Wednesday, February 28, 2007

Post 500

I saw the oddest thing the other day.

Getting on the metro, just like I do everyday, I couldn't help but notice five kids sitting on the ground. They were huddled together and probably no more than 8 or 9 years of age. "Nobody sits on the metro," briefly crossed my mind, but I thought nothing of it.

On closer inspection, these kids were handcuffed together. I'm not talking about weak, plastic cuffs...I mean real, hard metal jobs that have secured the baddest incarcerated criminals around. But why were they on kids?

I took my position in the car, facing away from the group, but kept peering over to verify what I actually saw. Nothing really made sense and none of the commuters seemed at all concerned for the kids. Was it a father taking is kids for an outing? A group of schoolkids that had been bad?

The group and a man happened to get off at the same stop as me. I glanced over my shoulder to see what was going on, but they took the stairs to the other line, while I went out the other exit.

Strange and cruel, but certainly not funny like this.

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

Siwa in Pictures

Monday, February 26, 2007

A Movie Star, of Sorts

I am part of Gamal Mubarak's home videos. Is this an honour?

He pulled up while we were bathing in Cleopatra's bath, digi-cam in hand, and filming everything in sight.

Dobre Pivo

I have been cordially invited to a beer blog. No hesitation needed in accepting that offer.

Dobre Pivo has a bright future, as far as I'm concerned. And it has two of the beer masters themselves running it.

Friday, February 23, 2007

Change a Tire, Get a Ride

Poor Natasha. She was a bit irked at the thought of walking over the 6th of October bridge last night. It's a strange bridge, really. It starts about 500m from the first branch of the Nile, goes through Zamalek (the island), and finally crosses the larger branch of the river. The walking is good for the last two parts, but not for the first bit...quite the opposite, in fact.

Only psychos aiming to tempt death and lost tourists end up walking on this first part. There is no sidewalk, save for about a foot of curb that extends from the railing. And the entire gamut of Cairo transportation whizzes by at breakneck speeds. It was 3AM, after all.

Just as we reached the beginning of Zamalek, we spotted a women and child on the sidewalk watching two men change the tire of a car. One of the men was trying to lift the car (the jack wasn't getting it done) while the other guy was trying to put the tire on.

Lifting a car is difficult on the best of days, and should be reserved for the world's strongest men. I wasn't about to leave the people hanging, so I offered to help lift the car. "Perhaps the strength of two would equal the strength of one world's strongest man..." After several attempts involving serious straining and what promised to be sore muscles the next day, "...perhaps not"

Then the guy brought out another jack. As the car levitated, it start rolling forward. Doing what I do best, I got into the driver seat and depressed the brake while the other two got the tire on. In short time, everything was done and I was back on the sidewalk.

In a sincere gesture of Egyptian hospitality, the family offered Natasha and I a ride home. We obliged (this after denying the services of a minibus driver trying to pull me into the vehicle while saying he was going to take me to Alexandria) and went on our way.

Thursday, February 22, 2007

Best Quality, Sir

Best quality, indeed. Is there some international school of "how to sell junk to foreigners"? They all use the same language and sell the same cheap stuff. And the accents they come up with...yikes.

Last night, I helped Nay-Nay with the bulk purchase of 9 galabayas. What a good time that proved to be. It took the better part of 2 hours, multiple bargaining sessions, and a lot of metric-imperial conversions. If there is one good thing about being Canadian, it's the ability to convert seamlessly between metres, centimetres, feet, and inches.

At the end of it all, Nay-Nay ended up with some fine threads. They spent the night at my house, and I was tempted on multiple occasions to steal a few for myself.

You can never really have too many galabayas, can you?

Wednesday, February 21, 2007

More Cairo Points to be Doled Out

Cairo has done well this past week. An international arrival hall with couches last Saturday. A new sidewalk the other day. What's next for this great city?

My trek to and from the metro station usually involves traversing a broken sidewalk for about 50 metres. That is until now.

I noticed the other day that a portion of the broken potted tiles had been replaced by new ones. The next day, further work was done. Then, this morning, the work was complete. All that is left are piles of the old tiles waiting to be picked up.

Two things came to mind:

1. How important did this stretch of sidewalk have to be to get priority over the city's other failing infrastructure projects?

