Monday, February 28, 2011

Awesome Veils

Clouds symbolize the veils that shroud God.
Honore De Balzac

I spent the day inside at the computer so my spirit soared when I went out on the balcony to 'take in' the sunset. I was swept away by the clouds. This one looked like the lanteen sail of a Nile felucca.

And this one appeared as an earthbound hawk with outstretched wings. Far below, I watch hawks hover just so as they search for their evening meal in the harvested fields. I feel blessed to have such an experience.

Sunday, February 27, 2011

The Rhythm of Life

For better or worse, we all had a pretty lazy day around the house. As the Sun drifted over the horizon, I sat mesmerized by the palm's fronds carried on the breeze. As women walked home from the fields, they seemed to sway with the same rhythm. The rhythm of life in an antique land.

Caught up in the rhythm, I didn't hear the cacophony of honking horns from the nearby road.

Saturday, February 26, 2011

Egypt Moving Forward

With a backdrop of palm trees ancient and modern, Egyptians and foreigners gathered to support tourism as a new Egypt emerges. The Egypt Moving Forward event celebrated the old and the new, combining traditional music with rap . . . I'm not a rap fan but it sounded pretty good.

Friday, February 25, 2011

Soaring Colours

The soul becomes dyed with the colour of its thoughts.
Emperor Marcus Aurelius, AD 121-180

I moved the kitchen table out onto the balcony this morning in preparation for dinner with a friend we've known since our arrival in Egypt. The beauty of all the vibrant colours glistening in the sunshine lifted my soul.

Thursday, February 24, 2011

Happy on the Nile

This evening I happened to miss a departing ferry and the wait for the next ferry to fill with people can take some time, so I boarded "Happy Nile" to make the short crossing.

Captain Mohamed always has a big smile to brighten a sandy day.

Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Season Opener

Thanks to Cat and the Time Traveller, I was up well before the Sun. The misty morn foretold warm temperatures and we reached 29C.

Temperatures like that call for gin and tonic at sunset. I felt I should document the first one of the season.

As I drank my cool refreshment, I ate up the popcorn sky.

Tuesday, February 22, 2011

Something to Cheer About

There was much jubilation as tourists returned to Karnak temple after a month's absence. Some 3,000 British arrived today and groups from France are expected tomorrow. I'm sure they are all receiving a grand welcome.

Meanwhile, at Luxor temple, a bee-eater sat upon the head of the sphinx, perhaps to contemplate life's riddle.

Monday, February 21, 2011

Night Crossing

If we are always arriving and departing, it is also true that we are eternally anchored. One's destination is never a place but rather a new way of looking at things.
Henry Miller

I love people-watching; particularly from the top deck of the ferry. So many people are on the move. As the ferryboat prepares to cast-off, people's pace quickens to catch the boat. Some even jump the watery gap rather than wait for the next crossing. The navy police, sitting in their blue uniforms, will sometimes discourage this dangerous leap. Most of the time, however, they are content to sit.

Earlier, we were blessed with a lovely sunset with many 'mare's tails' streaking across the sky.

Sunday, February 20, 2011

Life is Sweet

The truth is that life is delicious, horrible, charming, frightful, sweet, bitter, and that is everything.
Anatole France

In my final visit to the pastry shop, I was offered a stool behind the desk to rest while two trays of treats were prepared. I couldn't help but think that life is sweet. I have enjoyed visiting with all the shopkeepers, who I consider friends.

Saturday, February 19, 2011

For the People, By the People

For to be free is not merely to cast off one's chains, but to live in a way that respects and enhances the freedom of others.
Nelson Mandela

You may recall a post in which I mentioned how the curbs were painted in advance of a VIP visit. Well, "times, they are a changin'" because now the curbs and the 'sleeping policemen' are being spruced up by youth for their fellow citizens.

The neighbourhood pharmacy is doing brisk sales in plastic gloves and surgical masks as other crews are mobilized to make a clean sweep of neighbourhoods to pick up all the litter. Sidewalks such as the one above are normally piled with trash. Thank goodness 'normal' is changing.

