It's all about food really..

Fauchon’s L’éclair Rainbow (there’s some sniffing about the English word ‘rainbow’ in the title…aah, France!)


A couple of years ago I went on a short trip to Paris (promise, not all posts are going to be about Paris from now on). I was tired from a night flight but needed to stay awake. Mr S and I went out walking to stay awake and get some ice cream. As we crossed the Marais, we heard loud music. Not being the latest Nancy Ajram or Amr Diab (played so often and so loud in Cairo that there is no need to see what is going on: it’s a wedding or party at a club), I was quite excited to see what was happening. We detoured from the ice cream route and made our way over to a large crowd at the end of the street.

I realised what was happening and was knocked for six. There are times when coming to or from Egypt it’s difficult to believe that we’re only five hours away. That life can be so different in a five hour journey. I am always struck by magazines in newagents in Europe. It’s not the ‘top shelf’ selection although in my first few days I am always too embarrassed to lift my head up, it’s the covers of lads’ mags and likes of Cosmo that have scantily clad ladies: magazines in Egypt have no such covers.  Standing there in Paris, I saw the gay pride march coming towards us. Fun, fun, fun! (Although Sydney does it better). How could it be though that just seven hours before I was somewhere where this march would have been absolutely impossible, even in the conception stages.

Hundreds of thoughts were swimming through my head and I couldn’t quite get a feeling for reality. It was then that I saw the banners of a group called (something like) the Parents of Gays and Lesbians in France. I started crying. I know full well the attitudes and opinions of the majority of the people I am normally surrounded by. I have had serious arguments with some of them about it. I may have at least convinced one that being homosexual does not equate to being bestial (seriously). Ultimately though, I live in Egypt and accept it for what it is. A few hours after leaving Egypt, to see parents marching down the road with large banners supporting their adult homosexual offspring was profoundly moving.

I have to cover my knees and shoulders, I have to accept that a lot of people view me as little more than a prostitute. I don’t like it, but that is just the way it goes. I don’t, however, have to hide a fundamental part of myself for fear of some pretty nasty, physically and socially, consequences. It re-brought home the suffering that some people here must go through just because they cannot be the people they are. I love Egypt, on this level however, I am much more comfortable with a society that allows self expression.

Pretty cool eclair, though, eh?

It's all in the eyes

I decided recently to check my vaccination record, in part because I couldn’t remember the last time a needle was stuck into me that wasn’t drawing the red stuff. After fruitless days of searching for it, I decided just to go do the doctor and get the ball rolling.

He ordered a blood test to check if I had (miraculously) antibodies remaining from my last vaccinations.

I’ve just picked them up. He was pleased to inform me that I didn’t need the hep A vaccination because I am autoimmune. Completely missing the ‘auto’ part, I was surprised and quizzed him about how long vaccines can remain in the system, because I was sure I had not had it since I was 18 (yonks ago).

“No,” he said, “You had hepatitis A and now you are immune”.

“Oooooh!” Silence,  ”So that must have been why my eyes were yellow!”

A few years ago, I was positive that my eyes had turned yellow. Absolutely positive. The problem was that the more I stared at them in the mirror, the more I wasn’t really sure and thought it must be something funny about the lighting in my apartment. I decided to wait and see if someone commented, as they oft do in this part of the world if you’re not looking your best. Nobody did.

It seems that my yellow eyes must have been working better than I thought!

Smells a bit off (no, I don't mean me)

Right then. I’m heading out of the lift, sticky, hot and particularly sweaty after just working out. I would like to say I look good, but well, I don’t.  I might even smell, but I don’t especially want to go there. I have a sense that someone is following me. This sense is well-honed from living in Egypt for eight years, but not so well practiced after living in The Hood for the last three. I’m sure I’m mistaken. Paranoid even. I test it out. The real test: I walk on the pavement. Nobody in their right mind walks on the pavement in Cairo. Pavements are a mere concrete border to a dusty, tarmac-ed death run.

Not paranoid: the footsteps follow.

I meander as though I’m not aware of him (oh come on, did YOU think it was a her??) and then move to cross the road. He catches up. He was in the gym. “Hello,” he says like we’ve been friends for ages. “Hi” I say, knowing I’ll see him again in the gym, so will give him the benefit of the doubt: perhaps something fell out of my bag (Right. We know it didn’t, but I don’t want to appear a total b*tch without real cause).  “Did you have a good workout?” His voice falters. He’s nervous. He’s not cocky – just as well because then the “doesn’t suffer fools gladly” side would be unleashed.

