for some unexplainable reason and I was sweating more than I had been earlier, (I might have been having a mild panic attack, my mind and body might have been putting up a little protest to the manual labor, but being a stubborn person I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me). I tried talking to the team but being the newbie no one was really talking, so I chewed on a stick of gum, took out my iPod and listened to music as I worked away until the end of the work day. When quitting time came about, I was out of fuel and all I wanted was to stand under a shower and wash the dirt and sweat away, drink a gallon of icy cold water, EAT and recharge!

    I woke up feeling not as sore as I had thought I would, which I took to be a good sign, (maybe I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought and perhaps I can do this with gusto? I didn’t want to jump for joy yet, it was ONLY the second day). The day played out very much like the first, except this time I felt like I knew what was expected of me and what I needed to do. After lunch time the guys started to open up and talk me, which helped pass the time and a bond between my team mates had begun to form.

    As the week went on, the site of Plaza B changed drastically. It no longer looked like a well-kept garden, it looked like a bunch of gold diggers had set up camp and had torn up the lawn. There were piles of discarded rocks and dirt dotted around the plaza which I think took away from the beauty of the ruins. Tourists who came to visit the site would come and stop and watch us work and would often ask members of the group questions as to what we were doing and what we were looking for. (The little devil who lurks deep within my cranium, though we should have roped them into doing some of the labor, so that they could also witness archeology first hand and like us appreciate the time and man power that goes into excavating… mwaaahaahaahaa!)

    By the end of the first week, my relationship with my 5 team mates had been sealed. I was one of the guys and a fully fledged ‘Silverback’. We had succeeded in finding the ancient floor of the plaza and were well on our way to finding structure. The mound that had looked so intimidating to me when we first began excavating looked unrecognizable, huge chunks of it had been dug out and when I stood back to look at our progress as a whole, I couldn’t help but marvel at all our combined efforts. It was then when I realized that the thing that really stands between us and doing the things that we want to do, is usually our own insecurities, self doubts and fears. The students on the project reminded me of the young teen I used to be and how I rarely ever let anything (except my parents), stand between me and the goals I wanted to achieve. Anything really is possible if you set your mind to it.

    For our first weekend in Central America, we crossed the border into Guatemala and stayed on the eloquent and colorful island of Flores. Where we toured the ancient Maya city of Tikal and it was there when my tendonitis came back with a vengeance. Luckily I had anticipated the possibility of this happening and had brought the medication I would need to reduce the inflammation. Having experienced the strain and pain of this before, I knew that when we got back to Belize and the site, that I would not be able to work as hard as I had been the previous week. It was a big blow to me. I didn’t want to have to give up or sit on the side lines and not be able to help my unit complete the task that had been given to us. I was determined to find away to continue to work at some capacity, so that I could see the project through, not let the guys down and prove to myself that I can still do anything.

    When we returned to the site on Monday morning, I had difficulty getting back into the routine and finding a way to work comfortably without putting too much strain on my heels. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. I had to make a choice, to push through the pain and possibly ruin the remainder of my vacation touring the East Coast of the U.S or to take a sick day. I eventually gave in and took the sick day to elevate my legs, do some stretches and ice my heels. Although I was bored out of my mind and felt sorry for myself, I knew I had made the right choice. The following day, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from my unit, I can’t tell you how happy I was to be holding a pick axe and being back in the pit. I wasn’t able to work as well as I had the week before, but I kept on going, stopping and taking necessary breaks when I needed to, so that I could make it to the end of the two weeks. Which I am proud to say I did!

    By the time Thursday had come around, we had found more worms and ant hills than I care to remember. We had seen interesting looking spiders, fever worms, a small snake and beautiful butterflies flutter through our unit as we pushed forward. We had filled hundreds of buckets and wheel barrels full of dirt, as well as numerous artifact bags with clay and chert. Like a colony of worker ants, we had uncovered several layers of white plastered well-preserved Maya floor, the outer remains of a long-buried and forgotten wall, revealed a looters trench and parts of a damaged staircase in just two weeks. Many of the participants were disappointed with our finding, but I couldn’t have been prouder of what we had accomplished together as a whole group and as individual teams! Our discoveries might not have been as exciting or as grand as another excavation team at the site that uncovered a tomb, with skeleton and well-preserved antiquities, but I was impressed in what we had achieved together.

