Wednesday, December 15, 2010

How I found out my driver is NOT a serial killer, a true story

Okay, let me just start with that the names have been changed to protect the innocent. But than again, I can change the names but chances are that I'll be incriminating the innocent, or that the names are not changed at all. And let me also confirm that everything I post in my blogs has either happened for real or I've been really told that something happened. None of what you read in these posts is made up by me. If you want to know about what I can concoct myself, read The Fingers.

To be honest, when it comes to names the Egyptians show no creativity at all. Go back to the era of the pharaohs and you know what I mean; it's all Ramses 1, 2, 3 and that went on for about 4000 years. The occasional diversion here and there, but as soon as the pharaohs got creative the names became unpronounceable.
Fast forward to the present time and you'll notice that the creativity the western parents show when naming their children has not found its way through Twitter and Facebook into Egyptian life. Here in Egypt we're stuck with Mohamed (in any fathomable spelling), Ahmed (I've been told that it's derived from Mohamed), then there's Mahmoud (also derived from Mohamed I've been told), Yasser and Islam. Approach any man on the streets by calling one of these names and chances are that you've guessed his name. This is pretty confusing and obviously the people whose ancestors build pyramids thought so as well and they came up with a solution: call people by one of their other names. Yes, they have other names as well, as in second, third, fourth and so on. There are some rules and regulations and traditional and cultural reasoning behind how people are named. The names of fathers and grandfathers are playing a massive role in this. As it happens, some people have 5 names, all the same as I've been told. Again confusing and rather annoying when you need to administer them in for example an email system, or what to think about passports.

But for my fellow inhabitants of Egypt this is not pleasant either. And this is where I start explaining how I found out my driver is not a serial killer. Okay, granted, I never did suspect him for killing anybody at all. He brakes for kittens (on the highway even!) and most of the time makes an effort in passing pedestrians at a safe distance. (Caironian joke I came up with: Why did the chicken cross the street? Because it wanted to get at the other side. Why did the Egyptian cross the street? Because he was suicidal.)
So my driver whose name could be any one of the five afore mentioned names, but lets call him 'Joe' (= John Doe), is not you everyday psychopathic lunatic with homicidal tendencies. Although once I had diner at his home and there was a lot of food on the table and I really had to eat it all... considering the look on his face. But I don't think he would've killed me, actually he didn't.
So Joe is not a killer, yet he was arrested for killing somebody. This happened the a couple of weeks ago. I was arriving at Cairo airport after a visit to my family in the Netherlands and when Joe picked my up at the airport, he actually didn't. Instead he was escorted by an undercover agent. Although I guess the agent was undercover because he looked like a bum and still Joe did whatever this person said and he wouldn't drive me to my apartment. Joe explained that he was going to get me a taxi ("No, not the black and white coffin kind of taxi", I was screaming in the back of my mind) because he had to come with the police and get something resolved. Joe was clearly trying to get rid of me, permanently, because my worst nightmare came true... I was forced to ride along in a black and white taxi. Cabs of Death I think of them every now and then. You see them, you understand this. Joe was devising a grand scheme of getting me on the trail of his ancestors. Murder-by-cab. Since I don't read Arabic, fortunately, I couldn't imagine what the headlines would look like.

Next morning I had to hitch a ride into the office with my friend Mark and his driver (let's call him O'Joe as in Other Joe) since Joe didn't show up. It took the better part of the day before Joe called me and explained that he was going to pick me up and drive me home. Now you would expect that somebody called 'Joe' speaks perfect English, but Joe doesn't. But in 11 months of spending time in the same car we've come to agree on a vocabulary that is sufficient to discuss the most complex topics a driver and drivee will talk about. And trust me, murder is not a typical topic so it didn't fall in this category.
Anyhow, Joe managed to explain to me what had been going on. Apparently during a routine check point at the airport by the police, a flag was raised when the police inspected his ID. Joe, short for John Doe, was listed as a traffic offender who had hit somebody in 2005 during a traffic accident and had ran. As it turned out, the person hit died shortly thereafter, thus John Doe was not only involved in a hit-and-run, but in a kill-and-run. Joe had spend all night and pretty much the whole day in convincing everybody and their mother that it hadn't been him but another John Doe. In the end it took some relatives who work at the courthouse to make sure that all allegations were dropped and Joe was released. Joe now has an official letter saying that he's not the Joe that kills people (which more or less is a license to kill come to think of it).
It would've been so much simpler when Joe hadn't been called Joe by his parents but something like Quanty Maji, which is a very uncommon name in Egypt.

As an afterthought Joe expressed his disgust of the Egyptian prison system. As he had spend a day in it and had been handcuffed, even when he had to go to the bathroom. He was a suspected killer, so they had to be careful when dealing with this homicidal maniac. Nobody had thought about the fact that his weapon of choice was an automobile, and therefore would be harmless without one. But than again, pretty much all Caironians are homicidal maniacs once they get into a car. But more on that topic some other time.

So now you know, just like I do, that Joe, my driver, is not a serial killer. He's not even a killer. He's got legal documentation that proves that he's not Joe the Car-Killer. So beware when you see a goldish Chevrolet Optra on the streets of Cairo. It might be Joe with his license to kill... I'm just kidding. The document only vouches for him in the 2005 killing of some traffic participant by a guy called Joe.

Next time I'll be blogging about something else all together, but it'll have to do with my experiences in Egypt.


Wednesday, December 1, 2010

What to do in Luxor when you've seen it all

As you know, well at least when you've read my previous post, I've been in Luxor and was very impressed with all the old stuff around there. As in really old stuff. As in couple of thousand year old old stuff. But there's more in Luxor than just mummies, tombs and temples.

When we went to Luxor we had a very nice program setup by the people at Kingfisher Tours and they made sure that we had a mix of culture and leisure. Mornings were all about culture. But since the sun is rather blazing in Luxor, there is dire need for relaxing time and on the first day, Friday, we had a very nice felucca trip on the Nile. And let me tell you, as soon as the captain of the little sailboat told us to take of our shoes and relax on the benches, it was just Mark and me on the boat, I was gone to dreamy land. Within seconds the little rocking of the boat, the warmth of the Luxorian sun and all the walking that morning ensured that I was going to sleep as sound as a well fed baby.

The second day, Saturday, we took off in the desert, the Sahara of course, on quads. First time ever on a quad for both Mark and me. Although both of my suns have done this before (my oldest has a quad) it was my first time. But cruzin' through the desert on a quad. Feeling the 4 wheel bike skid left and ride while hitting the dusty roads with 200 km/h (that's how it felt anyway) was freakishly awesome. And the best thing of it all, the guides told us up front it would be better to wear shades and a scarf. And they had scarfs and sunglasses for sale as well.
I know, you can do the felucca trip anywhere on the Nile (and you should do this at least once) and every little desert village has a quad safari available (and you should do this at least once as well), it is great to do this in Luxor after a morning of culture.

Until next post...


Sunday, November 28, 2010

How to keep Egypt interesting - A Tourist Perspective


I just got back from a weekend in Luxor, one of the major cities in Egypt. It is actually a small village compared to Cairo. Population of not even 1 million, according to Wikipedia it was only 489+ Thousand in 2010.

But although Luxor is not a huge city like Cairo it is, in my humble opinion, Egypt's capital for historians and wannabee historians. Okay, I know it doesn't make sense without some clarification so here you have it: When it comes to the Pharaonic times, Cairo has the pyramids which are in themselves awesomely impressive and yes, it is quite impressive what those Egyptians way back, really way back, have accomplished. I mean, gjeez, can you imagine building those pyramids without the help of Caterpillar? At the time they didn't have bulldozers and all. But this is pretty much it. (Yes, Caironians you can start flaming me here). When you pay a visit to the Egyptian Museum in Cairo, you'll notice that pretty much everything is from Luxor. From the various valleys in the desert around Luxor they've retrieved all mummies a lot of Sphinxes and statues and all.
Don't get me wrong, Cairo is an impressive city and there's plenty to see in Cairo, but I would dare to say that Cairo's true attraction is more in the Islamic history. And of course it is always interesting to see how 16 million (or 20 million, depending who you're asking) live together in a fairly nice manner. And then of course there's a huge theme park in Cairo we call 'Traffic'. You can read about traffic in pretty much every little text on Cairo.
Alexandria, 3.5 million population, is more of interest when you're looking for Greek or Roman history. And then there's the great library, which is freakishly huge. So there's from a city point of view not that much overlap. Luxor: Pharaonic, Cairo: Islam, Alexandria: Greek & Roman. And I am pretty sure that by this I am offending people and am selling all cities short. I won't apologize.

