Thursday, June 28, 2007

Cairo's Champions

Now that it's a punishing 42 degrees outside, and promising to get hotter, props must be given to the men in white formerly known as the men in black. These men are true Cairo Champions. No one else in the city can claim complete control of traffic. In a phrase, the Cairo traffic cops have their fingers on the pulse of the city.

The health risks are immense. Pollution, traffic, heat, sun, deranged drivers, just to name a few. The financial reward is most likely low, however it is reported that some traffic cops make thousands of pounds a month through "tips." But the power is intoxicating. In a city so heavily dependent on cars, these guys have the ability to create traffic jams of epic proportions.

The job is simple enough, I suppose. Stand in the middle of the road, piss a bunch of drivers off by making them wait, and then collect tips from any car that expects preferential treatment the next time. You see, traffic cops tend to be stationed at the same corner. Sometimes for their whole career. Drivers get to know them and learn the secret to preferential treatment. A pack of cigarettes here, a 5 LE note there. It all adds up.

But throw in the heat and you have one debilitating job. I can only imagine what the temperature on the asphalt is when it's 42 in the shade. In an act of decency, the higher-ups allow the cops to change from their "winter black" to "summer white" once the temperature gets to hot. I should also mention that these same men that have to sweat it out in the summer, also freeze their asses off in the winter.

My favourite traffic cop has to be the guy that looks more like a South American dictator or drug lord. And I would argue that he has presidente-like power over his intersection. 

Wednesday, June 27, 2007

A Balanced Affair

Last night turned out to be an inconsequential Scrabble night. No complete and utter domination by one person. I ended up winning on total score of the two games, but this seems to be a stat only I consider legitimate. In any case, I won the first game fairly handily (including a 47-point drubbing of Luli), while Luli picked up the win in the second game (she beat me by 22).

The highlight of the night had to have been Chris' self-proclaimed ineptitude at Scrabble. He continually berated himself with self-deprecating humour not seen since Zoolander. On multiple occasions I was sent to the floor laughing hysterically. Enough with the jive-o, already. Even which Chris teamed up with the other Scrabble-challenged American, Nisrin, they couldn't muster much more than 3 or 4 letter words.

The only unbalanced part of the night was Nisrin sitting on a broken chair. All I remember seeing was her body crashing to the floor in the sitting position. Her butt took most of the blow and she no doubt felt it when she got out of bed this morning.

All in a good night.

Tuesday, June 26, 2007

Early This Morning

Entrance to the Garbage Collectors District (aka Garbage City)


You might think this place is ancient, until you get someone to translate the Arabic lettering..."Mubarak Congratulates Egypt." It could also mean "We are slaves of Mubarak" in a different context.


This is where some Coptics go to church. It reminds me of a quote by Graham Greene in Maverick. Something along the lines of "We moved our tribe into acres of swamplands. Maybe then you'll [white people] will leave us the hell alone." The Coptics seemed to have moved into caves....

Sunday, June 24, 2007

Razor Ramblings - BBC Style

This article is eerily similar to the host of Razor Ramblings posts that Ryan and I have made.

"It was when we came to the optional extras, and I was to take the wrong option, that things took a downward turn. Adel Mohammed produced in front of me with a twinkle in his eye a long piece of fine, white Egyptian cotton and pronounced the word "fatlah" invitingly.

...

Blue murder are the two words that come to mind, like being pinched repeatedly around the face by someone who really does not like you. Be a man about it, some might say, but then if I were, perhaps I would not be having my eyebrows plucked in the first place."

Oh, I know that little ordeal all too well...

"Oh no, there was still more. He pulls out this thread and makes an offering gesture. 'Hmm…I was offered this before and declined. This is something that I need to experience at least once, especially if I’m to maintain my journalistic integrity.'

...

I must say, I’ve never even heard of anyone getting their ears plucked before, and I certainly would never voluntarily request it. That didn’t stop this guy, though, he went right at it. I can tell you that this is a pleasure-less experience. In fact, it really did hurt. That, combined with the spray from earlier, caused a few tears to well in my eye. I couldn’t believe it."

