Scotsabroad's Weblog

February 25, 2010

Storm Clouds

Filed under: Weather — scotsabroad @ 6:31 pm

February 24, 2010

A Road Trip

Filed under: visits — scotsabroad @ 4:54 pm

Maps can be deceptive. We hired a driver today to take us to a couple of places in the Central Delta. Looked easy enough to get to El -Mansura and then to Mit Abu el-Kom, the birthplace of Anwar Sadat, not far from Tanta. Eight hours of driving with two breaks of about thirty-five minutes gave us a slow dose of reality. No time spent anywhere. Back in Cairo feeling nothing but numb.

We set off early this morning with Mahmoud and headed for Al-Mansura. I was very much looking forward to visiting the museum, once the house where Louis IX was imprisoned by the Mamlukes, and seeing artefacts from the defence of Mansura, the failed Crusade and a wonderful tableau depicting knights being reprimanded after the battle. We got there by about 10:30 am and were told the museum was shut for renovations and to come back in ten days. The contents had been removed so even getting inside was not worth negotiating.  A quick toilet stop and a drink at an unmarked hotel (with enormous mosquitos in the toilets) and it was another couple of hours drive to Mit Abu el-Kom. I had still not got round to briefing the family that one of our guidebooks describes the place  as, only worth mentioning as a footnote to bygone leaders (but not visiting) the village of Mit Abu el-Kom. We managed to get into the compound of the family farm but the place did not look open, or inviting to the public. We were discouraged to walk around the grounds as calls were made. We eventually got the guest quarters unlocked. Inside we were allowed to walk around looking at photographs and personal items belonging to the President. Saw the iconic pipes but not his backgammon board. His pyjamas and sandals laid out to touch. Got to see his Noble Peace Prize certificate. Signed the visitors book but left feeling somewhat let down. Another three hours back to Cairo. Don’t know who I will get to accompany me on another attempt at Mansura. If you’ve seen one buffalo butt in the back of a pick-up…


February 23, 2010

The National Circus

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 7:38 am

It is half term, and with the weather cool, we decided to head downtown to Agouza. In summer the National Circus invites   world-class acts from famous circuses in Europe and Asia but last night we were not disappointed by the home-grown talent of the Egyptian performers. Under a rather shabby big top we were almost outnumbered by staff, encouraging us to buy popcorn, drinks and balloons or have our photograph taken with a beautiful lion cub that was being carried around. Dilapidated and in need of a good clean, disappointed by the lack of showmanship and costume from the ringmasters but the acts themselves kept our attention. Jugglers, acrobats, a tightrope walker, trapeze artists, clowns,  a magician and a wonderful group of unicyclists with pot-bellies and constant looks of amazement when the moves came off.  There was some important dignitary in the front row (50 LE seats) who provoked some major paying of respects, including those from the performers themselves as their act came to a close.  Was not allowed to take photographs. After about two hours, a hastily erected enclosure around the ring tells the audience that the finale is about to start. Six lions and three tigers appear along with an aggressive tamer. The lions seem fond of each other, snuggling up and licking each other when they get the chance. One of those moments when you secretly imagine  the cats turning on their tormentor and giving him a good mauling.  However, several yawn with indifference as others jump from one stool to another. The lion tamer struts his stuff and cracks his whip. We head off to catch the Metro as he counts them backstage.  

February 20, 2010

A Rubbish Story

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 12:53 pm


The Muqattam Hills can been seen from just about anywhere in Cairo. Today, the air was thick with pollution and that familiar smell of burning garbage as we drove along Salah Salim by the Citadel and cut off into the Zabaleen City. This is the city of the garbage collectors and at its heart is the Church of Saint Samaan. I just knew that there was a massive church carved into the cliffs that could hold thousands of people. Typically, we missed the turn off to the church and carried on driving in to the labyrinth. Not pleasant having to drive through such conditions and see families sifting through garbage bags, managing to recycle the majority of what we (the rich) throw away on a daily basis. The Zabaleen (predominantly Coptic Christians) have been cleaning up Cairo’s mess for centuries. Had the car a.c. on to prevent the flies (and the smell) getting in the car but had to wind down the window a few times to ask directions and satisfy curiosity. As always, everyone helpful and friendly. Beautiful children playing in heaps of rubbish. 

Through some more narrowing streets and we get to the entrance to the site. The place is quite busy with Egyptians taking photographs and hugging statues of Pope Shenouda. We entered the Church of Saint Samaan first, walking down a half-enclosed tunnel to the cathedral. The site has significant religious importance but the churches carved in to the rock faces are relatively recent. I bought a guidebook for 20LE not expecting to find some marvelous information on Samaan the Tanner and the Moqattam Cliffs.

