Wednesday, December 16, 2009

Message to the lady at our hotel in Dahab

Hey there lady.

Why did you take my photograph at breakfast?

I saw you do it.

Me:"Excuse me, did you just take my picture?"

I know you heard me. But you just looked at me sideways and then pretended to be busy with your toast.

So I asked you again. Maybe you didn't realise I was talking to you. There was no one else at breakfast. And there were only three tables, less than a foot apart. But I am Canadian, so I gave you the benefit of the doubt.

I cleared my throat and asked again: "Did you just take my picture?"

Weird French lady from Israel on vacation alone in Dahab: "Um. Yes."

Me: "Well, I would rather you didn't. Take my picture, that is."

WFLfIoVAiD: "Why?"

Me: "Because I don't know you."

You looked like this was new information that you could not understand. So I tried to elaborate: "And I don't know where that photo is going to go."

You looked confused.

WFLfIoViD: "But I want to keep it for my memories."

Which would have been fine if we had ever spoken. But we never did. Not even once.

Me: "Well, I think it is just common courtesy to ask before you take someone's photo."

You were right to put your camera into your bag and scurry off to your room. Could you see in my eyes that I was planning to grab it and erase my photo from your memory stick? In the process, the camera might have been knocked out of your hands. We would have watched helplessly as it smashed into a million pieces on the terracotta floor.

But you were too quick for me.

I wonder what you will say to your friends when you go back home and show them my photo. Will you say that we had breakfast together? Because that would be really sad. And untrue. I might feel sorry for you, weird French lady who now lives in Israel, but I'm still mad that you took my photo without asking me first. That was rude.

Tuesday, December 1, 2009

Stuff I would never see in Canada:

1. One Petrified lizard. This morning I found a dead lizard, shrivelled and hardened by the sun, lying on our balcony. I buried it in the soil of our potted plant and observed a moment of silence. Rest in peace, little buddy.
2. Eggs wearing a feather boa. Making breakfast the other morning, I opened the egg carton and reached for one to crack open. I looked down and the egg of my choice was entirely enveloped by light brown feathers. Gross.

Saturday, November 14, 2009

No sleep 'til Sudan

Egypt just won a qualifying soccer match against Algeria.

The old and the young, the rich and the poor have all been waving flags and honking horns for two days without a break until 7.30pm this evening when the game began. Just before kick off, the streets were empty and you could hear a pin drop. Until Egypt scored its first goal and the roar of 20 million fans let loose into the streets. Then, as quickly as it had risen up, it was replaced with complete silence. Until they scored the second goal: pandemonium. As I write this, the whole city has gone absolutely nuts. There will be no sleeping tonight.

Beep-beep, beep-beep-beeeeep, beep-beep, beep-beep-beeeeeeep! Misr ya misr!

Reminds me of when they won the African Cup a few years ago: See my post Go Misr!

Egypt plays Algeria again in Sudan on Wednesday. Until then, the city's fans will no doubt run wild. And I say: go for it. Better soccer fanaticism than some other fundamentalism. All of Cairo is celebrating tonight: "We love soccer and we love our country." If a nation is to rally around something, I'm thrilled for it to be sport. Go Misr!

Sunday, October 11, 2009

The latest reason I love it here

Just when I thought the culture of delivery in this country couldn't get any better, I discover that even health care is made for our convenience.

I go to the clinic today to pick up a refill of my asthma medication (which, miraculously, I have all but given up since moving to Cairo) and tell the Doctor I've been feeling a little sluggish. She says, no problem, why don't we run a blood test to see if your iron is ok. Great. She writes out a referral and sends me to the receptionist to get the numbers of labs in our area.

Can I go to any lab, I ask?

The receptionist looks at me like: "Why is you foreigners so crazy?"

Turns out I just call a little 4 digit "hotline" and the clinic comes to your house, where a lovely (I like to assume) technician takes your blood. He/ she then returns to the lab and sends the results directly to my Doctor. When the receptionist tells me this, she leans in a little and says: "You might have to pay a delivery charge of 5LE (less than $1 US)" and looks at me apologetically, like she would waive the charge if she could. As if I am going to jump up with indignation and yell: "No way lady, I will not pay 80 cents for this service!" Uh, yeah.

I know what you are thinking: we are among a priviledged few who are lucky enough to have private insurance. It is true. But it is also true that all Egyptians have universal access to basic healthcare. There are many government hospitals and clinics all around the city and even the private hospitals perform a great number of pro bono cases. And (I'll have to make sure about this) blood test house calls are available to all who are referred to main labs.

