Tuesday, December 23, 2008

Saqqara



Yesterday I went to Saqqara with a couple of friends. I've been before, many times, when i used to organise groups of bellydancers to come over on dance holidays... but I haven't been for years. We had been hoping for sunshine- but for once- a cloudy day in Cairo- we don't get many- so these shots are pretty rare!!!

It was a bit too busy for my liking.( although I accept it doesn't look like it in this photo!!!) ..... but there were memorable moments. Like eating taamia and foul at the roadside and a bus of locals going by shouting out the equivalent of 'cheapskate!!!' - it was very funny! Then you have the guys inside the pyramid complex offering 'taxi' rides on their cadillac donkeys ( the Camel being the limo?).


We went over to the tombs that i have only been inside once before... I forgot how amazing they were......... a few fun pics............

No I haven't altered the direction- these funny wee men are actually doing back bends and high kicks....... whatever the dance was it looks hard work but fun!!!!!!!


This one took a while to work out........ a cow on its back with its feet tied....

But this guy with the big ears if my favourite.......................

Thursday, December 18, 2008

yuck!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

I have heard of disgusting taxi driver incidents but thankfully never really been the victim. Yesterday I was.

I had been in khan el khalili, and I got in a taxi to Mohandiseen. The driver waited til we were on the bridge out of that area then wanted to know 'how much'.

I said 20 - should be 15 if no traffic- so figured 20 was fair and good. he went nuts. wanted 35! i refused- said if he didn't like that then stop now and we'd get another taxi. He said had to drive us to end of bridge cos he couldn't drop us on bridge.. and then demanded money- on my refusal...i got out the taxi... still refusing to give him anything since he didn't want a fair price for the journey

...
so he spat in my face!!!!!!!!!!

i was so shocked and repulsed that I didn't think quickly enough to take his number.... furious.

what can I say? i hope his taxi breaks down everyday! yuck yuck yuck.

I love Cairo..... I do I do i do..... yes- I am trying to remind myself of the good things! ( Like fateer at 1am after a night of salsa, dancing for appreciative Egyptian audiences, sunshine in december.......) yes I do love Cairo.

It is worth it. I just wish I could have a day without stress- think that why Dahab was just the break I needed- you could get in a taxi and KNOW he wasn't going to hit on you or swear at you etc etc.

Started up my arabic lessons again....I have a private tutor who comes to the house and is very good and only charges 90le for 2 hours... I had managed to learn to read and write... then hadn't had a single lesson the entire time I have worked at the Pharoahs- so had completely forgotten even the alphabet! Thankfully its coming back , albeit slowly, and am enjoying learning now that i have more confidence to use my arabic more. My grammer is still appalling.... but wahda wahda (one by one- ie step by step!).

wish me luck (in the arabic and also in only getting in nice taxis from now on!!!!!)

Monday, December 15, 2008

St Catherines

It wasn't easy to get to St Catherines from Dahab. I thought it should be, as its only and hour and half away... One bus- leaves 8.30am ( too damn early!!!!), service taxi, ie micro bus leave 11pm at night ( too damn late) and the taxi from the hotel was going to cost 250le!!!!! NO way! In the end a friend managed to baragin a taxi price for me so i got there for 130le.

The taxi driver was a friendly fun guy... although wasnt' shy to tell me that he had his bango (grass) with him and did I want to see it? totally high. thankfully since there wasn't really any traffic on the road it wasnt' too dangerous! He also wasn't wearing a wedding ring and said he didn't have a wife etc etc ( and next day when i came back with my friend Sherif in the car too he had suddenly inherited a wife and ring!!!!!!)

The interesting and stressful part of the journey is all the numerous check points. They check the drivers license about 6 times between dahab and st cats, and they checked mine too. each time saying he couldn't go or shouldn't ( he didn't have a 'taxi' licence for outside of dahab town centre) but if he brought them a phone card or sandwich on the way back that would be ok. All corruption, in the form of call credit!