2. How long ago did this sidewalk enter the infrastructure project queue to only get done now?


Some things to ponder over shisha, I suppose. 

Tuesday, February 20, 2007

Cool Under Pressure?

How cool do you have to be to not freak out when your credit card gets eaten by a cash machine?

"Oh, it's no problem. I'll be back in a week and can take care of it then."
"How long will you be back for?"
"About 8 hours."
"'re a brave girl, Jenny."

Ironically, Kate had some issues with her credit/debit cards yesterday. What is it with this town?

All this reminds me of when my Dad, Sister, and I were wondering around Fez, Morocco. I had serious stomach cramps and we were lost something fierce. A good lesson from that was never use a mosque as a landmark...they are too similar to the untrained eye.

Anyway, at some point during the journey, my Dad tried to get some cash from a cash machine. It promptly ate his card. Luckily some guy was in the bank (on a weekend) and quickly came out to return the card back.

Monday, February 19, 2007

All White People Look the Same

And am I ever glad. Although I'm worried the "Ancient Wonders Ruling Body" will strike me down for managing to get into the Pyramids using a fake, expired ISIC card.

Yes, I broke my consecutive months streak and went to the Pyramids. I was going for Megan's record of 7+ months, but mine ended at 5 months and 1 week. It's too bad, really. I can no longer bewilder people when I tell them the Pyramids were last on my list of things to do in Cairo.

Alas, my friend Kate is in town, so I promised to escort her via the most primitive form of automated transport Cairo has to offer: the CTA bus. We arrived at El Haram (the Pyramids) in due time, while Kate marveled at the size of the manmade wonders.

At the gate, the ticket guy bought my fake card, but at the security check the lady wasn't about to allow such tomfoolery. Luckily, or perhaps unluckily, the card I was using has no expiry date explicitly written on it. It was passed around to a few people, after a bit of cajoling on my part, and I was finally allowed to pass...with the customary "Just for you, sir."

The Pyramids are pretty cool. You have to be impressed by the completely lack of westernization in and around the signs in English, no directions, no explanations. Must be because all tourists seem to show up in tour buses wearing mini-skirts and transparent white pants. Put some clothes on, people.

There is one misconception, though, and that is the size of the sphinx. It's a fallacy that has been propagated by fancy camera angles. Then again, how else could Napoleon have blown its nose off with early 1800s weaponry unless it was on the small end.

Sunday, February 18, 2007

Cairo Points for Cairo

I came. I saw Cairo International Airport's new Terminal 1 Arrival Hall 3. I doled out Cairo points to a city in desperate need of some.

Cairo is a city of irony. Everyone is in a rush, yet nobody is ever on time. The greatest day for the military is a day that the military didn't actually win. The best fuul is across the street from the Canadian Embassy and in one of the nicer parts of town. And...that the new arrival hall is officially considered to be part of the "Old Airport."

How confusing. The "new airport," aka. Terminal 2, is in fact a disaster zone. It was built in the 70's to replace the Old Heliopolis airport, or Terminal 1. Modifications are now being made to the old airport so that it currently contains more "newness" than its counterpart. Terminal 3 is being constructed somewhere amongst the maze of roads and will be connected via sky bridge with the new airport...or was that the old airport?

Either way, rule #1 for picking someone up at the airport in this city: know which terminal they are arriving in. The arrival board in Terminal 1 doesn't contain flights for Terminal 2 and vice versa.

Not that I made this mistake, however I turned out to be incredibly lucky to meet Jenny and Claire last weekend. I had no idea which terminal they were arriving in, so as I was travelling through the dense Cairean fog, I chose #2. When I arrived, none of the boards were working and it was only because I had earned enough good karma with the transportation ruling body that the two girls happened to be arriving in that terminal as well.

Thursday, February 15, 2007

Snow in Cairo?!?!

Now where did I get that?

Wednesday, February 14, 2007

Random Canadian Facts: For Nay-Nay

This week's fact explores the national treasure known as the Trans-Canada Highway. Some of it is freeway, some of it is 2-lane highway, but you can be sure that it will take you from one end of the country to the other in 6 or 7 days.

So, Nay-Nay, did you know that the Trans-Canada highway is the longest national highway in the world?

