Sunday, September 28, 2008

Of crowded streets & skillful driving

I suspect that once I leave Cairo, and, am driving elsewhere, I shall suffer from agoraphobia! Not that roads in Maadi are very narrow, its just that they are really crowded.

Try driving around on a Friday or Saturday morning! Cars parked on both sides of the road, and two vehicles trying to cross each other in between these two lanes of parked cars - you need immense skill and concentration to pass through without scratching each other! And I must, unhesitatingly, admire the driving skills of the average Egyptian driver - they pass through this with consummate ease while I stress and worry about damaging my car!

Went to the Arab souk on Road 7 early morning yesterday. As is par for the course, cars were on both sides of the road, and, an enterprising lady had parked her vehicle right in the middle of the road, deigning it too tiresome to park elsewhere and walk back to buy her meat and chicken for the day! Tried my level best to squeeze through, but even my Peugeut would just not scrape past.

Honked and honked to no avail! The lady was not to be disturbed...and then when she did finally appear with boy & meat in tow, I got a rather disdainful look and what sounded like an earful in rather agitated Arabic! A rather helpful shopkeeper explained in broken English that she was appalled at my pathetic driving skills! Typical expat woman, scared of a few scratches? Huh?

I must admit that really fazed me! Here I was, awaiting a hint of an apology, an acknowldgement of my inconvinience, and all I got was complete and utter disdain for my driving skills! So have firmly resolved to "practice" and improve my driving skills! lol!

Tuesday, September 23, 2008

Mickey Mouse - on endangered species list!

I have heard many stories on fatwas, and, sometimes, they do get distorted out of context by media and certain elements, but this one was so unbelievable that I had to keep this for posterity!

Sheikh Muhammad Al-Munajid, a former diplomat who once served in the Saudi embassy in Washington, condemned cartoons that endear rodents to their viewers.

Islamic law, he said, sees the mouse as "a repulsive, corrupting creature" while children today see mice as loveable and "awesome" because of animated shows like Tom and Jerry, and Disney staple Mickey Mouse.

"Mickey Mouse has become an awesome character, even though according to Islamic law, Mickey Mouse should be killed in all cases," Al-Munajid tells the interviewer.

"The shari'a refers to the mouse as 'little corrupter,' and says it is permissible to kill it in all cases. It says that mice set fire to the house, and are steered by Satan. The mouse is one of Satan's soldiers," he goes on to say.

The man clearly spends all his waking hours thinking up creative fatwas. Earlier, I believe he criticised the Beijing Olympics as the "bikini Olympics," referring to them as "satanic" and lashed out at the immodest dress worn by female atheletes. Yup, I can see women attempting the high/long jumps in full length skirts & trousers, lol!

I wonder why Sheikh Muhammad Al-Munajid does not better utilise his time working for the good of the larger mankind, (as should any religious leader with a following) using fatwas or other religious means to ensure that the world is a safer place not marred by death and fear, preaching peaceful co-existence instead of wasting his time issuing useless though terrifically entertaining fatwas!

Ah I forget, all of the above doesn't get him his ten minutes of fame that targetting poor Mickey does!

But I believe that this is not the first time that poor Mickey has been in a bit of a spot! lol! A few years back, Hamas used a duplicate of Mickey Mouse, called Farfour, as a host for a local show where the poor mouse used to preach death and destruction to young Palestinian children. Doesn't he look just like Mckey?

That's not all, the character was also “murdered” on air by a co-actor pretending to be an Israeli official trying to buy Farfour's land. Essentially Farfour was martyred while defending his land!Egad, what gore to show children!

So Mickey, watch your back!

Carrefour bread

I am not sure, and, maybe its just me, but I find that the bread from Carerefour is really yeasty, if there is such a word!

Yesterday I picked up a large wholewheat loaf, and some chocolate donoughts, and I am completely unable to eat the bread. Everytime, I come close to eating it, a strong yeasty smell engulfs and overpowers my oalfactory senses, rendering it nigh impossible to have the bread. My 7 year old, who usually loves donoughts refused to eat them cos they smelt "strange"!

Or maybe, I am just fussy. I dont even like Rich Bake that is available in supermarkets. The bread is way too soft, in fact sometimes I suspect that its not fully baked. I prefer the sandwich or the multi-grain pre-packed Monginis bread which is quite decent. Otherwise, shall continue to pick up my bread from Bread Basket on Road 9 or Fino on Road 213 esp the multi-grain ones!

An early morning post on food? Well struggled with the Carrefour loaf while preparing son's lunch box at 6.30 in the morning, hence the irritation!

I enjoy listening to Arabic music from time to time, esp if it happens to be Amr Diab, Nancy Ajram and a few others that I have come to appreciate.