    People working together is powerful as well as unstoppable… but most of all inspiring!

    In all honesty, I have never had to work that hard in my life! The physical labor that goes into excavating must be right up there with training for the Olympics! I might have suffered from tennis elbow, tendonitis, sore muscles and many mosquito bites, but the experience was by far one of the best I had ever had and one of the most memorable and fun summers too. If there was a chance of me being able to go back next summer or sometime in the future, I would most probably do it all over again.

    http://www.bvar.org/

    http://www.nichbelize.org/ia-maya-sites/archaeology-of-cahal-pech.html

    TJ with us celebrating my bday

    TJ with us celebrating my bday

    Since I moved to Cairo in 2004 I have met many interesting people, with equally interesting characters. Some of those people I may have met once or twice, while others were part of a very special group of people I am forever grateful for being introduced to. Without them, I highly doubt that I would have endured or enjoyed Cairo as much as I have. Timothy J. Quinn III was one of those people. Not only was he one of the most adored and friendly members of the group, but he became like an adopted brother to some of us and you could talk to him with the greatest of ease.

    I remember the first time, I met T.J at one of our ‘Tuesday Nighter’ outings, he very politely extended his hand to me and said, ‘I don’t believe we have met before, my name is T.J, forsa sa3eeda giddan (translates to, the pleasure is mine)’. I was shocked at how well he spoke Arabic. A conversation from that point on ensued and we talked like we had known each other for years. I learned that he was of mixed heritage too, (Irish/Italian) but was a Boston boy!
    (Go Fighting Irish)

    Every time I saw T.J from that time onwards he would always greet me with a genuine warm smile and hug no matter how much time had passed since we had last seen one another. When we would get chance to talk he would always ask how I was and what I had been up to and be sincere in his wanting to know.
    I may not have known him as well as some of the other people in our group, but T.J had a way of making a lasting impression and being in everyone’s good books. In all the time I’ve known him, I can’t recall him ever saying anything negative about anyone or anything. If anything it was his graciousness and positive upbeat attitude that is still fresh in my mind.

    T.J like another dearly departed friend of ours, Nathalie Atalla had the ability to bring out the best in those around them and could effortlessly bring people together. T.J knew EVERYONE! Whenever we went any where, it didn’t matter what part of Cairo or the country it was, T.J always had a ‘buddy’ there. Come to think of it, I am sure that he has a buddy in every corner of the globe. There is a theory that between you and a stranger there are six degrees of separation. That may be true for most of the world’s population, but not for T.J.
    T.J loved to laugh and enjoy himself with those he knew, (he had a great laugh, and when he did his face would turn crimson red). If he was at a party and there were people who didn’t know him when they arrived, they most definitely would have by the time they left and it’s highly possible they exchanged numbers or became facebook friends not long afterwards.

    T.J although a Boston boy, loved Egypt more than most Egyptians I know. He had traveled around the city and the country to places I had never heard of and wouldn’t know how to get to even if I wanted to, but he could and if he was free, he would gladly take you there himself. He knew where to buy most things at great prices, he wasn’t afraid to ride public transportation where he would interact and talk to the people he sat next to. He would come back and tell us stories of his adventures and have us gasping for breath as our sides hurt from laughing and tears streamed down our face, with his witty remarks and unforgettable sarcasm.
    We would often tease him and say that with his knowledge of the country and his spoken Arabic, he had to be working for the CIA and was gathering intelligence, because lets face it, even though he had a great bald head, he was no Bruce Willis.

    In the autumn of 2012, to the best of my knowledge, T.J went home to Boston for a visit. I had no idea he had been away until the 2nd of January when he emailed us with some shocking news.
    He sent and e-mail titled; ‘Happy New Year and a stroke of good luck.’