Beat that, OHIP.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Same same but different

When you travel, consistency can be a challenge. Sometimes you are disappointed because things aren't the way you remember them. But that can be a blessing in disguise because it forces you to discover new places and things to do. That's what happened this weekend in Dahab.

Stuff we loved that stayed the same:
1. The Dahab Coachhouse. Walking into the beautiful white and gold courtyard, we felt like we were returning to our very own beach house. "The bread is the same!" Nina exclaimed, as if reading my husband's mind. Besides the comfortable accommodation, every morning we were treated with a scrumptious breakfast -- home made bread, orange crepes, local cheese and fruits, including sweet figs and mangoes. (Nina and Mikkas send love to all our friends who stay there and are expecting you Voracious T to visit when you come to Egypt)

2. Dive Urge on the Lighthouse/ Eel Garden end of the beach. We spent the whole day watching the sea, enjoying the breeze and the shade of their gigantic umbrellas. We drank fresh watermelon juice and ate pizza and lamb shewarma. Basic but d-lish.

On the downside:
1. Dahab is over run with audacious wild dogs and cats. We went to Shams -- a beachfront cafe/ restaurant that we remembered for it's stellar dj. The tunes were still groovy but the constant shooing of aggressive cats (one sat on the chair beside my husband and stared at him with indifference as he waved his arms and shouted obscenities) and an annoying (if adorable) dog who stared at our plates, planning an imminent attack took away any enjoyment we might have derived, what was it we ate? The dog was golden and the cat was black. Just in case you were wondering what I remember.

2. Nirvana. Ecstasy was nowhere in sight. In fact, Nirvana was kind of smelly. And therefore, quite unappetising. So we ordered a masala chai and called it a day.

Fabulous new discoveries:
1. Blue House Thai restaurant. YUM. Definitely worth a visit. The seating area is above the main drag so you can catch all the action below as you enjoy your green curry chicken.

2. The Indian restaurant past the bridge. I don't think it has a name. Just a sign that says: "Indian. Thai. Chinese." We had the chicken biryani and lamb korma, started with samosas and finished with gulab jaman.

3. Eel Garden Stars. Comfy seating and lovely staff who "Just want you to feel happy". Mijou was our host and just the coolest guy (ok, coolest after my husband ;-) Even the requisite wild cat (thankfully, there was only one) was pretty mellow and just hung out without bothering us. We sat for countless hours, drank tea and coffees (REAL filter coffee vs the ubiquitous nescafe - halleluya), ate mouthwatering moussaka, discovered that dill is brilliant in cucumber salad and.....

Best of all: I discovered snorkeling! Which is a fairly hilarious discovery when you consider that LITERALLY all my closest friends are divers (where have I been? I can hear Voracious T laughing at me) Anyway, I'm in love. And cannot wait for our next getaway to be a diving trip. I think there was no better place for the introduction: the shallow, warm waters of the Red Sea are filled to every inch with spectacular under water life. I could have stayed in the water all day.

Wednesday, September 30, 2009


Eid was awesome and the city was quieter than I had ever seen it. Still, it was the city. And now that most people are back from their holidays and the roads are busy and smoggy again, it's time for a little escape.

We're off to Dahab in the South Sinai. Dahab is a little fishing village on the Red Sea and you can walk from one end of town to the other in less than 45 minutes (and that's taking your time). The water is shallow and warm, the village is quiet and laid back.

The main dive shop has a little Cafe on the water and (get this) a south Indian chef! Ah, Nirvana -- both the name of the Cafe and the state you reach when you are lounging on a comfy chaise, looking out onto the twinkly waters of the red sea, drinking a cool and fruity fresh juice and eating aloo parathas chased by a spicy masala chai.

Wednesday, September 16, 2009

Iftaar in Embaba

I often feel that we, as expats, live in a cushy bubble removed from the reality of our surroundings. I feel this because it is true.

My first real Egyptian friend is our housekeeper, Mrs Khalifa. She, more than anyone else, has shown me what life is really like in Egypt. Without her, we may never have experienced half the things that have made me fall in love with this crazy place.

Every Ramadan, she invites us to her home. Either to share an Eid lunch or - like last Friday - join her and her family as they break their fasts deep in the heart of Embaba.