It stretches 7,821km all the way from Victoria, BC in the west, to St. Johns, NFLD in the east. What is that in miles, you ask? Approximately 4,900. The highway is signified by the number 1, but there is a second arm, called the Yellowhead Route, that goes the northern route. It is signified by the number 16.

While the highway makes many small towns accessible, it has also suffered the fate of many older roads: increased traffic resulting in "death traps." One such was dubbed "Suicide Alley." These problems are being rectified, albeit slowly.

Travelling this route allows you to see many of Canada's wonders: a giant perogy, Confederation Bridge, Moose Jaw, Lake Louise, the Great Lakes, the St. Lawrence sure to bring your camera.

Perhaps the best part of the highway is that it skips Toronto. I guess it all makes sense now. Torontonians are just jealous that they can't have a piece of the world's longest national highway and are instead stuck with the 401 *shudder*.

So, if you're ever in Canada, Nay-Nay,  look for the green highway sign with the number 1 and a maple leaf. It'll take you everywhere you want to go, as long as you're not going to Toronto.


(info gathered from

Monday, February 12, 2007

I'm Not Sure What to Say

Bellydancing. The art of gyrating your belly to the delight of onlookers. An ancient tradition of style and beauty turned haraam (forbidden by God). A way to earn upwards of 60,000 LE ($12,500 CDN) per hour, if you're good.

Last night, we had the honour of going to one of the supposed "seedy" bellydancing places in Cairo. When in Rome, right? Some guidebook had described it as "an old 50s dancehall turned seedy bellydancing join." Such imagery can only invoke illusions of grandeur in the mind of a foreigner. Seedy establishment + Bellydancing = A good way to spend an evening in Cairo.

Tales of disaster had been regaled to us beforehand. "I had some friends who went to the bellydancers. They ended up paying 1,600 LE for a plate of kofta." This provoked a "Guys, we need to school the newcomers on how not to get ****ed in Cairo," and a "Don't touch anything you're might contain drugs."

Half-scared, half-anxious, we stumbled out of horreya and into a place called "Palmyra." We were led into this "alleyway" that housed a number of clubs. It was like we just stumbled upon the Cairean epicentre of sleaze. Flashing lights, bad music, guys trying a little too hard to please us. All to be expected, I suppose.

We were led into the stage area and sat down at a table. The first image (and probably last) image etched in my mind was of a woman scantily clad in a purple ensemble. Voluptuous is probably the right word to describe her. After 5 months in this country, you get used to not seeing a woman's arms, let alone low-cut tops. "Wow, I wonder what society thinks of this."

On stage with the bellydancer was your typical "entertainer." He had quite the gut on him and was sweating profusely. But that didn't stop him from singing his heart out to Egyptian classics, while the dancer did her best not to shake what her momma gave her.

That was what I found most disappointing: the dancers didn't seem to be putting that much effort into it. Not that I blame them, though. If all it takes to rile up the older clientele, enough so they'd get on stage and dance, all the power to them. A couple of old guys, clearly married, got up on stage and danced a number of times, only to shower the dancer in 5 LE notes before returning to sit down.

All the while, what we could only assume to be workers of the world's oldest profession (or is it the second oldest?) were walking around, fully-clothed I might add, to each table flirting with the drunk men.

We hung around for about five dancers before leaving. I'm still not sure what to say about the place, though. It was sickeningly pleasant.

Sunday, February 11, 2007

Soul Food Extravaganza

Nay-Nay and I cooked up a Soul Food feast last night. It was my first time experimenting with the cuisine, so I just followed along and did what I was told. Luckily, Nay-Nay was in event management mode, so she was right on the ball with everything and even had some time to yell.

She pretty much dominated the evening. All I was good for was carrying groceries, lighting the oven, peeling sweet potatoes, and risking my skin trying to fry chicken. I had fun, though.

In about four hours, we were able to create:

Baked Mac and Cheese
Fried Chicken
Potato Salad
Sweet Potatoes
Better-than-Sex Cake

Some pictures will surface eventually.

Wednesday, February 07, 2007

I'm Not Religious, I'm...

a Karmic Polytheist.

