Scotsabroad's Weblog

December 30, 2007

A wee view from Al-Azhar Park

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 3:44 pm

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Sometimes I tend to forget that we live in an incredible city. The size, scale and diversity of Cairo is often easy to forget living in the 5th Settlement and as we work for a living during term time – but during a holiday we are able to reach areas of the city, take some time to explore and reflect – and constantly use the word ‘awesome’. Today Shona asked me why I was so quiet and I didn’t have an answer. Sometimes living, working and driving in this city leaves me speechless.

Two days ago we drove to Wadi Degla, now a National Park, and only 20 minutes away from our house. I was there on Boxing Day for a run but took Shona and the boys up the slopes. Cairo found fossils of sea shells and the weather was warm. Although we could see the city skyline including a pyramid we felt very much alone and isolated in the wadi. Looking forward to getting the bikes up there when the babysitters arrive tonight. Managed to get the bike rack to fit the old Mercedes.

Yesterday we visited the Al-Azhar Park near the Citadel. We got to the entrance frazzled having had  another driving experience. Coincidentally: I’ m serious when I quote from an article in the Al Ahram newspaper today that had Dena Rashed’s driving tips for when in Cairo,  Don’t assume that the left lane is for fast cars: this is a free country; pick your lane, just don’t complain and Think, it is always a thrill to get home and realise you have actually made it alive, and it is even more thrilling when your car has not been scratched.  We went over and under a few roads while passing the park from different vantage points and forced another driver into the kerb. However, this turned out to be a splendid afternoon. From the park you can see much of the old wall (Ayyubid Wall)  once protecting the old city although they do seem to be renovating large chunks of it to look completely modern – like concrete icing. The park was created due to funding from the Aga Khan Trust for Culture. Coincidentally: while in Aswan we could see the prominent Aga Khan’s Mausoleum on the far bank where his widow (until the year 2000 when she popped- her- cloggs and joined him in the sarcophagus) placed a fresh red rose each day on his tomb. There is legend that once when no rose was available in Egypt a special delivery was flown in from abroad. However, if some of the Khan’s  money was used to create a park like Al Azhar perhaps we can forgive their indulgences in life and death.

These are views of the city from the park. We had lunch at the Citadel View Restaurant. An excellent bunk-hole in times of stress – they even pipe music through speakers dotted around the whole park but we tried to find areas that were not subjected to this. Kind of made me think (unkindly) of ‘The Prisoner’ and a huge white bubble chasing you along the sand? Very much in the minority as park full of Egyptian couples, happy families and a few groups celebrating birthdays and life in general with some singing and some loud banter. 

Happy New Year folks. No looking back. Indeed, over to Dina Rashed and another tip; Don’t be upset if your mirrors are repeatedly hit: the general assumption is that they are not part of the car. We will be thinking of family and friends tomorrow night. Please think of our home as yours ( just with unusual wiring and sporadic plumbing) and try to visit some time in 2008. Coincidentally …

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December 26, 2007

Christmas in Egypt

Filed under: Christmas — scotsabroad @ 8:19 pm
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I have found Christmas here to be rather strange. For a start the boys’ Christmas show was in November so that was a rather weird way to start and despite my best efforts I was unable to get essentials such as treacle for my Christmas pudding or proper feta cheese for my vegetarian christmas dish. We did have Christmas crackers thanks to the goodness of heart of one of my pupil’s mother who saw me try to buy them at the European Christmas bazaar. They had just sold the last box and she overheard this and sent 6 in with her son to give to us. That was very sweet of her. Our Christmas day meal was a mish mash of the usual dishes but none of them done nearly as well as in the past. It took 3 hours in the oven for the roast potatoes to get crisp enought to eat so thank goodness I wasn’t cooking a turkey. I think the only thought that got me through the meal was ” next Christmas we have a month off and I can go to my Mum’s”. I was thinking of the Frasers and their usual Christmas day cooking banter.