    “dear all!
    a happy and healthy 2013 to all.
    Just a quick update: I had a stroke. at the ripe old age of 32.
    expecting a full comeback in the coming months. for now, it sucks. I speak spottily/sloppily with some slurring and my left side is much slower and weaker than my right side. I was hospitalized over the weekend and am now home in allston (boston), where I have been for the past few months, albeit now under new circumstances.
    i was given initial physical therapy at the hospital and will get regular outpatient treatment over the coming weeks. Family has been looking after all of us here. I am in good hands.”

    (ever the comedian and optimist)

    As you can imagine we flooded him with well wishes and encouragement, reading back on my reply to his, my words ring true now more than ever.

    “T.J

    I now know why you had been on my mind recently. I’m sorry that you
    had to experience a stroke at such a young age. I too am going through
    some odd medical things that most people don’t get until they are much older,
    so I can relate to what you are experiencing on a minor level.
    I am glad you were home when it happened so that you had/have the
    support that you need and the medical attention too. Take good care of
    yourself T.J and never give up. You will make it through this and just
    remember to thank God daily for your blessings!

    Take care friend”

    We got a total of 3 up dates from TJ and they were full of optimism.

    February 14th, update number 2

    “Dear all,

    Thank you so much for all your support and help. I just got back from the ‘bubble test’, which seems to have gone well. My parent’s said my doctor sounded excited by the results. That’s the good news. The test was not fun.
    (following is largely minutiae) It was similar to an angioplasty (anyone?) but instead of cleaning up gunk from your arteries (or heart) with a small bubble, it sent to one of the arteries in the brain and stopped blood flow just below the aneurysm to see how I reacted. I was awake during the whole process. It was literally a pain in the neck. I spent yesterday night at the hospital under observation and left today. My left hip is very sore (as that served as the entry point) today, though that is thankfully getting better.The therapist gave me a cane in case I needed it, though it is better to use as a prop than using it to hit him.

    I’ll be in contact soon when I get the doctor’s to get the next course of action.
    In the meantime, thank you again so much for your help and supporting emails!
    All the Best,
    TJ”

    March 26th, update number 3

    ” Dear all!
    Happy Easter!
    Thank you again for all the signs of support! It’s really helping!
    Just saw the neurologist and the neurosurgeon and wanted to share the news:
    The bubble test last month bore positive news and I am having surgery in late May. The surgery basically involves clamping the artery ‘feeding’ the aneurysm, thereby reducing pressure and slowing potential growth. There are secondary arteries that can sufficiently “power” the area. Apparently, there is a fair amount of risk involved, but doing nothing is even more risky. They also mentioned waking me up during the surgery to make sure everything is working properly. I hope this kind of “wake up” surgery is not a growth industry.
    There was also a stroke check up. The stroke, as far as strokes go, was a huge one, which is surprising because I am basically back to functioning ‘normally’ – to the point where I could agitate the aneurysm, and handle a Quinn Family gathering. Even my speech is almost totally clear (so long as I keep away from those pesky tongue twisters …and copious amounts of beer). However, running a 5k for St Patrick’s Day did not happen as hoped – I can ‘run’ about a 100 yards/meters, at which point my left leg starts dragging. Instead, I’m going out for extended walks, weather permitting.

    This was definitely not what I foresaw returning to Boston from Cairo, but makes for a great ‘overcoming challenges’ story whenever work interviews begin.
    Thank you again so much for all the notes, words, and help over the past few tricky months!
    Love,
    TJ”

    My contact with him continued, I had just finished sending him two drafts of my latest blog posts and wanted him to read about the latest drama I had experienced. His last email to me was on April 21st not knowing it could very well be my last. The following day his group of friends were forwarded an email from his sister Nina.