Was hunting for sites to download Arabic music from, and, stumbled upon Lots and lots of music, not all of it likeable, but if you hunt through it, I am sure you will find songs that you enjoy, just like I did!

The site is quite user friendly, and has an alphabetic listing of artists which is good if you know whom you are looking for. It also has a "latest singles/ albums" segment that you can browse through.

Unfortunately, my search for the very old and famous Arabic song "ya Mustafa, ya Mustafa" on MP3 continues to be completely unfruitful, even with Ghaneli. If anyone reading this can send me a link, I'd be ecstatic!

By and large, the quality of the sound is quite decent except for the live performances. So if you think, there is a chance you may like this music go download a few songs, and, see if you enjoy them...

What's in a name?

I buy flowers regularly from the florist in front of Maadi Grand Mall, but these are usually rushed trips. Today, caught in the pre-Iftaar, get-home-quicky traffic jam just in front of the florist, I finally noticed the name board, and, I must admit I was stumped.

The name of the florist is Flowers Blouse. Now I have seen many things which are funny simply because they are misspelt, and, while they make me smile, I can appreciate the fact that English is a foreign language so the attempt is a commendable one, but Flower Blouse?

Flowers and blouse? Is there a related French word? Dont know! I have tried very hard, but am completely unable to understand the genesis of this one! Till I do, a heartfelt thanks to the florist for bringing a smile to my face while I braved the afternoon traffic jam!

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ibn Tulun Mosque

Ever since I've got to Egypt, and, have been getting my driver to take me to see all sort of places which even his previous "expat" tourists (he worked with a travel agency before) never did, he has been urging me to go see the Ibn Tulun and Sultan Hassan mosques. Sometimes, when I do listen to his suggestions, I regret taking his advice, and, turn away from the place even as we enter the area it is in...but this time I was sure I wanted to see at least the Ibn Tulun mosque, but just had not managed to find the time.

While watching yet another venerable financial institution desperately seek a suitor for redemption, I realised that my son would not be back home till 4.30 p.m. since he had Taekwondo after school. Which meant that I had lots of time to go see the mosque that I had been wanting to for a long time..In any case, I figured, it would be a darned sight more interesting than watching another financial institution pay for profligacy & flawed judgements or worse still follies of others...

So packed a bottle of water, some wet tisues and my hat (its an absolute must even though the summer is starting to get over) and sat back listening to some music while my driver navigated the crowded streets of Sayyida Zaynab to get to the mosque.

When you surf the net for Ibn Tulun mosque, it throws up lots of adjectives in description - third largest mosque in the world, oldest mosque in Cairo, third congregational mosque in Cairo, best preserved old mosque etc, etc, etc...

The mosque was constructed on a small hill called Gebel Yashkur, "The Hill of Thanksgiving." One local legend says that it is here that Noah's Ark came to rest after the Deluge, instead of at Mount Ararat.

Built in 879 AD, by Ibn Tulun (was born in Baghdad, the son of a Turkish slave of Mongol origin owned by the Caliph, al-Ma'mun), its survived largely in its original form, and stands out due to two features - a unique minaret and the fact that unlike other mosques in Cairo, its built from bricks and not stones. It is huge, mainly becuase Ibn Tulun built it to accomodate his entire army during Friday prayers! With an area of 26,318 sq m, it is the third largest mosque in the world.

There are lots of stories about who was the architect, how it was built, what influenced it etc..

Western sources claim that an Egyptian Christian was an architect and used the western concept of piers to support the vast span of the roof of the mosque.

However, Islamic historians claim that Ibn Tulun was influenced by the Great Mosque of Sammara (Iraq) as he grew up there. In fact, there are supposed to be many similarities between the two mosques - the material being brick & plaster that had not been used in mosques in Egypt before, the minaret's spiral shape and its location outside the perimeter of the mosque, etc.

Another intresting story goes that Ibn Tulun asked for advice on how to construct a building that would not be destroyed if Cairo was consumed by a fire, or submerged in floods. Fable says that he was adviced to build with plaster, ash and bricks and not use marble as it does not stand up well to fire! Heed their advice he did, and, built this beautiful mosque in rememberance of the one in his hometown...

The vast courtyard is surrounded by four arcaded aisles.

The soffits of the arches are covered in beautifully carved stucco, the first time this medium was used in Cairo. As you walk through the aisles and glance at the carved arches, you realise that no two arches appear to be same...rows after rows of arches have intricate, beautifully carved stucco which add to the delicate atmosphere of the mosque.

The minaret of the Mosque is a famous Cairo landmark, though completely unique in its design and, similar to that of the famous minaret in Samarra. Legend has it that Ibn Tulun himself was accidentally responsible for the design of the structure: supposedly while sitting with his officials, he absentmindedly wound a piece of parchment around his finger. When someone asked him what he was doing, he responded, embarrassed, that he was designing his minaret.

