Wednesday, June 27, 2007

Bad tooth solves mystery of Egypt's Pharaoh queen

Middle East Times: June 27, 2007

Archaeologists hailed one of the most important finds in Egyptian history Wednesday after a tooth identified the 3,500-year-old mummy of Queen Hatshepsut, the most powerful female Pharaoh.

Billed as the most significant find since the discovery of King Tutankhamen's tomb in 1922, Egyptian antiquities chief Zahi Hawass made the announcement to a packed press conference in Cairo. He said that one of two mummies found in a tomb in the Valley of the Kings in Luxor about a century ago had been identified as Hatshepsut, the greatest woman monarch of the ancient world.

"The discovery of the Hatshepsut mummy is one of the most important finds in the history of Egypt," the antiquities chief said. "I'm sure that this mummy will help us to shed light on this mystery and on the mysterious nature of her death."

Hatshepsut ruled for 21 years from 1479 to 1458 BC, declaring herself Pharaoh after the death of her husband-brother Tuthmosis II.

The fabled queen, known for sporting a false beard and dressing like a man, was identified thanks to a broken tooth following examinations of four mummies from the New Kingdom using the latest forensic technology.

Hawass said that the mummy identified as Hatshepsut was of a "fat woman in her 50s who probably died of cancer."

In 1903, archaeologist Howard Carter - who later made history with his discovery of Tutankhamen - found two sarcophagi in tomb 60 in the Theban necropolis, the Valley of the Kings in Luxor.

One apparently contained the mummy of Hatshepsut's wet nurse, Sitre-In, and the other of an unknown female.

Later in 1920, he found the magnificent funerary temple of Deir Al Bahari, which Hatshepsut had built for herself at Luxor. Mysteriously, two sarcophagi found in the temple were empty.

That is where the search for Hatshepsut had ended until the US-based Discovery Channel asked Hawass to take another look.

The mummies from tomb 60 were brought to Cairo for the first time and Hawass used CT scans to produce detailed 3D images that linked physical traits of the unidentified mummy to those of Hatshepsut's heirs.

But the definitive proof, according to Hawass, was found in an ancient box inscribed with the female Pharaoh's name that was discovered in 1881 at the famous Deir Al Bahari temple, scene of a bloody massacre of tourists in 1997.

Inside the box were organs from the mummy and a tooth. Examined for its possible connection to a missing molar in the unidentified mummy from tomb 60, analysts found that it was a near-perfect match.

"Not only was the fat lady from KV-60 missing a tooth but the hole left behind and the type of tooth that was missing were an exact match for the loose one in the box," Hawass said. He said that the find could help to explain the mystery of Hatshepsut's disappearance from the ancient record after her death and the empty sarcophagi in her burial temple.

"Her reign during the 18th dynasty of ancient Egypt was a prosperous one, yet mysteriously she was erased from Egyptian history," he said.

American Egyptologist Elizabeth Thomas had first suggested years ago that the second mummy in tomb 60 belonged to Hatshepsut, because her hand was resting on her chest in a position reserved for monarchs.

Discovery said that a team of archaeologists would now carry out DNA testing on the mummy to confirm her identity.

Hatshepsut, daughter of Pharaoh Tuthmosis I who ruled from 1504 to 1484 BC, ruled before later female Pharaohs Nefertiti and Cleopatra. After the death of her husband-brother Tuthmosis II, she reigned as regent for his son by a concubine, Tuthmosis III.

Hatshepsut soon declared herself Pharaoh, donning royal headdress and a false beard. Her rule is seen as a time of stability and prosperity for Egypt. But records of her reign suddenly end after her death. Her monuments were demolished by her jealous successor, Tuthmosis III, and her mummy was thought to have been lost forever

Thursday, June 14, 2007


I have just returned from Turkey, and, thught it was a good example of a predominantly Islamic nation trying to ensure that its Islamic nature does not overide every other aspect of its existence.
Yes, its important to allow people religious freedom, but how can a simple thing like wearing a headscarf define a religion? It's easy for people to talk about women choosing to wear the headscarf voluntarily, but if you are brought up in an environment where its ingrained in you from childhood that its a woman's duty to cover herself, where is the freedom to make a choice? An indoctrinated choice can hardly be called a choice! Plus I think one needs to review the context, the environment and the exigencies of the times in which Mohamad laid down the rules regarding modesty for women.
What Turkey is doing is creating an open environment for women and trying to ensure that there is equality for women. Are there issues relating to Kurds? Yes, there are, but I don't think Turkey has ever claimed to be Utopia. Do they need to work on it? Yes, they do, but that does not take away from what ever they have achieved.
In any society, radical change is never peaceful, and, perhaps that would also be Turkey's fate. If through its turmoil, its able to emerge as a secular state, it may well become a role model for other Islamic states. Practicising Islam does not neceessarily mean that a state has to lose its secular nature

Sunday, June 10, 2007


While on the Bosphorus Cruise, the Guide had pointed out an area called Ortakoy, which is the place that locals frequent. The restaurants, the guide said, served the best fish in town, and, were open till very late at night.