My brain is shortwiring: I’m married. Isn’t it CLEAR I’m married. Don’t I have an “I’m married” sandwich board swinging off my shoulders? I go to open my mouth and my throat closes. I simply cannot utter the words that my brain was pushing out, “I’m a married woman!” because that makes me o-l-d! I’m no longer the girl who does x & y, I’m a “married-woman” who does x & y. I squeezed out a terse, “Yes.” and set off across the road.

Tailing me come the words “Can I give you a lift anywhere?”.

“Um, yes, that would be splended freaky-stranger-guy-who-has-just-followed-me-down-the-road. It’s dark now, so please, let me get in a metal box that you control and direct you to my home.”

What on earth did he expect me to say to that?!

It's funny what makes you homesick

I have never been one to get homesick. I don’t know why. Perhaps it’s a deep-rooted lack of enthusiasm for Scotland’s evergray skies and its winds that seem to chill me to the bone. Perhaps. I love Scotland, I am enthusiastically Scottish, but that doesn’t mean I have to like the weather, or feel homesick.

So I don’t know what it is about this video. Perhaps it’s because it shows a lot of the places I used to spend my time as a student. Perhaps. Perhaps it’s just been a while since I visited my home town (Edinburgh – my dear North American readers, sorry, but there’s no ‘g’ pronounced at the end there, aim more for ‘Edinbuhruh’, cheers, you’ve just won a lot of friends!).

Perhaps it’s just because I’m happy to see someone in my home town do something so cool*, so utterly amazing. Go on. Watch it. It’s totally worth it.

I think most of the rest of us are but mere ‘Sunday’ cyclists!

*Of course he’s not the only one, it’s just I’m so uncool that I don’t see many!

Take the men out of Egypt's La Senza, Women's Secret and Nike Woman!

Admittedly I’m in a grumpy mood today: I always am after a bad night’s sleep.

But, but BUT, I wasn’t last week when I went shopping and I was superbly pissed off then too.

I walked into La Senza at our local hypermarket/shopping centre. It was about 9.30am and there were seven guys in their twenties, two of whom were clearly behind the tills, the rest were just hanging out, chatting with the two female floor assistants. Of the guys there, four were clearly watching me as I perused the lingerie. One of the girls came to follow me around and smooth out anything I even breathed on.

I hate that. I don’t care if they do it when I’ve left the shop, but following me and straightening every, single hanger while I’m there, like I’m ruining their display of hanging garments, which is there so that people like me come and look and then, presumably, buy, drives me nuts. Team it with some sexually repressed spectators and, La Senza, there’s not a hope in hell of me getting out my credit card.

So, I left the shop last week without buying. Not before quick glance at the two guys who were still watching me, then the two cashiers, then the guys sitting around the changing rooms with the other floor assistant and saying, in Arabic, loud enough for them to hear, “So, this is where all the guys come to hang out?” and walking out.

Today I went in just to see if it was different. Instead of seven, there were five guys.

I just don’t get it. It’s lingerie. It’s a conservative society. Women are covered up to protect their modesty, and so as not to titillate men, but lingerie stores have men working the tills? I know that there are bra stalls in markets and women pick their bras in full view of everybody, not just the male stall holder, but this is (for Egypt) an upmarket, expensive store.

It’s not just La Senza. A few shops away is Women’s Secret. They have a female floor assistant with a man on the till. The same with Nike Woman. Is it that Egyptian women cannot count and so cannot be trusted with tills? Nope. Perhaps it’s the patriarchial society. I don’t know. I don’t CARE! I don’t want some guy folding my bras, checking out if I might need another size (what the hell does he know about how bras fit?!) by asking and taking a quick ‘glance’.

Egyptian women are smart. They are also really nice and friendly. I would have probably bought something in all three stores today had there not been men checking out what I was going to be wearing for Mr S (and him alone). Egyptian men are also smart, but there are plenty of other retail ‘experiences’ that talented men can work at, there is no reason for them to be pawing my panties!

