Wednesday, June 30, 2010

Final June Reflections

As the last day of June drew to a close I was struck by how red the dates have become. It will soon be time for harvest and, by the looks of the trees near us, it will be an abundant yield.

I had to take a double look at this field. I blinked and the zucchini rows have gone, replaced by grass mowed by sheep. It must have been a couple of months ago that I photographed this field burnt and then replanted with bananas and zucchini. But I can't find the post! So much for this blog helping my memory.

A couple of these dragonflies hovered and flitted across the rocky path, reminding me of spaceships I'd seen in some Star Wars movie. The black spots on the wings looked like fur. I wish I knew more about dragonflies!

And finally the Sun set on the last day of June. Farewell. It was nice knowing you.

Tuesday, June 29, 2010

The Little Engine that Could

Meet our little red Honda, a 1 kilowatt generator, aka lifesaver.

Providing electrical power to 80 million people poses a challenge for the Egyptian government, particularly in the summer. My theory is that it copes with demand by cutting power to various areas on a rotating (although probably random) basis. Typically the power is off between 10am and 8pm. This past week, friends in Luxor had no power and I've read that Maadi and central Cairo have also had power cuts.

Last summer our electricity would be off for 10 hours for days on end, so the Time Traveller had a back-up power supply installed in preparation for this summer. The first prototype was not to his specification as the contractor installed a 4-kilowatt generator because he thought it was stronger. Stronger = better. It may have been stronger but it was so noisy that I would not turn it on for fear of upsetting the whole neighbourhood, donkeys and gamoosa included.

The Time Traveller had calculated that we only needed 1 kilowatt to handle our basic functions. And so, with help from my trusty Right-Hand Man in Cairo, we found the Honda last month -- the only one of its kind available in Egypt. It is rated as 'silent'. Silent must be a relative term, but I and my neighbours can live with its lawn-mower acoustic level.

For the Honda I am thankful as today the power went out at 10:14am. I read the instructions (always do, unlike some male types), turned a couple of knobs, pulled the cord and behold it worked! Fortunately, the government power supply was only off for a couple of hours today . . . but I know I'm ready if there is a longer outage.

This is the panel at the front door. The switch at the top changes the apartment's power source from the government grid to the little red Honda.

With 1 kilowatt we can run just about everything in the flat. Lights, computers, frig, and air cooler. The only exception seems to be the water heater. The water in the tank stays hot for hours, so I can manage. Most importantly, the freezer keeps working and my new batch of mango frozen yogurt remained firm.

This time I added a can of coconut milk to 4 mangoes, 3 tbsp lemon juice, 1/2 cup sugar, 1/2 teaspoon cardamon and 1 1/2 cups yogurt. Yum! Now I'm thinking about pina colada frozen yogurt . . . but that is for the future.

9PM Update: With an hour before sunset, I walked to a little restaurant near Madinat Habu, called the 3 Jackels, that is operated by some French expats. The walk took me about 2km inland from the Nile and under numerous power lines. Fitting considering the topic of today's post.

I believe that these lines represent the local power grid.

And these lines are part of the national power grid. I was surprised to learn that 84% of Egypt's electric power is thermal, generated mainly by natural gas. Only 16% is hydroelectric, mostly from the Aswan Dam.

Alternative energy sources are in their infancy, even though Egypt has immense potential for harvesting wind and solar energy. The Netherlands established a wind farm on the Gulf of Suez about 15 years ago but I haven't seen much more development since then. For interesting links about Egypt tapping into its solar potential, see Bernadette's "S is for Solar Power" post.

Finally, the Stella represents Shari's restorative power grid. After only 3o minutes walking in 40C heat, albeit against a hot wind blowing from the desert, the water in my bottle was hot. Thankfully, the Stella was cold.