I've now visited all three cities and I think I visited them in the right order. Cairo, Alexandria and Luxor. (I know there's more to see in Egypt.) Cairo is impressive and the pyramids and Sphinx are as mysterious as can be. From my terrace I can see the pyramids in the desert and that's amazing. I've seen the mummies in the Egyptian Museum. The pyramids are Egypt. Full Stop.
Alexandria is really nice to visit. It is laid back, a true city at the sea and it has a rich history. Apart from the library, I would say there's nothing as impressive in Alexandria as the pyramids and the Sphinx, but then again, the history in both cities don't compete. One can perfectly enjoy and be amazed by Alexandria even after spending time in Cairo. Don't get me wrong, the history of Alexandria is just as impressive as in Cairo, it's just that it's not as mysterious.
But the real deal is Luxor. Don't go to Luxor before you've seen the other two cities, because you'll be spoiled to the core. Luxor is littered with awe inspiring history. It has the Valley of the Kings with all the tombs and many of them are open for the public. And they are, but for the treasures, in pristine condition. Actually, I would not be surprise if in 10 years from now, it all turns out to be a hoax. It's that well preserved in like a gazillion years. If you get the chance, you should also visit the Valley of the Scribblers. Very interesting indeed, we had the luck that our guide was also an archeologist that did some digging in this valley.
The temples of Karnak is just wicket. It's huge, impressive, intimidating and interesting as anything else in Egypt. Make sure your guide knows what he's talking about. The temple of Hatsjeput is interesting and impressive by itself, but when you know the story of this queen it's even more a worthy site to visit. (Little piece of trivia: Polish craftsmen have rebuild the temple to great extend as a gift to Egypt.) Honestly, after visiting Luxor, Cairo has lost from an historical point of view quite a bit of its magic.

We visited Luxor in two days and our itinerary was setup by Kingfisher Tours, an Egyptian/Dutch run travel specialist. They did a great job and especially kudoos for hooking is up with Abdul, the guide who showed us around the various sites of Luxor with all the enthusiasm and knowledge that makes a trip to a tomb worth your while. Kingfisher Tours, btw, also arranged for our trip to Alexandria.

So if you're thinking about seeing the historical site of Egypt, fly into Cairo, take a trip to Alexandria after seeing Cairo and conclude with Luxor. Don't start with Luxor! Really you'll be disappointed by Cairo and Alexandria.


PS: Looking for a great place to eat, enjoy the food at Sofra or The Fortune Cookie. Both have an excellent kitchen and we enjoyed both restaurants.

Thursday, November 18, 2010

Ramadan Chronicles, final part in a series

First of all my apologies for not publishing this in a while, this post has been sitting in my drafts since I wrote it and forgot to hit the publish button.

This is the final part of a series on the topic of Ramadan, the time of fasting and contemplating in Islam. Actually this is about the period after Ramadan, the first week or so to be accurate.
Once Ramadan is over, after 30 days, when the moon has completed its cycle, the fasting is over and Eid is upon everybody. This is a time of celebrating and eating, party all the time.
I can't say too much about Eid from experience as this coincided with a vacation to my family in the Netherlands, but I did experience some of it. And I was surprised too find out that it seemed as if Ramadan was taken more seriously than Eid. What I mean is that it seemed to me that most of my colleagues around me where more affected by Ramadan, its consequences and what it meant for them than about Eid, although all the tweets and Facebook status updates where about celebrating Eid and not about Ramadan. Which makes kind of sense as well.

Interestingly enough, some Muslims are not really participating in the celebrations of Eid as their fellow Muslims do. They keep on fasting for a few more days, 7 if I am not mistaken. I am not really sure as to why they would do this, although I had some discussions about it. But prolonging the fasting for a few more days accounts for fasting for a whole year.
I would say that continuing the fasting for a longer while whereas all your family, friends and colleagues around you are not would seem to be harder to keep up than when everybody is fasting and whole society is changing pace and rhythm.

Now that Ramadan and Eid are all over and life in Cairo is back to normal, Cairo is also a better and nicer place to be. It has regained its buzz and vividness. I didn't like Ramadan at all. At work productivity came almost to a full stop and the cheery faces of my colleagues where mostly gone. Everybody was tired and cranky. Now everything is back to business as usual, and I like it that way.

Until next post about my experiences in Egypt.


Ramadan Chronicles, part three in a series

First of all my apologies for not posting this sooner. This post has been sitting and waiting in draft since forever. Guess I forgot to hit that 'Publish' button when it was due. But here's the post nevertheless.

Ramadan is an interesting period in the Muslim year. First of all it is a period in which people only eat or drink something between sunset and sunrise. These two moments are very carefully determined and actually do coincide with sunset and sunrise, instead of being some symbolical times like between 8 PM and 6 AM the next day. This means that when Ramadan is happening during summer, it is a lot harder than when it is in winter. And Muslims in northern Sweden have a for more difficult time than those living around the Equator.
Btw, the month of Ramadan is 'moving' throughout the year, every year it is a bit earlier in the year than the year before. This because the Islamic months are determined by the moon phases.

Another interesting fact of Ramadan, something you might not know when you're not Muslim is that during Ramadan the whole of the Koran is read during the first prayer after sunset. In reality this means that this prayer is a long prayer compared to the other prayers during Ramadan. So this means that during the 30 days of Ramadan, during one particular prayer the whole of the Koran is read.
I guess one can say it is fortunate that this prayer is after breakfast instead of before.

Until next post...

PS: One little trivia, the first meal after sunset is called 'breakfast' as it is breaking the fasting.

Wednesday, September 1, 2010

Ramadan chronicles, part two in a series


As blogged last time, I'll be blogging about Ramadan in Egypt, mainly because it is a very interesting time, but also because at least here in Egypt and Cairo in particular, there are some interesting facts to know.

So this time I want to discuss the timing of Ramadan. First of all you should know that the Islamic calendar is based on the moon. In the end this results in a year of 354 days, for me that means the year is missing 11 days. And more interestingly, the months on a Islamic calendar are moving throughout the year relative to the Julian or Gregorian calendar, which is the calendar of the western world. Which as you might know has 365 days, typically.
As I came to understand, Ramadan is actually the name of one of the 12 Islamic months. And because the months are shorter, each year Ramadan starts 11 days earlier compared to the western calendar. Basically the moving Ramadan mystery is nothing more than a matter of simple math.

So what else is there to be said about the timings during Ramadan. Well for one, those that are fasting are not allowed to consume anything during the day, where the day is defined by the time between sunrise and sunset. When I say consume anything, I mean anything. So no food, no drinks, no cigarettes, no marriage, no consuming all together. Or at least this I was told by colleagues at work.
Because we're here in Egypt, this whole sunrise - sunset thing is nothing compared to the Netherlands or for example Norway where the sunrises pretty darn early and sets pretty darn late. And there're no exceptions to this rule.
Then there's another interesting piece of information regarding time in Egypt versus Ramadan: The government has decreed that the during the month of Ramadan, there's no daylight savings. So all of a sudden you find yourself being early at every meeting because none of the automatically clock-changing gadgets we have these days is aware of this. Phones stick with daylight savings, electronic calendering systems stick with daylight savings. But at the start of Ramadan the clock is turned back for an hour. And after Ramadan it is set back to daylight savings, just for the remainder of the period the rest is also enjoying a little bit more of sunlight. This is very confusing, in every respect.
Furthermore, businesses and the government anticipate the fact that their employees won't be very productive in the afternoon, so all of a sudden the workday is from 10 AM to 3 PM, more or less. And in the office, after 4 PM it place is more or less deserted. Only a very few stay until 4.15 PM. Everybody is heading home for breakfast (short for: break fasting?), or Iftar as it is being called (pardon my spelling), which this year starts at 6:30 PM.

So for me, Ramadan has been very interesting this year, more over because I am a nut for watches and the time, and time plays an important role in Egypt during Ramadan.


Sunday, August 29, 2010

Ramadan chronicles, part one in a series


It's been a while since I posted, more than a month and there's no real excuse for this. Really no reason as well. Guess I was busy with other stuff. I know, I've been very busy with one particular level in Halo 3, and I've been on vacation for a week... in Holland.

