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.