Monday, May 31, 2010

Feel the Fear

Scary stuff. I've been raised with a healthy respect for electricity. Who knows? Perhaps I stuck my finger in a wall socket as a child. In any case, I have always left electrical problems for others to fix. In Cairo, my friendly contractor Mr. Emad would send an electrician on a moment's notice to change an air conditioner fuse. Alas, our Luxor contractor phoned today to say that he and his team of carpenters and painters would not be coming as promised. I was ticked as all work gets postponed for yet another day AND I was wanting him to figure out why the hot water heater wasn't working.

Straightening my back (and drinking a cup of coffee to comtemplate the matter) I decided to "feel the fear and do it anyway." It may be a simple task for many, but I treated it as brain surgery. Step-by-step and Very Carefully. I did, however, drop the nut and bolt and had to go searching for them on my hands and knees. Cat found the bolt for me. ;-) Thankfully, I only needed to change one of the two 25amp fuses. Nonetheless, I'm very proud of myself because the hot water heater is working. Ilhumdulila!

Now I will go try to figure out why my dishwasher stopped working. I'm working on the hypothesis that it has something to do with a mouse that came to visit on Saturday evening. Stay tuned.

3:30PM Update:
As the temperature reached 40C, I thought I should check that my balcony plants were not wilting. I followed the farmer's model (with his gallabeyya hitched at his waist) and flooded the pots. He had his friend, the cattle egret, as a companion.

Yesterday I spotted an egret with orange plumage on its head and back and thought this was a new sub-species; but learned via Wikipedia that cattle egrets turn orange during breeding season. Must be sexy.

Note that the sugar cane is now as tall as a person. Once the flood recedes, I will go see what the new crop is.

Sunday, May 30, 2010

All the World's a Stage

Raising the sun curtain, I had a grand background for my sunset G&T.

All the world's a stage, and camels are but the clowns.

It is said that the camel is God's joke for the world. As the last Being created, it comprises all the leftover bits.

I'm not a fan of riding these beasts, but they do bring a smile.

Wardrobe Update: Check back tomorrow when some major 'tweaking' will take place to fit the wardrobes properly. All together now: Bokra, insha'Allah.

Saturday, May 29, 2010

Fine Tuning

I woke up early this morning, catching the sunrise and the EgyptAir flight heading North to Cairo. I think I jumped out of bed so early because I was not in my own bed but that of the guestroom; my own being covered in clothes because the closet had to emptied. Today our new wardrobes would be installed . . . well, almost.

Somewhat ironically, I saw a group of men measuring their fields this afternoon. A similar scene appears in pharaonic tombs. I'm not sure what legalities were being confirmed among my neighbours but in the case of the pharaohs, the government tax inspector was determining how much of the crop would be due to the king based on the size of the land and the depth of the flood (i.e., a good year or not).

So what happened in modern Egypt? This is a question that is often asked. The cupboards are well built. They're big. They're beautiful. But it's almost impossible to hang clothes on the far side, which is narrower due to a building support beam. The carpenter did a great job building the wardrobe to fit around the horizontal and vertical beams, but he didn't stop to consider that a hanger could not fit behind a closed door. "Malesh. Hang your clothes on an angle," I'm told. "Nooooo," I say shaking my head. "We will move the hanging clothes to the left side and the shelves to the right." Oh.

Then there was the issue of the paint job. Two weeks ago when I met the painter, we negotiated the price based on a minimum of 2 coats on the interior and 3 on the exterior. I was not happy with the sloppy job on the interior and the exterior had coloured marks from the potato chip boxes that they used to 'protect' the panels in the delivery truck. "Get the painter here now," I said. Result: his brother showed up 4 hours later . . . without paint, without brushes and, of course, without a paint tray. Thankfully, even in the little hamlet near me there is a Sipes paint store so he went off to buy paint. I provided the brushes and bucket.

At the end of a long day, I can report that construction is 75% complete. Painting is 40% complete. So, on average, that's a passing grade. Bokra, insha'Allah, all will be done. 100%. Insha'Allah.