So leaving our son with my mother-in-law, my husband and I set off for dinner at Ortakoy. The cab drops you off on the main road from where you walk down quaint cobbled streets lined with stalls selling everything from junk jewellery to Turkish evil eyes, from fired tiles to beautiful Turkish figurines, from gorgeous ceramics to cat sketches! (What is about cats in this part of the world? Even back home in Egypt people are obsessed with cats!)

Located on the European Bosphorus shore, Ortakoy, {literally "the village in the middle" (orta}) is a really cool place with lots shops, open air cafés (very Parisian), restaurants, and, tons of arty crowd along with youngsters, with an occasional young Turk revving past in his fancy motorbike.

As I discovered later, the stalls lining the streets are an impromptu street market on Sundays by artists displaying their wares for sale. Prices are a little lower than Grand Bazaar and the artists are usually not given in to bargaining. There are two permanent shops that sell the most gorgeous blue / aqua green Turkish pottery that I have seen. The pieces are unique, different from the run of the mill stuff that you’ll find in Grand Bazaar, and expensive, but worth every penny you spend. And, there is this lovely shop selling copies of old photographs / lithos of Istanbul, copies of Ottoman edicts and official decrees, and, hold your breath, copies of the posters advertising the Orient Express! The last I just had to buy!

Hubby and I walked to the end of the area where a natural jetty is home to number of tourists and Turks out with the family. A group of youngsters sat in one corner under a tree singing songs and strumming a guitar. I was really tempted to join, but satisfied myself by listening to them. Bunch of young friends, sipping coffee, singing, laughing at a shared joke – ah, how I yearn for the uncomplicated life when you are young!

The most beautiful part of being at Ortakoy is that you are right at the edge of the Bosphorus. You can hear the waves as they crash against the shore, and, feel the breeze as it caresses your skin.

As we walked back towards the restaurants, I noticed a beautiful mosque on my left. This is Büyük Mecidiye Camii (Grand Imperial Mosque of Sultan Abdülmecid), usually called simply the Ortaköy Camii. Other than its beautiful architecture, what is really tantalizing is that its almost in the water on the Bosphorus shore.

Right next to the mosque was a lady, making something, which resembled Indian roomali rotis. On the table were jars with assorted fillings – mushrooms, penayir (yes, like the Indian paneer), cheese, mashed potatoes, beef, mutton etc. As she expertly tossed and rolled out the rotis, I was intrigued enough to try one. The dish, the lady explained, was called “Queslame” and was a local Turkish roll. Could I get a vegetarian one? Of course! Decided to go the whole hog and pointed to everything vegetarian that I could find – penayir, potatoes, cheese and mushrooms.

She essentially rolled out the dough into a really large roti / pancake and then added all the stuffing. Folded it over to form a square and then cooked it on a pan. Once cooked, rolled it in a paper and handed it to me. Yum! It was delicious, albeit a little dry.

Numerous restaurants line Ortakoy, selling everything from Lebanese to Chinese to Continental cuisine.

Verdict: To sit in the evening breeze, next to the Bosphorus, and, have your dinner makes Ortakoy a not-to-miss experience. I’m defiantly going to be back!

Turkish Hamam

The hotel that we were staying in offered complimentary Turkish Bath for guests. I guess all hotels in Turkey would offer a Turkish bath experience – I’d be surprised, nay, shocked if they did not! Had been telling my husband that we should go and experience a Turkish Bath while we were in Istanbul – it would be sacriliege not to!

Our guide on an earlier tour had explained that Islam’s emphasis on personal cleanliness was responsible for construction of hundreds of hamams all over Turkey, and, especially Istanbul. Men and women have different hamams or different bathing hours in the same hamam. While some public hamams are clean, he recommened that we use our hotel one (if the hotel was a reputed, neat and clean one) to avoid any chance of any infection!

So while everyone slept in the afternoon, I ventured down to the floor that housed the Turkish bath.

I was ushered into the ladies cloakroom to change, and, offered a cloth (pestemal) to wrap around me. I politely declined, indicating that I preferred my one-piece swimwear. How would I get cleaned, asked the hamamn attendant, despairingly shaking her head. I’m quite clean actually, thank you, this was just for the experience! Shaking her head at this strange foreigner, she lead me to the steam room, where I sweated for about 15mins.

After this, she lead me to the main hamam area which is a big room, really, really sweltry with a round marbled podium in the centre. All along the walls, there were quaint brass baisins with taps above (one for hot and the other for cold water) and a brass bowl to scoop the water.