This, I think, is the condensed story I eventually shared with the boys. The Muslim Caliph Al-Mu’iz ( AD 969 to 979) was an open-minded leader and initiated debate between Muslim, Christian and Jewish religious leaders. However, the Jewish leaders got upset by the acceptance and attention given to the Christian leaders so they devised a malicious plot that they hoped would destroy the Copts altogether. They searched the New Testament and noticed the verse that Jesus had said,  “If you have faith as small as a mustard seed, you can say to this mountain, ‘Move from here to there,’ and it will move. Nothing will be impossible for you.”  They demanded that the Copts prove it.  The Caliph thought, if the words of the New Testament are true then this would be a good opportunity for some quick town planning, removing a misplaced mountain to the East of his city. If they couldn’t move a mountain, this would be proof that their religion was wrong and should be done away with completely. His four alternatives were, fulfill the commandment and move the eastern part of the Mokattam, or accept Islam and abandon Christianity on the account that you can’t move mountains, or leave Egypt and live in another country, or be smitten by the sword altogether. I bet the Coptic Pope regretted getting in to a debate with the Caliph. Definately a wee bit stressed out by all this, so a visit by the Virgin Mary was timely and a blessed relief. The message was optimistic. A one-eyed man carrying a jar of water could be found at the gates to the market place. He’s the man who will get the miracle done. The Pope found the one-eyed man called Samaan the Tanner. Samaan did seem to be a man prone to literal interpretation of religious doctrine. When practicing his work as a shoemaker, a woman came to him to mend her shoes, and this woman was beautiful. It so happened that when she was taking off her shoes, her legs showed and he looked lustfully at her. At once he drove the awl into one of his eyes, thus plucking it out, in keeping with some commandment of the Lord. He also went around delivering water to the elderly. Definately bigger than a mustard seed. Anyway, the date is set and all the important players assemble at the foot of Moqattam Hill. Lots of prayers and chanting, an earthquake and the mountain splits. Samaan disappears. Mokattam is the Arabic for ‘cut-up’.  And they all live happily ever after. For a while. 

At the end of 1969 the governor of Cairo ordered all Zabbaleen to live on one of the hills of the Mokattam.  In the early 1970s  a trash collector tells a Coptic minister about Garbage City and invites him to visit. Minister resists until he gets a calling. When he gets there he wants somewhere quiet to pray.  He is taken to the highest place in the area where he finds a big gap under a huge rock.  He prays there for three weeks. But why is he called here? One day a big wind causes all the paper and garbage to be strewn everywhere. The minister picks up a random, scrap piece of paper . It just happens to be a page from Acts, where God speaks to Paul. The end of the verse saying, I have many people in this city. The area evangelised big time and the churches built and rediscovered. The Copts also believe they discovered Samaan’s body in 1991.  A part of his body in the church as well as a thousand-year old pot believed to be his. Now that was 20 LE well spent. Great story. Bizarrely there is nothing in the Rough Guide or in any of my guidebooks telling this story.

The church seating was extensive. They say it can accommodate 20,000, although judging by the bird poo and dust on the seats it has not been a sell out for a while.Other churches locked or in use today. One full of frankincense and Coptic chanting. Another underground church looking as if it could also hold thousands of worshippers. Disappointed we couldn’t see it. Will need to come back.

February 19, 2010

Beni Suef

Filed under: School,School trips — scotsabroad @ 6:26 am

Cairo has just returned from spending the last few days at an outdoor education centre at Beni Suef. The Mediterranean Centre for Sustainable Development Programs ( ) also goes by the much more pleasing name of, Kan Yama Kan Village. He had a great time. His photographs too.

We went fossil hunting using our toothbrushes to uncover rocks. I found two shells. Me and my friends uncovered a big stone that looked like a dinosaur’s head and neck. The whole place used to be underwater. We walked down to the River Nile and some people took some pictures and some people sketched. We built pyramids out of small limestone blocks like the one at Saqqara. I got really dirty. We planted trees in horse manure. Some girls didn’t like this but I didn’t mind because I used to smell this all the time in Scotland. We had a team challenge to get through a web of ropes and played dodgeball and football against our teachers. I rode a donkey. The centre was okay. I was in a room with three bunk beds and one single bed. I was uncomfortable but I didn’t get bitten by mosquitos. The showers were freezing! The food was okay and we roasted marshmallows on the campfire.

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