This display of national pride is incredibly uplifting. As the fellow's sweatshirt says, Respect can Change. I walked along this Degla street giving the thumbs up to each of the volunteers. These are trully amazing times.

Today's front page provided a birds-eye view of yesterday's celebration in Tahrir Square. Awesome!

Friday, February 18, 2011

3 Million Plus 1

An estimated three million Egyptians flocked to Tahrir Square today to celebrate the success of their peaceful revolution. There was one foreigner who stood out in the crowd. I can't estimate how many cell phones grabbed a shot of this strange being. I made lots of new friends. This young revolutionary painted my face for free - his gift to me. I counted four other foreigners in the crowd, but their spirit was more subdued. ;-)

Here is a taste of the atmosphere. It was such a moving experience to be among so many extremely happy people.

Some individuals stood out in the crowd. I remember this old and poor revolutionary appearing on BBC or CNN pans of the square. He is obviously well loved. I heard that someone has suggested that the People of Egypt be nominated for a Nobel Peace Prize. They certainly deserve it.

More than anything, the revolution is for Egypt's children. Many parents brought their kids to celebrate hope for the future. In the crowd, I even met an Egyptian father who has lived in Toronto for two years. He now has hope that his children will have a better life in their homeland.

This family carried placards with poems about the future of Egypt free from corruption and full of respect for every citizen. Each poem ended with the slogan, "Welcome Back Egypt".

Several people carried placards honouring those who died. It was particularly poignant when the image of the martyr matched the features of the fellow carrying the sign.

Just outside the square, soldiers stood with citizens to pay their respects to the dead as images of 365 people scrolled on a large screen TV in a merchant's window.

You may have read of the reporter who was sexually assaulted at last week's celebration. I had no such experience. Male volunteers formed a human chain to create a protective barrier so that women were safe as the crowd surged. These three protectors guided me to a spot directly below center stage and then formed a human shield to create a little shelter in the mass of humanity. Then they helped me jump a 5' guardrail to get out of the mass. I'm not fond of crowds but today I never felt any fear because I had so many helpful people around me. Viva Egypt!

Thursday, February 17, 2011

News from the Big Mango

My 'temporary' crown finally gave in . . . after seven months . . . so I'm making a quick trip to Cairo (aka "The Big Mango"), where I've heard from the Time Traveller of wonderful technology that will re-build my tooth. Stay tuned for details. In the meantime, I bring you impressions of the taxi ride from the airport. As traffic slows, flag sellers offer drivers a chance to express their national pride in three sizes.

Tanks were conspicuous around the Tomb of the Unknown Soldier and Al Azhar University. I'm not sure if they are guarding something or just making a statement that they are 'on guard'. I was surprised to see so many tanks, but not fearful. Fear comes from the idea of visiting the dentist. I hate the sound of the drill.

Wednesday, February 16, 2011

A Camel in Lieu

The day's objective was to secure a six-month visa to remain in the country legally. This can be an all-day affair so I headed over to the city early, stopping for the requisite photocopies of passport pages. Eleven pounds (less than $2), two cappuccinos, and a lunch later, I had accomplished my objective. I would have posted a photo of the passport office but I realized (before I got myself into trouble) that the office is part of the Ministry of the Interior and it's probably wise not to photograph such a building. So instead, I bring you a photo of the camel that's hanging out in the field across from our flat. She's much prettier than the building and you'll note that she's smiling.

Tuesday, February 15, 2011

Good Day without Parades

And when it rains on your parade, look up rather than down. Without the rain, there would be no rainbow.
Gilbert K. Chesterton

Drinking my wake-up coffee on the balcony this morning, I heard the sounds of chants and drums wafting over the sugar cane from the city. I can't imagine how loud it must have been to be in the center of the parade and I can't imagine how early the folks got up to begin the parade before 7 am! I ventured across the river 45 minutes later and found no sign of the celebration.

So I walked about quiet streets, looking up at the architectural details . . . and the pigeons.

