Thursday, September 28, 2006

A Different Life

Are you a local? Want to experience things you never thought you would?

Just hang out with me for a day. Meligy, an Egyptian co-worker, came with Dody and I for iftar. He explains his experience here.

Ramadan: Day 5

The streets seem to be getting busier. I walked out of my apartment, intending to take a taxi to work because of my penchant for slow-motion walking during the fast, only to see complete and utter gridlock. I’m pretty sure the person that got into the taxi when I started walking is still in traffic.

I think I’m getting used to the “no water during the day” diet, however I have to make a conscious effort to not talk very much (Ryan, too bad you didn’t meet me during Ramadan, eh?). That activity sure dries out the mouth.

Street-iftar should be good tonight. Beans, rice, and chicken is about as good as it gets when you’ve gone 15 hours without food.

Wednesday, September 27, 2006

New Blogs

Ok, so much has been happening in the blog list over on the right hand side.

Blanka has just arrived in Prague and will be moving on to Slovakia.

Abner is probably en route to Taiwan right now.

Sarah has been in Japan for 3 weeks.

Janaki arrived in Bolivia like last night.


Ramadan: Day 4

If you’re wondering what it’s like to fast for 16 hours and then binge eat, try it sometime.

The worst that will happen at first is that you eat/drink too much, causing your stomach to spasm uncontrollably. What a wonderful pain that is.

About twenty minutes after you’re done eating, your body attempts to fight its way into stasis mode. If you had to walk to eat, the walk back is going to be an all-out struggle. Your legs and arms feel like lead and your ability to sustain verticality is seriously put into question.

Your next task is to find a couch or bed, so you’re prepared when the inevitable crash comes.

Approximately two hours go by with you rendered useless on the couch before moving even enters your mind as a possibility. But once you’re up, the energy level starts to come back.

It’s quite the process, really. I’ve found that the hardest part is keeping the blood-sugar level under control. It’s perpetually low during the day and barely breaks the normal level after eating. As long as I avoid high-sugar stuff, I should be ok.

Janaki: On Location in Santa Cruz Bolivia

Hello everyone!

Hope you are all doing really well!

I just wanted to let you know that I made it safetly to Santa Cruz, Bolivia early Sunday morning....while travelling for over 24 hours from Calgary through the United States to South America is not something I´d choose to necessarily do regularly the trip went faster than I expected.

My fears of having to explain my visa situation in broken Spansh to custon officials at the Viru Viru Airport upon arrival were put to rest quickly as we were shaddily asked to press a red button as we walked through the sensors...and that was it! Patricia´s parents (German and Elva) and her uncle Guido were right there to meet us and take us to our quaint little Hotel Aeronautico in the core of the city.

So far we checked out the Expo Cruz...comparable to the Round-Up Centre displays at the Stampede only on a larger scale: they sell everything from soy cookies (yes!) and houses to what we could only assume top be genetically modified cows (yikes!). The India display was highly amusing..pretty much a steel company´s capitalist public relations advertising disguised as a cultural pavilion...nope, no chana masala here.

Apart from that, our days have entailed catching up on the sleep that we have both been lacking for what feels like months now and getting to know the streets around us. Also, I´m learning lots of Spanish thanks to Trevor´s mad teaching skillz (and that frankly, i have no other choice cause English isn´t very common at all....which is just soooo good for learning).

Sounds like we´ll be working on the project relatively soon, so that will be great...will keep you posted!

Anywho, take care of yourselves and let me know how you´re doing.

Hasta luego!

Now she just needs to get herself a blog....

Tuesday, September 26, 2006

Ramadan: Day 3

Once you get used to the whole “not eating for 16 hours and then binge-eating for 6” system that Ramadan represents, it’s really not so bad. Sure, you have the inevitable 1pm blood-sugar crash and the post-food grumpy stage, but there is something implicitly satisfying about it all. For one, I don’t think I’ve ever loved food as much as I do right now.