Friday, May 28, 2010

Cleaning Day

Fridays are dedicated to cleaning house and Cat likes to "help". As I dusted the bookshelves, she followed the dust cloth. With Cat around, cleaning is never mundane.

And when I moved to the kitchen, she took up her inspector's position. From here she also watches me cook. I think she was a chef in a previous life.

Thursday, May 27, 2010

The Twilight Zone

Where am I? Looks like fog on the Thames, but it's sand on the Nile. A hamseen has been blowing all day. Visibility was close to nil, as were the oxygen levels, and the clock outside the Winter Palace hotel reported the temperature to be 42C. Pretty grim.

The trip was unavoidable because banking was necessary before the weekend. My bonus, however, was spotting this amazing pharaonic door. Notice that it sits a good 6" below the sidewalk -- at street level. Apparently, a sidewalk for pedestrians was an afterthought.

Wednesday, May 26, 2010

Night Lights

Looking across to the West Bank from Luxor's Corniche, the mountain glowed with floodlights. The Time Traveller had spotted the emplacements during his hikes up the mountain. It appears that at some future date, the whole mountain will be lit in a sound and light show.

The effect from our roof was pretty spectacular.

And I experienced a different sort of 'sound and light' show as the ferry docked tonight. The captain came in too fast and hit the dock pretty hard. It seems that he was relying on the directions of his 'mate' who, according to the captain's expletives, didn't know his right from his left. Ilhumdulila no one was injured.

I may have mentioned that I adore palm trees so I can't resist adding an image from my walk home.

Tuesday, May 25, 2010

Beautiful Morn

9am and only 25C. Bliss. There were nights last week in which the temperature didn't dip this low. Like me, the flowers are enjoying this cool respite. During my swim this morning, I breathed in deeply the scents of roses and ful. Paradise.

The cool breezes also wafted in visitors from distant lands. Wary of the giant that had descended from the sky, the donkey had to be coaxed to continue along his path through the field.

Monday, May 24, 2010

A Gift of Laughter

Earth laughs in flower.

Ralph Waldo Emerson

Out on the balcony early this morning I was surprised to see a single jasmine flower. My plants have not bloomed for months and so this little blossom brought such delight. In Arabic, Jasmin means "gift from God". This morning I certainly felt that I had received a heavenly present.

Sunday, May 23, 2010

Boats, Boats, Boats

As Captain Ahmed motored me across the Nile, there was an eerie sense of deja vu from my time spent sitting in a traffic jam on Cairo's Autostrade. Thankfully, the air was much fresher on the river! Many cruise boats begin their convoy up the Nile to Aswan on Sunday; hence all the boats jockeying for position as they leave their berths in Luxor.

Returning to the West Bank, I was reminded of David Roberts' paintings of monuments reflected in Nile flood waters. Tradition dies hard, so watering the grass of the 'electric park' takes on deluge proportions. Tonight, patrons coming to enjoy the fresh air beside the river will drink their tea and Pepsi with perhaps only a little squishiness under foot.

Saturday, May 22, 2010

Return to Paradise

I looked up from my morning coffee and caught sight of the lacy foliage of the Flame Tree. So delicate. So exquisite. For a beautiful close-up of the flower, see F is for Flame Tree, where I was surprised to see a link to my chocolate box. Thanks!

I had a wonderful time visiting friends, but I was happy to leave behind Cairo traffic and return to my little corner of the world. So you might imagine my moment of distress when just meters from my destination we found the road blocked. Thankfully, Mohamed the gardener came up on his motorcycle, loaded my luggage up in front of him and drove the bags over the garbage-strewn road to my front door. Ilhumdulila!

I walked, giving the dredger a wide berth. Once a year the canals are cleared of debris and garbage. Tomorrow, insha'Allah, a truck will come to clear the road and cart away the rubbish. Nevertheless, I fear it won't be long before plastic bottles strangle the water source once more.