It appeared I had a choice, explained the attendant. I could either soap myself or she would do it for me. Basically, the attendant would rub you all over with a coarse cloth called kese to clean you of all your dirt. Then she would lather you with soap suds, and, then wash you. After this was done, for a fee, you can get a massage, where they make you lie down on the marble podium in the centre. I had seen tons of these photographs when looking up Turkish baths. Now I knew better!

I opted to bathe myself. After being steamed for 15 mins, the cool water felt heavenly against my skin, and, I must admit that I felt really clean.

Verdict: A Turkish bath is a must do, not just for the resultant cleanliness, but jst for the experience!

American Indian?

Very amused. I’ve had at least three people asking me if I was from the US?

Shucks, don’t tell me I’ve acquired an accent!

I, sometimes, make fun of people who travel overseas for a couple of months, and, acquire an accent. Omigosh, I’m becoming one of them!

Shall very carefully watch how I speak over the next few days!!

Misir Carsisi

After a trip to Kapili Carsisi decided we must pay a visit to Misr Carsisi, not just to see what the market is like, but because it’s the Egyptian market! Egyptian comes from the association with Spices. In ancient times, spices from Egypt used to be brought and sold here. Hence, Misr Carsisi is also known as the Spice Bazaar.

Decided to take the tram from Sultanahmet to Eminonu. Walked out from the subway, past Yeni Cami towards Misr Carsisi. One of the locals told me that Yeni meant new! New? A hundred of years old mosque! What a delightful paradox!

Walked to a brown and beige stone building which displays a sign in brass proclaiming it to be Misr Carsisi. The one thing that struck me, I was suddenly seeing women wearing headscarves! Was it just co-incidence that I found women in headscarves near an Egyptian market?

Walked through the market – a bit of a disappointment. I guess I was expecting shop after shop displaying mounds of aromatic spices. I had visions of browsing, weighing buying pure, fresh smelling spices. Well, there are shops selling spices, but nothing close to the Carsisi of my imagination.

Was most amused while browsing through some shops selling what they called Indian curry powder and Indian saffron, which by the way, looked like nothing back home!

There are a number of shops selling touristy trinkets as well, and, a shop selling the most beautiful embroidered Turkish towels. Now I’ve grown up hearing about the fabulous Turkish towels, so succumbed to the temptation, and, bought two gorgeous fluffy towels. I’m still admiring them in their pretty packs, haven’t had the heart to open them!!

Verdict: You may want to visit Misr Carsisi to tick the box, but if you don’t, you wont miss too much.

Saturday, June 9, 2007




Around 1490 BC the Egyptian Pharaoh Thutmose III erected two obelisks before the Karnak temple in Luxor to commemorate the victories of his forces in Mesopotamia. The obelisks were made of rare pink granite.

In the 4th century AD, an unknown Roman emperor who wanted to accomplish something impressive that would create excitement among his people had the colossal obelisk brought to Istanbul.

For years it was left lying in a corner of the Hippodrome. In 390, during the reign of Theodosius I, it was erected with great difficulty by Proclus, a city administrator. It is the oldest monument in the city and has always been considered magical.

The obelisk rests on four bronze blocks on a Roman base decorated with reliefs. These depict the emperor, his children and other prominent personalities watching the races from the imperial box, as well as the spectators, musicians, dancers and chariot races. The obelisk measures 25.60 m including the base.


Built of roughly cut stones, this imitation obelisk stands at the southern side of the Hippodrome. Its exact date of construction is unknown. It is named after the Emperor Constantine Porphyroenitus who had it repaired in the 10th century. Its bronze plates decorated with golden lettering were plundered by the Fourth Crusaders.


This is one of the oldest monuments in Istanbul. The heads of the three intertwined serpents used to form the legs of a gold cauldron. The thirty-one Greek cities, which defeated the Persians in 5th century, BC melted the bronze items they had captured to create this unique monument. The 8-meter high column originally stood before the Temple of Apollo in Delphi. It was brought to Istanbul in 324 by Constantine and erected in the middle of the Hippodrome. The heads of the serpents, intact until 1700, disappeared at that time. One of the missing heads was later found and it is now on display at the Archeological Museum.


The octagonal, domed fountain at the entrance to the Hippodrome was a present from the German Emperor Wilhelm II to Sultan Abdulhamid II and the city of Istanbul. It was built in Germany and installed in Istanbul in 1898. Built in a neo-Byzantine style, the fountain is decorated with gold mosaics inside. It is a beautiful fountain, but does not blend well with the ancient monuments in the vicinity.

The Blue Mosque

Decided to take a half day tour of Sultanahmet, which included the Hippodrome, the Obelisk, the famous Blue Mosque, and, the equally imposing Haga Sophiya (for reasons that would only be understood by a Bengali, the latter elicited many giggles from my 6 year old!).