Monday, June 28, 2010

Dragonfly Pondering

For the person for whom small things do not exist,
the great is not great.
Jose Ortega Y Gasset

Walking through the field of clover, I glimpsed this amazing creature. She allowed me to ponder her beauty . . . turning her head often to ponder me in return. I think we were both in awe.

Sunday, June 27, 2010

The Unfamiliar Familiar

I took advantage of the cool evening to go for a walk to the river. I have not passed this way in several weeks and the landscape has changed dramatically. It was familiar, but not. I posted a photo of a boy walking through a golden wheat field on March 26. If he passed this way now, he would be shoulder deep in water.

Where once there were wheat fields, fishermen are now netting fish. I was in awe of the transformation - a small taste of what the inundations must have been like before the Aswan dam was built in the 1960s and completed in 1970.

Take a close look at the oars. These ones have more width to the blade than most Egyptian oars. I always shake my head when a felucca captain caught in the doldrums resorts to paddling to shore with what look to me to be big, heavy sticks. How they achieve any propulsion I do not know.

My walk enabled me to check in with the camels. They are in fine form!

My companion for the journey was the neighbour's pet. Her familiarity with the route made it obvious that she passes this way often. Here her attention was focused on a little fox. My propensity to talk to animals meant that I exclaimed aloud, "Oh look! A little fox." And with that, the fox high-tailed it back to its mother and I missed the shot.

I ended the day with an iced cappuccino at my favourite cafe and then caught the sunset from the ferry.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Another Day in Paradise

Seek the Infinite, for that alone is Joy unlimited, imperishable, unfailing, self-sustaining, unconditioned, timeless. When you have this joy, human life becomes a paradise; the light, the grace, the power, the perfections of that which is highest in your inner consciousness, appear in your everyday life.
Swami Omkarananda

I am blessed to have this time to seek out the beauty, the Infinite, in everyday life. I admit, this is a pretty easy mission when surrounded by palm trees.

The heat wave dissipated and I set off to the post office in Luxor. In our rural area, the service taxis working our route look less like vans and more like trucks with human cargo. Ten people 'fit' in the back, two upfront with the driver, and as many as can hang off the 'tailgate'.

This morning I was the lone rider to the ferry landing. Returning home, the service is always full and I make friends with those who get a kick out of a foreigner riding with them. As I approach the point on the road closest to our home, I knock on the window or press the buzzer (upper left) to tell the driver to stop. Efficient service for 50 piasters (less than 10 cents).

The view from Luxor back towards the West Bank was beautiful as the water sparkled in the not-so-hot sun. The moored boats are dahabeyyas, as Amelia Edwards used to travel the Nile in the nineteenth century. They seldom use their sails these days due to government regulations on the waterway, but they hoist them anyways because even a little canvas unfurled is a fine sight as it wafts in the breeze.

Arabic lacks a p-sound and so B and P are often considered interchangeable, such as ordering a Bebsi to drink. Many Egyptian friends don't hear the difference between the two letters -- just as I don't hear the difference in two of their letters that both sound like "H" to me but they insist are completely different. Oh well, God bless them for my morning chuckle.

Friday, June 25, 2010

More Mangoes

In Paradise the fruit and leaves of the mango trees have a redder hue to them as they ripen.

Egypt is the 10th largest mango producer yet it only produces about 1% of the world's total production. India produces 39%. The first mango tree was planted in Egypt in 1825. It was an Indian variety that came via Sri Lanka. The "Hindi" remains one of the most important Egyptian varieties. However, it is the "Pairi" variety which is said to have the best flavour. Pairi mangoes appeared in the blog a few days ago. They have the red-flush to their skin. Most of Egypt's production is consumed locally, often as juice from a box.

To put the mango tree in perspective, here is one growing amidst the date palms behind our flat.