Before Christmas Day we managed to do quite a few Christmassy things. Lucas and the other nursery children sang carols around the Christmas tree at school; that was almost unbearably hilarious as Lucas did not sing a single note despite being almost word perfect at home during breakfast.

We also went to the Christmas carol concert at the British Embassy and wore our Santa hats to look 

especially festive.

 Andy - smile!

We tried to get Andy to smile in the photo but he was being bah humbug. He did join in with all the carols though as we sat on the steps of the festive looking Embassy garden. We drank mulled wine and ate mince pies so that was a good way to start the Christmas holiday.

December 25, 2007

Aswan – Dam Food and Feluccas

Filed under: Holidays — scotsabroad @ 7:55 pm

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What a holiday. Can you take a bad photo while in Aswan? From left to right a milkman, bread freshly baked and ready for bagging, another baker’s shop front fuzzing the date,  a carry out to beat the best from Dundee after a few beers and the usual ‘Death on the Nile’ photo taken from our hotel balcony. We are so fortunate to be able to take off and visit places like this. Apart from Lucas getting stuck in the lift for half an hour on our first night at the Movenpick, this was a great week away from Cairo. We did the expected  Felucca sailing on the Nile,  visited the High Dam (a huge disappointment) , the Temple of Philae (awesome – people were rubbing with paper and crayons like kids on drain covers in Scotland) , the Nubian museum (we could touch almost anything) and walked the Corniche and souk/bazaar. Memorable moment: Shona has paid her taxi fare to the Philae entrance site, paid her entrance fee to the temple but, due to the “Egyptian conspiracy of  putting ancient sites on islands” (her words) still needs to negotiate motor boat cost. After lengthy discussions with various boat operators Shona declares,  ‘I want a policeman – this is ridiculous.’  Instantly appears (think Mr. Ben shopkeeper) policeman who duly states, ‘you need to negotiate with a Ferryman’.  Shona adamant that the guide book states trip possible for 27LE return. Secure the services of Karim. Eventually out of the flotilla of motor buses, boats and cruisers appears the most decrepit piece of plywood-with-an-outboard available. The look on Shona and Cairo’s faces was priceless but alas, due to my love of life and not wanting to see a couple of coins up close, not worth sharing. Glorious white-knuckle journey to the island and the envy of all the rest of the tourists on their comfortable (passing) craft –  as they took pictures and placed bets on our survival. Dam I love my wife.

December 17, 2007

This is now a burger!

Filed under: Uncategorized — scotsabroad @ 7:48 pm

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We have been seeing many sheep and cows being transported across the city in the last week. Amazing to see a cow balancing for dear life in the back of a pick-up truck or sheep being driven through the city centre  – or resting by the kerb as traffic flies past. We saw a gang of workers on Saturday chasing a cow around a building site , the cow perhaps sensing the purpose of it’s journey and short tenure on the second floor balcony of a newly constructed house. Eid, or a holiday, approaches but as the duck in the film Babe proclaimed, ‘ Christmas (substitute Eid) means Carnage!’ For luck and a wee bit of a mess – lots of throats will be slit on Wednesday and blood used as the new magnolia on walls, cars, trucks and whatever else requires a hand-print in red for luck. Might be a bit of cooking and eating of the poor beast afterwards. Not joking when we describe rooftops of desirable properties turned over to/as temporary stables and last request postings.  We will be in Aswan as the blood flows so might get more of a rustic slaughter on show or be secure behind the bar in the Movenpick. As a vegetarian I feel obliged to drink beer.

December 25th.

The cow in the second picture was delivered to our basement on Tuesday afternoon. On our return from Aswan there was no evidence of it ever being downstairs. While in Aswan we were able to see a master butcher at work and view an assortment of animal parts available for purchase. As a vegetarian I feel obliged….