At st cats there is really nothing apart from the monastary and a couple of shops and a post office. I met sherif who had arrived an hour before on the bus from Cairo and we went to a campsite called the desert fox. the people there seemed really stoned- but very nice and helpful and they fed us and we talked into the wee small hours around a campfire in a bedouin tent. Mostly in arabic ( so that was really nice practise for me- although the bedouin accent is VERY differnt from Cairo!!) The range of conversation topics reflected the vibe of the place; it went from Mobarak ( who they think is close to God) to Van Damm ( something to do with a certain karate kick he can do....) to the great bear in the sky, to demons and devils. wow.

At 1am we left the heat of the fire- put extra layers on - and started our climb to the top of Mt Sinai ( also known as Moses mountain!). We had met a girl from Malasyia (Cindy) and she joined us for the climb. Its a pretty long way ( 2285m high!)- and I was sure my leg muscles were going to give me a lot of trouble, but we took our time and it was fabulous. in the full moonlight the white rock on parts of the cliffs looked like frost or snow... we didn't need our torches until the steps near the top and most of the time we were the only people in sight. Amazing. Almost bumped into camels in the dark! We took the 'camel' route... because although the other way is more direct, with its 3750 steps it was just not an option!!


At the top of Mt Sinai there is a chapel and a mosque. sorry the pic is fuzzy- camera was still on 'mountain' setting!!! Just as we stepped onto the summit the call to prayer started from the mosque ( a small square room with one man inside!) . It was spiritual and uplifting- except that there was a man trying to to rent us blankets (for 20le!!!) and he wouldn't give it a rest so he talked all the way through the prayer which really annoyed me!!! At that point though we were the only tourists on top. Sat night is a quiet night because the monestary is closed on a sunday... and people tend to visit that in the morning when they climb down the mountain... but if all you want to do is watch the sunrise in peace- i really recommend a sat night- esp if you have the full moon to help you find your feet!!!!

The sun took a long time to rise- but it was amazing. The desert mountian looked like a set from Mordor (lord of the rings) and then when the sun was coming up it turned into a Colin Baxter photograph! Very very cold ( but we refused to pay that for a blanket!!!!) but very very uplifting and beautiful!!! I took over 100 photos and then its was hard to choose which to include here because it all felt so amazing. Looking forward to Cindy sending us copies from her camera ( which was far better than mine)! We saw a bedouin waman walk her donkeys up the same path we had been puffing and panting over on the way up- she must be super fit to do that everyday!!!
wonderful , beautiful. I'd do it again! ( but not until my calf muscles have recovered!)

We took the taxi back to Dahab ( so another 130le) but discovered that the guy from the desert fox camp could have got us on a service taxi for 50le each at 11am ( but we didn't know this when we booked our taxi!!!)

Another day of chilling on the beach (- I know- I have a hard life!) then the 10pm bus back to Cairo ( got us in at 6am) Since I had had 4 hours sleep on friday night, then climbed a mountian instead of sleep on sat night, sunday night I slept the entire 8 hour bus journey!!!!!!!!!!
Back in Cairo... and off to Salsa tonight ( trying to loosen up those muscles before work again tomorrow!)

Dahab

for years I have been hearing people talk about Dahab with such huge enthusiasim, yet I always though it was a bit OTT. yeah yeah- its chilled, you relax there.... hmmm..


IT'S true!!!!!!!! I dont know why... but the whole vibe of the place is just complete relaxation. you get NO hassle in the street, the sun is warm, the mood is respect and chill- it was just exactly what i needed to escape Cairo to!

I was nervous about travelling alone in a bus- only because i haven't done that in Egypt before. It was totally fine. cheap ( 75le one way) 8 hours, smoke free bus, AC was too high so I had to wrap myself up... but fine.

The girls came to meet me at the bus station at Dahab and we jumped into a taxi to the hotel- well - actually- we jumped into the flat-back part of a pick up truck which is what they use for taxis!!!!!! What a bizarre way to start the trip!

The hotel was on the Blue hole road, and called Dahab Paradise. It is LOVELY. One of the best organised and well run hotels I have stayed in in Egypt. the view from the balconies and from poolside was pool, palm trees, sea and Saudi Arabia very clearly visable across the water!I felt for the class of hotel it was a very good price too (250le for a twin room, then 300le for a triple) Breakfast was eggs and potato and cheese and pancakes and and- oh I am hungry just now- can't think about all that again!