“Do you usually eat plain bread?” I was asked.
“No, but during Ramadan it is the greatest snack since, umm…sliced bread?”

Doesn’t matter if it’s cold, hot, spicy, salty, sweet…it all tastes good, really good. And water. Oh, precious water. If I liked wine, water would probably taste like it. It’s like your body goes into water-processing overdrive. You just can’t get enough.

But best of all is the initial contact of food/drink on your tongue at 6pm. It’s like your taste buds are in paradise.

Monday, September 25, 2006


"The real Cairo fun started when the meal ended, I asked the guy for the bill, and he gave me a price that sounded more like a phone number. I did a quick double take, and hoping that it was just my crappy Arabic , I asked him again. Nope. He really is asking for a sum of money roughly equivelant to the Egyptian defense budget." -Ramadan Blog (By Tom Gara)

If you want to know how iftar (breaking the fast) went last night, Tom provides a pretty solid explanation.

Ramadan Diaries

Here’s a brief summary of my Ramadan experiences to this point:

Sunday, 8:30AM – I totally cheated. Should’ve been up at 4:30 for breakfast, but I caved and had it at 8:30.

11:00AM – Hmmm…I’m not going to be eating lunch today, nor will I be eating for the next 7 hours at the minimum. Stomach, don’t fail me now.

12:30PM – Blood-sugar levels are dropping and concentrations levels have waned to the point of non-existence. I’m starting to adopt the head-bob strategy to pass the time at work. If I just close my eyes for a second…

2PM – Pain has now entered the equation. But that has been numbed by the feeling of sucking exhaust fumes from the back of a bus. Hallucinations are occurring frequently and I was really prepared to fight Brian (a co-worker) for the steak in the corner.

3PM – Yay. I get to go home. But what does that even mean?

4PM – Asleep on the couch.

6:30PM – Iftar!!! Time to eat. Kebab, kofta, bread, tahina, salad…way too much food. Props to Tom on a legendary bargaining job.

Monday, 1AM – My last chance to eat before crashing. Food and drink has never tasted so good.

9AM – I’m doing it for real this time. Only 9 more hours before I can eat…and drink.

Sunday, September 24, 2006

Ramadan: Day 1

I swear I just saw a giant steak in the corner.

Thursday, September 21, 2006

Razor Ramblings: Welcome Back Edition

I’m definitely excited that this “blogment” has been reincarnated. Gone are the days of shaving myself.  Back are the days of wondering around the city looking for the very best in Blade Ballets.

My inaugural Cairo shave was indeed a surreal experience. It began with me thinking, “Wow, this is great,” and ended with, “What the #^$& just happened?” Probably not a good sign when sharp blades and delicate skin are involved.

Location: Some backstreet close to my house
Number of Nicks: 1
Rating: 4/5

Having already negotiated a price, I sauntered back to the shady, alleyway establishment that had done a mediocre job cutting my hair. As I approached the doorway, I could see two kids inside: one, the older of the two (he had cut my hair) was shaving and older fellow, while the other was just sitting on the bench watching excitedly. My immediate thought was, “Ok, I can handle a kid shaving me. What difference does it make, anyways?”

I waited for a few minutes, while the current client was taken care of, and then was ushered to sit down. The chair was comfy, especially after the headrest was adjusted. Then a peculiar thing happened; a brilliant customer service move. The boy took the remote and changed it to an English channel so that I had something to watch. Wow. He could put a gash in my face the size of the Sphinx and still come away with at least a three rating.

One substantial difference was the consistency of the cream. In India, they use a thick, foaming substance, whereas here it’s more of a runny liquid. It started to dribble down my chin, but the boy was adept enough to get the horsehair brush ready and begin the lathering technique before the liquid had traveled too far. His lather job was good, however the cream itself was the hindrance. Instead of foaming action, it kind stuck to my face like paste. I wondered if this would cause any friction-related problems, but I ended up realizing that I just had to trust him.

