Scotsabroad's Weblog

March 31, 2010

Zoo Two

Filed under: School trips — scotsabroad @ 5:25 pm

Year 1 all went to the zoo yesterday and had a great time. We shared the site for a couple of hours with other schools, all of us eager to see as many animals as possible, as quickly as possible, while also getting to feed them.  Our children raced from one area to the next, many laden down with animal feed brought from home. The baboons welcomed our large bunch of ripe bananas and some children got the experience of feeding many of the animals such as zebra, camel, bears, elephant and crocodiles.


Here’s what Lucas says,

One of the snakes was taking off one of its layers of skin. I fed a baby monkey with a piece of banana. Two monkeys had a fight over a banana. The monkey that took the banana, peeled the banana and ate it and then threw the skin at the other monkey. I saw the hippos walking in the water. Faris and Alexa got to feed the crocodile. They gave it a piece of meat. I saw the elephant. You had to put the food in its nose and he would put his trunk into his mouth. I also got to feed the horses. We saw lions and rhinos. I don’t know if rhinos are endangered animals. They are animals that there are not many left. It was fabulous. I am holding my nose in the picture because the elephant’s breath was a bit stinky.


March 20, 2010


Filed under: politics — scotsabroad @ 7:06 pm

Many Unions and Committees here are calling for a mass rally, in downtown Cairo on the 3rd April at 11am, to demand raising the National Minimum Wage from LE35 a month, unchanged since 1984, to LE1200. 

LE35 is the price you would pay for a bottle of beer in a downtown restaurant.

March 19, 2010

A Wee Bit Grotty

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 5:18 pm

A quick visit to the zoo today as a risk assessment for year 1 visiting next week. Even in the space of a year the place looks more run down than ever. The toilets were disgusting, so I’m glad I’ve arranged for the year group to spend just a couple of hours in the zoo itself.  Being a Friday the place became very busy. Huge extended families sitting everywhere eating their picnic lunches. Because Lucas will be visiting with his class, we hurriedly went round the site only stopping to visit the hippos and the reptile house.  


Then it was on to the Fish Garden and Aquariums on Zamalek. We have always wanted to visit these fish gardens, having read about them being part of the Khedive’s vast garden, and the grotto set beneath the man-made hill, concealing huge caves in the centre of the park. A bit of a let-down to be honest. We entered the cave system and found the aquariums set in the walls. Very dirty, dark and rundown. However, the boys enjoyed running through the labyrinth while we anxiously checked out the noisy bats that were flying around. Empty tanks with fizzy drink cans taking the place of fish. Others with smashed glass.  Just all a bit tired and looking like the aftermath of a rampaging clay modelling class. Good day though, if that makes sense?


March 13, 2010


Filed under: Mercedes — scotsabroad @ 6:47 pm

Our car is now displaying some fine new registration plates.

Our previous registration ran out way back in August and we have been driving around Cairo dreading check points and traffic police. Having experienced the registration process downtown at Attaba Traffic Department two years ago, I was not looking forward to this morning’s visit.  Also, I would find out how much we would have to pay in fines for traffic violations committed since last registering. Would we also get fined for registering late? One of my colleagues recently had to pay a substantial amount of money in fines. Traffic police are often seen at junctions with notebooks and scraps of paper, writing down the registration number of drivers (presumably) not wearing their seatbelts, using a mobile phone while driving, going the wrong way, driving without lights at night,  reversing back on to the motorway, sharing the driving with their young children and (or probably), driving with too much care and attention and slowing everyone else down.

So, I was not feeling very optimistic and just hoped that I had taken enough money – and enough small tender to help things along. I also took along M who knew exactly where to go, in what order to accomplish things and who to approach. He has wasta which in translation means connections. The car being thirty years old was not a problem. For me, placing the department just off Attaba Square made getting there the first challenge. There was a new entrance since last time and already the car park was filling up with car owners.