Saturday, June 23, 2007

2 Year Anniversary

My blog turned two years old yesterday.

The past year has been mainly dominated by Egypt. I wonder which country will dominate the next year.

Peering into an Alternate Universe

It's rare that I venture out into the lifestyle of the well-paid ex-pat. Fancy parties, nice dinners, decadent apartments; it's all stuff I tend to buck in favour of the local street life. While the latter is a great way to learn about Egyptian culture, it offers little insight into how "the other half lives." "Half," in this case, being more like 6%. To truly understand the change that is going on in Egypt, one has to spend time with people not living in the traditional sense. Such was last night.

All it took was an invitation to a restaurant opening. I had never been to one, but the idea sounded cool. No doubt there'd be free food, some decent entertainment, and plenty of booze to go around. "Why not?" I said, "How often do I get to do something like this?" So off I went, accompanied by four Indians. I definitely stood out in that group, but my claim to be "brown on the inside" allowed me to fit right in.

The highlight of the night was probably the Egyptian guy who knew the words to songs like "My Way," but also knew "Get Down On It," among others. Simply amazing. There was also a 5-woman Cuban group performing a couple of sets. So random.

After the party, we decided to head down to the Sakara pyramids for yet another party. A lengthy cab ride later, we found ourselves at an Egyptian rave. Whoa. I had no idea these things even existed here. People were on E, rolling hash in public, drinking heavily ... all under the watchful eye of the country club stuff. Unbelievable.

While this is certainly not my scene, it was something I'm definitely happy I witnessed.

Wednesday, June 20, 2007

Pummeled

Last night was a complete and utter Scrabble pummeling at the hands of Luli and Anika. It wasn't even close. Even when Luli looked to be up against a corner, she would, in an act of desperation, score a mere 22 points. How can you compete against that?

The current, and widely accepted, theory is that the loser at each Scrabble night turns out to be the person that cooked dinner. Luli slaved away in the kitchen the first night and subsequently lost. I did the honours last night and then proceeded to get my ass handed to me on a silver platter.

 

I need to get back to the 4 to 7 letter dictionary....

Wednesday, June 13, 2007

Scrabble

After months of trash talk, apathy, and general "Egyptian-ness," Luli and I finally played Scrabble. Two games, in fact.

The night started with some homemade fatir (this version was a savoury form of baklava) compliments of Luli and her kitchen assistant Nisrin. Then, after some pre-scrabble pleasantries, the three of us sat down for 90 minutes in intense concentration (well, more like 90 minutes of me continually knocking my pieces onto the floor, Luli stealing letters, and Nisrin attempting to spell words that didn't exist).

The game came down to the last piece. I was up 10 on Luli (we don't need to mention where Nisrin was) and she had one piece to play. Alas, all she could muster was 9 points. It was some intense Scrabble playing on her part. I have to give her credit.

The trash talk started up again with Nisrin wanting another chance to redeem herself. So I whipped up some French toast, while the girls tried to figure out some way to beat the Canadian.

The second game was only close at the very end. I somehow managed to run off 7-straight double digit scores (3-straight 20+) with words like "maze" and "zen" in one turn. Luli made a valiant effort at the end to get back in the game (where was Nisrin, I wonder), but it was to no avail.

Given Nisrin's competitive spirit and Luli's love (and adeptness) at Scrabble, there is no question we'll be back at it again soon.

Tuesday, June 12, 2007

News Not Formerly Considered Noteworthy

A few months ago, I would've glanced over this article like it wasn't even there.

"Turkmenistan announced today that it will reopen its embassy in Azerbaijan." -RFE

Now I look at it and think, "Sweet, now I can go to Turkmenistan."

Monday, June 11, 2007

It's a Sad Day When...

the mysterious providers of your pirated wireless Internet signal finally decide to encrypt the connection after 6 months of free use.

I wonder what tipped them off?

Friday, June 08, 2007

Scandalous

I guess I should be proud of the fact that Canada has such amazing natural and man-made splendor. However, it is an inherent Canadian birthright to complain about everything; from the weather to the local hockey team to the state of Canada's "dominance" on the world scene.