And speaking of garbage, I spotted this empty cigarette pack on the front step in Maadi, tossed out the window by some thoughtless jerk . . . . (ahem) person. The Ministry of Health requires warnings of the health risks on cigarette packaging and understands that images are much stronger than words. Gone is the fellow lying in a hospital bed with an oxygen mask strapped to his face. It seemed scary to me. But I guess the Ministry figures that their new image is scarier for (male) smokers.

Friday, May 21, 2010

Blessed Fridays

This morning I remembered how lovely Friday mornings are in Cairo. All is blessedly quiet. Roads are clear. And one can begin the day with a latte smiley in a calm Cafe Greco before the crowds enter.

Shopping for a back-up generator in downtown Cairo was an experience and I could post a scene from the miles of backed-up traffic on the journey home on the Autostrade, but it would look a lot like yesterday's photo so I won't bore you. Instead, I post a photo of a lovely "Flame" tree. When counting my blessings, I include the Flame Tree (aka Royal Poinciana or Delonix regia) and the Jacaranda, which grows nearby.

Thursday, May 20, 2010

Cars, Cars, Cars

I was running around the city between the districts of Maadi in the South, Garden City in the center, and Zamalek in the Nile (it's an island); completing the circle with a hair-raising taxi ride on the 'Autostrade'. After five months in the idyllic countryside, I'm feeling a little out of my element. Nonetheless, I accomplished all that I set out to do today visiting friends and shopping and that in itself is quite an accomplishment. Whew!

To the Megalopolis

Cairo. Umm el Dunya. Mother of the World. Somewhere down there, amidst all the concrete we used to live. I've come to see some Egyptian friends and do some shopping.

Although the concrete is uninviting, little Malek, who was born after we left, was full of welcome. There is nothing like a baby's smile to warm the heart.

Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Cooling Off

Today was a "two-shower" day. The weather station reports a high of 42C (108F) but it feels hotter than yesterday's 46C (115F). Perhaps it's just a cumulative effect as this is the third day of hot temperatures.

In any case, the gamoosa and I agree that there is nothing quite like a cool shower to feel better.

Monday, May 17, 2010


That pleasure which is at once the most pure, the most elevating and the most intense, is derived, I maintain, from the contemplation of the beautiful.
Edgar Allan Poe

For a long time this morning, I contemplated this shepherd, who stood quietly contemplating his flock. I wondered what he was thinking. I see him often in the fields around us. He never rushes about, hustling his charges to and fro. He moves as they move, step by step. He seems to patiently wait while they nourish themselves. His attention is always on his sheep. He seems unaware or unconcerned about what is happening beyond their midst. Watching him, I realized a sense of calm.

A while later, I watched a White Stork soar on the thermal air currents. The winds were strong and full of sand, but she didn't fight against the current; she rose with it.

Then my attention turned to my stomach. I'm afraid that my contemplation of my roast beef sandwich was very brief. Leftover beef combined with melted Gruyere cheese and caramelized onions on garlic toast . . . food for the soul!

Finally, on a more earthly level, I contemplated measurements of the new wardrobes at the carpenter's workshop, then negotiated the price of painting them in an alley from the back of a motorcycle. It would have been a surreal experience if I wasn't in Luxor.

And finally, before sleep, I commit to memory the images of a cool forest wet with spring rain, and a cascading creek where the Time Traveller now roams. I will have the sweetest of dreams.

Sunday, May 16, 2010

Into the Heat

Q: What would move me out of a cool apartment into 44C heat?

A: Internet access. There is some problem with the home connection and I'd go mad not knowing if I had mail. So I prepared myself for the furnace. Skirt for ventilation. White shirt for solar reflection. Hat and bottle of water.

