Saturday, December 30, 2006

RIP: Grandma

My Grandma passed away yesterday.

She had a stroke a month before I left for Egypt, so she wasn't in the best of conditions when I talked to her last. From what I understand, her recovery was slow at best and she was getting bored. Perhaps this is for the best.

She will be remembered for her quick wit, hatred of vegetables, sayings like "useless as tits on a bull," and for canasta. She always lost at the game, except for the very last time I played her. It really puts new meaning to the words "saving the best for last."

Tuesday, December 26, 2006

All This Eating is Making Me Hungry

The last four days have been marked by some furious consumption of everything that is German and edible. Four meals a day: breakfast, lunch, dessert, and dinner, plus all the beer, champagne, and wine you can drink. And I wouldn't have it any other way.

I've been staying in this small town tucked away in the forests of central Germany. The state, Thüringen, is notorious for two things (at least): bratwurst and the distinction of being the state traded to the Soviets in exchange for west Berlin. Any chip left on the proverbial shoulder of the population seems long to have disappeared, or it has been re-channeled into making the finest bratwurst in the land.

Perhaps the most mindboggling thing about this town is that its something like 1300 years old; the oldest house something like 700 years old...and still standing. My hometown boasts houses that are 100 years old...and falling apart. I'm starting to see where the "German Engineering" stereotype came from.

All that's left are a few solid nights of beer consumption. Oh, I forgot to mention that my present was 15 different bottles of German beer, with the prospect of more. Should be a good couple of nights. I also need to have a healthy-sized portion of schnitzel.

Merry Christmas.

Thursday, December 21, 2006

Do I Look Tanned to You?

What a disaster the Hurghada Airport is on a Thursday. I showed up 2 1/2 hours before my flight, thinking I had plenty of time. Turns out the airport is really just a makeshift tent bursting with tanned Europeans who just spent the last week on the beach. There I was, white as a ghost, clutching my Canadian passport like it was the only thing that would separate me from the masses.

Mortified is a pretty good word to describe my feelings when I went inside the tent. On my right was a crowd of people. On my left was this other long, snaking line. It looked as though you had to go through security first before checking in. Hmm...I hadn't expected this. That "oh, shit, I'm going to miss my flight feeling" started to creep in, but that didn't change the fact that there was a line to be entered.

An hour later, I was through security and into the short check-in line. Everything was going smoothly until I noticed that the immigration line looked like it could also take an hour...and I was scheduled to board in less than 30 minutes. Luckily, Egypt is a land where things rarely happen on-time...even flights. And I wasn't the only one in the aforementioned predicament.

At one point while I was sitting at the boarding gate, it was announced over the loudspeaker that it was the final boarding call for a flight to Malmo. Seconds after, I peered over at the immigration line, only to witness a rush of people going from the back to the front. It seemed like half of the flight's passengers were running rather late.

The rest of the travelling went easy. Johanna and Benjamin met me at the airport in Cologne and I am now sitting at their apartment.

Wednesday, December 20, 2006

Egypt on Hold

Tomorrow afternoon, I will be putting Egypt on proverbial “hold.” Perhaps it’s a way of getting back at the country for making me wait at every turn. Not that I mind waiting, but the universe has a funny way of balancing itself out. I figure I’ll let the country stew for about 12 days. It can scream, curse, and yell all it wants, but these attempts will fall on deaf ears. It’s kind of like how you feel at the Mogamma (visa place in Cairo)…

I’m excited about Germany and the prospects of bratwurst, schnitzel, and beer. And seeing Johanna and Benjamin of course.

Tuesday, December 19, 2006

Cairo's Champions

Apartment blocks are the one constant in a Cairo skyline that includes many eye-gouging hotels and other architectural abominations. While the latter aim for clean, coloured exteriors, the former take advantage of the natural “smog grey” provided by the environment. Ugly as this may seem, millions of LE is saved on paint.

Like a book, however, one should not judge an apartment block by its cover. But you have dig deeper than superficial aesthetic factors to find the true quality of an interior. This quality control is left up to one person: the bowab.