More to the point, the Seven Wonders of Canada were announced the other day. Ironically, the Sleeping Giant (which garnered the most votes) didn't make the list. A victim of the bell curve, I suspect.

Here is the list (with my objections/commendations...I've bolded the ones I've been to):

The Canoe - I like this choice. The Canoe is quintessentially Canadian and gave birth to the burgeoning fur trade 400+ years ago. Canadians are also famous, according to the book How to be Canadian, for being able to have sex in canoes in a multitude of ways.

Niagara Falls - the natural choice. But, and I could be wrong, isn't the falls termed "Niagara" actually in the US, with Horseshoe Falls being in Canada? Help?

Pier 21, Halifax - Okay, okay. I can deal with this one. The site is largely responsible for facilitating the multiculturalism we see in Canada today.

The Rockies - As much as I love the Rockies, how can we claim them as solely Canadian? Last time I checked the atlas, they extended into the States, and then go as far south as Tiera del Fuego (named the Andes down there).

The Igloo - No contest on this one. It's simply brilliant. I've lost count of the number of times I've had to explain what an igloo is to people.

Old Quebec City - Never been there, so I can't comment much. Given the number of wars fought over it (namely the one between Montcalm and Wolfe) and the historical significance as a gateway to the Great Lakes, I'd say it deserves to be on there.

Prairie Skies - Naturally, I question whether or not this should be on the list and look what happens. I'm sorry, but can we really claim the sky as Canadian? Isn't that more of an American thing to do?

I have to go with Samantha on this one and beg the question: where is the Bay of Fundy? It's got the highest tides in the world and the most ridiculous fog one could imagine. And what about the northern lights? Not awe-inspiring enough for ya?

All that said, it's a solid list, but one that should have an asterisk attached...*see other 45 wonders for true Canadian experience.

Wednesday, June 06, 2007

Prague

I officially booked my flight to Prague today. I'll be spending ten days (July 5th - July 15th) seeing what the Prague summer is all about. I hear the spring is interesting.

So, Emily, Blanka, and Jenny...get ready for a poor Canadian who will be no match for the veritable drinking culture. Nine months in Egypt will do that to you.

Saturday, June 02, 2007

Seven Wonders of...Canada

My mom alerted me to the fact that the CBC (Canadian Broadcasting Corporation) is looking to name Canada's Seven Wonders.

While this is a great "local tourism" enhancer, the initial list that has been compiled consists of 52 sites/things. I bet most of you who aren't Canadian are thinking "What could Canada possibly have to offer other than snow and Niagara Falls?" Go to the website and you'll see that we have quite a lot to offer. "But how are we suppose to choose 7 from 52?" remarked my Mom.

As I scanned the list, and the pretty pictures next to each entry, I came to the stark realization that I have not seen/been to many of the places/things. 11, in fact. That is a terrible display of domestic tourism on my part. I really need to get on that.

There are a few things on the list that I question:

  • Cypress Hills - no, not that rap group. It's a hill in the middle of the prairies. Get over yourself, Saskatchewan, you'll just never have mountains (I'm eagerly awaiting your response, Megan)
  • Grand Beach - it's a beach. Go see the beaches of Goa, then come talk to me about having inland sand as a wonder.
  • Prairie Skies - hmm...I seem to be bashing the prairies a bit too much. I have nothing against the skies, but what makes them so special? (Megan?)
  • The Montreal Bagel - Well, it's only the 2nd most famous food to come out of Montreal. If anything, poutine should be in its place.
  • The Stanley Cup - if the American teams weren't busy winning it every year, we might actually be able to lay claim to this wonder. Even then, I guess the cup still spends a lot of time in Canada due to the number of Canadian players on each team.
  • Wreck Beach - Nice to know that one of Canada's most famous nude beaches made the list.

All I can say is, where is Head Smashed in Buffalo Jump? I guess when you name a historical site as such, it's not going to make too many lists.

Friday, June 01, 2007

Even More Desert Fun

Ya, a bit cliche...


Our desert camp

The reflection in Mr. Mubarak's glasses

Me in a kafeya (sp?)