    ” Hi everyone.
    I apologize for the mass email. I wanted to let everyone know that TJ is currently undergoing surgery at MGH.
    His aneurysm ruptured this morning – less than a month before his surgery (which was scheduled for May 20) to clamp it. He was home and my parents called 911 and he went to MGH in an ambulance.
    I got the call that he’d been taken to the hospital around 215 and went to meet my family in the ER. We were able to see him a few times before he went into surgery. He was in a medically induced coma with the ventilators and all sorts of wires leading to all sorts of beeping. I was definitely a freaky for me to see my big brother (who I was literally laughing with yesterday) look like that.
    We spoke as a family to an ER nurse, a nurse liaison, the head of neurosurgery at MGH and one of his people, and a few nurses on the ICU floor where TJ will be staying. I cannot say enough about the MGH team. To say he’s in good hands is an understatement.
    My parents are going back around 930/10 this evening and will speak to Dr. Ogilvy (head of neurosurgery at MGH and arguably the best in the world) to see how the surgery went. I’m waiting to hear from them with any updates, though there might not be any this evening. Though Dr. Ogilvy was positive, this is a really tough case (TJ Quinn: making things difficult since 1980) and it’s too early for a prognosis of any kind yet. I also don’t believe visitors outside immediate family are allowed at this point, but I’ll let you know otherwise as news comes in.
    Again, I’m sorry for the mass email, but wanted to keep you all informed as possible. I’ll share any updates as they come. Feel free to forward to friends and folks I may have forgotten.
    Thank you all for your love and concern over these past few months. You have been a HUGE support for me and my family. I’ll be in touch as I have more to share. ”

    The news of the possibility of losing T.J came as a big blow and although we were optimistic, the news that followed on April 29th was heart wrenching and shattering.

    ” Dearest Family and Extended Family,

    I write today with sad news. TJ is not going to wake up. We knew his situation was serious and, though the surgery was technically successful, we found out on Friday that he was not responding positively, and will not recover from the ruptured aneurysm.
    This weekend has been spent saying our good-byes. Your prayers and thoughts over the past week have kept us all strong – I have been reading all your messages to TJ. Tomorrow (Monday) we will remove the ventilator and let nature take its course. It should not take long even though TJ is strong.
    Though completely devastating, I write with the knowledge that he received the best care possible. The doctors and nurses and staff at MGH are truly special.
    I can’t thank you all enough for your kind words, texts, emails, and prayers. Each one was felt. I will share details about services over the next few days.
    Peter and I know that we shared TJ as a brother with many of you and as a friend with all of you. We are honored that he touched so many hearts – one of his many gifts. I know he will be missed.

    All my love,”

    Although the chances of T.J defying medicine were slim, we his friends for the most part chose to hold on to that last shred of hope, that he would choose life and that God all mighty would grant us a miracle. He had already claimed a dear friend of ours a couple of years earlier. Did he have to take T.J too?

    I am grateful that I got to meet and know T.J. He was an exemplary individual who was liked and adored by many. He siezed moments and enjoyed each day.
    I am also grateful that he was back in Boston when all of this happened, so he could be home with his immediate family.
    Most importantly, I am grateful that he did recover from his stroke, so that he had the time he needed to spend with them over the past few months and we, his friends could let him know how much we truly cared for him as we encouraged him to keepy defying fate. Maybe the miracle we had hoped for last night didn’t come true, but the fact that he fought his way back the first time was a miracle in itself.

    T.J even during this very difficult and delicate time as we say our goodbyes in our own way and make peace with the fact that we will not be seeing you, you have succeed in bringing people closer together. The outpouring prayers, well wishes and condolences that were sent by people you knew and those who were touched by your story was overwhelming and heart warming.
    As a friend of yours on twitter posted this mornind ” @rbecker51 @tjquinn3 is #BostonStrong”

    (Irish Blessing) I raise a glass to you today and say;

    If tears could build a stairway, and memories were a lane,
    We would walk right up to heaven, And bring you back again.
    No farewell words were spoken, No time to say goodbye,
    You were gone before we knew it, And only God knows why.
    Our hearts still ache in sadness, and secret tears still flow,
    What it meant to lose you, No one will ever know,
    But now we know you want us To mourn for you no more,
    To remember all the happy times, Life still has much in store.
    Since you’ll never be forgotten, We pledge to you today,
    A cherished place within our hearts, Is where you’ll always stay.