Basically, this was when M  took over. I submissively handed over passport, photocopies and cash for the next two hours. We went from one booth to the next and up to one floor and down, outside and inside several times. I parted with money at the insurance portacabin outside and another booth distributed a folder, for a small fee,  for all the paperwork required inside – genius. When I was told the fines on the car amounted to only 56 LE and 50 piastres I was delighted.  We must drive like locals! Then on to the first floor to process the equivalent of an MOT and the documentation for a fee. I remember I had to buy a fire extinguisher last time, today it was checked at the fire extinguisher booth and deemed acceptable for a small fee. The car was then checked by a mechanic and the old number plates were optimistically removed. A rubbing of the engine serial number was taken and the documents sent over to the seated chief mechanic. A discrepancy was found, as the number did not match with that on the old registration card. Another rub and a missing digit gets included in the paperwork. Then I’m told to get the car out of the parking lot and find a place to park it on the street. This is downtown Cairo. Eventually, after a few circuits around the one-way system at Attaba, I double park and rejoin M on the first floor, clutching my old plates. I watch him skillfully make his way to the front of a booth and hand over my paperwork. I am asked to sign a few documents here and there but it is M who works at one booth, turns and starts processing something else at another. Not a computer in sight but lots of carbon paper and beautiful stamps required for numerous documents. Names are called out to collect paperwork, registration cards or new plates. The floors are mobbed but some people are just sitting on benches staring in to space instead of jostling at the window booths. Have they given up? Have they lost some important document? Have they run out of money? Could they tell you how long they have been in this building? At other times I am asked for contributions to help speed things along. We go upstairs for what I think is an eye test but it turns out I am asked my nationality and my passport photograph is checked.

It seems I can pay for two years registration backdated to August. However, the deposit required on the new plates, seen tantalizingly behind the glass, is a staggering maximum daily ATM withdrawal. My only consolation is seeing other car owners clutching huge wads of cash and exchanging them for new plates. And they do now come with tamper-proof screws. Finally, getting your new registration plates fitted in the street is twice the price of getting them screwed inside the Attaba Traffic Department compound.  Afterwards, somehow, you wouldn’t want it any other way.

Now these guys needed wasta:

March 12, 2010

End of the Line

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 6:11 pm

I don’t suppose many foreigners travel to Helwan on the Metro. Helwan is the last stop. The Rough Guide describes it as a once-fashionable Spa, now grossly polluted by an iron and steel works. The only notes of interest, that prompted a journey this morning, are a nineteenth-century Japanese garden and a (possible) waxwork museum. The problem was taking the wrong guide book with us. We got off at Helwan and searched for the Japanese Garden. Not what we had expected. Once the gate had agreed on how much I should pay to enter, we entered a large park in a built up area complete with buddhas and pagodas. Lots of local families enjoying the shade. Some tired, brown and dusty plant life but some resilient blossoms. The Rough Guide uses the phrase, ‘ The Steelworks wreak eco-death on a nineteenth-century Japanese Garden.’ Heaven knows what the plant is doing to the health of the local population. 

Not having the guidebook, we didn’t know that the Waxwork Museum and Ain Helwan Baths were one stop back up the line. Another time.

March 8, 2010

Runs in the Family

Filed under: Running — scotsabroad @ 4:18 pm

This is my good friend Sergio who came with us to Luxor last month to run the half marathon. He did amazingly well and is now up for any run on the horizon. Last Friday it was the Pyramidenlauf at the pyramids. Traditionally, this has become a family outing for us but Shona stayed at home this year on doctor’s orders. A skiing injury will take time to repair. Lucas stayed at home too, having  got the t-shirt. It was left to Cairo to run on his own. He did very well running the 8K route in 55 minutes listening (he tells me) exclusively to Springsteen. They had moved the start and finish quite far away from the pyramids this year which reduced the awe factor somewhat. The weather was certainly kinder than last year. Sergio had all his lovely family with him.

Looking forward to running Luxor next year with my sister.  I’ve already booked her a room at the Nile Valley hotel. Sergio and I down to run the Beruit marathon together in November.

March 6, 2010

The Bazaar Fabric of Cairo

Filed under: Cairo — scotsabroad @ 6:37 pm

One of those good days living in Cairo. Shona and I took advantage of the boys being invited to a birthday party this afternoon to drive down to the Khan for some supplies. The traffic was very congested but kept moving throughout the afternoon. Beautiful light today and a pleasant warmth in the air showing old al-Qahira at her best.

As well as replenishing some jewellery resources, we wanted to find the street of the tentmakers  (Sharia al-Khayamiya) just outside Bab Zuwayla. We have walked down to this area several times but have never found it open or indeed so busy. We didn’t want a tent but a cover made for our old car. Now that it is no longer parked in a garage, it gets filthy parked out on the street all day and the power of the sun has already cracked the vinyl dashboard in several places. In our naivety we thought you could just pull one off the shelf labelled Mercedes 230 (1981) or they could stitch you one up using memorised measurements for any car from a Hyundai to a Toyota or a BMW. No. We need to measure the car and choose our material. Back soon with the car. However, the walk was brilliant. If there is something you need, chances are you will find it around the Khan.   

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