Men dominate the profession, but their female counterparts are becoming more and more common. They wear galabayas (or abayas, for women) and are generally found in or around the apartment building they take care of. Their duties include, but are not limited to: collecting garbage, transporting and installing propane tanks, guarding the door at night, stopping unwanted people from coming in, hassling visiting Egyptians and foreigners, liaising with the landlord/lady, hanging out with other neighbourhood bowabs, general cleaning, and making sure the elevator works. All it costs each tenant is a fee ranging from 20 to 50 LE.

Bowabs are often old—I’ve seen a couple that should be in the Guinness Book of World Records. There is no question that Bowabs have seen some serious $@%&. From Nasser to Mubarak, from Socialism to whatever you’d call the current government. What haven’t these caretakers seen?

What impresses me the most is their ability to sleep in front of the door (that is chained shut) with the light on, knowing that people (mainly annoying foreigners) will be coming out. I’m pretty sure they resent us simply because it means less sleep at night. In all seriousness, though, bowabs are a great group of people. Cheerful, respectful, and they would make a great interview.

Monday, December 18, 2006

Random Canadian Facts: For Nay-Nay

Today’s fact looks at the transition of Canadian bank notes to coins. Prior to 1987, we used $1, $2, $5, $10, $20, $50, and $100 as the denominations for our currency. As most of us have experienced, paper notes wear down and become unusable. There are two schools of thought when it comes to remedies. Australia’s: make plastic notes that don’t break down (obviously brought on by the surfing culture), and Canada’s: make coins to weigh people down even more.

So, Nay-Nay, did you know that Canada abolished the $1 and $2 bills in favour of coins?

Well, we did. On June 30th, 1987, the “loonie” was introduced as a replacement to the $1 bill. Pictured on the coin was a loon floating on a serene lake. On the back, the Queen of England.

Next came the abolition of the $2 dollar bill in 1995 (I can’t believe it was that long ago) in favour of the “toonie.” The good people at the Royal Canadian Mint really stepped up to the plate on this occasion. Not only was there an intricately designed polar bar on the front, but the coin was also made of two different metals (and colours). However, it soon became obvious that the same good people at the Mint failed chemistry in school. Metals expand and contract at different temperatures, right? Well, the harsh Canadian climate exposed these coins to a wide range of temperatures. The result was a two-piece “toonie,” as cold temperatures caused one metal to contract. This problem was soon rectified and the “toonie” became one again.

There has been talk of replacing the $5 bill with a coin. This could simultaneously be the largest, and stupidest, coin in the history of time. Any guesses on what the name might be? If it follows current convention, the “pentoonie” or “fiveie.”  *Shudder*

(Info provided by cbc.ca)

Cairo's Champions - In Pictures



Finally, a picture of the bread man. For a person that makes bread and cycles, there is perhaps nothing more impressive than this.

Sunday, December 17, 2006

2 + 2 = 3?

“The Holocaust is a gigantic lie and the gas chambers should be put in the rubbish bin of history.” –A French speaker at the Iran Holocaust Conference (BBC)

His rationale is even better…

“…there were no gas chambers at all - millions of Jews did not die - therefore there was no holocaust.”

Simplifying a rather complex equation does not help your credibility. It’s like saying 2x + 3y + 4a + 5b – ((x-y)/(y)) x ((a+b)/(b+y)) = (a+b)/(x+y) is equal to 1+1=2.

Thursday, December 14, 2006

A Lesson in Bengali Food

School was in session yesterday. Veteran Bengali Mother vs. Cocky Punjabi Protégé.

Check out what happened here.

Wednesday, December 13, 2006

Rapport

You know you’ve developed a rapport with the people you deal with every day when you can:

  1. Have lunch without actually having any money on you

  2. Have tea with only a 100 LE note sitting in your pocket

  3. Get a shave with only 3 LE on you (costs 5 LE normally)

  4. Say, “I have no change. Tomorrow, ok?” and get an unhesitating “Ok, inshallah,” in return.

If there is one way to re-affirm your faith in the local people, this is it. The people around my office are so genuinely trusting that “bukra, inshallah” is never a problem. This generosity results in my having no qualms about going back to these people every single day.