So Ramadan has started in August and it's a different thing all together when living in a country where religion is a real part of every day life. So I am intending to blog about my experiences during this period; the Ramadan Chronicles.

I came back from vacation 2 weeks ago, Ramadan had just started and the change in Cairo's atmosphere is very noticable.
For one, people are a bit more, how should I put this, they're tense. I was warned about traffic during Ramadan and the biggest change is that there're more accidents and my driver is more cautious. He's keeping more distance between our car and the next, and he seems to be driving more slowly. I'm okay with that, not that I'm scared when zipping thru traffic during rush-hour, he's very capable of handling the traffic, but especially the micro-buses are driven by tense and still awful drivers.
But the whole of Cairo seems to be off. Okay, so I was in overly regulated Holland for a week and got completely used to the fact that there's a rule, law or regulation for pretty much everything and even the exceptions to these are regulated. And although most of the Dutch bend or break the rules, they are following strict rules when doing so. We love the rule as it makes life so much simpler... I guess. And Cairo is pretty much everything but regulated. Yes, there are rules and laws and regulations, but pretty much nobody sticks by them and everybody does so as he or she pleases. And that is fine because there're no rules to this breaking of rules. (I haven't seen any bending of the rules).
So yes, not much of a surprise that I had to adjust to Egyptian life and Caironians doing things differently. But this was also not the Cairo I learned to love and appreciate over the 7 months before. This was a Cairo where life had come to a crawl during the day and at night is different as well.
People in the streets aren't as lively and in general the streets are empty. Empty with bustling, Cairo didn't really turn into a ghost-town, but I have to say that compared to a month ago, it is a shadow of itself.

There's more to Ramadan in Egypt and in next posts I will blog about them.


Friday, July 16, 2010

In the end I tought it best not to convert to Islam just right now...

So as it seems, this is going to be the week of blogging about Cairo. Anyway, here's another post.

This month seems to be the month of vacations at work. It makes sense as schools are out and the weather is excellent. Although, truth must be told, the weather in Cairo is pretty much always excellent. Interestingly enough most people seem to migrate to the north coast, Alexandria and the rest of the Mediterranean region. Probably because they are looking for some coolness instead of the heath, like most people from the Netherlands do.
I don't hear many of my colleagues talk about going to Sharm el Sheikh, Hurghada or Luxos. Way to hot. Actually the only colleagues I know that went down there were not Egyptian.

Another reason why it makes sense that people take a break around this time, is that August this year is Ramadan. And I don't think that Ramadan is the period you should associate with a lot of fun and leisure. Granted, when they told me that pretty much everything moves to a halt around 13:30 - 14:00 during this period I did consider to convert to Islam, but than I realized that there must be a reason. And the reason is that people just don't have the energy or stamina to continue after that time.
During Ramadan you're not allowed to eat, drink or take anything at all, so no smoking as well. And I got to say, a day without eating is not a problem, it happens every now and than that I don't take the time to make me some sandwiches and I'll have to do without. But no drinking is a totally different story. And I don't think it's actually healthy not to drink the whole day.
Now consider a whole population of a country where a pack of cigarettes costs pretty close to nothing is not allowed to eat, drink or smoke. I think it is obvious that many of them will get agitated and irritated because they don't get their nicotine fix. Let me put it this way, colleagues have warned me not to get into the streets around 2 PM since all smokers will be going home and are extremely on edge because they didn't smoke for the whole day. And they're facing a smoke-free period for another couple of hours. Egyptians behind the wheel are very aggressive by their very nature but without a smoke it's extreme, so I've been told.

I was looking forward to a month of working for only half a day, but since I'm not practicing Ramadan I won't be able to join the masses. And I think that's a good thing. For one, I like my life, so there's no need to die in the streets. And secondly I like my coffee during the day and the water and the Coke. In short, I like to get my caffeine fix on time, before I get all agitated and irritated and am prone to make my driver go for those 20 points walking down the streets.

By the way, Ramadan is all about living the way you're supposed to live your life according to scripture and teachings. It's a time during which you focus on being a good person and respect your fellow man. I would say that one should do that whole year around and in turn you get to eat and drink and smoke all year around. I think it's an excellent deal. You're a got person all year and you get to eat and drink all year, instead of being a good person for a month and not drink or eat for the duration of that month.
Granted, you're allowed to eat and drink between sunset and sunrise, but in summertime that's an awful short time. Then again, the sun sets around 8 PM and rises not that early. So I guess if anything, it's better to spend Ramadan in summer during your vacation in Sharm el-Sheikh than in Oslo. But like I said, Ramadan is not about fun and leisure. It's about refocusing on being a good person according to scripture and teachings.


Monday, July 12, 2010

No, I'm really not cheating on my wife. Really. Honestly.

Coming weekend I'll be going back to Holland again. This time it won't be with my regular flight, KL554, but with an Air France flight, stop over in Paris and than on my way to Schiphol, Amsterdam airport. Arrival will be about the same time, so I'm leaving early. Why am I blogging about this? Because the other day I got an interesting question from my driver:
"Do you always visit Madam Iwan when you go back to Hullanda", which doesn't require a translation. The obvious answer was of course "Yes, of course!", but the question itself was interesting because it should be clear to anyone that when you've been away from your family for about 2 weeks, you'll be visiting them. But as it seems it wasn't that obvious to my driver, which was proven by his follow up question: "Do you have another wife?", which kind of flaborgasted me. Was my driver asking me whether or not I have a lady-friend on the side? It seemed he did. My answer should've been "No, of course not", but I stuck with "No". There had to be a reason for this question.
We continued our drive and he explained that he had another wife, that he visits every now and then. The wife I met months ago was the mother of his children, a son and 2 daughters. His other wife, of which I just learned about, he has no children with. The point was more or less, that he visits her when he's tired of his other wife and wants to have a good time. He was actually very candid about the whole matter and didn't seem to have any weird understanding about it. So I just accepted that my driver was cheating on his wife and told me about it. As if it was the most natural thing to do.
I on the other hand thought that it was not really something you talk about. I consider myself rather liberal and open minded to new stuff and other habits, that's one of the main reasons why I enjoy living and working abroad, but I also feel that you should treat everybody with a decent amount of respect. And when you're cheating on your wife, you shouldn't just blurt it out as if it is normal. You keep the fact that you're disrespectful against your wife and your children's mother to yourself.
Anyway, I'm not cheating on my wife so I could be honest the whole drive.

Now apparently it is quite common in Egypt to have more than one wife. Actually it is by law allowed... and if I understood correctly, only when you're Muslim. This because the Koran says that under circumstances you are allowed to have up to 3 additional wives next to your first wife. But only if you meet the criteria and your first wife approves. So it wasn't that weird a question my driver asked me. It was actually quite a normal question. He knows I don't see my wife most of the time, so if I have more than one wife, I would probably alternate between the two during my visits. Still at the time the question was odd.
One thing I've come to realize in Egypt is that state and religion are very much interwoven. Something that was confirmed by my colleagues during a discussion we had on the topic. And in fact this goes as far as that based on your religion, certain laws apply and others don't. For example, the Orthodox Christian church in Egypt doesn't allow married couples to divorce, where as Muslims are allowed to divorce. In case you're an Orthodox Christian by law you're not allowed to divorce, but if you convert to for example to Muslim, you are allowed to divorce.
In an earlier post I already stated that the Egyptians are actually very liberal and tolerant when it comes to religion. 15% of the population is Christian and many of the Christian holidays are celebrated and considered public holidays. Something many western countries might take as an example of how to live together. But having which laws apply to you depend on your religion is a bit too, well, unorthodox. But this goes as far as that the holy scripture of your religion is prevalent over governmental law.

Without judging I can say that I find this highly interesting. Moreover because I grew up in an environment where since centuries church and state are separated and state dictates law, church takes care of moral issues. I worked in Pakistan, which is a really predominantly Muslim country, which shows in many aspects of everyday life. And I lived and worked in the US, which although they claim that church and religion are separated as well, really isn't. The Christian lobby is extremely strong and in many cases laws are passed because of the religious believes of the legislators. Europe's got it pretty much nailed down in many cases. And Turkey has been transformed by Ata Turk by force, but slowly it seems that church is gaining power within governmental matters again.
But all things aside, here in Egypt it seems to be working. From what I've been told and what I experience, the fundamental pillars of most religions are respected. Things like respect your fellow human, treat people nicely, don't hurt yourself or your fellow man etc. Are very much embedded in this society.