The Blue Mosque is one of the most prominent, and, famous, landmarks of Istanbul, and, is very impressive with its beautiful domes, semi domes, courtyards and six minarets. Sultan Ahmet I built the mosque. He ordered Architect Mehmed Aga to build a mosque that would parallel the Haga Sophia - it took around 7 years to build it!

I never realized till I got back that in the construction of the blue Mosque, Mehmet Aga, paid tribute to his colleagues Anthemius of Tralles and Isidorus of Miletus, architects of neighboring Ayasofya (Hagia Sophia), who designed their masterwork a thousand years before Mehmet Aga was born.

The two great buildings, Ayasofya and the Blue Mosque, stand beside one another on the Hippodrome, separated only by a small park. They are both entered from the same direction. In one, the visitor's eye is lifted heavenward inside, in the other, on the outside: master architects conversing across a millennium.

Traditionally, mosques built by Sultans had 4 minarets, and those built by others would have only two, thereby clearly distinguishing mosques built by Sultans / Kings from those built by other noblemen.

As per an anecdote, the 6 minarets of the Blue Mosque were a result of a linguistic misunderstanding! According to it, Sultan Ahmet I wanted to have minarets made of gold which is "altin" in Turkish. The architect misunderstood him as "alti" which means "six" . Luckily for the architect, the Sultant liked the 6 minarets and his head was spared. Prior to that time, no sultan had a mosque with 6 minarets.

As you enter, in the courtyard, there are some fountains which are for people who are going to pray in the mosque. In Islam, prior to praying, one must wash his/her face, arms, neck and feet as well as mouth and nose. This is a basic cleaning, which on the flip side, renders many a public bathroom unusable!

The marble courtyard’s marble comes from the Island of Marmara (the Turkish word for marble ,"Mermer" comes from Marmara).

Upon entering the mosque, one’s head is to be covered, and, the shoes must be taken off and put into plastic bags which one carries in one’s hands. I was amazed to notice that no one forces foreigners to cover their head, though you can buy blue head scarves outside the entrance for 10 TYL. The Turks appear to have great belief in the ability of human beings to pay respect where it is due, and, it’s a belief that’s well placed – you can hear faint murmurs as the guides talk, but no one runs around, screams or makes a nuisance of themselves, unlike in the Valley of the Kings back home.

Upon the entrance to the mosque, one should pay attention to the gate. The gate is a typical Seljuk- Turkish wooden work with a geometrical design in its center. The star symbolizes the Turkish Generation and very typical of early 11-12th C Turkish Art.

As you enter, you look up in awe at the massive interior of the mosque with its chandeliers and blue tiles. The tiles, our guide explained, are all 17th century beautiful Iznik tiles which give the mosque its name.

The mosque is all carpeted with prayer rugs because people touch their forehead on the ground. The carpet is designed as multiple small rectangles adjacent to each other. Each rectangle indicates a place for one individual to pray.

Our guide told us that the mosque has 260 windows through which the light sparkles into the mosque. The windows have centuries old stained glass, which diffuses the light as it comes in, and, creates a mellow halo effect.

The pulpit from which the Imam speaks is made of marble. The guide mentioned that every Friday, when the Imam climbs the pulpit for prayers, he never climbs right to the top as a mark of respect to Prophet Mohammed. Everybody turns his or her face to the south when praying, because Mecca( Saudi Arabia) is located in South. At the rear end of the Mosque is a prayer area for women shielded by an intricately worked mashrabeya partition. Some of our co-passengers on the tour, who were Muslims, knelt down to pray.

Friday, June 8, 2007

A trip down history lane!

A city which is 3000 years old, the fascination for Istanbul stems from its place in history, and, of course, the Bosphorus. A city that started its existence as a nondescript fishing village, underwent several changes into Byzantium, then Constantinople, to finally metamorphasize into Istanbul. A city that was witness to the fortunes of three great empires, and straddles two continents, Istanbul came to be known as the “Paris of the East”, and, to reaffirm this, the first great international luxury express train ever run – the Orient Express (of Agatha Christie fame) – connected Istanbul with Paris.

The history of Istanbul is rich and full of interesting tales.

Its rumoured that Byzas, a Megarian colonist (from the Doric colony of Megara in Ancient Greece), before leaving Greece, asked the oracle at Delphi where he should establish his new colony to which the oracle replied “ opposite the blind”. Sailing up the Bosphorus, Byzas noticed the settlement on the Asian shore at Chalcedon. Looking to the left they saw the natural harbour of the Golden Horn on the European shore, they wondered if the people at Chalcedon were blind not to have settled on the European side. So they set up their new city Byzantium “opposite the blind”!

Byzantium submitted to Rome and fought Rome’s battles for many years till it was won by Septimius Severus who razed it to the ground and rebuilt it as Augusta Antonina.