Embaba is like no other part of our life in Cairo. But it is a place I have been to many times before ever arriving in Egypt. The streets are narrow and unpaved and the asymmetrical buildings rise up to the sky. Rickshaws (from India, no less) motor through passageways that a car can barely navigate. And all of a sudden, it takes me back: to Paposh market in Nazimabad, Karachi; to the chaotic alleyways near Chandi Chowk in Old Delhi; to the side streets behind Anarchali in Lahore; to Laad Bazaar sprawling out at the foot of Charminar in the old city of Hyderabad.

Embaba pulsates with life. Especially during Ramadan. We arrive just before iftaar time and are greeted by a frenzy of activity: street vendors barely able to match the flow of fruits and vegetables to the outstretched hands of last minute shoppers; ladies in colourful galabayas holding a kid (sometimes two or three) with one hand and gesturing with a fist full of LE (Egyptian pounds) with the other. Aish baladi (local bread) flying out of ovens and onto cooling racks like mini UFOs and the sheesha guy putting out his little chairs and tables in anticipation of the post iftaar rush. Mrs Khalifa's son-in-law waves and smiles at every man on the street and they greet each other like family. Lights are strung from every balcony and window, creating a glowing canopy of red and golden bulbs and colourful fanooses (Ramadan lanterns) that practically block out the sky above us.

Everyone is rushing to get home before the Magrib (sunset) call to prayer. Slowly but surely, all activity grinds to a halt and the din fades as every resident of Embaba retreats home to break their fast. As the call to prayer begins, the streets are completely empty but for the sound of the muazin's voice.

Mrs Khalifa and her family have prepared a feast for us. Some of the best food we've eaten in Cairo has come from their kitchen. She tells me about how her father was a chef in Alexandria and taught her to cook when she was just a little girl. We talk and laugh and eat. And then, when I am sure our systems can take no more, we're offered a much needed chai. Ahh, heaven.

Eventually the neighbourhood below, like some kind of sleeping giant, begins to shake off the quiet and ramps up for a night of activity. Too bad I cannot get up from Mrs Khalifa's sofa. The juice guy says it's pomegranate season? hmm. One more cup of chai and we'll see...

Monday, September 7, 2009

How rude is it

to ask the cab driver to turn down the Quran?

One of the things I love about living in Egypt is that I am surrounded by Islam in all it's living complexities and contradictions.

It's nice during Ramadan to not have to explain what Ramadan is. It's wonderful to hear the call to prayer, be invited to iftaars and celebrate the fun (don't tell the Ayatollah) in Islam. I love being in a place where my religion lives and breathes. Where traditions I thought were only within my family belong to a greater community.

Where I can hear beautiful verses of the Quran as I ride along in a cab... Um, If all the taxi drivers weren't half or completely deaf and playing the holy word of God at 250 decibels, maybe. But as things currently stand, my ears are assaulted by crackling speakers turned up so loud that no word or phrase is decipherable. It's all a garbled mess, blaring from souped-up woofers positioned only inches from either side of my head. But how can I ask a devoted worshipper to take the volume down a notch? Especially during Ramadan.

Me, I don't got that kind of schutzpa.

So I barrel down the corniche, windows open, unable to hear even the horns and traffic, counting the minutes until I can get out onto the Cairo streets and hear myself think again. This is a far cry from the soothing recitations that inspire spiritual enlightenment and peace. I am literally diving out of the cab to get away.

Only slightly more than 10 days left of Ramadan and then it's back to Egyptian dance music. THAT I can ask them to turn down with no problem at all. Whether or not my voice will be heard above "Habibi, ya albi, habibi habibi" is an entirely different story....

Wednesday, September 2, 2009

And we're back

We've been back in Cairo for less than 48 hours and already seen five (count 'em: FIVE) car accidents. One replete with an eight car pile up and a street fight. Twenty guys duking it out on the main road in from the airport with two anemic policemen trying to break it up. Ramadan Karim, folks.

On the homefront, my plants are barely clinging to life but otherwise, our flat is as we left it. The bird in the window of our den is back and has laid another egg. Aiy ya ya, what is it with me and birds here in Cairo?! (see my post: Mafish Mushkilla) My good friend Villy says it's good luck. I'm not so sure. As long as they don't poop on my windowsill, we're good.

Our housekeeper has left our Iranian carpet upside down. No matter how many times we flip it the right way, it always ends up the way she wants it: face down on the tile floor, backside up.