This minaret, with its only remaining original element being the square base is connected to the mosque by a passage which appeared to be closed right now. Its second story is cylindrical to which were added later, restorations in stone. The original minaret was built of brick. This is Cairo's only minaret with a spiraling external staircase.

The external walls of the mosque are crowned by what appear to be a chain of motifs, or if you allow your imagination to run wild, a chain of human fgures as if forming a human wall protecting the mosque! I was told by some historian friends that there is a belief that these were so appreciated by medivial European visitors that they became the prototype for Gothic pierced and crested parapets!

Gayer Andersen Museum

This is another place that I have been wanting to go see and I knew that it was in the Sayyida Zaynab district, near the Ibn Tulun mosque.

As I got out of my car, I told the driver to find out where it was so that we could visit it as well. So you can imagine my surprise when I entered the Ibn Tulun mosque and found a sign pointing left to go to the Gayer Andersen museum.

The museum consists of two houses built using the outer wall of the Mosque of Ibn Tulun as support. The larger house, though built in 1632, later came into the possession of a wealthy Muslim woman from Crete, and the home became popularly known as Beit al-Kritliyya, or "House of the Cretan Woman."

The second house was built in 1540 and became known as "Beit Amna bint Salim," after its last owner. The two houses were joined by a bridge at the third floor level at an unknown point, and are both collectively known as Beit al-Kritliyya.

Major Gayer-Anderson, a retired collector and Orientalist, was granted permission to reside in the house, and, he filled the place with his personal collection of art, furnishings, and carpets. In 1942, when ill health forced him to return home, he gifted the contents to the government on the condition that they convert this to a museum, and, in return he was granted the title of Pasha. This is him and his wife.

He got masks made in plaster of his entire family which are prominently displayed, but if you ask me, a little erie! I am not sure I'd like a mask of my own face peering down at me while I am alive and kicking!

The beauty of the house lies both in its construction and use of mashrabeya as well as in the Major's vast collection of carpets, pantings, curios etc..The man obviously travelled quite a bit, as is evidenced by the curios. The house has Syrian, Turkish, Chinese, Persian, English rooms to name a few!

I also suspect that Major Andersen had an exaggerrated sense of self importance. An English style library room, has a prominent picture of him as the Sphinx! Delusions of grandeur?

The rooftop terrace is encased by beautifully carved mashrabeya. Mashrabeya screens use wood patterns to spell out important Islamic phrases. Claim to fame for the terrace is that the James Bond film The Spy Who Loved Me was partially shot here!

Gayer Anderson's bedroom, with a big red bed with wooden posts all around it and a canopy, is designed in Persian style. It is said that during his later years, Major Andersen turned gay which might explain the bed of his favourite servent next to his.

Given that the house is built at three levels, fetching and carrying would have been a tedious, not to mention time consuming execrcise for the Nubian slaves. So they found an ingenious solution in a "dumb waiter" in the main courtyard next to what was originally the kitchen.

Many legends are associated with the Beit al-Kritliyya, which were collected by Gayer-Anderson and published as Legends of the House of the Cretan Woman. Among them are

  • The house is protected by a shaykh, Haroun al-Husseini, who is buried under one of the corners of the house. He is said to have blinded three men who attempted to rob the house, who stumbled around the house for three days and nights until they were finally caught;
  • The well in the house is said to possess miraculous qualities - for example, a lover gazing into the water would see the face of his or her sweetheart instead of his/her own reflection.

Ramadan : Of contradictions and more..

If you decide to venture out in the streets between 3-5 in the afternoon, be aware that you do so at your own risk. Its that time of the day when the Egyptians are jostling on the streets to get back home, the traffic is choatic and tempers can rest be assured that you will spend more time on the road than at your destination if you travel at this time of the day. Needless to say, it can be frustrating!

But wait, another hour from now, and you'll find many smiling young men at different junctions, handing out drinks, in a kind gesture to help ensure that people break their Iftaar on time since they are on the road..handed out with a smile, and accepted with a heartfelt one, its like you are looking at a completely different set of people...

I am amazed at the amount the locals party during Ramadan! Work slows down, a kind of lethargy sets in and life operates at half mast. Come evening, post Iftaar, the streets are lined with honking cars, music blaring, restaurants open into the wee hours of the night, families out together celebrating, young men and women out partying late into the morning, traffic jams at 2 o'clock at night, its almost like the city just does not sleep and is busy celebrating as much as it can before the morning light ushers in another day of abstinence!

However, at the same time, as you drive down these same streets, you will see a number of mawaed rahman (free public eateries for the poor in Ramadan), where wealthier people offer the needy a warm iftar meal. They also put together Ramadan packages to give to the poor filled with basic commodities the family will need throughout the holy month including flour, butter, pasta, rice, vegetables, tea, sugar and dates.