In 324 AD, Constantine won control over this city, declared it to be the “New Rome” or Constantinople. For the next many decades, Constantinople would be the centre of their empire.
Finally, in what is referred to as the “Fall of Constantinople” or the “Conquest of Istanbul” (depending on the perspective – Western or Muslim), Mehmet II, the young Ottoman Sultan, conquered what would become Istanbul. After conquering the Golden Horn, Mehmet’s forces were being frustrated by the large city walls. It is said that a Hungarian cannon manufacturer called Urban offered to build the most enormous cannon ever built to tear down the city walls. It appears that Urban decided to go to Mehmet after discovering that the existing Byzantine emperor had no money to pay him!

Mehmet’s entry into Istanbul on the evening of 29th May is celebrated every year. Those parts of the city that did not resist his troops were spared and their Churches guaranteed. Those that resisted were sacked, and their churches turned into mosques. Sancta Sophia (now known as Hague Sophia), then the biggest and most magnificent Church of the Christian world, was immediately converted to a mosque.

It is said that with the growth of the Ottoman Empire, Istanbul became a melting pot of different cultures. On its streets, people spoke Turkish, Greek, Armenian, Russian Arabic, Romanian, Italian, French, German, English etc. Sounds completely like exotica!

First Impressions

Reached our quaint little hotel in Taksim Square and crashed for the morning. Woke up and went for a walk in Taksim Square. The weather was absolutely fabulous. The cool breeze felt wonderful on my skin. The scores of pigeons on the square reminded me of Trafalgar Square in London as my son hesitantly ran through their ranks. The pigeons hopped a little distance away giving my son a rather baleful look.

Saw a shoe shine guy whose shoe shine box took my breath away – it was a brass plated quaint box with a number of brass topped bottles (will post a photo once I finish downloading the memory chip). If I weren’t wearing keds, faith I would’ve had my shoes shined!

Had lunch in a small café on Istiklal Caddesi which served what seemed the most delicious meal I had eaten in a while – hot lentil shorba, a hummus (chick peas) curry, a heavenly aubergine, garlic and tomato preparation and some rice.

First impressions?

Very different scenery as you drive from the airport to the heart of the city. Its very lush and green compared to the beak but compelling brown of the dessert back home,

Very Mediterranean especially the white washed houses,

The azure Bosphorus and the glorious Marmara

Gorgeous weather with a nippy cool breeze that caresses your skin,

Quaint mix of the modern and Arab but definitely more European,

NO headscarves (despite Turkey being 98% Muslim),

Architecture though Muslim, yet not as Arab as you see in the Gulf and the Middle East,

People have European coloring but slightly Arabic features

Women definitely not as pretty as back home in Cairo,

Secular state but divided on community lines – conflict with the Armenians and the Kurds

Taksim Square bustling with activity, open air concert with live bands, very European

Quaint streets lined with shops selling lots of food

Mouth watering shwarma tempting even a vegetarian like me!

Istanbul, I love the feel and smell of you!!

Istanbul - getting my bearings


A city built on seven hills, Istanbul is divided from north to south by the Bosphorus ( a strait that connects the Black Sea and the Marmara) into the European and Asian portions. The European portion is further divided by the Golden Horn (a freshwater estuary / a really short river) into the Old City and Beyoglu.

The Old City is the area that includes Sultanahmet and the Grand Bazaar, basically all the touristy spots.

As I discovered from the Lonely planet guide, Beyoglu is the Turkish name for the two ancient cities of Pera and Galata. Beyoglu includes areas like Taksim square, the five star hotels like the Hilton, Hyatt, The Marmara etc.\, and, as per tourist guides, the heart of Istanbul!

When I asked the hotel reception, I was informed that all the touristy stuff is on the European side. The only tourist attraction / place of note on the Asian side is the Haydarpasa Station which is the railway station for all trains going to Anatolian region. Since we were only going to be in Istanbul decided to give it a miss. I would much rather see the station near Eminonu, which is the station where the famous Orient Express used to arrive!

Istanbul here I come!

Boarded the flight for Istanbul, which turned out to be Turkish Airways instead of Egypt Air (code share), at an unearthly hour, and, a little grumpy at having lost my beauty sleep. To add to my woes, we were boarding the flight from Terminal 2 instead of the new swanky Terminal 1 reserved for Egypt Air.

After a really turbulent flight, which I thought I would never survive, we managed to land in Istanbul. It really didn’t help that the airhostess and I did not understand each other except for a few exchanged smiles. I’m convinced that had I taken the breakfast offered, it would have flown all over the plane, the ride was so eventful. I’m sure many people on the flight ate out the whole next week on the story of this really scared babe on the plane!