His first stroke with the blade was one of veteran-like precision. Had my eyes been closed I would’ve figured it was an old man doing the honours. The boy worked slowly, carefully, ensuring not to make a mistake that would send me to the ER. His meticulousness was a welcome change to the violent strokes of many Indian blade wielders. His technique on the other side, though, was one of hurried excitement. It was like he wanted to get me in and out of the chair. Not that this was a problem because I didn’t get the burning sensation I was so accustomed to.

After applying the second coat of lather, he went straight to work on the part directly below the chin. Over and over it he went, seemingly unsatisfied with his work. At one point I was worried that there wasn’t going to be any skin left. When he finally finished, I reached into the drawer and pulled out a spool of thread. He motioned to me with a “Want me to use this?” look in his eye. Hmm…perhaps not this time. I’ll definitely get it the next time, though.
The other little boy had just been sitting there patiently while I had my work done. At one point, a club scene with dance music had showed on the movie I was watching. What else did the kid do but break out into some sweet dance moves. I had to laugh, even though a razor was pressed up against my face. This is where things started to go downhill.

From what I can gather, the father came back, cursing like a sailor. The boy went outside for a bit, got cursed at, and then came in clutching his hand. After a few minutes, I could see the blood soaking through the toilet paper wrap he had applied. When I got out of my chair, I looked at the poor kid’s finger and saw that it had been slashed. I tried to inquire about what happened but all I got back was that he cut it outside. Brutal. Then the father came in and starting asking me to give him my shoes. Hmm…no, I kinda need those.

As I walked away, performing the customary face check, I wondered, “What the #%$& just happened?”  

Cairo Colon

From the annals that brought you “Delhi Belly,” “Istanbul Intestines,” and “Shanghai Stomach” comes the name of my second Cairo-inspired post: Cairo Colon.

I’m not sure where I picked it up. Perhaps it was the tap water (which I’m told is heavily chlorinated, but clean), or maybe the copious amount of street food I’ve been consuming. Either way, Cairo Colon is to be avoided, just like it’s three other international affiliates.

Symptoms include violent intestinal spasms, general discomfort, and a hesitancy to do anything that will keep you away from private facilities for too long. Apparently it’s called the “Curse of the Pharaohs”  by locals, but I prefer my moniker.

After every spasm I wonder,  “Whatever happened to my intestinal fortitude?”

Wednesday, September 20, 2006

Cairo Chai

For the first of my Cairo-moniker’ed blog posts, I think I’ll talk a little about a brilliant discovery I made yesterday.

Besides finding a barber, one of my other goals was finding chai ingredients. I had brought my special Assam tea with me, but as Nicholas will tell you, “it’s all about the masala.” That meant I needed to find cardamom, cinnamon, and ginger to reproduce the same product. The search turned out a lot harder than one might’ve thought. People would tell me, “Just go to a spice shop.” Umm…ok, where the hell is a spice shop? Do you ever notice when you’re looking for something, you can’t find it, but when you don’t want/need something, it’s everywhere?

Finally, with the gracious help of Nisrin, I came across a shop selling a myriad of spices. After a quick sweep with my eyes, I couldn’t see cardamom anywhere. I thought, “Is it outlawed in this country or something?” Then, on one final glace, I saw a green sign with the word “Cardamom.” After being the focus of many a laugh, we were out of the place with exactly what I needed, plus a five Piastre (the smaller denomination of currency) coin. I’ll cherish that coin forever, because you won’t see them too often here.

One potentially crucial hurdle was the lack of any sort of chai infrastructure. Few houses expend the necessary capital outside the sub-continent, and mine was no exception. On a positive note, I got to improvise rather crudely. A flat pan was used in place of a sauce pan, and a potato-ricer was used in lieu of a strainer. A potato-ricer? Who does that anymore? Oh, and for mugs I used some soup cups with a recipe for Cream of Mushroom Soup on them.