Because we arrived in the middle of the night, we drove through the city instead of taking the autostrade. Homes and buildings were lit up by colourful lights and gaudy but gorgeous Ramadan Funoos (crazy lanterns that hang in doorways and balconies across the city every year to celebrate Ramadan. I'll try and get a photo and post it asap.) Around the corner from our place, there is a huge one with tassles and a fringe. Real classy.

When we pulled up to our building, the guards on our street greeted us (at 3 am) with enthusiastic salaams and good wishes for a happy ramadan ("kullu sana wa intu tayubbine": may you be well for the whole year) (My Arabic is still a little feel free to jump in and correct my translation)

No doubt this crazy, disorganized, chaotic, noisy, dusty place will infuriate me within a week....but at the moment, it is good to be home.

Sunday, August 16, 2009

Back Blog: Istanbul - did I love it or not? I can't decide

It feels like ages ago, but here are a few photos from our winter trip to Istanbul.

Every Muslim I know is obsessed with Turkey. I thought it was O-kay. Yup. Just ok. It didn't blow me away like Kenya or Andalusia or....Cairo for that matter. I personally find their identity crisis a bit of a bore. Are you Asian? Are you European? Are we going to get in to the EU if we do this? What about this?

The different elements of Turkey -- conservative, liberal, religious, secular, Eastern, Western -- coexist in relative discomfort. Like an elevator filled with people who all want to be in there -- just not with each other. All shuffling about and jabbing each other with their elbows. Such a weird atmosphere against the backdrop of magnificent architecture and monuments to a glorious past.

But I cannot poop on the whole trip because, as tourist experiences go, we had a superb time: transportation was easy, modern and efficient. We ate delicious food all the time. We cleansed a year's worth a traditional Turkish Hammam, drank fresh pomegranate juice, Turkish coffee and apple tea. Shopped in the incredible Grand Bazaar, wandered the colourful streets of Sultan Ahmet and the alleys behind the Blue Mosque (where we heard the most beautiful call to prayer as the rain danced on the stone pavement and we shivered in the shelter of the ancient, ivy covered gate to the Arasta Bazaar), visited Topkapi Palace, Hagia Sophia, stopping often to enjoy the modern restaurants and cafes that dot the city.

My husband, of course, bought a carpet. I don't think they let you leave the country with out one. Ours is a stunning dowry piece from Konya, bought after hours of viewing luxurious colours and styles, storytelling, tea drinking, negotiating and wrangling. It was one of the best spent rainy afternoons in recent memory.

I wish I had taken photos of the carpets and pottery -- the Turkish aesthetic is incomparable. The colours and composition, attention to detail and dedication to beauty are out of this world.

Istanbul's monuments are spectacular, as are the many views of the brooding and romantic Bosphorous. If you go, go to enjoy the natural beauty and glory of it's past. I am not sure I am so convinced about the attraction of it's present. If I could figure out what that is, of course.

Saturday, August 15, 2009

How we roll

"Training wheels? That's so last year!"

I am happy to report that my nephew just learned to ride his big bike without training wheels! Watching the smile nearly bust off his face as he managed to teeter and totter on his bright black and yellow bike (with handbrakes, a couple of speeds and dirt bike wheels) was the most thrilling thing I've seen in ages.

When my nephew was born, my brother had a theory about celebrations. He said, why should I make a big deal about his birthday? "Hey little man, congratulations on living to see another year." My brother wanted to make a big deal out of the milestones his kids achieved. I can still picture my brother telling me this as he held my little new-born nephew in his hands. And I remember him specifically saying he was going to make a huge deal out of the day he learned to ride his bike. It seemed like such a far off concept but here we are today, with a video of the big event and a huge ice cream cake.

Way to go, kid.

Thursday, July 30, 2009

Small town news

Reading the local paper, I came across the following headlines:

Man urinated on City Hall

SAINT JOHN - Larry Christopher Buchanan, 47, pleaded guilty to urinating on City Hall and received five days in jail. He told Judge James McNamee that he was trying to reunite with his wife and children, but hasn't been successful. "I can probably say that your antics haven't helped either," McNamee said. (source: Telegraph Journal)

Man decided his boots weren't made for walkin'

Darryl Joseph Legacy of St. Stephen might have benefited from a twice daily walk across town. Instead, Legacy, 20, can practise pacing at the Saint John Regional Correction Centre, where he will serve a 14-day sentence for breaching a probation order to complete 20 hours of community service. Legacy did not show up at the scheduled times because..."It's a long walk," Legacy told the judge. (Source: Telegraph Journal)

But my favorite so far is the on-going Wafer-gate
scandal which took place at former Governor-General Romeo Leblanc's funeral:

'The story stated that a senior Roman Catholic priest in New Brunswick had demanded that the Prime Minister's Office explain what happened to the communion wafer which was handed to Prime Minister Harper during the celebration of communion at the funeral mass. The story also said that during the communion celebration, the Prime Minister "slipped the thin wafer that Catholics call 'the host' into his jacket pocket".

