Wednesday, March 19, 2008

Beach Bums

When we planned to move to Cairo, everyone advised us to take frequent breaks from the city. It is a piece of advice we have followed very closely and with some discipline. We have been to the desert, a couple of oases, Upper Egypt and up the delta. It was time for something that wasn't at all cultural or adventurous. It was time to head to the beach.

I had already been to Sharm el Shiekh -- nice but very much a commercial resort town. We wanted something a little more chill. Friends suggested we spend the weekend in Dahab, a small coastal village just an hour's drive from Sharm el Sheikh on the Sinai penninsula. Sitting in the lap of incredible red and brown mountains and facing the dancing blue-green sea, it was breathtaking. Very relaxed and not historic or adventurous from any angle.

As a result, we didn't do much. Our days consisted of sitting on the beach, staring at the Red Sea (I personally could do it for hours), taking naps and pretending to read (I think I got through 5 pages the whole weekend).

The waterfront is dotted with restaurants, sheesha joints and cafes. All of whom don't seem to mind if you sit there all day. Attentive and charming waiters brought us Arabic coffee (masboot for me/ sa'ada for yk) and we drank endless glasses of freshly squeezed fruit juices.

One afternoon, I got ambitious and tried a new combo: guava, banana, strawberry. All that fresh fruit looked irresistable. It was incredibly delicious but impossible to drink! Have you ever tried sucking undiluted fruit puree through a 1/4 inch straw? aiy-ya ya. Another fave was sugar cane juice and lemon. My teeth hurt just thinking about it. And when we weren't trying to drink baby-food through a straw, we were getting our Indian food fix at this little place called Nirvana. And it was. We ate aloo-parahata and saag paneer at every opportunity. Mmmm-mmmm good. Y. even snuck out one morning before I woke up, just to have a masala chai on the beach before we left.

Past lighthouse point, the beach gets a little quieter. European holiday makers are replaced with local families. We saw a group of young kids playing at being fishermen...

In the evening, we hung out at the Shams Hotel lounge where we ate light meals of salad, mezze and grilled fish and enjoyed the groovy tunes played by the brilliant dj and our host, Ahmed. Our biggest challenge was trying not to fall asleep on their comfortable floor cushions. Ahhh. Talk about taking a break from reality. The next day, we would be fighting the filth, pollution and traffic of Cairo. But no need to think about that yet: Bukara, insh'Allah. For now, another chai, min fadluck.

All photos copyright Sufia Lodhi 2008

Thursday, March 13, 2008

Canadian Content

When you are far from home, national symbols or icons you didn't think about that often take on new meaning.

A few weeks ago, we took a trip into the Western Desert. Golden sand, blue sky and spectacular mountain ranges. Inspired by the vast and majestic space, my husband and our friend Dwight who was visiting from Toronto decided to mark our travels with a quintessentially Canadian symbol.

They decided to build an Inukshuk.

I was sitting comfortably on a rock nearby, sipping Bedouin tea and documenting "The Making of." Take a look:

All photos copyright Sufia Lodhi 2008
Wikipedia: "An inuksuk (plural inuksuit) is a stone landmark used as a milestone or directional marker by the Inuit of the Canadian Arctic...The Arctic Circle, dominated by permafrost, has few natural landmarks and thus the inuksuk was central to navigation across the barren tundra....

It is a symbol with deep roots in the Inuit culture, a directional marker that signifies safety, hope and friendship."

Sunday, March 9, 2008

Mafish Mushkilla

As a guest, living in another country, you constantly make decisions about what to be fussy about and what to let slide.

Do I worry about the fact that the man who cleans the floor and drain with his bare hands at the tameya (falafel) shop is often the same man who prepares my sandwich and graciously offers me tameya with those same hands?

Nope. I don't think too much about that. No one else around me is getting sick, why be a primadonna?

So when we started hearing funny noises -- bird noises -- coming from our air conditioning unit, I decided to just suck it up. Afterall, birds need a place to live too, right? Mafish mushkilla -- no problem.

At first, it was just a little shuffling and scratching. No big deal. Then the scritch scratch of claws on the tin top of the air con woke us up earlier and earlier each day...

Stupid bird.

I started becoming obsessed with what was going on in there. Is it building a nest? Will it poop in there? Didn't I just read about several bird flu deaths in Egypt?

Every moment spent in our bedroom, was a moment spent plotting to get rid of the bird.

Our apt is on the 14th floor and the air conditioner hangs out of the wall making it virtually impossible to reach. The only option would involve pulling the unit into our bedroom and squishing the nest and all it's occupants. Result: dead bird babies on my bedroom floor.

I couldn't do it.

So I called the AUC housing dept. They asked my husband if he could kill the bird. He calmly replied that no, he could not. Please send someone over to deal with this right away. Click.

No one showed up. So we sent another email. Another week passed.

Still no housing people.

Last Monday, I woke up with a stuffed nose and a blinding headache. Could it be the pollution, change of weather or dust? No. I was convinced it was the bird living in our air conditioning unit. I called the housing dept and must have sounded a little hysterical because their head Engineer and his team showed up within the hour.

Turns out it was not some cute little bird starting a family. Turns out there was a small entrance above the unit that led to a large space in the wall that had room for dozens of birds. Dozens. Crows, pigeons -- God only knows what other kinds of flying rodents had been zipping in and out of there, just a few feet from our bed. I can't think about that too much. Too many flashbacks to Tippy Hedron in Alfred Hitchcock's "The Birds"....

The good news is that there was no nest. And thankfully, no poop. And surprisingly few feathers. The housing peeps did an incredible job. They sealed the opening, encased the unit with wood and built a one foot frame around it.

The head Eng said to our housekeeper: "You know, most people call us and say they have a big problem and then, it is nothing. Today, she (ie: me) said she had a small problem but this, this is a huge problem!"

We still see birds flying towards our air conditioning unit and then pulling up at the last minute. Yasir says it's like they went away for the weekend and someone changed their locks.

Sometimes I feel guilty (thank you Catholic school) for robbing them of their local hang out... but then it was me thinking of them that got us into this mess in the first place. Let the bastards find someone else to torment.