I guess its this set of contradictions that is Egypt and its people, that makes the place so special!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

Of sleepless nights...

The construction work next to my house, continues at a frenzied pace, Ramadan notwithstanding! If anything, they seemed to have become completeley nocturnal with Ramadan.

My son's lullaby has drastically undergone a change from hush-a-baby to the cling-clang-bang of the drilling machines. I occasionaly wake up, startled, hunting like a possesed woman, for a electrical socket that has short circuited, till my sleep daze passes over and I realise its yet another piece of equipment that they've dropped, yet again!

I know Ramadan turns the Egyptians into a party happy, noctural lot, but isn't there a rule against working at night? lol!

Monday, September 15, 2008

Living in Maadi

Maadi, the expat oasis in Cairo, can be quite a daunting experience the first week that you start living here..

Streets whose numbers don't seems to follow any rational sequencing, house numbers that quite often do not follow sequencing, medans that seem to be laid out like labyrinths, myriad medans where one wrong turn could leave you completely lost, cars squeezed on both sides of the streets, skillful driving abilities to be able to navigate the narrow streets, scattered shops, can all leave you a litte fazed! Add to that the fact that you don't know the language, Cairo suddenly seems a lot less exotic than when you first heard that you were moving here!

Friends / neighbours keep asking me about places where stuff can be found in Maadi to help them settle in so tried thinking of a ready reckoner for some basic stuff. So here goes...

First things first..All addresses are quoted as 2 road 18, 5 road 235 etc..this means that its building number 2/5 on road no 18/235..

Maadi has enough choice in terms of supermarkets - take your pick from Kimo (1 Road 210, Degla, Maadi, Tel: (02) 516-1788 - (02) 519-8764 ), Seoudi ( Road 253 & 214, Degla, Maadi, Tel: (02) 754-6007), Metro (Road 9, La Selky Road & Misr-Helwan Agriculture Road), Miriam (7B Road 205 with 253, - Degla, Maadi, Tel: (02) 519-6488 - (02) 519-6499 - (02) 516-5833). These are typically the ones frequented by expats as they stock a lot of overseas stuff usually not available elsewhere.

Another supermarket Alpha located on the Corniche (Tel: (02) 525-6400) is also reasonably well stocked and has adequate parking.

Other than this, there is an Abu Zekry (86 Road 9, Tel: (02) 358-4281) & Mahmood Massoud on Road which are also decently stocked.

However, a quick word of advice, always check the expiry date before you buy, no matter which store you buy from, esp when you see the tempting "buy 1 get 1 free!!"

All of these will deliver home, free of charge, except for Metro which charges a nominal amount for delivery.

Maadi boasts of a huge City Centre with Carrefour as the anchor store. Over the last 8 months a number of other foreign brands have opened outlets like Next, Evans (of London), Guess, Mothercare, Radio Shack, Top Shop, D'damas, Mango, Starbucks, Costa Coffee, Club Aldo, Charles & Keith, Adidas etc..and a whole host of popular local ones like Bella Donna, Daly Dress, Concrete, J&B, Cilantro etc..

The City centre also has a fairly large amusement centre, so you can let the kids amuse themselves while you shop.

Cairo also has Spinneys and Hyper but these are quite far away from Maadi.

If you are looking for fresh vegetables, then head towards to local souq on Road 7. Fresh vegetables/ fruits are available all the year round, though during summer the quality may not be that great.

If a souq is not your cup of tea, then head to any of the supermarkets and you can get a good variey of pre-packed fresh vegetables / fruits. Alternately, if the sun is too hot for you, all the supermarkets home deliver in Maadi free of cost except for Metro which levies a delivery charge.

While many brands are available in tetrapacks, if you are a sucker for fresh, full cream mik, there are a few outlets, but I have found the following two to be quite good. One is Khalifa on Road and the other is El Madena el Menwara (Tel: 25169311) on the crossing of El Nasr & La Selky roads (next to Momen). Both outlets sell fresh yoghurt, fresh cream, icecreams and some traditional desserts.

For the followers of Omar Khayyam, Drinkies on Road 9 opposite Metro supermarket sells wine, beer and some other alcohol. Also Mahmoud Massoud at the corner from Metro also sells wines and some basic alcohol.

Drinkies is closed on Fridays while Massoud is not.

While there are butchers offering fresh meat, I prefer to buy mine from Metro. Out of the 3 Metros, the one on La Selky has the freshest quality. Even Seoudi has decent quality meat.

Of course, if you want premium, excellent quality Australian meat, head towards Gourmet Egypt on the autostrad near Maadi City centre. The prices are steep but the quality excellent! They also deliver home and you can place orders on the telephone or via the internet.