Cairo's boutique hotel – yes, I love it!

villa-belle-epoque-cairo

Cairo finally has a boutique hotel. In a city with such wonderful architecture that is, for the most part, under performing it’s potential through lack of investment, I’m surprised that it’s taken quite so long for someone with a bit of dosh to establish a well-run, well decorated boutique hotel.

It’s called Villa Belle Epoque. It’s stunning. There is a great article in the Times comparing it to Cairo’s ‘monumental bed farms’ – which, of course, are left in its shadows.

villa-belle-epoque-cairo-2

I am excited by this hotel because Cairo has so much to offer tourists, but nowhere ‘tasteful’ to stay on a small scale. It’s what I look for when I go on holiday and want to stay somewhere nice. It’s the sort of place I look for before deciding if I want to visit a particular town. And in the earlier days, when finances were a bit tighter, it’s the sort of place I would leave as a treat for the last couple of nights of an otherwise more modest holiday.

I can’t think of anything better, after arriving in Cairo’s busy airport, to being whisked to this calm hotel. Or, being enveloped by its garden after a hectic day sightseeing. Dinner tête-a-tête, with no queues for a buffet or any other such unappetising activities, divine.

villa-belle-epoque-cairo-3

Yes I’m raving. No I’m not getting paid for it – I don’t even know the owners. Yes I’d like to stay there. No, I can’t think of a reason..ooh..perhaps an upcoming birthday!

Wouldn’t this also be the perfect place for a honeymoon in Cairo before going on a cruise or going to Adrere Amellal in Siwa or the Al Moudira in Luxor?

Walking to St Paul's Monastery

Setting off on a riverbed

Still bushy-tailed as we set off along a dried river bed.

We recently went on a two day hike to St Paul’s monastery. It was fairly easy going exertion-wise (hey, I could do it!) but the night was horrible. In an attempt to carry as little as possible, I forgot to bring clothes for the night. Then I discovered my sleeping bag wasn’t thick enough for the cool night air (although, perhaps not having my usual camping pj’s was part of that) and then the new camping mats were, well, bloody useless, leaving me pockmarked with bruises the following morning.

Winding up the mountain

Winding up the mountain

But you know, I’m a tough cookie and the discomfort of the night was soon overcome by the walk itself. Being away from crowds of people and the awful smog that has been hanging over the city during recent weeks to walk on clean earth was refreshing.

The last section of the walk brought us to a spot where the Red Sea could be seen in the distance. As great as it is to see where the mountains end and the sand begins, all I wanted to do was jump in!

View to the Red Sea from top of mountain

Finally we arrived at the monastery. It is lucky enough to have a huge new church nearing completion.

St Paul's new church

New church

Apparently the monks have been disturbed by the numbers of visitors and have decided to move up the mountain. I’m assuming that a bit of Divine intervention is stopping their new building from falling down.

St Paul's new residence for monks

The monks’ home.

Palestinian Dr Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish and Israel's Channel 10.

So the war has ended? People hold their breaths.

I wasn’t going to write again about it, as I said before, this is not a political blog and other than negotiations and a handful of Gazan casualties, it doesn’t involve Egypt.

Then came footage of Dr Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish. Part of the footage is posted below. Here’s what appears to have happened (based from translated video footage): this Gazan man, Dr Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish, is a doctor who in more peaceful times trained in Israel and now speaks Hebrew and works in an Israeli hospital. He has been on Israel’s Channel 10 daily, apparently, giving updates of what is going on around him (Israeli press were also not allowed into the Gaza Strip). As he is on air, his house is bombed and three of his children are killed. The Israeli journalist holding a mobile phone in the Channel 10 studio and interviewing him is in shock.

In what is one of the most touching moments of this whole affair, where there is a 90% approval rate amongst Israelis for the war, this journalist offers to help and manages to pull some strings to allow a Palestinian ambulance access to take the injured family members to the border, where an Israeli ambulance picks them up and takes them to an Israeli hospital.

People helping people. That is the real solution, in my opinion. Most Israelis have never met a Palestinian from the West Bank or Gaza and likewise, most Palestinians from those areas have never met Israelis (outside military/violent scenarios).

What happens next is not shown on the clip that Al Jazeera put on You Tube and their own site, but they showed last night.