The Istanbul airport is new and all silver and glass. More than ever now, I am convinced that there is some international prototype for airports that makes them all look the same – marble, silver / steel columns, and, lots and lots of grey / blue glass…

Stepping out of the airport, the air hits you like a whip. Its bracingly cold, a refreshing change from the stale air inside the aircraft and the airport and gives you an instant bounce in your step. As we drive onto to the main road leading to the heart of the city, you get a panoramic view of the city - Istanbul is huge, spread all around the Bosphorus and Marmara, built at different levels over 7 different hills.

My nerves tingle in anticipation and excitement!

I’m in Istanbul!

The Istanbul of the blue, blue Bosphorus, the Istanbul of the Blue Mosque and the Aya Sophia.

I can't belive that I am actually here!

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Azar sanctions Urfi marriages

Read a really interesting article in the newspaper a few days ago. Interesting because it signals a pragmatic, practical and thinking side of a religious institution which is rare to see.

Al Azar is the Sunni Muslim world's most influental authority. According to press reports, it sanctioned the controversial urfi marriage. Members of the Islamic Research Council, an influential arm of Al-Azar, after a long discussion, concluded that contentious marriage arrangements, known as Missyar and Urfi (unregistered), are acceptable as a solution to the problem of young people. The average age of marriage in Egypt has risen to 42 for men and 35 for women, according to unofficial estimates, say newspapers.

Missyar marriage is a contract that allows a man and a woman to be married for any period of time from just an hour to 99 years. Some scholars condemn Missyar and Urfi marriages as tantamount to prostitution, but other clerics argue that they are practical ways of addressing basic human urges, as under Islamic law, or Sharia, extramarital sex is prohibited, and, punishable by flogging or stoning to death.

If one moves away from what perspective one looks at this, to me the news is significant because a religious institution is chosing to move with the times, and, recognise that it needs to adopt a stance that is in keeping with the needs and requirements of its current population. Clerics may come and go, and, they may debate the interpretation of religious law and its implications, but the reality is that religion is lived through its practioners, and, if it ceases to address their needs, then it faces the danger of extinction or worse still, creating unrest.

See article:

Kid's party

Could not post anything yesterday, though wanted to write about something on Urfi marriages that I had read.

Off to Turkey tonight, will try and post before that, otherwise, once I am back!

Yesterday was last day of school, and, had 16 energetic, but slightly senti six year olds over at home for a farewell bash. It was the entire class, and, at the end of the day, there were broken toys, some tears, lots of pizzas and chicken nuggets, juice boxs and farewell gifts, lots of fun, hugs and promises, and, my home looked alien to me with a lot of cleaning up to do.

But hey, it was worth the effort, I think the kids had fun, and, my son loved it!

Would I do it again? I suspect I would....

Tuesday, June 5, 2007

Pottery Cafe

Had the car the whole day today, so decided to go to the AUC Bookstore , Downtown. A friend had told me that they keep a lot of English books, thought I might find something of interest to read.

Browsed in the bookshop, and, came out armed with a large bag of purchases, including, how to speak basic Arabic to get by. The bookshop is nice, lots of interesting books (and in English! Mama, I'm in heaven!) but there is no place to sit and read or browse and have copy. Its an old fashioned bookstore. Look around, choose your titles, pay and go, though to be fair no one throws you out - if you can stand and browse books for hours, of course, you may.

On crossing the road, spotted a small sign which said Pottery Cafe. Now, I had read a write-up about this in some magazine, which talked about its young owner, his philosophy, how they change the menu regularly in response to customer feedback, how he does morning huddles with his team, etc... The article had mentioned that it was quaint, and, that they were planning to open in Maadi soon, so I decided to drop in.

The first thing that struck me was that by walking in, I had clearly lowered the average age by at least 5-7 years. The place is full of AUC students, sipping their lattes, furiously typing on their laptops (the place is wi-fi).

Ordered a Cheese and Pesto Panini (sounded yum!) served with French fries which sounded delicious. Since it had been quite hot outside, ordered a Vanilla milkshake to go with it.

At arpprox LE 11.00, the panini was good, though pesto is a msinomer. It essentially basil leaves along with cheese, but it still tasted good. Its served with lots of crisp french fries, which completes your carbohyrate fix for the day.

I would avoid the milkshake (LE11 again). Its very watery milky (I like my milkshake sweet & thick), and, the vanilla milkshake has banana.

Ordered a latte (LE 9.50) which was quie decent, and sat flipping through the magazines and listening some really nice instrumental music.

The menu is quite extensive, and, reasonably priced. There is a 12% service charge.

The ambience is very nice with stucco beige walls framed by dark wood. There is a quaint round wrought iron staircase going up, which leads to another room done up similarly. Here, is where you see the entire student community sprawled out all over the place. The atmosphere is very cozy.

Definately worth a visit and a meal.

Monday, June 4, 2007

Turkey here I come!!

Got my passports back from the Turkish embassy.

Halleluiah! We have the visas!!

Everyone is shocked that I actually managed to get the Turkish visa in 3 days - unheard of! A silent thanks to the ubiqutous Mr Shaheen who really helped me... God bless you, my friend.