While all supermarkets offer fish, my mother-in-law prefers to buy hers from the Arab Souq. According to her, the fish is fresh, larger variety, and, most importantly, the fishmonger cuts the fish the way she likes it!

This souq is behind Grand Mall. If you go past Grand Mall, past the Orbit showroom, then take a left from the cirlcle, go straight down, past another circle, in front is the Arab Souq / local market. At the begining of the souq, on the right hand side, are 2 fish shops.

If the souq is not where you want to head, then Seoudi, Metro and Carrefour all sell decent fish.


Fancy a cup of coffee with some friends or just want to relax after a full day's work, you are spoilt for choice. Beanos (Road 9), Coasta Coffee (near Grand Mall & Road 9), Cafe Greco (Road 9 & CSA), Cilantro ( Road 9, El Nasr), Grand Cafe (Corniche), Second Cup (Road 9, though never tried it)


In case your shipment is on its way, and, you desperately need some bed linen/ table linen then there is Suzzette on the way to the Corniche. Once you get off the bridge that takes you out of Maadi onto the Corniche, its on the left on the first floor, the signage is pretty clear. There is also a Bed & Bath outlet just across Abu Zekry, next to the Kodak shop on Road 9, though I have never tried it.


Need stuff for the kids, go to Bakier Stationery (Building 2, Road 218, Maadi, Tel : 02 25199088 - 02 25211040) or to Saamir &Ali. The later is a huge shop stacking everything from school requirements to art supplies, photographic paper, computer periperherals, papr products, office stationery etc. You can call them on 19891 for home delivery as well.

Of course, Carrefour has a huge stationery section as well.

Now that is a not-so-easy to find object. One of the largest bookshops stocking a decent number of English titles is in Zamalek called Diwans, but Maadi has a couple of them as well. There is Adam's Bookshop in Grand Mall, Al-Kotob on La Selky and Bookspot on Road 9.

The unique thing Bookspot is that they will buy back the book from you at a discounted price when you have finished reading, and do not want to keep the book!

Al-Kotob is also stocks a decent range of titles and organises a number of book readings, author meets etc. Get registered on their website and get regular updates on what's happening at this very happening book corner!

While many of us tend to carry a medical box with medicines from back home, there will be times when you need something locally Maadi has a number of pharmacies, though the one that I use is Haytham & Salaah in Grand Mall. Its a large, reputed chain and stocks medicines, bath neccesities, baby stuff, hair dyes, sun blocks, make-up etc...

Just behind the Grand Mall is a 24 hour chemist, next to Maghrabi Optics - can't remember the name but even during Ramadan its open 24 hours and that's saying something!

If the family is unwell, and you need a quick consult with a doctor, most expats end up going to either Ghaly's Medical centre (32, 33, 34 Golf St, Tel: (02) 380 92 47 - 359 25 93 ) or the Degla Medical Centre (4, St. No 203 Degla Maadi ).

However, As-Salam International Hospital (Tel: (02) 524-0077) on the Corniche is also a well run, well equppied hospital, and I would recommend it for more serious ailments.

...and finaly, when you are bored or need to take a break and you want to watch a movie there are two theatres close by, and, yes, they do screen English movies. Bandar Cinema (Inside Bandar Mall, 1 Palestine street, new Maadi, Tel: (02) 519-0770 - (02) 519-0455) or Family Land (Corniche el Nile, Osman Towers, Tel: (02) 524-8100 - (02) 524-8200 - (02) 524-8400 - (02) 524-8600) are easily accessible and seem to screen a lot of English movies for children! So buy your popcorn, take your juice-box, sit back, relax and enjoy the movie!

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Maadi Road 9

Road 9 is Maadi's answer to Oxford Street...bustling, full of shops selling just about everything, its the commercial hub of the suburb called Maadi....

However, 50 years ago, the commercial area was restricted to just 2 blocks and the rest was a verdant roadway..just found a picture of that..unbelievable!!

Gourmet Egypt

For those who feel that their local butcher or supermarket does not provide good enough quality of meat/ fish etc Cairo has just the answer for you!

Gourmet Egypt, a recently started chain offers the best quality Aussie meat. Well, chain may be an exxageration as they have only one retail outlet currently on the autostrad near Maadi City Centre, but they do home delivery.

The shop sells all kinds of the freshly prepared meat, as well as frozen fish filets from Turkey, frozen Green Mussels from New Zealand, frozen salmon from Scotland, assorted cheeses from France, as well as an interesting looking black pasta known as “squid-ink spaghetti.”

Meats can be purchased by a specifically desired cut or weight. The pricing is at a premium, intended to reflect teh quality of meat being sold. We tried the beef and veal and were hooked. Theer is little fat (thankfully) and according to my husband the meat is tender. He refuses to buy beef / veal from anywhere else!