Tuesday, December 12, 2006

Random Canadian Facts: For Naynay

Today’s Random Fact About Canada explores the Hudson Bay Company.

Naynay, did you know that the HBC is Canada’s oldest corporation?

In case you didn’t, the HBC was formed in 1670 by two French guys with the names Radisson and des Groseilliers. Fur hats and coats were popular in Europe at the time; Canada’s only important resource was a menagerie of wild animals with fur suitable for coats and hats. As such, a whole industry centered around fur trading was established.

The industry produced the famed Courier de Bois—the legendary canoe operators who would paddle upstream, their crafts filled with pelts. You see, all rivers flowed towards Hudson Bay where there is no evidence of civilization (even today), so these guys had to paddle extremely hard. What resulted was a rather interesting physiological phenomenon: the side of their body used for paddling become over-developed, while the other side became cripplingly weak.

The HBC implemented a series of trading posts to facilitate the fur trade industry. That’s why city names such as “Moose Factory” have sprung up in northern Ontario. In 1821, the North West Company and HBC decided to merge, creating a large conglomeration that had full control over the entire expanse of Canada.

HBC is now a retail outlet, but remains proud of its history. Many old stores still exist throughout Canada, and the famous Hudson Bay tri-coloured blankets still keep many warm at night.

(some information provided by HBC)

Monday, December 11, 2006

Cairo's Champions

This edition of Cairo’s Champions goes out to all those Major League Baseball teams in search of pitching this offseason.

Newspaper delivery services have existed for as long as there have been newspapers. Like bread, people need their morning fill of news, propaganda, editorials, and sports. For governments, getting such “news” to people is as important as having a whole ministry dedicated to creating it.

And, thus, a distribution network was born. In Canada, the average employee in this network wears a baseball hat, rides a bike, things girls have cooties, and likely wants to be an astronaut. In Egypt, that same employee has a family, drives a motorbike with a sidecar, and has a rocket-propelled arm.

It’s rather impressive, really. At about 4 AM, these guys tour around the city, their sidecars filled with the day’s newsprint. Towering on either side are the ubiquitous eight-storey apartment buildings. It’s a menacing challenge for the humble paper guy: getting the newspapers to the upper levels. But do not underestimate him and his brethren; they are up to the task every single morning.

At pre-memorized spots on the road, the guy stops, grabs a newspaper from the sidecar, and then flings it up to the 6th level while still straddling the bike. When I first say this, I was exasperated. “Whoa…did I just see that? He just flung a paper to the 6th storey using all arm and no body. I wonder if paper boys have a high incidence of arm surgery.” I started to ponder if I could perform that same task. Perhaps, but my arm would need warming up before going out into the cool night.

The unfortunate thing is that people are usually asleep at 4 AM and are, therefore, completely oblivious to the talent exhibited by the guy that provides them with their morning entertainment.

Now, if these guys could hit a 95 MPH fastball, they’d be the hottest commodity on the free agent market. But then the government would struggle to distribute its skewed message.

Sunday, December 10, 2006

*Cough, Cough*

I can officially add “Suspended Paint Particles” to the list of pathogenic substances involuntarily inhaled by my lungs in foreign countries. It’s starting to become a scary list….

  • Copious amounts of Carbon Monoxide

  • Coal smoke

  • Dust particles

  • Sheesha (albeit voluntary)

  • Cigarette Smoke (impossible to avoid, it seems)

  • Sulphur Dioxide

  • Diesel Exhaust

  • Sand

My poor lungs. I’m not sure you ever adapt to inhaling pollution on a daily basis.

The paint particles were a result of Megan, Simon, and I painting the living room yesterday. We used cheap Egyptian paint…that should’ve sent off warning signals. Next time I’m going to look into surgical masks. I think Farzina might have some.

Regardless, we now have a blue living room. All we need is some Nemo-esque fish on the wall and we’ll have ourselves the Great Barrier Reef.

Thursday, December 07, 2006

Random Canadian Facts: For Naynay

This edition of Random Canadian Facts takes a look at how Ottawa became the capital of Canada.