Earlier this morning the Time Traveller had commanded from afar that I drink a litre of water mixed with Rehydran. This has been our 'safety packet' during our years living in oven temperatures. Pharmacists often laugh when I ask for a box because it is distributed for babies. Laugh as they like, it has saved me from any additional bouts of heat stroke after my first experience of Aswan heat in May. Rehydran is an USAID success story: before these packets filled with a magical combination of salts were widely distributed in Egypt and mothers were educated about its use, half of infant deaths could be traced to dehydration resulting from diarrhea. Now such tragic deaths are few.

By the way, the roast beef is delicious. There will be many a good meal over the next two weeks . . . . it was a 5lbs roast.

Saturday, May 15, 2010

Where's the Beef? and the Ketchup?

Welcome to my local government supermarket. It's really a wholesale outlet because the itinerant retailers pull up on their donkey carts and stock up before they go trotting along the country roads calling out their wares. However, I'm often at the counter in the company of five others buying groceries for the home. No aisle browsing here. Customers stand behind the counter and a clerk brings out the requested goods -- if in stock.

My trip this morning arose out of a need for ketchup. I wanted to try a recipe for a chuck roast found on one of my favourite blogs, Food for a Hungry Soul. Katy raved about the flavour and I figured that a good marinade might overcome the problems we have with beef here.

Egyptian beef is extremely tough, it's not aged, and it's not butchered in any way that resembles cuts that I'm familiar with. Local beef has also become very expensive lately -- so expensive that it is a political problem for the government as people protest against perceived corruption in their food chain.

So off I went to buy ketchup for the marinade, but the clerk had no idea what I was talking about. Although it's almost as common on middle class Egyptian tables as it is in America, it is unknown among my poor neighbours.

Not to be thwarted, I 'goggled' ketchup, learned that it's not an invention of the 1950s but centuries old and that it was first made with eggplant or mushrooms. I also found a substitution for my marinade. However, I'll have to report on how good the roast tastes tomorrow because it's still frozen solid in the frig. ;-)
Bokra, insha'Allah

Friday, May 14, 2010

Too Cute (or not)

I checked in on the camels in our neighbour's backyard. They're looking better . . . well, as good as a camel can look. The children tell me that the camels will stay for a while until they are bigger. Then they will go to Cairo.

I never tire of witnessing the sun's orb disappear behind the desert plateau.

Thursday, May 13, 2010

A Day with the Animals

Perusing Margo Veillon's Egyptian Harvests yesterday, it struck me that I had not seen oxen
ploughing the fields.

Lo and behold, this morning there they are having a break in the sugar cane still harnessed to the plough. Their owner must have been having a break under a palm tree somewhere as he was not in sight.

I was on my way to visit the ACE animal clinic. Thankfully, I suppose, few of their stalls were occupied. Last week they were full with horses suffering from a respiratory flu that was running havoc through the community. Veterinary services are offered free of charge by Egyptian vets and short-term volunteer vets from Britain. Other volunteers were sewing noseguards for horses and walking kenneled dogs.

Dr. Hannah was treating a horse that had been burned in a stable fire. I was told that such fires are common in the summer with their tinder-dry palm log and frond roofs. In another stall a donkey was recovering from his burns over much of his body. Thankfully, the wounds were superficial and he was healing well.

And for strictly research purposes, I had to stop at Oasis Cafe on the way home. Perhaps, just maybe, my restaurant review will appear in an upcoming issue of Egypt Today. Photos were requested so I spent some time posing Medhat with my Chicken Caesar and chocolate cake. He was a great sport.

Who could resist smiling when faced with a boat decked out with stuffed bears and "I Love You" cushions? The boat's Arabic name is a direct transliteration: "Smile at Me".

Wednesday, May 12, 2010

In Remembrance of Good Times

The Time Traveller sent a message from cold, rainy climes reminding me of our dear friend as her art was reminding him of our little place in the Garden of Eden. So I brought the same book from the shelf to my balcony perch, pondering her images painted half a century ago. And remembering good times in her homey atelier: cheese, jambon, and a "wee bit of whiskey that wouldn't do us any harm."

Cat and I have had a blissfully quiet day. We'll be ready for more adventure . . . tomorrow.