Dr Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish was sitting in what looks like an entrance, possibly to the hospital his children are in, but that is not clear, he has just lost three children, others are injured, and he is devastated, but giving an interview to Israeli press.  He talks about how this cannot be the future, his children attended peace camps with Isreali children, killing innocents cannot be the way ahead. Midstream, a lady passing-by stops and screams at him, furiously waving her arm and then pointing at him accusingly, yelling that she has a son in the army and if he hadn’t had weapons in his home, they wouldn’t have targeted him. He looks up in disbelief, the people around him move closer in a bid to shield him, while another two men join in the verbal attacks. He shakes his head and says, “They don’t understand”.

I am not sure that I have ever seen anybody with such dignity. If I find the full clip I will post it. To be quite honest, I am not sure why Al Jazeera did not put up the full clip.

It perhaps needs to be pointed out, that if Israel, with its vast security network and lists of enemies within the Palestinian territories, thought that this man was a terrorist, or had him on a list as a possible terrorist, he would never have been allowed to work in Israel. He certainly, given the current situation, would not have been allowed to cross over the border and have his children treated at an Israeli hospital.

A little disclaimer: I do not think Hamas should fire home made, or ‘real’ rockets into Israel. I do not believe that Israel’s attack on Gaza will bring peace any closer. Unfortunately.

A note about comments: all comments are welcome. Please remember the post is about Dr Ezzeldeen Abu al-Aish and the people involved in the clip, not about the overall actions of either side. If you disagree with anything I’ve written, you are more than welcome to voice it in the comments section. Any comments with disrespectful and/or derogatory language (that means of me, or of EITHER Palestine/Gaza/Muslims or Israel/Jews) will not be posted. Ultimately I decide what is disrespectful. Language-wise, if you would use the language in front of your grandmother, you will probably get past the censor!

Update (21 Jan 09): All comments posted will remain up unless the author requests their removal. Opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect the view of Trailing Grouse. Views held by both myself and commentators at time of writing are subject to change and will not, of course, be updated. As of today, comments may be posted, but no response will be given. The ‘note about comments’ remains in effect.

Update (5 Feb 09): The BBC has published a report following Israel’s acceptance that it was it’s shells that hit the house. The article can be found here.

Egypt's Black Desert

Black Desert

One of the lovely things about having visitors is that you have an excuse for touristy trips. In fact, they’re usually not so much fun without the visitors. Right now, Big Mama and Lil’ Bro are visiting. Having visited the pyramids, Coptic Cairo, Islamic Cairo, the museum and various other tourist ‘musts’ multiple times, we decided to take them to the desert.

Black Desert

First stop, the Black Desert. It lies just south of Bahareya oasis (there are numerous spellings of the oasis if you google it).

Black Desert

It’s kind of odd and not being a geologist, or someone who remembers the geological highlights explained by a geologist (more than once..), all I can tell you is that it’s got a lot of black rock. Rather impressive really, though, I think.

Black Desert

Plagiarism at agnabee.com & Trailing Grouse is here only

Right, bound to happen at some point, but I was hoping it wouldn’t: Trailing Grouse is SUCH a bloody cool name (ok, I may be biased) and “..so pretty and witty and wise”, that someone has nicked it. Yep. What is more irksome, is that the thief/ves just copy and pasted it and the blog tagline onto their site and, in addition to aggregating some of my blog posts, have a load of rubbish underneath it.

The site is agnabee.com and they’ve got me down as a blog writer (from what I can tell). It seems they’ve now closed the ‘blog’ to further posts since I posted a reply message complete with a link to my blog (which they deleted) – but not removed the TG ‘blog’ and subsequent drivel! Niiiiiiiice.

Now, I’m not alone (so no, it’s not just because I’m pretty), Whazzup Egypt has suffered too, and I suspect that there are other Egypt expat bloggers out there who are also having their posts either systematically or randomly posted by the aggregator. If you are checking your blog stats frequently, then this sort of thing will harm your numbers. If you are the product of educational institutions that drill into students the abhorrent nature of plagiarism, you’re likely to feel cheated.

The idea behind the website is good and helpful, although not the first time a website has been set up for expats/foreigners in Cairo/Egypt – they normally end up being more popular with non-expats – but plagiarising either manually or by aggregator in order to make your blog look more established is not.