The only downside of the hotel was that there is a strong wind coming from the water to the poolside- so even when the sun was hot , it wasn't very warm for sunbathing.... can imagine though that in summer that fact would be a huge benefit rather than failure though!!!! We went down to the Blue Hole to find some sheltered sun bathing places. LOTS of divers there- but when i had the dive Blue hole described to me I reconfirmed in my head that I never want to dive! the graves plaques stuck on the walls there of people who have died in the water didn't exactly encourage me either!!!! friends the next day who snorkled said they saw huge barracuda circling them.... yet another reason to really appreciate sunbathing not being in the water!!!!!!

I loved Dahab. Fun people. Relaxed lounging, drink in hand. Dancing the night away. ah- I miss it already! I realised that I haven't had a holiday holiday ( that didn't involve doing workshops, for spending time with family etc) for well over 3 years- in fact probably longer since before that my holidays were always to Cairo from Scotland!!!! I hadn't actually realised how much I needed it. Considering its not so expensive either- I think dahab will be on my 'must do' list far more often!!! Ah- chilled!

Tuesday, December 09, 2008

taking a break......

3 hours from now I have to head out to the bus station to catch a bus to Dahab. I've never been there... and never travelled around Egypt on my own.. so should be exciting (lets face it- NOTHING in Egypt is boring!). I'm meeting up with girlfriends at the beach and looking fwd to some lovely days in the sun...... just packing now. Sleep will have to happen on the bus (8hour journey... but only 75le!)

I woke up this morning to the smell of blood... the cows are gone... but the gutters run deep with red floodwater. lovely. I am really glad to be getting out of town now- especially once the sun starts hitting those gutters... dread to think what they will smell like in a day or two!!

I enjoyed work tonight. 4 shows total. lots of Italians for some reason in the 1st sail... but almost all Arabs in the second... in very festive spirit!Lots of kids... so the atmosphere was light and fun... one boy ran to hide under the table when I tried to get him up to dance- was very funny!!!!People with brand new babies keep wanting me to hold them and have my photo taken with them.... its hard sometime to pull myself away and back to the dancing again at times!!

One guest on the boat tonight wanted to buy one of my saaidi costumes (the turquoise and gold one) - she said the money was no option- she just HAD to have it....but I couldnt bring myself to do that... Felt wrong somehow...to sell the costume I had just that second been performing in... plus I love it too!!! told her to check out Eman Zaki's website instead!

better go finish the packing.... maybe I'll squeeze in 2 hours sleep before I travel! I've been warned that the AC on the bus is full blast- therefore freezing- but everytime you get out the bus its roasting hot- how to dress for that journey eh?!!!

Not taking the computer with me- so no more blogs for a week... will be strange to be offline for so long- amazing (and more that a touch frightening) how addicted you can get to the internet- so i'm going cold turkey!

oh- and I have a dancer staying with me just now from Mexico who is attending Raqia's winter intensive training course this week 9 which is being held in 6th October city- miles out of town!)- so when i get back my hols I'll pick her brains and tell you all about that!!!!!

Happy Eid to all.......Happy Holidays!

Sunday, December 07, 2008

Cows

Its the Big feast again here in Cairo (aka Eid Kabeer)... the 40th day afer the end of Ramadan.
That means that all today people fasted... and tomorrow they will get up for morning prayers then kill something, either a sheep, or a cow ( or a chicken if they dont have much money!)

The festival is a celebration of Abraham's sacrifice- when he was asked to kill his son Isaac, but instead God stopped him and allowed him to use a sheep instead.

The area I live is full of cows right now, on rooftops, street corners and mainly lined up besides the butchers...... last night I couldn't get to sleep for ages cos they were moo-ing for all they were worth...... knowing their fate tomorrow its hard to listen to!!!