Because the stove was natural gas, I was able to control the heat with far greater precision than electric. As such, there were no flare-ups or spills, just succulently thick chai brewing to perfection.

The finished product was pretty good. It will definitely take some tampering and experimentation, and infrastructure, before it can be worthy of a 5/5 rating.

Tuesday, September 19, 2006


It is not uncommon for me to meet a foreigner who doesn’t have a clue who the leader of Canada is. They all know George Bush, maybe Tony Blair, but that’s about it. Even knowing the we have a Prime Minister is a stretch.

Then, while I’m getting shawerma (donair-type things), the guy shaving the meat off the spit asks me if I’m American. I say no, and then quickly provide him with the correct answer. He says, “Ahh…Canada…Ste-phen Harp-er.”

I was nothing short of flabbergasted.

Monday, September 18, 2006

Mission Accomplished

My only immediate goal upon arrival in Cairo was finding a qualified barber to shear the shag carpet I call my hair. Call it a rite of passage, having your hair cut by a guy who doesn’t speak the same language as you, but it is a must-do for anyone that doesn’t care about how their hair looks.

After repeated strolls through the neighborhood failed to produce even a semblance of a hair-cutting/shaving industry, I expanded my search to include an alleyway just off a major artery. What did I find, but a small two-seater shop protected by the shadows and from the “sheet metal ballet (thanks for that analogy, Dad)” that is Cairo traffic.

The barber obviously recognized my need for a trim because he called out to me from a good ten metres away. Thinking to myself, “Hmm…dark, secluded barber shop? This is definitely a good idea,” I agreed and followed the man inside. He sat me down and we began negotiating a price. Twenty pounds (four dollars CDN) was his initial offer…way too high, or so I thought. As a counter, I pulled out five pounds and placed it on the counter in front of me. Then the yelling started.

“La, la, la, la, la, la… (no, no….), twenty,” he commanded.
“Ha. Five.” Things were starting to get fun.
“No, no, twenty *inaudible Arabic*”
“Five. There is no way it is twenty.” I then put the five pound note on the counter in front of me and pretended like I was leaving.
I didn’t get much of a chance to go anywhere. As soon as my butt was off the seat, the barber wrapped is hands around my upper arm with a force similar to an osprey ripping apart a salmon with its claws. He also grabbed at the money in my hand and shouted, all the while having a hard time keeping the smile off his face.

Eventually he took the five pounds and set about doing what he does best. When he finished on side to my liking, he turned to a boy of no more than fourteen lurking in the corner. Some Arabic ensued between the two and then the barber left, saying, “Boy, number one,” on the way out.

While overly meticulous, the boy had some skill. He keenly worked away cutting every stray hair with deft precision, while occasionally peering over at the Arabic music video playing on the TV (he sang a bit as well). Halfway through, the barber came back and, I’m assuming, told the boy to stop until I paid an extra five pounds. I found out later that ten is normal for a haircut, so paying the extra five wasn’t a problem.

When he was done with the sides, he was under the impression that he was done. I don’t know what it is about Indian and Egyptian barbers, but they like to keep the top long and the sides short. Frankly, it looks horrible, so I had to persist that it be cut shorter. Unfortunately, I was running out of time, the hair cut had already lasted thirty to forty minutes, because I had to go feluda’ing (boat ride on the Nile).

All in all, not a bad haircut, but the front and back are still way too long. I managed to negotiate a shave price of five pounds, so stay tuned for a brand new installment of Razor Ramblings tomorrow. I’m really excited about that.

Sunday, September 17, 2006

I Made It!

More on that later.

Tuesday, September 12, 2006

Go Away Anticipation

Waiting around for a flight reminds me all too well of waiting around for a final exam. What's great about the former is that you have to show up three hours early. At least waiting in the airport gives some semblance of doing something.

All you want is to get it over with. But, of course, the clock has to tick slower than molasses (molasses that were slower than usual). The saying, "I'd give me right arm..." really makes sense at times like this. Who needs it, anyway?