The Luxor region produces about 3% of the country's fruit. Most of Egypt's mangoes are grown in the Delta and Ismailia areas. I remember being amazed by the massive quantity of mango crates in the Ismailia market one August when I visited the Time Traveller there a long time ago. As the story goes, "Once upon a time . . . . "

Thursday, June 24, 2010

Iced Caffeine

I pulled the Time Traveller's mug out of the cupboard today. This giant stein was purchased years ago for his iced tea. We only have one stein because I never understood the attraction of the drink. As temperatures continue to hover at 47C (117F), I'm getting it!

I'm now drinking a jug of iced tea each day, but nothing beats the kick of an iced espresso in the afternoon. I'm doing my best to fend off the desire for siestas as my productivity nosedives with the heat.

The forecast calls for cooler temperatures tomorrow. Only 43C (109F). Insha'Allah.

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

Inside the Belly of the Beast

Today's adventure involved changing the 'filters' in our evaporative cooler. This was uncharted territory and I was thankful that my parents instilled a "Can-Do" spirit in me. Where would I be otherwise? I pondered that question a lot as I took each step.

'Filter' probably isn't the correct word; the straw-like screens (located on the sides of the cooler) look like filters but, in fact, their job is to absorb the water dripping down from above and allow outside air to pass through them to be cooled by the water and then blown inside the house. The machine is beautifully simple: a water pump, a fan, and 3 'filters'.

The 'filters' needed changing because they trap hamseen sand and bird feathers from the outside air, and a significant amount of calcium from the water. My tea kettle doesn't look this bad, but it's not running 24/7.

In a perfect world, the size of newly purchased filters would match the size of the machine. I can accept (a few) imperfections, so I pulled out measuring tape and scissors and made the filters fit. Cat assisted in the operation by ensuring that I did not take the job too seriously.

Tuesday, June 22, 2010

Mangos for Breakfast

When it's 30C (86F) at 8AM, I think it makes perfect sense to eat frozen yogurt for breakfast. It certainly starts the day on a positive note!

I bought a kilo of fruit yesterday for LE7 ($1.50) in the 'expensive' souk in Luxor knowing that I would not be able to manage the heat today in my local market.

Beginning with the recipe for Mango Ice Cream with Caramelized Mango I used yogurt in place of cream, added a little cardamon, and doubled the amount of fruit. It's tasty. I'm sure it would have more intense flavour if I had allowed the fruit to ripen more, but I was impatient. ;-)

Monday, June 21, 2010

The Longest Day

Happy Summer Solstice! One of my amusements is watching the Sun's movement along the horizon and so I went to the roof just before 6AM to record its northernmost point.

And this evening from the North balcony I watched as it descended into the haze. Now I will track its journey southwards. Such is life in Paradise.
Today was 13 hours and 44 minutes long. Tomorrow will be 1 second shorter. Don't blink! ;-)

Sunday, June 20, 2010

From the Sauna to the Steam Room

Whew! Hot day in June. I think we have a record as it hit 48C (118F)! And I notice that the temperatures forecast for the week have been notched up. Sigh. I challenged Mother Nature in yesterday's post to bring on the heat and She has obliged. Hubris. I should know better!

A necessary meeting with the lawyer to discuss land tax registration meant that I was out in it. At one point, myself and an old man were huddled against a wall with our feet in the 6" of shade that it provided while we waited for the service taxi. Walking along the Corniche against a breeze it felt like a hair dryer pointed at my face. Then, when the ferry was in the middle of the river, the breeze felt icy and I shivered. And, finally, crossing the field of clover to our home the humidity was so high that it was literally steamy.

After experiencing the sauna, cold plunge and steam room, I was refreshed by a cool shower and a scoop (or two) of granita di cocomero (watermelon sorbet). A watermelon appeared outside my door yesterday afternoon. The gift prompted the production of the ice using a recipe found on Sara's blog about life in Italy (without the chocolate chip 'seeds'). Thank God the Time Traveller installed the evaporative air cooler! Cat and I are very comfortable inside the flat. I think we will stay inside tomorrow.