    We will miss you T.J, come visit us in our dreams from time to time.

    Slainte!

    April 30th 2013

    No tourists

    No tourists

    Last Thursday, I was graciously invited among many other Irish nationals living here in Egypt and friends of Ireland to attend the Irish Embassy’s St. Patrick’s Day party at the Le Meridian Pyramids Hotel that has a view of the great pharaonic structures, for the ‘Greening’ of the Pyramids. I sign to symbolize friendship between the two nations.
    Along with the invitation was an incredible and very unbelievable rate to stay the night at the hotel and have breakfast included for less that 650LE. (that is a bargain!)

    The thought of battling traffic to get there and then having to do it again once the party was over did not appeal to me in the least. I RSVPed that I would be in attendance and I also booked a room, (every girl deserves to be pampered every now and then, especially after having suffered from a week-long of sinusitis. Wouldn’t you agree ;).

    Thursday evening I arrive with time to spare, checking in took less than five minutes. I was upgraded to deluxe suit overlooking the pool and Pyramids (not bad)! I had enough time to freshen up and get myself ready for an evening of socializing and culture.

    When I left my room to make my way to the reception the usual bustle, friendly hum of conversation was noticeably absent once i reached the lobby. When I walked through the restaurant to the area by the pool where the event was being held. The clinking of silver ware and appetizing aroma of meals being cooked was barely noticeable.

    The evening was better than I had expected. I met many interesting people of various occupations, I heard Irish musicians who collaborated and were accompanied by 3 bedouin musicians, Irish tunes filled air with a twist of Middle Eastern beats and rhythms, there was a buffet of Irish cheese along with other delicacies and of course a bar stocked with my favorite rich in iron beverage, Guinness!

    The following morning I awoke to a very empty and quiet hotel. The restaurant was only a fraction full with a minimal number of tourists and the usual breakfast rush, clattering of plates, shouts of chefs and waiters running around was absent. The pool on a hot sunny day was not in use, there were no squeals of children splashing around or occupied sunbeds. This was indeed a sad sight, it was heartbreaking to see how badly tourism and hotels are suffering.

    You can’t help but wonder, why the leader along with politicians are not trying to make more of an effort to bring back the tourists. Why aren’t they taking a step to trying to make the nation a safer place for foreign nations to give their nationals the green light to come back to see our wonders and treasures.

    If we can’t make the tourists come back, what are we going to do?

    (Winne the Pooh moment, think, think, think)
    Here’s a thought, just off the top of my head, Why don’t WE support our industry?
    How many of you can honestly say that you have gone to see the attractions that our great nation has?
    We need to support our country and the industry by discovering our country.
    With discovering our nation, we might be able to instil pride and patriotism of the highest degree!

    So what do you say?

    Ready to book a trip?

    I am.

    One of the many X-Ray's I had to take

    One of the many X-Ray’s I had to take

    Egypt has an abundance of doctors of all specialties! Like Pharmacies you can find a doctor’s clinic almost on every block! They are everywhere!

    I always find it amusing how some of my fellow Egyptian’s who live in places like the Emirates, Europe and North America will not have lazic eye surgery or their dental work done until they come to Egypt for an extended visit. It isn’t because the doctors here are any better than the ones abroad, it’s because the amount you would pay for simple surgeries or checkups is cheaper here in Egypt than it is other countries.

    However, if MAJOR surgery is needed then those who can afford to go abroad, will pay the hefty bill without hesitation. One of the main reasons is because the aftercare (nursing) here is appalling to say the least. Their skills are lacking in more ways than one and I wouldn’t trust most of them to care of a pet cat.

    I have to be totally honest, there are a great number of doctors in this country who are phenomenal and are excellent in their line of work! They are very well-trained and knowledgeable in their field of expertise. Then you have those who aren’t as good as the others and often times misdiagnosed patience.