So we're off to Istanbul this weekend..

Ramses Wissa Wassef Art Center

A friend had mentioned this place near Harraniya Village, where the Center took in children, and, young adults, and allowed them to give full vent to their creativity with weaving and ceramics. It sounded interesting, so decided to go pay a visit.

Located on the Saqqara- Harraniya Road, past the new highway going towards Saqqara, the Center is about a half hour drive from Maadi.

On reaching the place, we were pleasantly surprised to see lots of greenery and lovely mud pasted structures which looked more in harmony with Egyptian / Arabic architectire than the faceless multi-storyed houses that one sees all across any large city.

A very nice lady, by the name of Yoanna, took us around, and , explained the concept to us. She is the daughter of the founder.

Ramses Wissa Wassef, a Copt from a prominent family, developed this center (in the 1950s) to create a place for local village children to express what they see in their environment through weaving tapestries. He laid down only 3 rules - no cartoons or drawings, no imiation of other works of art, and, no criticism or inteference from adults.

Today, the centre supports 70 people and teaches them to weave, and to make ceramics. When they come in, children are allowed to design and do what they want, so as to allow their inner creativity to come to the fore. Only after they have been here for a few years, does the centre teach them technical stuff. The designs are never forced, or instructed, they're determined entirely by the artisans themselves.

We saw some of the tapestry that had been woven by the inmates. Beautiful sceneries, and, lovely colours. There are large rugs, which have taken the weaver, about a year to weave.

The Center also teaches batik - the colurs are dazzling, and, the designs intricate.

While Yoanna looks after the tapestry and batik, her sister Suzzanne looks after the ceramics. The inmates have created beautiful tea services, jars, bowls, cups etc which have been painted in blue and then glazed.

Not only does the Center teach them these crafts, it also helps them with their health, their children's education, and, any other family problems or issues. A truly holistic approach.

The place is definately worth a visit, not only for the things available to buy, but just to see how one man's vision has helped many people to find themselves, and, build a better life for themselves and their families.


Sunday, June 3, 2007

Whirling Dervishes & Tanoura

If you have been on the Nile Cruise or any of the dinner cruise boats on the Nile (more on that later, Nile Maxim's is fabulous), one of the entertainment items is always the tanoura. The tanoura is a display by men wearing long, large skirts who twirl around performing some interesting formations. I was intrigued about this dance form, and, decided to find out a little more (the ever reliable Wikipedia).

To my surprise, I discovered that the Tanoura or the Whirling Dervish is a form of Sufi worship. Sufi whirling is one of the rituals performed by Sufi orders.

The practice of Sufi whirling (or Sufi spinning), is a twirling meditation that originated among the Turkish Sufis, which is still practiced by the Dervishes of the Mevlevi order. It is a symbolic ritual through which dervishes (also called semazens) aim to reach the "perfect" (kemal). They try to desert their nefs', egos or personal [bad] desires by listening [to their master and sufi music], thinking [about God] and whirling which resembles the rotation of other beings such as electrons and planets of the micro- and macrocosmos.

As explained by Sufis:
In the symbolism of the Sema ritual, the semazen's camel's hair hat (sikke) represents the tombstone of the ego; his wide, white skirt represents the ego's shroud. By removing his black cloak, he is spiritually reborn to the truth.

At the beginning of the Sema, by holding his arms crosswise, the semazen appears to represent the number one, thus testifying to God's unity.

While whirling, his arms are open: his right arm is directed to the sky, ready to receive God's beneficence; his left hand, upon which his eyes are fastened, is turned toward the earth. The semazen conveys God's spiritual gift to those who are witnessing the Sema.

Revolving from right to left around the heart, the semazen embraces all humanity with love. The human being has been created with love in order to love.

So the next time that I watch the tanoura, I will probably appreciate the significance and the dance itself much more..

Saturday, June 2, 2007

Baron Empain Palace, Heliopolis

Driving to the airport and back, I always wait to pass by a strange looking building in Heliopolis. Strange looking, not because it’s grotesque or weird, but because it is so un-Egyptian in its construct and carvings. My driver was clueless and was of little help so as to the name or the origins of this amazing structure.

It looks like an ancient Indian temple - an Indian temple in the middle of Islamic Egypt? The paradox kept bothering me, so I decided to pay the structure / temple / monument a visit.

On reaching the monument, I discovered that it was a palace - the Baron Empain palace, (Qasr Al- Baron), one of Egypt’s most spectacular architectural masterpieces, a place which has always been, and remains to be, a subject of fables, legends and rumors. And guess what the palace is known as? The Baron's Hindu Palace! So I was right about the Indian temple bit!