I'm really not a proponent of inter-operability of state and church. I think they should be separated but also, they should be alligned. Religious believes should not result in unlawful behaviors or actions and definitely laws should not consider what religion prescribes. But again, most religions have fundamental pillars that make a lot of sense when applied as the foundation of law.
Here in Egypt it all seems to work. But than again, what do I know? I only have one wife and it never crossed my mind to get a second one.


PS: One of the reasons to have additional wives is to help them out. As religion prohibits men and women that are not related nor married spend a lot of time together without any chaperon, you'll need to marry the woman when you want to structurally help her. It is sort of social security for women.

(Disclaimer: I am not an expert when it comes to law or religion. And most definitely I am not an expert when it comes to Egypt law or the Islam. I am merely a witness of everyday life in Cairo, who's interested in how people live their life in Cairo.)

Sunday, July 11, 2010

Half way through the year, and it has been hot.

It's been a while since I last blogged. Although I'd planned to post at least once a week, the last couple of weeks went by unnoticed.

So I'm now in Cairo since a bit over 6 months and I think you can say I've settled in, more or less. Of course the family is still staying in the Netherlands so I'm still going home once every other weekend. Spending a long weekend in Almere with my wife and kids.
They've adjusted pretty good actually. Ray is still very thrilled to see me when I get home on the Friday mornings but after a day all is back to normal. For the rest it doesn't seem to be too special that I am back. Jay is in a phase where he's trying to find his spot in life and is questioning and trying everything we say, so when I'm back he's got to fight two parents instead of one, and my wife is pestered by two kids every night. Most of the time Ray is keeping her up all night, and if he's sleeping through the night, Jay's covering for him. So she's just happy that there's somebody to get the kids in the morning.

Anyway, recently there's not too much going on here in Cairo. It's mainly hot, and hot it's been. About three weeks ago the temperature reached almost 50C for a day and the surrounding days it was close to 45C, turning my pool into a sauna of 36C. But more importantly, the air here in Cairo is hot. So getting some cooling from a breeze is a no-no. Actually every breath of wind is actually a matter of having a blow-dryer right in your face. Funny thing is, that I wasn't aware of the heat until people told me that it had been hot. There's airconditioning all over the place, and I've set the AC in my apt to turn on about half an hour prior for me arriving home. And when I get up of course. Don't want to get up and dressed all sweaty. The car's comfortable with an AC blowing as well and my driver makes sure that I'm taken into the office in an air conditioned car.

Anyway, it has been hot lately, although nowadays we're experiencing a comfortable 32C-35C and hardly any humidity. So that's pretty doable.

For now this is it. I'll try to blog once a week again, maybe I'll try to catch up the last couple of weeks in some posts this week. But maybe not.


Monday, June 14, 2010

I'm hungry, let's have diner... or is it lunch? Breakfast maybe?

Yesterday I blogged about some peculiarities of food, diner invitations and all that. I hinted towards some details around diner, lunch and breakfast. But since the post was getting longer than I initially anticipated and I don't like to edit my posts after I'm done typing I just decided that I would cover some more eating in my next post, which is this one.

So the other day I noticed that again some of my colleagues had pizza around 5 PM. They call it 5 PM here instead of 17:00 hrs, which I quickly took over because my driver understands 5 PM better than 17:00 hrs and I'd rather ... well that's besides the point.
So these colleagues were having pizza again, they typically have junk food around 5 PM and I gave up commenting on that. For one, they also have an espresso machine that help me get my daily caffeine fix from freshly brewed espresso's. But I noticed that they all stay for just a little while longer and then head home or wherever they go after work. One of them I knew he is married with children, and as it turns out only one of the three actually is single and understandably eats out all the time. So what were these other two doing every day, working late and having junk food at the office. Didn't they want to spend time with the family? Are their wives such bad cooks that Papa John's pizza is a better alternative, even McDonalds?

Turns out that they were having pre-lunch at the office. Meaning that they were having a late lunch, which I call a brunch and have at around 3 PM not at 5 PM, because that's diner. And actually they don't have lunch either, they have a pre-lunch. Sort of a snack to fire up the ol' metabolism. Back at home they would have lunch... only to have diner somewhere after midnight or at least late at night. Weird to say the least because that doesn't leave much time for a late night snack... and indeed they do have late night snacks as well, sometimes. These colleagues of mine.
I don't dare to ask about breakfast, because there's no time left in the day to have breakfast, more over because I don't see them eat in the office before their pre-lunch.

But by now you should've guesed what I've been considering all this time... they don't eat during the day. Well, only if you consider that 5 PM is evening, which is true for many Dutch people because they have diner around 5-5:30 PM. So they're training for Ramadan, that's my guess. They're actaully preparing the whole year for getting through Ramadan without too much suffering. Considering that food is playing a huge part in their social lives (see my previous post here), it is crucial I guess to get through the days where eating is only allowed after the sun has set and before the sun rises again. Actually everything that can be considered consuming nutritious stuff is prohibited, including drinking and smoking as well as eating.

So everything aside, when I'm having lunch, sometime around noon. I am having a sandwich with, currently, blue berry jam, and my colleagues are having nothing. They have their pre-lunch at around 5 PM, when I have, well nothing or maybe a cookie.

Guess Egyptians and Dutchies are not exactly the same after all.


Sunday, June 13, 2010

Ritualistic feasting on food, the Egyptian way

As in many cultures I've come across in the past so many years, food and eating is also a playing a major part in Egyptian life. It is a way of expressing how much you love somebody, it's a way of showing how well you're doing. It's a way of showing others that you're really doing everything you can to make them feel more than welcome. And then there's the whole deal about having breakfast, lunch and diner.

But let me start at the beginning. I think it doesn't come as a surprise when I state that Egypt is predominantly a Muslim country. Although there's a vast amount of Christians up to the point that a number of Christian holidays are public holidays, Islam rules. The majority of Muslims I've come to see and meet in Egypt is very serious about their religion. Many morals and ethics are derived from, or rather inspired by the Koran I take it. When you walk around in Cairo you will hardly see boys and girls holding hands. Well you won't see them because they either don't or because they vandalized the streetlights and enjoy a little bit of privacy the result darkness grants them. This in fact happens in front of my apartment building. True story.
But you won't see any public touchy-feely amongst boys and girls or even amongst adults. It is plainly not done to show any form of affection in the physical way Westerners do. No pecks on cheeks or that kind of action. At least not between men and women. Same-sex touchy-feely is very common. I've experience some not so secret handshakes where I had to withdraw my hand with great force in order to be sure I would be able to use it the rest of the day because a colleague would hold it securely, preferably for the length of the conversation. But that's not the point of this post. The point is that you don't show you love your son in law by hugging him and pecks on the cheeks, that's just not done between son-in-law and mother-in-law. Instead, being the mother-in-law, you prepare excessive amounts of food and as son-in-law you eat it all and admit that you love the food. And no, it is not considered respectful to be honest and tell her that you really not all that into egg plant, or vegetables in general.

So what about strangers that are to become acquaintances, the kind of people you invite for diner. There's two types of these kind of strangers. Those that you really like and really want to become acquaintance with and those you don't really like, but invite none the less because that's required by whatever unpleasant rule. That second group is easy, you prepare food in such a way that it is as luxurious as possible, just to show off. It's show-off food. It's like throwing a BBQ and give the neighbor the best piece of meat just to show him you can afford it. Which is stupid because you're giving the best piece of meat to somebody you'd rather not give it to. Maybe not inviting him for diner? Well it's all about pride and in my world pride typically results in bad stuff like wars and killings and spillings of good stuff and all that. One should be proud but not act out of pride. But that's besides the point of this post as well.
So that leaves the first kind of diner guests. Those you like and you would like to feel very welcome. You prepare the food the best way you can, hoping that you're preparing the guest's favorite dishes the best possible way. And the food should be in abundance, because you want this guest to stay around for as long as possible. The guest will feel obliged to finish all and that may take a while and once all food is eaten he'll feel too stuffed to move and will stay yet many bits longer. It's like setting a trap for this guest but with only good intentions. And you top it off with a sisha, the waterpipe, to make your guest forget that he had an incredible amount of food stuffed into his stomach. Without the right tobacco, the guest may never join for diner again. This is very risky.