I decided to treat myself to an Egyptian breakfast of a foul (pronounced "fool") and a tameya (known as falafel in Lebanese cooking) sandwich. I've often seen crowds of hungry folk gathered around this shop around 10 am. That's the time of 'second breakfast'; the 'first' having been a cup of tea and a smoke three or four hours earlier.

I was tempted to wait for a fried eggplant sandwich.

I ate my bean sandwiches (one stewed, one fried) in the square overlooking Luxor Temple. Even without the parade, it was an enjoyable morning.

Monday, February 14, 2011

The Night Before Moulid el Nabi

Tomorrow is the Prophet Mohamed's (PBUH) birthday. Tomorrow, if I am awake early enough, I will go to see the parade from Karnak village to the mosque. Tonight I took in the excitement along Luxor's Al Mansheya street, a major thoroughfare leading to the train station. Every manner of sweet glistened in the tents that were erected along the sidewalks.

Molded sugar dolls in the shape of princesses and mounted heroes are uniquely Egyptian moulid confections. All are nuclear pink in colour and hard as rock.

I'm told the tradition of giving sweets to family and friends during the moulid began with the Fatimid rulers in the tenth century. They handed out sweets made from honey and nuts to win the favor of the people. This year, with people worried about their finances, sales didn't seem brisk but I heard that the government just gave LE500 to each non-professional head of a family (i.e., lower income families). That gift will be welcomed and will perhaps put some meat on the table, if not sweets.

In recent years, the pink sugar doll tradition has morphed into frilly plastic dolls of all colours and sizes. Although they have a distinctly 'Made in China' look to them, I'm sure they'll make some little girls very happy.

Sunday, February 13, 2011

Sound of Freedom

The sound of freedom is calling, in every street corner in our country, the sound of freedom is calling.
Hany Adel and Amir Eid Hawary, "Sout el Horeya"

The music video "Sound of Freedom", filmed during the midst of the crisis, really captures the regular Egyptian people in Tahrir Square and their hope for their country. It's a great song and a great video. The sound of freedom rang today in Luxor in front of the telephone exchange where government workers held homemade signs and chanted for better wages and working conditions. Microbus drivers honked in support. Everyone wore smiles. It's wonderful to see the downtrodden (the only word for government office workers that I've met) spring to life with a sense of empowerment. There are a lot of problems that will need time and continued positivism to fix. I'm hopeful Egyptians will persevere.

The sunrise was stunning this morning. I took a few minutes to enjoy my little corner and then headed off to Karnak temple.

I was on the ferry early and was entertained watching this egret fish for his breakfast. He seemed quite in command of the boat and his surroundings.

Saturday, February 12, 2011

Orderly Change

The art of progress is to preserve order amid change, and to preserve change amid order.
Alfred North Whitehead, Mathematician/Philosopher

As the new day dawned and celebrations continued in Tahrir Square, people headed to work in their fields in my little corner of the country. Some things don't change. I suppose crops need tending even when a revolution is going on.

The people I talked to today reported that, "All Egyptians are happy" with the news that Mr. Mubarak has resigned. When I tried to say that change is good, I was told "No. No. Don't worry. Everything is good here." I came away with the distinct impression that the Arabic word for 'change' is closely related to 'chaos'. Certainly, the regime had tried to use the fear of chaos as justification for not changing. I believe that Egypt will be able to preserve order while championing progressive change. No doubt, there is months of hard work ahead but the hope and determination felt by many Egyptians is lighting the future.

Friday, February 11, 2011

Viva Egypt!

The true democrat is he who with purely nonviolent means defends his liberty and, therefore, his country's and ultimately that of the whole of mankind.
Mahatma Gandhi

Watching the reaction of Egyptians to the news of Mr. Mubarak's departure, I now know what euphoria looks like. I have witnessed the "power of the people". Peacefully, they have wrought an historic event. They have shown that ordinary people can give birth to liberty. Their accomplishment gives us all hope - hope in ourselves. While I sit in front of the television with tears in my eyes, I suspect that the Time Traveller is floating in the sea of euphoria in Tahrir Square. Stay tuned for his impressions. I know I'll never again walk nonchalantly through that square.