In 1904, Belgian Baron Edward Louis Joseph Empain first arrived in Egypt with only one intention: rescuing his company’s project to construct a railway line connecting Matariya to Port Said. Although the mission failed and he lost the contract to the British, he made up his mind to stay in Egypt. It is said that the Baron had fallen in love. But no one knew whether it was with the desert or one of the Egypt’s most beautiful elites (much is talked about his love and affection for Yvette Boghdadli).

The Baron is credited with building the new city of Heliopolis, ten miles from Cairo.

Baron Empain commissioned his palace in 1907, two years after work began on the construction of Heliopolis. Empain asked French architect Alexander Marcel to build him a Hindu palace on an artificial elevation. It was completed in 1911.

The elaborate interior was the responsibility of his French associate, Georges-Louis Claude.


Marcel and Claude had previously constructed and decorated the Oriental Pavilion attached to the Royal Palace of Laeken in Belgium. The palace was set in a marvelous garden - ascending green terraces, each with its own set of erotic marble statues.

The palace architecture is of a cross-cultural nature with an extraordinary mixture of Hindu temples of Orissa, Renaissance architecture along Marcel’s own adaptation of the Cambodian temples in Angkor Wat.


The Baron died at Woluwe, Belgium, and was buried under the basilic of Notre-Dame d'Héliopolis , and, with his death, began the ruin of this magnificient building.

The palace that was built by the hands of the best Indonesian artists and sculptors has sadly been allowed to fall to ruin.

The Egyptian army requisitioned the building during the Tripartite Aggression, which further damaged the garden and interior.

Over the years, the Baron palace has become a subject of many rumours, and, tales - the palace was haunted, it was used by devil worshippers and, perhaps more credibly, by drug dealers.

The palace was sold by the Baron’s family in 1957 to the families of Alxasam and Reda and was declared a monument later in the 80s by the Egyptian government.

But, a trip to Egypt would not be complete without a visit to this beautiful structure, still so majestic and unique in its construct, in this country of tombs and pyramids.

Friday, June 1, 2007

Egyptian names of some herbs

While browsing the net to look up what corriander is called in Arabic, found this list of spices and their Egyptian names.

God bless the person whose website it was, though for the life of me, I cannot remember where I read this. I had copied it down for easy reference, and, just thought of posting it to my blog.

To that unknown benefactor, thank you for this guide, I look this up ever so often!!

Ginger = ganzabeel
Cinnamon = qerfah
Cumin = cammon
Cardamom = habhan 7abhan
Oregano = zatar
Cloves = qoronful
Coriander = kozbarah
Basil = rehan = re7an
Curry = karry hindi
Paprika = filfil a7mar na3em bared
Dried mint = na3na3
Dried Basil seeds powder = re7an 7ab na3em
bay leaves = lawry
red pepper = shaatah
sumac = sumac
tumeric = curcumin or osfor
Garlic - Toom
Coriander has 2 types
Fresh - kuzbara khadra
Ground - kuzbara nashfa
Dill - shabat
Parsley - ba'doonis
Black pepper - fil fil iswid
Salt - Mal7
Sesame - Simsim
Thyme - Za'tar
Allspice = Boharaat, Bohar
Ammonia (powder) = Nashader
Anise = Yansoun
Basil, fresh = Rihan
Bayleaf, Laurel = Wara' El Laura
Capers = Qobbar (Abu Khanger)
Caraway = Karawya
Cardamom = Habbahaan
Cayenne Pepper = Shatta
Chicory = Chicoria
Chili = Felfel Ahmar Amrikani, Shatta
Chives = Korraat Baladi
Cinnamon = Erfah
Cloves = Oronfel
Coriander, dry, seeds = Kozbara Nashfa
Coriander, fresh = Kozbara Khadra
Coriander (powder) = Kozbara Matthoona
Cumin = Kammun
Cumin, black = Habbet El Baraka
Curry = Kari Hindi
Dill, fresh = Shabat
Fennel = Shammar
Fenugreek = Helba
Garlic = Toom
Ginger = Ganzabeel
Hibiscus = Karkade
Juniper = Habb El Aaraar
Licorice = Erq Souss
Mace = Bisbassa
Marjoram = Mardagoush (Bardakosh)
Mastic = Mesteka
Mint = Naanaa
Nutmeg = Gozet Et Tib
Paprika = Felfel Roumi (mish harra)
Parsley = fresh Ba'duunes
Pepper, black = Felfel Eswed
Pepper, red = Felfel Ahmar
Pepper, white = Felfel Abyad
Rosebuds = Zir El Ward
Rosemary = Hassa El Baan
Saffron = Zaafaran
Sage = Marmareya, Akbdar Chey
Salt, cooking = Malh Kheshen
Salt, table = Malh Na'em
Sorrel = Hummad
Savory = Zaatar El Bar
Sesame = Semsem
Sumac = Soumak
Tarragon = Targhun
Thyma / Oregano = Zaatare