Just my view on all of this: I kinda like the Dutch way, where diner is prepared for all at the diner table, but just enough for them. It sends a very clear message to uninvited guests that they should've called ahead so you could tell them not to drop by around diner time. Or you could've prepared a bit more potatoes and make the slices of meat a bit thinner. For those that are welcome at the diner table, there's just enough. And in case you don't like the food, there's never that much that pretending you like it becomes one of the most horrible acts of terror in your life. You can leave a little of the disgusting food on your plate out of politeness,  to show the host that he or she had overdone the meal. That they went really out of their way to make you feel welcome. Remember, there was food for you to eat (or not) which means you were welcome in the first place... this is all nice and well, but what if the food is really good. What if it's not egg plants a-go-go but something really tasty? Than you're screwed in Holland, because there won't be enough for second rounds, so you remember what it was called for next time, or even better you ask the host or his wife a copy of the recipe. They will feel very flattered.

What this is all leading to? Well, sometime during my first month in Cairo, I was invited by my driver and his family to have diner at their place. And I have to admit that most of the prepared was very, and I mean very, tasty. Quite different from what I knew about Egyptian food, which at that time meant Shoarma. Some of the dishes were really not that good and since I believe that you show some respect to people by not lying and staying with the truth, I expressed my dislike of these dishes in all honesty, but respectfully refrained from any harshness.
The interesting bit was when I had enough, my stomach was full. Which doesn't take that much because I don't eat much, except when it comes to home fried French fries from Albert Hein. I can eat a whole kilo of them with fricandellen to match all soaked in Curry and Mayonaise with a good amount of onions and Peanut sauce. Anyway, one fried chicken wing (a large chicken) and some soup, some rice and other stuff and I was done. Or so I thought. Turned out I wasn't since there was still food on the table. And a lot of food it was.
Since my mum had taught me to be polite at all times, I did my best to eat some more, and my efforts were not left unnoticed. I was allowed to stay alive and not eat all the food. And the food was truly very good.

Every now and than I get some of the food in a pan from my driver, typically with lentil soup or koshari, which is a pasta dish that is very good, and the spicy sauce that comes with it, is excellent. I typcally need 2 days to finish it all, but that is probably because I don't eat all that much. Unless it is of course patat from Albert Hein, home fried of course.

Anyways, as long as I don't have to eat Egyptian amounts, I can really enjoy the food here. It's definitely not as spicy as the curries you get in Pakistan or India. Or as overly junkish as in the States. But it's good in general. Very enjoyable. I can really recommend koshari, it's really good.


Friday, June 4, 2010

Israeli commando's screw up my airport routine...

Today I'm flying back to the Netherlands to visit my wife and kids. It's been 2 weeks since I've last seen them. Well actually 11 days, but still. Since I always take the same flight back to the Netherlands (KL554), I have a routine on Cairo Airport. It pretty much means that I'm not really thinking when I get to the airport, I just go where I need to go, hand over my passport and the proof that I already checked in online, get the exit-form, fill it in, go through immigration, get a double espresso and a San Pellegrino and wait for the boarding procedure to start. This is my routine, this is what I always do, this is why I feel so comfortable on Cairo Airport.

Not today. I get to the check-in desks and there's nobody. I check my watch and agree with myself I'm not too late. And I am not too early either. But maybe my watch doesn't work as it is scheduled to be sent back to Suunto for repairs because every time I go scuba diving the battery dies on me. So I check the time with one of the police officers that walk around. And my watch is telling the correct time. So where's the check-in for Amsterdam. The displays tell me that it is some other location in the airport and my routine is getting screwed up already.
I find out where I need to go and start walking. I'm being told to make a detour 3 times because I'm not supposed to slip under some 'red tape'. I now realize that there's an awful lot of policemen in the airport and a lot of men carrying guns but not wearing a uniform. Weird I think, but determine that maybe I should walk around the taped-off areas.

At the check-in I ask what's going on. My Flying Blue Silver status allows me to check-in at the business desk and the guy probably feels obliged to answer my question. The full area where I typically check-in is now reserved for El-Al only, there's extremely heightened security and extreme luggage control.
Hmmmm, why could this be? But obviously because of the raid on this convoy with aid to the people in Gaza earlier this week and the fact that the whole world at least stated that this was at least unfortunate. I'm trying to be politically correct here. I never consider violence to be a solution and now it becomes crystal clear to me. The Israeli commando's that raided the convoy have screwed up my airport routine. So this is how it feels to be 'collateral damage', well it sucks.

Oh and just for the record: I have no idea as to what actually happened on those ships, so I have no idea as to whether or not these deaths was justified. So I'm not saying who is right or who is wrong, I'm just saying that violence is never a solution.


Wednesday, June 2, 2010

Sharm el-Sheikhians are not Cairotanians

As promised in my previous post I was going to use this week to catch up on some experiences in Egypt.

Early May of this year I had my wife and kids over from the Netherlands. When you read the blog regularly you know that I live in Cairo by myself and my wife and two sons are still living in Almere, the Netherlands. Every other weekend I fly back to Holland to see them.
So early May they came to Cairo for two days and we then went to Sharm el-Sheikh and stayed at the Park Inn Resort, a resort very close to the airport (about 10 minutes) with an aqua park. The park is especially nice for younger kids. My sons are 5 and 3 and are totally into swimming and splashing and sliding and this aqua park allowed them on all slides but 3 of them, and these 3 were really a bit too adventurous for young kids like my son.
So we had a blast in Sharm el-Sheikh as well as in Cairo. In Cairo we obviously went to see the pyramids and the Sphinx. We also paid a visit to Cairo Tower. But the real fun was in Sharm el-Sheikh. The weather was great, of course, and so was the hotel. Rooms were spacious and clean. People working at the hotel were friendly. So was the food, buffet all the time, but very well prepared.

But the shop owners just outside of the hotel were pretty much the worst people I ever met. I mean, you know upfront that the shops are trying to sell as much as possible for naive tourists and we all know that typically these shop owners are very aggressive sales people. But the ones around the Park Inn Resort in Sharm el-Sheikh are horrible.
They practically dragged our kids into their shops just to get us inside as well. Probably to force us to buy something or else they wouldn't let us go. Even worse, they treated my wife with a total lack of respect, towards her or me for that matter. One time my wife was walking 2 meters in front of me, and the stares and looks she got were out of this world.

In one of my first posts about my experiences here in Egypt I characterize the Egyptians as the most approachable people I've met. Well I have to retract that remark... Cairotanians are the most approachable people I've met, Sharm el-Sheikhians are the most horrific people I've ever met. Okay, at least those that own a shop.
The badness of our experience was such that my wife didn't want to leave the resort any more, fortunately the kids didn't want to leave the pool either. But this counts for something. She got a pretty wrong idea of what Egyptians are like. I would've too, hadn't I met the Cairotanians. The shop owners we met in Hurghada were not as bad as those in Sharm el-Sheikh and in Marsa Alam I only met the drivers at the diving center everybody else was foreigner.

So my experience with the Egyptians in Sharm el-Sheikh during my vacation with the family was not so good. Thankfully I live among pharao's and they are really nice people.


Monday, May 31, 2010

When traveling in Egypt, don't forget proof of who you are...


It has been a while and I'll try to catch up this week on the blogs. Quite a bit is to be blogged about.

So I went to Sharm el-Sheikh last weekend, it was the second time this month. First I went with my family to Sharm, about which I will blog in another post. Last weekend I went with what turned out to be 'buddies' of mine as we went scuba diving.
Last Wednesday I went to Maadi Divers in Maadi, Cairo. They're on road 218, which is walking distance from my apartment, but only because Maadi is a rather small area in Cairo and pretty much everything here is walking distance. Keep that in mind if you ever plan to live in Cairo. I went there because I had to try on a BCD and a wetsuit for my scuba trip that weekend. And because they needed a photocopy of my passport. And I thought that was it, so on our trip the following day I didn't bring my passport... Oops, there're all kinds of roadblocks on the way from Cairo to Sharm el-Sheikh. My buddies had their passports and ID's ready for the showing, but I had only my driver's license on me.
Sure that has a photo of me on it and a recent one at that, but it doesn't show that I have a valid visa for Egypt. And that is kind of important as well.

So we were stopped quite often between Cairo and Sharm and more than once all passports were requested by the policeman at the roadblock. But for some reason they never questioned the fact that they didn't see a passport for me. Although we were very honest about the fact that I'm Dutch. Guess the Dutch are welcome everywhere or something. Or maybe I was just lucky.