Perhaps he needed a snack for the long ride back to Ottawa?

Turns out the editor added unsubstantiated details after the reporters submitted the story. The editor and publisher have since been relieved of their duties. Read their front page apology below:

Tuesday, July 28, 2009

Maybe I should get out more

My brother is a doctor and he calls this morning on his way to work to have a chat. I make small talk for a few minutes and then we have the following exchange:

Me: "Yeah, so I'm having this strange back pain."

I can just hear him rolling his eyes

Brother: "Uh huh..."

Me:"No really, it's in my lower back, it burns and it's weird and well...I think it's my kidneys."

My brother laughs out loud and puts on his best Arnold Schwartzeneggar accent: "Is it a tuuu-mah?"

Me: "Be serious! I could be having kidney failure!"

Brother: "You are not having kidney failure."

Me: "How do you know?"

Brother: "Tell me where you are having the pain."

So I tell him.

Brother: "Yeah, your kidneys are no where near there. You probably just pulled a muscle. Been lifting anything heavy, sleep funny?"

Jeez. What's the point in having a doctor in the family if he won't take me seriously? Pulled muscle - ha! It's my kidneys...I can feel it. Maybe mine are positioned lower in the body than other people. It's possible.

Monday, July 27, 2009

Top 10 things I love about being back in Canada

10. Being close to family
9. Breathing clean air
8. Drinking water straight from the tap
7. Shoppers Drugmart and its aisles and aisles of beauty products under $5
6. Tim Horton's coffee and chocolate dip donuts (drive thru only) (I'm not getting out of the car)
5. Having a car
4. Access to delicious, affordable food from all over the world
3. Watching current seasons of Grey's Anatomy and Desperate Housewives (Don't judge me, you have some secrets too)
2. CBC radio. Particularly “Q” and "Arrivals" on C'est la Vie - not even the BBC can match the radio that is made in Canada
1. Universal health care (Admittedly, I've been out of the country too long to even use the system anymore's not everyday Obama gives us a shout out so I felt it deserved to be on the list)

Thursday, July 23, 2009

A world away from my world

So I'm back in Canada, in the small town where I grew up, sleeping in my old room and visiting my old haunts. It's a beautiful part of the world: wild deer in the backyard, countless oceanfront beaches only minutes away and nothing but green trees, blue skies and the river to look at out the windows of our family home. That and the cherry blossoms and wild flowers that have taken over my parents' property.

I made one phone call to a childhood friend (we bonded on the first day of Jr High when we were the only two girls in class wearing new dresses -- her out of duress, me out of a love for clothes. At the time, I told her it was duress. The alternative felt too much like social suicide) and within minutes, I was caught up on a year's worth of developments: births, deaths, divorces, affairs, poisonings, daycare politics, contaminated poop, exchange students, work take-overs and lawsuits. Yep. One phone call and I got it all.

Dusty, noisy Cairo couldn't seem more like a distant dream.

Yikes! has it been that long?

So, I've been receiving irritated messages from friends who say they've stopped reading my blog because I don't update.

That's a little harsh, I thought.

Until I went to the web and checked the last thing I posted. Umm. oops. Ok, I'll be more on the ball now, I promise!

Wednesday, April 1, 2009

Perception vs reality: Pakistan trip part 1

So I just returned from a fabulous, three-week trip to Pakistan. Considering the latest political developments, I realise that it is a rare sentence these days that includes "fabulous" and "pakistan" in the same breath.

Staying with relatives in the suburbs I was oblivious to the many suicide bombings, depositions of provincial governments and exchanges of gunfire that took place during the short time I was there -- and that was just what was happening in Sind and Punjab, I haven't bothered to mention the mayhem ensuing in the north and west of the country. I was even in Punjab during the lawyer's Long March from Karachi to Islamabad. While chaos engulfed the streets of Lahore, my cousins and I drove along Canal Road in Faisalabad, digesting our samosa's with a cool almond kulfi....