I don't even know if that's possible, but it sounds cools, so I'll go with it. It dawned on me the other day when I started saying, "Don't rip off the bus driver or the transportation gods will strike you down." Karma is the underlying foundation, so if you do something bad, bad will be done to you. Vice versa applies as well. It works like this: 

There are a number of "ruling bodies (to quote Tom Gara)" that govern all things: transportation, water, relationships, food, culture, etc. If you do something good/bad in one of those areas, something good/bad will come in return. This does not mean, however, that good will come in food if you make the transportation ruling body happy. Each category is, therefore, mutually exclusive from the others.  

Here's an example:

Say you argue with a bus driver that the 1 LE fare is too expensive and demand to pay 75 piastres. If you get away with it, you'll be made to pay in some form of transportation mishap. You might end up getting on the wrong tram and ending up miles from where you had intended.

Conversely, if you make the transportation ruling body happy by taking a city bus and microbus to a friend's house, you will be rewarded in kind.

That is all. There are no rituals, symbols, or any such thing. Just be mindful of the ruling bodies.

Tuesday, February 06, 2007

Garbage Man

The garbage man that frequents the tea stand I go to everyday, and who coincidentally looks like Steve Buscemi, apparently offered me a temporary position in his garbage collection enterprise. It would be 2 days in duration and I would learn the tricks of the Cairean garbage trade.

This reminds me of the time I was offered a ride in a garbage truck one night. I was with Pam on Sudan St. eating a fatira when some garbage guys asked me if I wanted to tag along. Had I been alone, I probably would've went along. Is there really a better way to see Cairo? 

Monday, February 05, 2007

New Roommate

A new challenge has arrived as well:

How do you convince someone who wasn't born yesterday that an Australian of Sri Lankan descent is in some way related to a Canadian of decidedly Caucasian descent?

Sunday, February 04, 2007

Full Cairo Points

Tom Gara and I held another BBQ feast last night. Lamb kebabs, cheese- and hazelnut-stuffed beef rouladen, salt and pepper calamari, roast vegetable salad, stuffed tomatoes, spinach and artichoke dip (thanks, Megan), and to top the evening off: grilled strawberries.

Best part of the evening, though, had to be walking through downtown Cairo in galabayas, carrying a crate of BBQ meat (Tom on one side, me on the other) and one baladi (local) chicken feather fan. I'm pretty sure when the bystanders saw the latter, they thought, "Oh, so that's why those two foreigners are dressed in galabayas...they're about to do some serious BBQ'ing."

I'd also like to point out the brilliance of the chicken feather fan. It's an Egyptian invention that rivals papyrus. What used to take us hours (or the help of technology), fanning the coals, now takes minutes. With the amount of air one can displace, I can now see why birds can fly.

Friday, February 02, 2007

Random Canadian Facts: For Nay-Nay

Unlike the United States, and other republics like China, Canada does not have a president as its head of state. In fact, Canada doesn't have a president at all. Instead, the Queen of England is our head of state, and adorns our coins and the $20 bill. And while the Queen holds this position (and maintains "control" of foreign affairs and the military), she does not actually meddle in Canada's affairs. For all intents an purposes, Canada is its own independent country, free from British control. However, there are two roles that the Queen plays in today's Canada (besides sporadic visits to commemorate various anniversaries): putting laws into effect and dissolving parliament before an election. But there is a problem. How does the Queen perform such mundane tasks from the comfort of Buckingham Palace? Not by email, I can tell you that much.

So, Nay-Nay, did you know that Canada appoints a person to be the representative of the Queen that can perform the two functions listed above?

This person is known as the Governor-General and lives in a swank house in Ottawa. As the tradition goes, the position rotates between a French-speaking person and an English-speaking person. Michelle Jean, a woman of Haitian descent, is the current Governor-General. Normally, a major player in the arts and culture scene in Canada is chosen, so as to be a non-political ambassador for our country.

Eventually work has to be done though. To take care of the first function, the GG must wait for a law to be read/revised in parliament and approved by the Senate before putting her signature (one that bears the same weight as the Queen) on the piece of paper and, thus, signing the law into effect.

The second task is done when it comes time for an election. It starts when the Prime Minister, the leader of the majority in the House of Commons, determines that his party's approval rating is high enough that an election victory is likely. He then goes to the GG and says, "Hey Michelle, can you please dissolve parliament so that we can hold an election?" The GG almost always obliges, although I believe there are circumstances in which he/she can deny the request.