Anyway, after a two nights at the boat on our way back at the very first roadblock they gave us a hard time and all passports were requested and checked. My driver's license was handed over as well. But again, for some reason they didn't get around to check and wonder about that pink little piece of plastic that didn't mean nothing as all text on it is in Dutch. So we got to go on our way back to Cairo.
The interesting thing here is that you can fly into Sharm el-Sheikh and stay there without a visa, but you're not allowed to go to Cairo without a visa, so if you want to leave the Sharm-area, they are very keen on people without a visa and without an Egyptian residents ID. Still I got away with it.

On top of that we got stopped for a speeding violation... guess what. The police officer ran out of tickets and we were told to move along. Guess we got some good karma this weekend.

Anyway, the lesson I learned and would like to convey to you, is that when you move around in Egypt, you should always have your passport with you so you know who you are and have proof of it, but you also have that ever so important visa to show.

Enjoy your stay in Egypt when you get around to visit this interesting country.


Friday, April 30, 2010

When you're living apart but really apart


This is another installment of my blog on living in Cairo. That's Cairo in Egypt, not somewhere else in the world. I believe there're a couple of Cairo's in the US and probably elsewhere as well. No this is Cairo in Egypt and I live here since just under 4 months, together with around 11 million other people. Some of which arrive in Cairo with me on January 3rd, 2010. Some of them arrived later and most were here before me.
Cairo is a huge city, a dirty city but most of all an interesting city. But that's not what I'll be blogging about this time around. This post is all about living here and leaving there. And by 'there' I mean Almere. As you may or may not know, I'm from Holland, and living there with my family in Almere. I'm married and have two sons, 3 and almost 5 years old. I visit them every other weekend. Fortunately I realized before signing my contract in Egypt that the Egyptian weekend is covering Friday and Saturday, instead of Saturday and Sunday like in Holland. So I arranged that I can spend every other weekend a Dutch weekend with the family. Meaning that I fly on Friday to Holland and fly back to Cairo on Sunday. And because the flights are all red-eyes, I get to spend the whole of Friday, Saturday and Sunday with my wife and the kids. Meaning that of every 2 weeks, I'm 3 days in Almere.

This also means that I am leaving them behind once every two weeks. Initially our oldest son was the one who missed me the most. Asking me if I could stay longer, telling me that he was going to miss me and although not really the most hugging boy in the world, actually not really a hugging boy at all, made darn sure that he left an imprint on my cheek every time they dropped me off at Schiphol, Amsterdam Airport. He would ask me every time, if I could ask my bosses if I could stay a bit longer next time, until Wednesday. Because on Wednesday he's having his swimming lessons, so I could see him swimming. My heart's been ripped out of my chest more than once by this little boy.
But lately he seems to have accepted it and he still misses me and wants me to stay, but he also knows that I've got to go and that's that. Although last time I was with the family he asked me if there is more work in Cairo than in Holland. And maybe I should consider a career change and switch to a job that is more common in Holland. Because than I could work in Holland again and consequently live with them again.
Our youngest on the other hand, has always been very much okay with me leaving but was extremely happy when I got home again. He is the hugging kind of kid, very emotional and expressive. He was always very happy to see me, but after an hour or so, all was back to normal and all that joy was gone and he was back to normal, as if I'd gotten home after a day of work. But lately he's been asking a lot for me. My wife calls me a lot so he can hear my voice and all. And last time I was home, he was asking me all the time if he could come with me to Cairo. Everytime we're on the phone he asks me if I come home tomorrow. Last time, he was hugging me all weekend long, wanted to sit next to me and all these little, very big things.

It's all as if our oldest has realized that it is the way it is and that's it, while our youngest has just started to realize the fact that I'm home for a few days and than gone again. Fortunately there's Skype and Skype's online number. This is cutting phone bills to fractions of what they would be if it hadn't been for Skype. I've got a local number for Almere now, so my wife can call me for free, as we've got a flat-rate phone-plan in Holland for landlines. And I can call any land line in Holland for a flat-rate of just under €5 a month. Or we Skype over the internet with video. This makes it a lot better and at least we can get in touch when we want to.

Still, living thousands of kilometers apart is quite something. Even with plenty of flights going back and forth and internet to help stay in touch.


Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Be prepared to pay for luxury, where luxury is almost for free


This is another post about me living in Cairo, one of the biggest cities, population-wise, in the world.

I've been living in Cairo for about three and a half months now of which the first two were spend in a hotel, the Grand Hyatt Cairo. The last six weeks I've been living in my apartment in Maadi, the area where many expats and diplomats live.
Although my apartment is fully furnished, this basically means that the bare minimum was there. The apartment sported two couches, a dining table for six, beds in all the bedrooms and furniture for the terrace. There's a washing combination (washer/dryer) and a dishwasher as well. And of course a stove. Oh plenty of closets.
This is the bare minimum. I had to buy my own microwave and alarm clock. I also bought a new TV as the one in the apartment was an old CRT, and I definitely wanted a flat screen TV. I went for an LG, although I am not too happy about the LG plasma I have in Holland. This is where today's post comes in

When you want the better brands as you know them from Europe or the US, you're paying dearly. I remember from my time in the US that my colleagues would tell me that if you couldn't really afford a car you would buy an American brand. Otherwise it would be one of the Japanese, like Honda or Toyota. If you'd really made it, it would be European, with BMW and Mercedes at the top. This was in 2000.
Here it's the same, although the low-end is Chinese, the mid-end is Korean and the high end is Japanese/European. This when it comes to electronics. There are a lot of different Chinese brands and most of them don't even make an effort to pretend that they're providing quality products. It's all cheap, even the design. It is not my nature to go for the cheap, I go for the top range, have done so all my life. But the difference in prices between LG or Samsung (which is mid-range) and Sony or Philips is considerable

I needed for my terrace some furniture. Although the apartment comes with its own furniture, it's not really relaxing. I'd seen this really awesome lounge bed in the form of a shell from Benoa Living, Dutch design. Really nice and expensive. But you can get a replica here in Cairo, for the same amount but in Egyptian Pounds, so only a fraction of the price, also nice, but bad quality. Since I needed something relaxing on my terrace I kept on looking for something affordable and finally turned to Fatboy, also Dutch. They have a beanbag rugadized for outdoor use and they have a distributor in Cairo. The problem with genuine products here in Cairo, is that you have to consider huge duties raised by customs. Which is also the case for the Fatboy, shipping, handling and customs are raising the price with 80%.

I've come to the conclusion that you should really stick with the local products and there are now also designer products appearing. But keep a close eye on quality, as it is sometimes really mediocre. Keep especially an eye out for moving parts, the constructs are in many cases of MacGyver quality.

And then there's the other kind of luxury here in Cairo. There's hardly anything you can do that you can not have anybody else do as well, for really little money. For example, laundry and ironing of a shirt is 9 Egyptian Pounds, at least that's what I pay. Which is less than 2 US$ and around €1.10.
Basically everything that can be done through manual labor, you can have it done for cheap according to western standards. And in most cases the quality of work delivered is acceptable to very good. It more or less depends on your relation with the person doing the work. They like you, they take very much proud in their work and they'll make sure you'll be happy with their efforts. Otherwise it's just money for them and they'll rush it.
There are several forums on the web that have price-comparison charts and overviews with pricing guidelines for these kind of little jobs. Actually my apartment came with an information book with all kinds of info regarding living in Cairo and includes a section about help in and around the house. Very handy indeed.

Until next post about my life among pharaos.


Tuesday, April 6, 2010

Scuba diving in Egypt, Marsa Alam.


This time I won't blog about a particularly different experience I had here in Egypt. Instead I just want to re-iterate how cool the Red Sea is when it comes to scuba diving (and snorkling for that matter). It is by far the clearest sea I've been diving in. Clearer than the Maldives, which were clear. And in addition the coral is very nice, especially around Marsa Alam, where tourism seems to be limited to divers unlike Hurghada and Sharm el-Sheik. The area is great for shore dives with it's many bays with excellent reefs, which make them also great for snorkling.

But Marsa Alam is also great for boat trips.

Okay, you come here for the coral and the colors and almost guaranteed 25C temperature of the water. That is what the Red Sea is all aboutn plus some real treats in the form of ship wrecks and canyons. But 30+ meter visibility and beautiful corals are the key.
There're no guaranteed sharks, whales or manta's. That's the Maledives, South Africa or the Caribean. No fear induced adrenaline kick, but a call for tranquillity.