I don't know what I remembered of Pakistan before I went to visit but my latest trip was calm and fun and could not have been further from the scenes of shooting and chaos I had watched on CNN and Al Jazeera before I left. Life on the ground, for people just trying to do their shopping and going to work was business as usual. The feeling of "we're all in this together" was alive and well. The forces currently playing themselves out in the country were largely felt to be external.

People there see Pakistan as a pawn in someone else's game. They are living their lives the best they can until it passes -- after the dust settles, they all know that they'll have to live with each other.

The day before my return home, my cousin and I were crossing town to fulfill my husband's most heartfelt request: Sugar free Rabri from Dilpasand (it's basically a really fatty, artery-clogging rich cream dessert). The sun was blazing, the temperature in Karachi was in the mid 30s (celsius) and our car radiator ran out of water. We stopped at the side of the road and within minutes, three rickshaw drivers, a taxi driver and numerous by-standers pulled over to help us out (we looked quite pitiful: water was sputtering out of our hood at least 2-3 meters into the air as we gingerly tried to fill the over-heated radiator with our stash of cold mineral water.)

"Baji (sister) please step back! Let us take care of this, please stand in the shade, don't let your clothes get dirty. Don't worry, we'll fix it for you." And my favorite: "Don't take tension." Their efforts to help us were effusive and genuine and they worked together to get our car running again and waited for us to re-start the engine.

I waited for the rub -- just how much was this going to cost? I slipped my hand into my purse and whispered to my cousin, "How much should we give them?" She shushed me and shoved my bag away quickly, "Put that away! If you suggest giving money, they'll be VERY offended!"

They waited for us to get into the car and drive away, saying nothing to my blubbering thanks. After we'd driven off, my cousin turned to me and said that no matter what else is happening in Pakistan, it is common practice to help one another. We're all in this together.

Look, I'm not so naive that I am blind to the very many things that are completely dysfunctional in the place. It was just a surprise - a pleasant surprise - to see that this one thing that had been drilled into me throughout my life was alive in well in the country my parents left behind. While Pakistan is immersed in instability and poverty, it gives me hope that there are still some core values that endure and have withstood the pressures of those challenges.

Saturday, February 14, 2009

Is it love or capitalism?

Valentine's Day in Cairo is celebrated much like all festivities in this crazy city: with gusto. Whole hog (halal hog, of course). Over the top. All the way.

Last year, we were at Al Azhar park (I cannot remember why...) and we were literally the ONLY couple not carrying a large gift bag with fancy writing saying some variation of: "I love you" "Be my sweetheart" "Love is Everything".

All the girls were dressed in red with matching hijabs as far as the eye could see. All the boys were looking gooey-eyed and adoringly at the objects of their affection. Some couples were holding hands and others walked two together, with a mindful sister/ brother/ unofficial (and ineffective) chaperon two steps behind. Boys were carrying multiple gift bags (obviously presented to their beloved only moments before) overflowing with gifts, red flowers and cheezy balloons that rustled and swished as they walked by.

A year later and here we are again on the day of lurv. Has the economic downturn put a damper on the festivities? Have people decided maybe they should take it easy this year and save their piasters for something more practical than heart and "XO" decals for their cars? Not a chance.

This afternoon I noticed a tree on Qasr-al-Aini (a super busy, 5+ lane road into central Cairo) wrapped in red polyester with hearts dangling from every available branch. The shopkeeper looked at me hopefully from inside his store when I stopped to admire his handiwork. I'm still not sure what he was selling but the tree in the red toga - while certainly eye-catching - did not inspire me to go in and empty my wallet.

Back in Maadi, Road 9 (the closest thing we have to a main drag) was mayhem. Traffic was backed up, people were honking their horns and crossing the road haphazardly, creating even more gridlock. And they all had this in common: red outfits, toting shiny red and gold gift bags with badly composed love-messages scrolled on them, holding ridiculously large stuffed animals and fistfuls of heart shaped balloons decorated with red ribbons.

All the restaurants were filled to overflowing and there was a definite (if absurd) buzz in the air. The shop across the road had an impressive 5 ft tall stuffed gorilla in red underpants on display.

I have to wonder what accounts for the zealous embrace of this particular holiday. Is it that Egyptians are innately passionate and have a lot of love to give? No doubt.

Or is it just globalization? A holiday invented by Hallmark to nudge the economy along through the post-Christmas lull.

Oh dear, that's not very romantic of me now is it? I need to make more of an effort to fit into the culture of my new home: Happy Valentines Wishes to one and all!

Now please excuse me while I rush off to see if that Gorilla in the window is still up for sale...