What I have learned from experience is that I stand to be exhausted when I step off the plane in sweaty Cairo. Can't wait.

Friday, September 08, 2006

My Only Chance to Be Famous

After inhaling a ton of smoke grinding up a steep hill, it was nice to be able to sit down at my computer and find out Nicholas had finished editing the videos he had of me making Chai.

The first one is of the Chai process itself, while the second one is a sort of interview about how I learned the craft on the mean streets of Kolkata.

Please Enjoy. And props to Nicholas on a great job.

Wednesday, September 06, 2006

And She's Off

Sarah is off to Japan tomorrow.



For the first time in a while, I did a little experimenting in the kitchen. Not sure what this creation is, but I think it falls between a bisque and a bouillabaisse.

I started by frying onions and garlic, then added some corn cut from the cob. For flavour I threw in some sweet Hungarian paprika, salt, pepper, and hot chili powder. I had some peppered mackeral leftover from pizza night, so I figured, "Why not?" To make a bit of a broth, I used milk, water, and a touch of cream. Finally, I put in some big prawns and let the mixture reduce.

You could put it over rice or pasta, but I chose to eat it straight with some bread. This recipe is definitely a keeper.

Tuesday, September 05, 2006

When Life Throws You Some Tiramisu...

Eat it.

Bring the Pain

Why is it that we voluntarily inflict pain upon ourselves?

The cycling time trial is one of those events that makes you ask that question. There you are, riding beyond the point of comfort, trying to cover a specified distance in the shortest amount of time possible. I would say that it's more about how much pain you can swallow than how fast you are. And apparently I think this kind of thing to be fun. I don't know what it is but there's something about pushing the pain threshold of your lungs and legs to point of complete exhaustion.

Saturday, September 02, 2006

In a World of Hurt

I feel like I just fell off a stairwell, outside in the dark of night, onto rocks. Oh wait, I actually did do that. Ok, so that makes two falls in five days. My knees, jaw, leg, arm, wrist, and back are a tad painful. In the words of Pierre Maguire, I'm "in a world of hurt."

If you look back to a previous blog post about my Uncle's house, you'll recall the beer tap and ridiculously cool kitchen stove he has. Well, that's where I found myself last night. Needless to say, it turned into quite the disaster.

The night started off with pints of India Pale Ale freshly poured from the tap and an array of appetizers. We had ribs with a seductive fennel and coriander rub, chicken breasts in caramelized onions, toasted almonds, muffaletto (mind the spelling) sandwiches, and a pasta cabbage salad. You could easily have dubbed this evening a culinary event.

When it came time for dessert, I was called to the line. In a drunken stooper I came up with crepes and peach flambe as a decent meal. My uncle also had some strawberry/balsamic puree that would work well. So I set about mixing up some crepe batter. In lieu of milk, I used coffee cream and coconut milk. That gave the finished product a delictably rich texture and taste. For the peach flambe, I used rum for flavour, and fire. Once I had it lit, the lights were turned off and we all revelled in the blue flame.

Fast forward a few hours. I went to go outside to do the customary pre-pass out routine, when all hell broke loose. My uncle says to me, "Watch out, it's dark out there."
"Thanks, tips." Famous last words.
I walked out the door and thought, "Wow, it is dark outside...I can't see a thing."
I took one step forward with my right, unknowingly an inch away from the left side of the stairway landing. When I stepped with my left, I hit air and tumbled over the edge. I was up in a flurry, not realizing how much it actually hurt. I managed to climb back onto the stairs and hang out until my mom turned on the light that I didn't know existed.

At about sunrise, the projectile vomit started. All i can say is luckily I made it out the door. Ironically, most of the projectile went into the rocks and flower bed a fell into. Yuck.

And that's how I ended up feeling like I'm in a world of hurt. I'm pretty sure I would've fallen off the stairs if I was sober, so I'm not as embarrassed. That's little consolation, though.

Next up, my "Six Steps to Sustaining Verticality."