Last year, at the same feast, in the area i live in- a man had his 2 cows on the roof of his 7 storey building, he did something which was wrong morally, and religiously- he allowed one cow to see the other being killed. of course cow no.2- went crazy (mad cow) ... ran around and then jumped off the roof. It flew off the building (holy cow) and landed on, and killed, a man below.

Inshallah- no more repeats of THAT tomorrow morning!!!!!(wishing I had some ear plugs for the morning)!!!!

Saturday, December 06, 2008

Me- Dubbed! Dancing on the Nile!

A friend found this on utube and pointed it out to me tonight!!!!

It's weird seeing me dance to this music- but it sort of works somehow, in some strange way.... obviously i prefer my own band and the music I am actually dancing to!!!!

The tannoura is Yaseen.

The boat is the Golden pharoah, the Nile, Cairo!!!

( in case the link doesn't come up automatically you can find it on http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=UX7SjhcM3Hg)

Tuesday, December 02, 2008

Playing it by ear

I love that in Cairo I can have no plans for a day at all and then it can end up being a totally packed long, interesting day!

For example. Last Saturday I had no plans whatsoever… sitting on the balcony chatting with a friend who'd come to stay from Canada… so we went for lunch (Chillis- an American diner which does the biggest salads you can imagine amongst other things!). Great. My lodger, Christine, then joined us, even better. So far pretty normal anywhere…

Then we went to the BCA (British Community Association) club, which is just walking distance from my place. You pay an entrance fee to get into the bar, and then the drinks are really cheap ( esp. between 6-7pm- the happy hour- 2 for 1- feels just like home!!!!!) Anyway- its not the worlds most exciting of venues.. but its easy, cheap, hassle free.

So Christine and I then decided we wanted to make a night of it (remember at this point I'd only left the house to go for lunch!) . We grabbed a cab to Sawy centre ( the cultural wheel) and took pot luck- what's on tonight? Are there tickets? Oh its started?- great – lets do it! 30le – ok.

We had no idea what to expect and I have to say I didn't expect Anoushka. She was fabulous!!!!!!!!!! She is Cairo born by Armenian parents and she sings like an angel. I just LOVED her voice. But what Christine and I loved even more than that was her sheer talent in performance skills- a true professional. She held the audience in the palm of her hand. She orchestrated her band throughout and danced as well as sang. Not a bad dancer I have to say either- all very much oriental in style (although some salsa footwork going on in some songs!). I was surprised to see someone dance so much while singing- often Egyptian singers feel that to keep their status as singer, rather then the lower status of dancer, they have to stand still to perform ! Anoushka's lighting technician was on the ball too. Lovely figure, beautiful dress, fun, lively, deep personality and of course a range of songs which included ballads, oriental pieces and feisty salsa inspired numbers. The vast majority of the music just frustrated me so much because I desperately wanted to jump out my seat and dance!!! The qanoon player was my favourite in the band. A Wonderful show… I'd go back for more any day. In fact she inspired us both so much that we went surfing online to find out more about her and everything I read just made me feel like I wanted to be friends with this woman! Strong, independent, fun and talented. I'd love to know more of her story!

However, the night did not end there- we wandered over the bridge to the Cairo Jazz CafĂ©.. where they were having a talent show! Young bands playing oriental/Arabic music. You could vote for your favourite at the end of the night! Most weren't so great- but 2 bands really stood out… 'el '7hwa' and 'the city band'. Up and coming talent to watch out for in the future! It was very interesting people watching too- esp. the ones who had their mummy's with them- so sweet!

Oh- and then we walked down the road - not something I really recommend to female travelers- not in Mohandiseen anyway- the curb crawling is horrific- and one car nearly ran us over as we tried to cross the road by reversing at top speed just to get a better look at us!!!) Ending up in the 'house of do-nuts' was a little like the equivalent of the chippie or kebab shop back home– what a way to end a day/night out- with a cup of tea and a fresh do-nut!!!!

I'd left the house for lunch at 2pm, and we stumbled back in at 4.30am. That elastic Cairo time just keeps stretching and stretching.

Sorry about lack of photos from these events- since I had expected to only be eating lunch out, I funnily enough didn't take my camera with me- really must learn my lesson from this and carry it around more!