    After returning from my summer vacation I had noticed that I had been getting sharp pains in my right him and my Achilles tendons were causing me pain as well. I went to an Orthopedic Surgeon and gave him all the details I possibly could. He gave be the basic examination and asked me to get an x-ray and a blood test. Neither showed anything serious thank goodness and I was told I only needed to take Vitamin B-12 shots for the hip and for my Achilles he advised me not to walk barefoot anymore and to always wear slippers. So, not having a medical degree myself, I did as I had been advised and the pain in the hip subsided for a while but my Achilles tendons were still hurting.

    A month later, the pain came back with a vengeance and that’s when I decided that I would go for a second opinion. The second doctor asked me to get an x-ray, MRI and blood test. I did as I was told and came back with the results to be told that I had ‘Gout’ (high Uric Acid levels). Gout is a strand of arthritis and it’s hereditary. I didn’t think that the diagnosis could be wrong because my mother has it and a cousin has another form of arthritis. I did find it weird that I had it considering I don’t eat or drink most of the food that would cause Uric Acid levels to spike. So, I did my homework and researched how I can improve my way of living and what are all the foods I should avoid eating and what I shouldn’t eat during an attack. I quickly came to terms that I would be living with this for the rest of my life and started to rethink the activities I took part in. I was very upset that I had to pass on trying out and joining the Women’s CaiRoller Derby Team, because it would be too much strain on my joints. It also meant that Operation Megan Fox would have to be put on hold too (my goal to losing the kilos I had piled on to reach my goal weight). I watched what I ate and tried to exercise, but there were times when the pain was excruciating and wished for amputation.

    Every Christmas I send a lengthy annual news letter to family and friends abroad filling them in on my news and adventures and my diagnosis was included in it. An old High School friend who has a strong medical background in diseases contacted me and asked me a series of questions about my diagnosis and strongly suggested I go to a Rheumatologist to get a more concrete answer about my Gout Arthritis. I had nothing to lose, so I asked friends to help me find a really good doctor and I have to say that they really came through for me! I somehow got an appointment with one of the TOP Rheumatologists in Egypt/Region, which is almost impossible; the waiting list to get an appointment is usually a few months!

    The day of my appointment I went with all my tests, x-rays and MRIs for him to see and I gave a very detailed history of ailments as well as family history, which was recorded by the assisting doctor. He did a basic examination until the doctor came in. When THE doctor came in, he read over the details and asked for further details. As he read and I spoke you could see his mind at work making a list of possible diagnoses and with the answers you could see him mentally illuminate them too. He then put me through a series of tests and twisted my limbs in all directions making me feel like a human pretzel. Once he had pin pointed where the pain was coming from, he then checked all the x-rays, blood test results and MRI scans I had brought with me. I felt like I was sitting in the presence of the medical version of Sherlock Holmes and his trusty partner Dr. Watson. When he was done, he put my mind at ease and told me that I have nothing serious and that I did NOT have Gout or show any signs of getting it any time soon! (PHEW!!) What I did have was an old untreated injury to the hip and mild tendonitis of the Achilles heels and I needed to take anti inflammatory pills for a month as well as 1 months of physio- therapy and to come back for a checkup in 2 months time.

    It took 6 months and 3 doctors to figure out what was wrong with me! I am among the lucky ones, some people don’t find out until years later, or never do. My mother is one of them, for eight years she had been suffering from back pain and was told it was a slipped disc. She wasn’t convinced and went to other doctors and did her own research until she discovered she was suffering from sacroiliac and a hip problem. For 3 years she was told she didn’t need hip replacement until she self diagnosed herself again and insisted on going to another doctor and found out she needed immediate hip replacement because she had not only worn away the ligament but the ball of the joint by 3cm, so she had one leg shorter than the other.

    I guess the moral of the story is, sometimes you find the needle in the hay stack and get the correct diagnosis of the bat, other times you have to keep going back for second, third, fourth, fifth and sixth opinions until your instincts tell you not to look any further. It’s a gamble !

    Three weeks after visiting the rheumatologist, I can honestly say that I do feel better. I am able to Zumba and Belly dance with little pain. I have been going to physio for just under a month and my Achilles is feeling better, but my hip is still aggrivating me. I am optimistic!