Canada has seen a few different capitals—Kingston, York, Montreal—but decided on Ottawa in 1857. Who did we leave this decision up to? None other than Queen Victoria herself. Even though her busy schedule was filled with the arduous task of becoming India’s head of state, she still managed to find the time to choose between the following cities:

Quebec City
Montreal
Toronto
Kingston
Ottawa

Canada had yet to become a country in 1857, but confederation was not far away and the city chosen now would probably be the one used for many years to come.

Queen Victoria, in all her wisdom, chose Ottawa, a small town of 18,000. Parliamentary buildings were soon constructed, and by the time of confederation (1867), Ottawa was christened the capital of the newly formed country of Canada.

I’m just glad it wasn’t Toronto.

(information provided by Michael Provost & Julie Teskey)

Wednesday, December 06, 2006

New Digs

Just got back from signing the contract for our brand new digs—the original plan of living with Megan has finally come to fruition. We’ll be living downtown, right behind the Egyptian Museum. We’re on the 9th floor, have rooftop access, and might even have a heroin addict living on said roof. Either way, there’ll be some legendary BBQs taking place.

Perhaps the best part is that we get to paint the place. That promises to be interesting and will probably involve some libations.

Salman and Miguel…it was a pleasure.

Tuesday, December 05, 2006

Rain in Cairo?!?!?!

It doesn't rain in the desert, right?

Last time I checked that was the definition of a desert: less than a certain amount of precipitation of rain per year. I guess the operative phrase is "less than a certain amount."

When I was walking out of the office today, the guys at the front desk were making comments in Arabic and laughing. I didn't know what was going on, but assumed that they were making light of the fact that I was still wearing shorts in December.

Then I walked out the door. What was that stuff falling from the sky? I turned to look back at the guys and they were laughing hysterically. "Look at that stupid white boy going out in the rain in shorts."

It's only water, so I just took off down the street. It was coming down pretty hard, but nothing that was going to stop me. Halfway to my destination, I heard shouting behind me. I turned to see some guys running full-speed down the road. They eventually got quite close to me and it become clear that the police were chasing some guy.

He darted between cars, but eventually met his end when he slipped and fell on the pavement. Four cops were on him instantaneously, and then proceeded to kick, punch, and slap the guy. Some old guy came up and got everyone to come down, but only lasted for so long. After the cops had dragged the guy to his feet, they marched him away from my, while continuing to punch him in the back of the head.

Interestingly, the guy didn't put up any sort of a fight. Probably a good idea, given that he already tried to evade arrest.

Monday, December 04, 2006

Random Facts About Canada: For Naynay

I’m starting a new blogment because there are certain people in Cairo who profess to know nothing about Canada. This honesty, or arrogance, gave me an idea.

Naynay: “I’m not afraid to say it…I know nothing about Canada.”
Kent: “Naynay, I’m going to do a ‘Random Facts about Canada’ segment on my blog just for you.”

Naynay is a Black (forgive me if that’s politically incorrect) trainee from the Midwestern United States, but has spent time in New Hampshire, of all places. Ironically, her real name, Anjene, has French roots.

So, Naynay, here is the first of what I’m sure you hope are many random Canadian facts:

The name “Canada” is actually a First Nations’ word. As the commercial goes, the white people are being led by the First Nations People through the forest. They get to a clearing and one of the First Nations guys points to the village and says, “Kanada.”

“Kanada?” replies one of the white guys, completely oblivious to the meaning of the word.

In a stroke of brilliance, the other white guy says, “We shall call this nation ‘Canada’.”

In reality, the First Nations person was actually referring to the village, which is “Kanada” in his language.

So, our country is named after a village, which is somewhat fitting because our population is a relative village compared to most other countries.

Saturday, December 02, 2006

Who Knew?

"There are people hunger striking in the principal Plaza of Santa Cruz, Tarija is threatening to cut of gas supplies to the rest of the country, and there is talk of a national strike that could bring parts of the country to a halt in the next couple of days." -el blog boliviano