During the past 17 days, independent news stations have mentioned the 'martyrs' of the revolution, but little more was said. Egypt Remembers is dedicated to their memory so that we know a little bit about these vivacious people, their dreams, and their sacrifice. It is a moving tribute.

Thursday, February 10, 2011

Times they are a-changin'

Come senators, congressmen
Please heed the call
Don't stand in the doorway
Don't block up the hall
For he that gets hurt
Will be he who has stalled
There's a battle outside ragin'.
It'll soon shake your windows
And rattle your walls
For the times they are a-changin'.
Bob Dylan

This morning I had my eyes glued to old bricks and mortar in a Roman bath house. This evening I had my eyes glued to history in the making by the young people in Tahrir Square. Their positive energy is infectious as they dance and cheer. "Fear has been defeated" and I believe "times they are a-chagin'."

Wednesday, February 9, 2011

Splish, Splash

Life is like a hot bath. It feels good while you're in it, but the longer you stay in, the more wrinkled you get.
Robbert Oustin

I had great fun today imagining a lot of splishing and splashing going on in this Roman period bath complex at Karnak temple. It is quite an archaeological puzzle, but the picture is becoming clearer. I'm there to help my Egyptian friends with all the Greek and Latin terminology, such as 'Laconicum' for this dry sauna with its heated floor. Exciting stuff!

Although the skies glowed red tonight, it has been quite chilly with a wind that has blown all day.

Tuesday, February 8, 2011

Sweet Labour

Of all the forces that make for a better world, none is so indispensable, none so powerful, as hope. Without hope people are only half alive. With hope they dream and think and work.

I wrote to a friend that my neighbourhood is not so peaceful these days as the sounds of donkeys braying, workmen shouting, and carts bouncing over rutted fields ring out; but I am thankful that it is an agricultural cacophony rather than a political one.

Even before the Sun is above the horizon, there is a great deal of activity and noise. Yet by 10:30am the last donkey cart makes its way out of the field and heads for home.

Monday, February 7, 2011

Cash on the Table

If money be not thy servant, it will be thy master.
Francis Bacon

The banks opened yesterday after a week of crisis. Ilhumdulila! By 1:30pm, however, my bank had run out of money and locked its doors; so today I arrived early. I was impressed by the enhanced organization and the relative calm considering that many people have been worried about their money.

My bank has a system whereby you take a number when you enter and sit in not uncomfortable chairs to wait for your number to flash above a teller. There are three number sequences based on who you are and what you want to do (à la Egyptian democracy): withdrawal, deposit or BIG deposit. I think the last group represents business transactions but the Arabic translates literally as 'big deposits'. On normal days, 'withdrawal' numbers seem to be called forward more slowly than the other options but today it all seemed quite egalitarian. In an unusual turn, all six teller positions were operational and no one was allowed to jump the queue. As a result, I happily had my money within 20 minutes.

Having (a lot of) money in one's pocket during a crisis is a good thing because credit cards might not be accepted for important purchases, such as when a friend wanted to buy an airline ticket to get out. 'Cash only' had become the airline's policy at a time when banks were closed and most ATMs were not functioning. I've learn a lot in the past week!

Sunday, February 6, 2011

Egyptian Friends

Visiting an archaeological dig is a special treat and especially so in Luxor where my Egyptian colleagues always have some exciting new find to show. In addition to this Ptolemaic bath complex, proably a health spa/clinic, they recently uncovered a substantial Roman bath complex.

To some this might look like a messy garbage dump, but I get excited any time I see pottery.

Later we wandered amidst the grandeur of Karnak temple, deciphering the hieroglyphs. Since every surface is covered with images, a person can spend hours looking up in awe . . . with a crick in their neck. I am told that we were two of less than 40 people that visited Karnak temple today. A normal day sees 6,000 visitors trekking through its hallowed halls. Now is the time to visit!

I had a wonderful day visiting my Egyptian friends: contemporary and ancient.