Other items include freshly-made pasta flown in weekly from Italy, gourmet olives, sauces, frozen meat pies, fantastic frozen vegetables which make for great stir-fries, etc..and as per the guy at the counter, they are constantly introducing new items!

One can also place an order for home delivery on their website. Never tried it, so do not know how effective it is. But I guess it should be quite efficient cos Gourmet Eypt started out as a call centre based home delivery service!!

Its worth checking their website out...

Home Delivery Service: 19339

Retail store: 3 Badr Bldgs., Katameya Ring Road, Maadi, Cairo.

Tuesday, September 9, 2008

Zee Aflam - Hindi movies!

The first thing that strikes you, being an Indian, when you get to Cairo, is the average Egyptian's passion for Indian movies. Not to mention Egypt's national obsession for India's aging superstar - Amitabh Bachhan!

In our first month in Cairo, we would be very amused by cries of Hindi? India? Amitabh Bachhan? Vendors, passer-byes & shopkeepers, would want to know if we knew Amiabh Bachhan! I had guys in Khan recounting Hindi movies which I had probably seen when I was 10 or 11....

On querying, I was informed that Hindi movies were banned in Egypt for the last many years. Banned? I was a little puzzled till one of my Egyptian friends explained that courtesy the Indian movie mania that had the Egypians in a full Nelson at all times, the government had to ban movies to protect the local film industry!

It was only last year that a Hindi movie was released after many years in theatres, and no prizes for guessing whose movie it was! Amitabh Bachhan, of course!

I remember going to see the premier,and being completely astounded at the cat calls, whistles, clapping, hysteria, yelling and screaming with which his entry on the screen was greeted. That kind of explained a lot of things, and, made me a lot more tolerant the next time I was accosted by cries of Amitabh Bachhan!

Zeroing in on this craze for Hindi movies, Zee Tv, one of the big television houses in India, has launched a new free to air 24 hour television channel Zee Aflam. Available on Nilesat, the channel is the first of its kind in the region and features Hindi films that are subtitled and adapted specially for Arab family viewing.

The ads on the channel are in Arabic and have Arabic versions of popular Hindi movie songs and are absolutely delightful.. see an ad below...

The films have been edited down to a more appealing two hour format suitable for local viewing. From my husband's colleagues and my Egyptian friends I believe that in Cairo at least, the channel is a big hit..esp during Ramadan where families sit down after Iftaar to watch yet another Bollywood flick! Check out the ad below...

The channel telecasts movies under 4 categories:

Romantic movies (Al Film Al Romansy) come under the heading From the Heart to the Heart (Min Al Qalb Ela Al Qalb) and are screened every Wednesday at 22:00 hours (KSA) 23:30 hours UAE.

The second category features the films of Amitabh Bachchan, the biggest movie star of the millennium, and is headed host Amitabh as your Guest (Khali Amitabh Daifak). The films include a collection of his all time greats as well as his current worldwide hits. Screening times are every Thursday at 19:30 KSA 20:30 UAE.

Friday is family movie time (Film Al Juma’a Al Aeli) when Zee Aflam presents its Friday for Family Gathering (Al Juma’a Iljam’ah) program of comedy, drama and wholesome entertainment that enriches the family movie watching experience. Friday viewing times are 22:00 KSA 23:00 UAE.

Category four, The Best of Bollywood (Rawa’ea Bollywood), features world famous movies under the heading This is the Best (Wala Arwa’a) and includes all time famous hits starring the biggest names in Hindi cinema. The Best of Bollywood can be seen every Saturday at 19:30 KSA 20:30 UAE.

So for all those Indians who do not have Pehla, and, long for a slice of home, or those who would like to see what Bollywood churns out in such large numbers, you can search Nilesat for Zee Aflam, sit back, relax and enjoy the movies!!

Best places to eat at in Ramadan

Now this is not my list but a list that I happened to come across while reading the Daily Star...

Daily News Egypt came up with a list of some of the best places in Cairo to go for iftar (the fast-breaking meal) or sohour (the meal before dawn).

  • Restaurants like Bent El-Sultan in Mohandiseen are always in high demand during the season, with a menu featuring grilled items, fatta and a variety of vegetable tagens. The restaurant also offers a typical sohour menu.

  • With an outdoor setting overlooking the Citadel and surrounded by the greenery found only in Azhar Park, Studio Misr prepares an open buffet of delicious traditional Egyptian food for both iftar and sohour.
  • For younger crowds, Sequoia in Zamalek is a great place to break your fast, lounge with tea and shisha after, or enjoy an appetizing sohour. With its modern décor, Nile-side location and varied menu of oriental, Lebanese and Mediterranean cuisines, this popular hangout is always bustling so you’d better reserve in advance. Sequoia offers an open buffet for iftar and a special menu for sohour.