Saturday, June 19, 2010

Coping Strategy

I felt a little panicky seeing the weather forecast for the next week. I'll be facing 46C-heat (that's 115F!) in the shade for days. This is scary stuff. Food is my preferred coping strategy so ice cream comes to mind as the cure for heat fright.

Call it "gelato therapy". ;-) Just looking at these photos taken last summer in Italy cheers me up. Access to Luxor's only good ice cream (Movenpick) isn't practical in the dosages that I'm going to need, so I've done some research and found recipes for fig gelato, watermelon granita and lemon sorbet. With a coping strategy in place, I'm a happy camper.

I made the green melon 'ice cream' again, but this time with yogurt. Delicious! With just fruit, yogurt and half a cup of sugar I can medicate myself against the heat guilt-free. Bring it on!

Friday, June 18, 2010

100 Degree Sunset

Stepping out onto the balcony for my evening aperitif and sunset, I beat a hasty retreat back into the cool apartment. It was well over 40C out there. Nevertheless, the farmers were at work ploughing a field on the other side of the irrigation canal. I smiled at the contrast between this scene and a similar pose of boys hitching rides on the backs of cars on icy Canadian streets. There would be 130 degrees difference between the two venues. Isn't it amazing how the human body can adapt?

I am trying to find ways to keep Cat cool. An ice cube in her water dish provided an interesting distraction but it didn't encourage her to drink more. Then I hung a sheet fresh from the washing machine in the bedroom thinking she could lie in the cool cave created under the drying rack. Instead, she chose to lie on top. Manoeuvring herself across the rack only added to her fun. Needless to say, tomorrow I will be washing the sheet again. While the heat somewhat limits my adventures outside the flat, Cat is doing her best to keep me entertained.

Thursday, June 17, 2010


As I worked through another moving box, Cat enjoyed hiding under the wrapping paper and lunging out at unsuspecting prey (aka feet).

I hid in the flat most of the day watching the outside temperature climb. I stuck a toe out the door at 6:30PM and determined that it was safe to venture out to watch the sails glide on the Nile. Last night was beautifully warm and clear. The Big Dipper shone bright on the North side of the balcony, while Scorpio stretched across the sky to the South. Frogs and crickets provided the melodic score for the stellar show. Who needs Hollywood?

Wednesday, June 16, 2010

Manger - Take 2

Returning home across the fields this afternoon, I thought I would share this view of the manger along the side of our road. Looks like a pile of hay to me.

The gamoosa (water buffalo), however, appears quite content in her (?) straw house. She seems to be smiling, but I remain cautious in how close I approach. Gamoosa were introduced to Egypt from India in the 10th century A.D. They are the main source of red meat. Relatively few live in our neighbourhood and there is a good chance that this one may be the honoured guest at the next feast of Eid el Adha, one of the most important Muslim holidays that celebrates Abraham's willingness to obey God and sacrifice Isaac.

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Market Day

I motivated myself out of bed and into the heat in order to buy some fresh veggies. At 9AM the heat wasn't so bad, although I don't know how this furry fellow felt. He seemed rather 'cool' and unperturbed about life.

Romaine seems to have vanished, but I can still buy good tomatoes, cucumbers and sweet peppers to make a baladi (country) salad -- think Greek but without feta and olives (sigh). I'm not sure why squash flooded today's market and, as you can see, many were past their 'best before' date. Squishy squash. :-(

Figs are beginning to appear in the market. I have my eye on these ones alongside our canal.

To reach home I walked along a narrow earthen berm through a flooding field. I thought this cattle egret was quite handsome as he struck a pose for me.

Monday, June 14, 2010

Day of Rest

Contemplating swaying palm trees from the balcony was about all I was 'up' for today.

As I watched one farmer fertilize the new corn crop by hand,

and another fellow carry home fodder after pulling 'weeds' growing amongst the sugar cane, I promised myself that tomorrow will be more productive.