I've been here no the second time at the Oasis in Marsa Alam. A dive resort run by Werner Lau and Sinai Divers. Actually I believe the hotel and dive school are independend. Both hotel and dive school are top notch. Rooms are clean, spacey an geared towards divers. There's no night club, so no booming bases to keep you awake while you realize that it'll be hard to wake up at 6 AM for the 'Turtle dive.
The dive center is also very well equiped with good diving materials and very friendly staff. Staff speaks English and German. Again this time, most guests are German speaking (Germans, Swiss and Austrians). It has been a challenge and an exercise for me to pick up my German again. And oh boy, do I have an accent.

These 2 days, 5 dives, have been about nitrox. For the first time I've been using nitrox for all dives and I love it. Especially at the little ays and coves around the Oasis there's hardly a chance you'll go deeper than 30 meters, so you're save. And I have to say, I did really feel a lot fitter after the dives. Even after 3 dives of 60+ minutes on one day. Absolutely something to consider when you're thinking of coming to Marsa Alam and do mainly shore dives. But even on the Maldives, at a shark dive, it would've been beneficial as it would allow me to stay longer at 20 meters. Yup, the EAN specialty is a good one to have.

I don't know where I'll be diving next, but the Egyptian shore of the Mediteranean is definitely something I'll do this year. Now that I am in Egypt, I want to see the historical sites, above and below sea level.


PS: I've uploaded some vids of the dive resort, The Oasis, on youtube.

Monday, April 5, 2010

Pyramids + X-Files: Trust no one

Hello from the land of the pyramids and pharao's.

Nothing mystical or mysterious in this post, no X-File'esque story, although this post is about crime.
This week I was scammed. Somebody posed as my downstairs neighbor that just moved is a while ago, and that wanted to meet the other tennants. I'd seen this guy before in the building so I thought his story was genuine.

He knew about the other neighbor from downstairs and that my neighbor from across the hall is a Brit.
We chatted a bit and when I got him a soda, he got my Nokia N85. I didn't notice until he was gone.
This guy was as friendly as every other Egyptian I've met sofar.
I should've been more cautious in hindsight as the security guys had told me somebody would drop by that evening, and why would they mention this when it concerns a tennant. And this guy rand the intercom to check whether or not I was in.

So I guess this time the experience in Cairo is not that positive and not really typical Egyptian, but I think that it should be a real warning, as these scammers prey on gullible expats who think all Egyptian are nice and
friendly. But Egypt is an orchard, most apples are sweet and tasty, healthy in vitamines, some apples are rotten. But trust me, these are forming a minority. Everybody around me felt genuinely bad for me and wanted to help to get past this.

So, trust no one? Just be cautious.


Wednesday, March 24, 2010

About feeling extremely safe... most of the time

Here in Cairo it is really obvious, but last October (2009) when we were in Hurghada it was obvious as well. Egypt takes its law enforcement really serious.

Everywhere you go, you're bound to see policemen taking care of... well you. Look closely and you'll see different kinds of policemen. Some are just plain police, they're typically recognized by the fact that they have no real distinctive signs on their uniform. They're just wearing a uniform in the universal police color, blue. And I have no idea why everywhere in the world, the police is wearing blue uniforms, although they're actually not in Germany, and probably not in many other countries as well. So maybe blue isn't that universal. Anyway, I'm getting off topic here.
Besides the regular policemen, you'll see some trainees, they're recognizable by the lack of big guns. The other day I saw some with StarWars light-sabres kind off weapons, which were very much resembling the ones you can buy at Toys-R-Us to be honest. The regular police is packing big guns, automatic, wooden grip, might be AK47, although I haven't heard any go off, and from the movies I know that the AK47 makes a very distinctive sound. Which movie was that? That's righ, Full Metal Jacket. One of the best Vietnam movies.
When you're taking part of traffic, i.e. you're in a car as pedestrians aren't really considered to be part of traffic. They're just surviving going from one sidewalk to another. So when you're part of traffic, you need to be aware of traffic police. But just for wearing your seatbelt and when you're driving you're not allowed to talk on the phone. Here the see no evil, hear no evil paradigm is important to keep in mind. For example, my driver lowers his phone when in eye-sight of a policeman, and he throws his seatbelt like a lasso around the handbreak as soon as we're entering an erea with a high policeman density. I guess that fines are serious enough for people to pretend that they care about their life and don't want to die in a traffic accident. And trust me, people die here in traffic accidents... or while waiting for the ambulance to take them to a hospital for that matter. By the way, the police nor the drivers here in Cairo care about speedlimits, tailgating, unnecessary honking or not turning on you head lights at night.
There's obviously the millitairy police, the MP, which you don't see that often, although here in Maadi you see them quite a bit. They take in many cases care of the diplomats in Maadi, especially around embassies. The MP, so I've been told, is not really involved in normal life here in Cairo. You can pretty much ignore them.

Most interesting is the 'Tourist Police', which I thought were just a bunch of people that were offered a job to lower unemployment rate. The tourist police is not around to fine tourists, or to lock them up for stealing remains of mummies from the pyramids. They don't carry guns I think, but that is maybe because they're too sophisticated. I've been told, that the tourist police is actually sort of a elite. They have had more training, including speaking common foreign languages. They are specific to an area in Cairo and know more about the area than regular policemen, especially when it comes to touristy things, like the whereabouts of landmarks and such.

So when you're in Cairo you're bound to see a lot of police, most will carry guns, big guns. Serious stuff with lots of bullets. Big bullets. But all to protect you, being not a policeman. Only in traffic, they're not protecting you. In many cases they are busy taking care of themselves, trying not to get hit by a swerving taxi. Many of these gun-packing policemen seem trustworthy when it comes to their gun. But there are plenty I'd rather see without a gun.

So, you can feel really safe here in Cairo. Really.


PS: Sofar I have to admit, that Cairo seems to me being one of the safest cities I've been. Never have I felt threatened or did I worry. You're totally good when passing a group of youngsters minding their own business, which they have no intention to making your business. Something I can't say about New York City, Amsterdam, Berlin or Singapore. Even in Almere you don't feel at ease when passing a group of youngsters as they often behave like a pack of wolves. Nope, sofar I feel really safe in Cairo.

Wednesday, March 17, 2010

You are who you know.

This week I was introduced into the wonderous world of being defined by the people you know. Actually last week this was already pointed out to me, and this week it was confirmed.

In Egypt it really matters to a great degree on who you know in order to what you can get done. When you know somebody high up in the ranks of a business, you'll be certain to get that job you want. The higher up you know somebody, the better your chances. This can get to a degree that normal procedures and processes don't apply to you anymore. But there's a downside to this as well. In most cases people know that you know people and this is when they stop treating you as if you are the right person for the job. Once word gets around you know people, you can face an attitude of your co-workers oozing your incompetency. So although you got in easy, you're bound to be hard pressed to proof yourself.

And then there's the case where you need to get things done. The other day I had no internet connection because the bill wasn't paid. So my landlord and myself went to the provider to pay the bill. It was just after 9 PM and they were closing. People were standing in front of the office begging to do their bidding, but the guard was clear: Tomorrow another chance.
As it turns out, my landlord knows the CEO or GM of the provider and has his mobile number to proof it... very convenient, because although the bill couldn't be paid, they made sure to reconnect me and within minutes, literally, I had internet again.

Yup Egypt is all about who you know... knowing the people high up, means you get things done, your doors are opened, you're in.


Tuesday, March 9, 2010

Bridge over the river Nile

While driving around in Cairo, Egypt, you'll notice that there is hardly anywhere you can just take some relaxing time and enjoy yourself watching the masses. Although considering the Egyptians, they're not that openly voyeuristic as westerners. I'm sure though that Egyptians look around at other people as well... hmm on second thought maybe not as not paying attention while anywhere near a car might get you killed.

But back to this post, you won't find a lot of opportunity to relax in Cairo's busy, extremely busy street. And on top of that, Cairo is rather smoggy and dusty. There are here and there some parks that provide some solitude and in case you're wondering, just like Central Park in New York City, these parks are also small refuges for everyday's hectic.