    Kidnapped
    My second or third year in Egypt I can clearly remember answering the phone at home. The person who answered the phone didn’t ask to speak to anyone; they didn’t identify themselves they just started talking in a very serious and angry tone.

    “Tell the Doctor, that he better pay what he owes or we are going to take his children.”
    (Translated from Arabic)

    I remember how scared I was when I heard the threat. I immediately went and relayed what I had heard on the phone to my grandmother and then had to retell it to both my parents. All of whom reassured me that my Dad didn’t owe anyone any money. The thread did seem rather odd because although my family live comfortably we are of no importance in society. Why threaten us? My father wasted no time in going and talking to every shop owner and vendor on both sides of our street from the beginning of the road right to the end, telling them to keep an eye out for his daughters as they walked to and from school every morning and not to allow any stranger to come near us. At that time, there was still a chivalrous code among men, where men would gladly come to the aid of a fellow citizen, neighbor, acquaintance or friend in their hour or moment of need. The code unfortunately seems to have not been taught to the younger generations and will soon be forgotten.

    In 1996 Mel Gibson and Rene Russo stared in the thriller ‘Ransom’, where Gibson, a successful business man, his son is kidnapped and held for ransom. I remember watching that movie and thinking how I doubt I could ever be able to understand the terror a kid must go through in a situation like that or the long process of recovery that would follow afterwards. It never occurred to me that the horrors of that movie would become a reality to many affluent families here in Egypt.

    I can’t give a comparison of numbers or statistics pre and post revolution of kidnapping threats, kidnapping attempts and actual kidnappings. What I can confirm is that THEY ARE happening.

    After the revolution school buses were targeted and attacked by gangs. Going to work became a terrifying experience because you never knew if your bus would be the one that they decided to attack early in the morning as you made your way to school.

    Monday, February 18th 2013 two sisters left their house early in the morning in Alexandria to go to school. They are from a well off family but they are not as wealthy as some of the other students they attend school with. They were ambushed by men armed with knives. The men got into the car with them and had the driver drive them to a place in Alexandria where they had another vehicle waiting. The men tried taking both girls, but the eldest sister put up such a resistance that they opted to take the younger one and sped away out of the city, leaving the sister and driver behind.

    The kidnappers had the 13-year-old girl call her family to let them know they she was alive and well and gave the ransom demand of two million Egyptian pounds for her safe return.
    The horror, worry and powerlessness that this family went through can’t ever be accurately put into words or imagined by another individual who hasn’t experienced the same thing. Every second, minute, hour and day that passed would have had anyone sick with agony. Those who knew the girls or the family in any way, (myself included), were gutted by the news, our hearts ached for the family and our prayers were with all of them, hoping and wishing for her safe return home.

    Meanwhile, the police had suspected the driver and he had been taken in for questioning. Needless to say, their tactics whatever they might have been proved successful. He confessed to initiating the kidnapping and gave the police the address of where the young girl was being held captive. At around 9 PM on Wednesday February 20th, the police escorted the young girl back home. When she arrived all the children who knew her were standing outside her building on cars cheering and celebrating her safe return.
    Fortunately for this family the ending to their terrible ordeal was a happy one.

    This is just ONE of MANY incidents that are happening here in Egypt and it seems that nine times out of ten that it’s an inside job. A driver, the nanny, hired help or someone who works in the family business. Parents do not know who to trust, because the loyalty that once existed with the hired help is a thing of the past, it has been replaced by greed, resentment and jealousy.

    One parent from Alexandria was discussing with me on twitter, if he should consider hiring bodyguards to take his child eight year old son to and from school. I have seen some left no choice but to resort to this because of threats made to take their children. The more I think about the idea of hiring bodyguards the more it feels like we are living the lives of the Columbian drug cartel!

    It is VERY disturbing to think that Egypt has fallen so far and so quickly in only two years! One only dreads to think what other dangers will be fall us in the months, years to come.