  • Turkish cuisine is a good choice if you want to try something new without compromising the satisfying and rich quality of Egyptian food. During Ramadan, Ataturk in Mohandiseen offers a menu of Turkish and Egyptian items for a hearty iftar.

  • For a classy iftar, Le Passage hotel in Heliopolis hosts a Ramadan tent in the hotel’s garden where customers can help themselves to the open buffet while enjoying the tunes of an oriental takht.

  • The InterContinental CityStars has three different iftar outlets. Esplanade, an indoor restaurant which offers oriental food in an open buffet and has a television set so you don’t miss your favorite Ramadan serial.

  • Lebanese restaurant Al Fayrouz offers a different menu every day during Ramadan while Al Bustan, an outdoor restaurant overlooking the pool, serves international cuisine in an open buffet. The atmosphere at Al Bustan is always festive with an oriental takht playing during weekdays and bands like Resala, Sahara and Flamenco featuring on weekends.

  • By mid-month, the frequent outings take their toll on one’s wallet, and that is when you head to restaurants like El-Tekkia, which has branches in Heliopolis and Mohandiseen. During Ramadan, El-Tekkia’s keeps its regular menu, which features oriental dishes at reasonable prices.

  • When you get tired of the daily dose of oriental food and start craving some good-old American cuisine, head to Chili’s where the open buffet iftar boasts oriental food as well as Mexican-American specialties.

  • The Imperial boat in Zamalek kicks off every Ramadan with a tent on its upper deck, offering guests iftar and sohour in a serene ambiance overlooking the Nile. The classic setting makes it suitable for company iftars or sohours.

  • Sidi Mansour in Mohandiseen is a vibrant venue for sohour, with a young crowd, a DJ and a television set.

  • If you happen to be celebrating a pay raise or are trying to impress your in-laws, Nile Maxim in Zamalek is the place to go. The iftar cruise sails for two and a half hours starting 5 pm and is accompanied by oriental takht. Nile Maxim also offers an entertaining sohour that starts at 8:30 pm. The cruise lasts for two hours accompanied by a band, a belly dancer and a tanoura show.

  • While tent-hopping, do not miss Grand Hyatt’s classy open-air sohour by the pool at its outdoor Si Omar Café, where guests can enjoy a view of the pool and the Nile.

  • For more romantic meals, couples can go to Grand Hyatt’s Marquise boat, which cruises the Nile from 6 pm to 8 pm while passengers indulge in an international buffet.

  • Girls, leave the men behind and go out for a night on the town with your friends at Spangles café in Nasr City, which has a women’s-only tent during Ramadan. Enjoy sohour to the tune of oriental music and then do some light shopping at the booths around the tent. You can even sell your own creations at the café simply by arranging it with the organizers

Towards an Egyptian feminism

By Khalil Al-AnaniFirst
Published: September 9, 2008
Daily Star Egypt

I am starting to detect a growing feminist movement in Egypt; one that was revived following three decades of political and cultural deadlock resulting from conflicts with extremists.

It is well known that the most powerful feminist movements in the Arab world sprouted in Egypt at the hands of feminist foremothers Aisha El-Taimuriya, Hoda Shaarawi, Nabawiya Moussa, Safiya Zaghloul, Duriya Shafiq, Malak Hifni Nasif and Aisha Ratib.

The basic difference between the current movement and the one preceding it lies in capabilities and interests. It is the difference between liberal Egypt, which experienced cultural and political emancipation during the first half of the 20th century, and totalitarian Egypt which has been suffering from political repression and cultural dogma since the 1952 Revolution.

Women today are merely combating sexual harassment on the streets, which has increased despite the fact that more women don the veil. And this is where the paradox lies. The religiosity and rate of sexual harassment seem to be growing in parallel, which makes this religiosity appear superficial, void of morals and values and respect for women as human beings entitled to their privacy.

A report by the Egyptian Center for Women’s rights revealed that 84 percent of women in Egypt are subjected to sexual harassment, 70 percent of which at least are veiled.

Adding insult to injury, a few weeks ago the Washington Post compared women’s status in Egypt to that of women under the Taliban’s regime in the 1990s in terms of political and social barriers.

Unfortunately, instead of asking for political, social and cultural equality, putting an end to the harassment women are subjected to on the streets seems to come first on their list.

While men in Egypt suffer from political repression by the authorities, women suffer from familial and societal repression.

Women’s struggle for equality and dignity starts in households, schools and universities. Unfortunately, Egyptian women seem to be subservient in nature to the imposed restrictions justified by traditions and customs that hinder thought and change.

I am referring precisely to the traditions that push women to the sidelines and deem them secondary to men, not independent entities with capabilities and talents. If given the chance, women would change the painful reality in Egypt.