December 11, 2007

Wooden Spoons in Damascus

Filed under: School trips — scotsabroad @ 7:09 pm

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Returned very late Sunday night from unbelievable trip away with football squad from school (NCBIS) to Damascus Community School in Syria. Took 10 girls and 9 boys for three day competition. Very cold and rainy for two days. Girls squad was a different class from the rest:  won all their games and the trophy with some style to spare. One favourite quote: couldn’t go there coach, I had to run round the muddy bit…..! Delightful group of girls who deserved the glory. Returned to Cairo with big trophy and medals.

However the boys decided to concede a shed load of goals in their first 5 games, lose every match but managed to keep their spirits up. Went into the last day expecting to be knocked out in first round – they were seeded 6th and cannon fodder for the other teams again. The night before had a vision of playing my goalkeeper as centre forward ( caught sight of him doing some Irish dancing at the disco – like the scene in Titanic where they are dancing on the table, and thought he must be with us for a reason!) and changing to third choice keeper. Inspired. We proceeded to reach the final with centre forward scoring two vital goals at just the right time. Must be honest – I was dancing up the touch line and hoarse with shouting. Third choice keeper blocking rockets, bouncing up and doing it all over again. In the final he was injured, substituted late on and taken away by the Syrian doctor. Had to run to the medical room to prevent boy being taken to hospital and probably operated on. The final didn’t matter. The boys were on cloud nine, smiling constantly and so was I. We lost the final but won the competition no doubt. Matches best footballing moments ever.

Spent day after tournament exploring Damascus visting old mosque and houses, steam baths and the souk. Bought Shona some wooden spoons as they are in short supply and hard to find in Cairo. Magic.

December 3, 2007

Lord won’t you buy me a ….

Filed under: Mercedes — scotsabroad @ 5:44 pm
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We must be off our heads. Recently bought a 1981 Mercedes Benz from car market in Nasr City. A thing of beauty and the perfect vehicle to pick up Audrey Hepburn from the airport.  Spent Saturday morning recently registering car downtown. 25 LE secures an all clear from the head mechanic and the purchase of a compulsory fire extinguisher and the vehicle is ours. For a 27 year old car she is in excellent condition but with somewhat dodgy electrics and alarm. Took us a while to work out where the handbrake was and the car will try to lock itself while doors are open, the car is half loaded or the boys are still strapped in! However I think she has life and talks to other 230s of the same age and breeding. Indeed the man who sold it to us,  Mr Rasheed who sells lifts and lives in Heliopolis, had his luck run out after parting with our car. He had his new Skoda Octavia stolen and the briefcase full of the wads of cash we had given him. He is a gentleman and we wish him a speedy recovery. He was in hospital having fallen chasing the car.  We do feel safer in a big car and it is not ‘look at me I’m an expat in a 4WD’ and it is somewhat flamboyant. I’ve already twanged it – Shona doesn’t know yet, by pulling off another car’s bumper last night outside the Grand Mall. However no damage done to my ‘built to last’ and 50 LE and other notes exchanged – and I drive off. Some great motoring traditions in Cairo.

December 2, 2007

Rag Recycling Unit, Mokattam

Filed under: visits — scotsabroad @ 7:23 pm
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Rags in bags to be used for rugsAs you can imagine Cairo generates a lot of rubbish and some of it is recycled. I visited a centre on Friday morning with some of my colleagues. The Association for the Protection of the Environment organises the centre where women recycle rubbish and then make goods for sale. We visited to buy some of the things they make and they were all beautifully made. I had to resist all the gorgeous quilts (on the grounds that I don’t really need one) but I did buy some floor mats and some Christmas decorations. The centre is at the top of a winding set of very narrow, cramped streets which are chocabloc with people living cheek by jowl. The APE centre, however, is a bit like a gated community with what looked like an orchard and a huge metal entry gate. Children were playing at the nursery and the place was an oasis of calm and peace. It was quite a contrast to the streets we had passed through to reach it. Is this the power of being involved with NGOs? I really don’t know.

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