But the Cairotians have found another spot for relaxation after a hectic and busy day: The bridges over the Nile. As these bridges are offering sidewalks as broad as 3 meters, you'll see plastic chairs all along the bridge and as soon as the working day has ended for most people, it starts for some. Little carts with food and water are pulled and pushed to their definitive spots on the bridge and pedestrians are claiming their seats for a view over the Nile. Young couples are sitting across from each other, holding hands at the most and looking intently to one another, taking in every word they're saying, and ofcourse a lot of fumes from the exhaust of cars passing by.
Sometime you'll see whole families gathering discussing the day or something else (my Arabic is not good enough to understand the little fragments of their stories that reach my ears between the honking of the cars). But one thing is important to notice, they all are enjoying life's simple pleasures to the fullest without the need for iPods to block out the rambling of your loved one and without a US$ 5 espresso with a US$ 15 panini with Norwegian salmon and imported real bull Mozarella on fresh pesto with Tuscanny sun dried tomatoes on a bed of cucumber/rucola salad... Which reminds me, I've got to check out that little coffee shop around the corner on Road 9 with the excellent fresh coffee smell. They serve sandwiches and the likes for brunch.

Next time more of my discoveries in Cairo, the one in Egypt.


Friday, March 5, 2010

What do you mean by shopping without leaving the house?


This is my blog about living in Cairo. There are many Cairo's in the world, but I mean Egypt. Every once in a while, by which I mean that I try to post weekly but it turns out to be less frequently, I blog about the differences between Cairo and the other places I lived and worked.

This time I want to convey a little bit of my experiences with going shopping. People that know me, know that I am a true consumer, yet I don't like to go shopping. I don't like to be around all these people who want to buy something. Maybe because deep down, I consider them competition. They might want to buy the same stuff as I do, and maybe they take the last one. I hate it when that happens, but always keep my cool about it. No shop-rage for me... violence is never an answer.
Because I don't like to go shopping, unless I'm pretty much the only one in the shop, which rarely happens. So internet is the answer for me, and I'm really happy with the likes of, and all the shop-comparison-sites. But here's the problem, there's hardly any webshop in Egypt. Many shops and brands have a web-pressence but pretty much none have a webshop. Meaning that I have to learn to go shopping again. Have money on me, not the plastic kind, but the paper and metal stuff that many people are so crazed about... until about 3 hours ago, where I learned that here in Egypt you don't use the internet to order your consumer thingies like groceries and all. Instead you just ring the supermarket, you tell them what you want and within an hour or so they knock on your door and here're the groceries.
Same goes for all the food. Even Mc Donalds delivers and so does KFC, Pizza Hut, the Chinese restaurant and pretty much every other stuff selling instution here in Cairo. Which is very convenient.

Only thing missing is a bank that delivers the money to your home instead of you having to walk over to an ATM. Maybe an idea that I'll whisper in one of our business guys at CIB. Could be groundbreaking.

So, ditch your computer and internet connection and invest in a landline, because that you need for ordering, as they know the address from that.

Untill next post,

Iwan from my apt in Maadi, Cairo. The one in Egypt.

Tuesday, February 16, 2010

About traffic chaos, crappy cars and even worse taxis

When it comes to traffic, Cairo is something else. Chaos rules, but for those that have participated in this chaos, there is an order to it all. Never have I ever seen such interesting interpretation of traffic laws, signs of policemen and diversity of cars, bikes, carts and carriages. Not in New York City, not in Amsterdam, not in Istanbul or Lahore. Here all you can do is look outside your window and smile.

Here in Cairo the concept of traffic laws is interesting. For one, traffic laws are taken with a grain of salt, actually with a lot of grains of salt. If you want to get a gist of how much salt, get yourself a chessboard, put one grain on the first field and double it on the next and so on. For example, most of the roads have 2 or 3 lanes, these are clearly marked with a white'ish line. Now for a driver is Cairo this means that somebody took the time to decorate the roads. As by no means it could be an indication about how many cars are allowed to drive side by side. Of course not, because at least double the number of lanes can fit on the street.

The other day I came back from the airport, Egypt just won the African Cup, Football/Soccer, and right as we were entering the city we got stuck in a traffic jam. After about 45 minutes of very slowly moving forward my driver and I saw about 50 meters in front of us, on the road going the opposite direction a really serious accident. I mean, I couldn't recognize the cars that crashed, only thing I could recognize what color the cars were, but brand let alone model were unrecognizable anymore. So you can understand that the people in the car where even worse. I was a serious mess. But worst of all was the fact that no ambulance was able to get to the location of the accident. There was no chance for it to pass through traffic, as the road was completely jammed. And because there is a 30 cm tall barrier between road to prevent people from crossing to the other side the ambulance couldn't use the empty road on the other side. This is everywhere in Cairo. You just don't want to get into the position where you need an ambulance.

One interesting thing here in Cairo is the state the cars are in... they're all very visibly in use. Dents all over, scratches on every side and most of the cars have some sort of additionally lighting, typically flashing red and/or blue lights. But one part of the cars always seem to work: it's horn. You hear honking all the time, all over the place. If you listen closely, you'll hear different honking. Which is not a coincidence. Drivers honk differently in different situations. There is the 'Watch out' honk, the 'What are you thinking' honk, the 'You stupid motherf***er' honk and of course the 'Hey, how are you doing' honk. In the end it means that I don't think that anybody is paying attention. And then there is the 'light horn'. People flash their lights all the time, as if to indicate that they want to honk, but know that people don't pay attention anyways. One important benefit over honking: it's a lot more quiet, and therefore adds to the atmosphere of Cairo.
The cars around here are of interesting brands, besides the usual suspects from Korea and Japan, and the big brands from Europe (not that many though) as well as Chevrolet, you see here a lot of 'other' brands. Brands I'm not familiar with. There're also a lot of Peugeots, the kind that you would expect in a French movie from the early eighties. I haven't seen a Peugeot from this millenium. And then there are all these Fiat derivatives. Those that turned into Lada later on in life and as I am told, were then build in Egypt under a new name. But you still see them with the Fiat logo as well. Driving around leaving a trail of smoke. I also saw a Simca twice and a Talbot. Brands that I remember from my childhood.
If you're into old-timers, you should pay particular attention to the black-n-white taxis. Most of them are from the late sixties, early seventies it seems. They're a hoot to see passing by, and they do pass by because their drivers don't give a rats #$$ about traffic rules, speed limits, other cars, pedestrians or sanity in general. How I can tell? Just look at the cars themselves. They've probably been in more accidents than there are cars in Cairo. So here the advice is not to get into such a taxi. Especially not since the meter in them is at best questionable. The white taxis are the ones to take when you need to go somewhere, or you can call a yellow cab (which are yellow). They'll pick you up and take you whereever you need to go. Safely.
Even Ahmed, my driver, is positive about the yellow taxis. But don't get him started on the black-n-white cabs.

Until next post on Egypt and Cairo in particular or follow me on Twitter.


Saturday, February 6, 2010

Start of the blog, some context


I'm doing a few blogs, one is actually an attempt to write a novel. The other blogs are about stuff that is happening in my life as a person living in the Netherlands, and a third is a blog about me being an IT guy using the Netbeans IDE for development.

Since I'm no longer living in the Netherlands and instead am now living in Cairo, Egypt, I've started this blog. It's a blog about living and working in Egypt.

I'm working at CIB, a bank in Egypt, where I am the Chief Architect and Head of Architecture and Strategy. This is all within the IT department. I started on January 3rd of this year and ever since I've been living in the Grand Hyatt Cairo. The hotel is right on the Nile shores and fairly close to the office, but not as close as the Four Seasons, which would've been the hotel I would stay in were it not that it was completely booked.

I arrived in Egypt on January 2nd, and started at CIB the next day. Ever since then, I've been back to Holland twice. Every other weekend I spend with the family in the Netherlands. Which typically means I catch the KLM flight on Friday morning 4 AM arrive at 8 AM at Schiphol Amsterdam airport and on Sunday night 9 PM I fly back to Cairo and be back in the hotel around 3 AM. This is doable, although last time I was kind of very tired on Monday, which was a regular workday for me. But allows me to see my wife and kids and they see me. And we have a blast of a time. Meanwhile I'm using Skype extensively to communicate with the family while I'm not there.

The rest of the world is kept up to date with my proceedings here in Cairo through Twitter, where you can follow ThreeAxis, which is me. And now there's the blog. This blog. And I plan to post mainly in this blog all my realizations of being a Dutch expat in Egypt.

So keep an eye out for this blog. Follow it, or follow me on Twitter.