I write these words bearing in mind the “superiority complex” that characterizes the minds of men in Egypt — most of whom are well educated and cultured — who regard themselves superior to women they consider second-class citizens — myself included.

The dilemma lies in merely a “psychological wall” that is instilled in the hearts of Egyptian men and women since childhood.

We have to bear in mind that despite the improvement in some women’s conditions — exemplified in their taking on unconventional jobs like judges or maazouns — we are yet to see a unified feminist movement that can fight for women’s rights.

Unless Egyptian women claim the rights dictated by the constitution, which are plenty and equal to men's rights, we will not see change in their conditions and they will always remain on society’s sidelines, with no real impact on its core.

Khalil Al-Anani is an expert on political Islam and Democratization in the Middle East and is a visiting fellow at Brookings Institution. E-mail:

Monday, September 8, 2008


Shops close early, offices get over in the afternoon, its impossible to get anywhere in a hurry at around 2-3 p.m. in the afternoon, the city is alive and partying into the wee hours of the night, supermarkets run out of things, the price of meat and chicken goes up....sounds familiar?

Yup, Ramadan is here and Cairo is ready for a month long party! There is a sense of excitement and activity in the air which is hard to miss....

Decided to try and fast this Ramadan - nothing religious - just wanted to see if I could do it, though I have fluids....and then of course attend the numerous Iftaar parties which are de rigueur for this time of the year...

After fasting for a week and attending Iftaars and having terrific, albiet rich food, I am left wondering how the Egyptians do this for the whole month? My stomach is already protesting the old fashioned way!!

Thursday, September 4, 2008

Muqattam: Church, Hill, view and more!

Have you ever felt the desire to be at the top of the world, with the world at your feet? Well Cairo has just the place for that! The Muqattam Hills, just off the autostrad after you leave Maadi...right opposite the Citadel!

For days, my driver has been imploring me to go visit the Muqattam Hills for a spectacular view of Cairo. Now, after trying out a local eatery recommended by him in Alexandria, I was not too keen on trusting his judgement again....however, being at a loose end, I figured I had nothing to loose except a few hours which anyway would have been wiled away doing precious litte, given the heat!

Just when I was begining to believe that my first instincts had probably been right, the car came to a screeching halt some distance away from the edge of the hill, and, my driver announced that we had reached to enjoy the most breathtaking view of Cairo..and for once I was glad I had trusted his judgement!
The view from the Hill is indeed spectacular. It was a dusty day, so the view is not very clear in the photograph, but the entire city is spread out for you to see...This would be a fantastic place to come and watch the twinkling lights of Cairo late at night over a cup of hot coffee...there is a coffee shop on the other side, which converts into an open air cafe at night offering coffee and sheesha...nothing fancy, very basic, but who needs "fancy" when you have this view?

"Do you know madam, that this is right next to Garbage City, where all the garbage of Cairo is collected and sorted, my driver asked? Would you like to see it?" My driver asked, rather helpfully.

That I must admit, really fazed me! Now I have been exploring the city ever since I got here, but even I draw a line somewhere!! I made a mental note to try and remember what in my trips had led him to this conclusion...

I politely declined and asked him to drive back home, when I suddenly remembered Simon Muqattam monastry that some friends had mentioned to me..My driver had no clue, and, was absolutely emphatic that there was no such thing in Muqattam..even the traffic police at hand were clueless till I happened to see a dilapidated sign indicating the church of Simon the Tanner... Ah, you mean "Dier Samayan Kharas" said my driver rather exasperatedly!

Moral of the story: If you want to go see the Church, ask for "dier samayan kharas".....

To get to the Church you have to go through Garbage City and the smell is overpowering, even sitting in an air conditioned makes you stop and wonder how these people live in this day in and day out and grateful for the lives that we lead.....and immense amount of admiration for these people who seem to smile, laugh and joke and appear to be happy even in this..

The place is known as Zabbalin village because the word zabbalin means garbage collectors...

As you drive through the gates, you leave behind the smell and the huge bags of the garbage city and enter an oasis of peace and tranquility..I am not kidding, but as you pass through the gates, the smell appears to vanish and you can breathe in fresh air...I had to drag my son out promising that there was no smell...and even if there was, he needed to learn to deal with it!
As you drive through, you realise that the whole complex has been carved out of the hills, and on the face of the hills are carved some really beautiful frescos, verses etc... the white limestone of the hills lends itself beautifully to this work of love and devotion, and, is a sight to behold.
The Monastery contains seven Churches and Chapels hidden in a series of caves in the Mokattam hills. The two main churches are named after the Virgin Mary and St Simon in commemoration of a legend which says that Simon the Tanner ( moved the Muqattam mountain with the power of his faith and prayers. This is an icon of Simon the Tanner who is depicted as a one-eyed man carrying a sack of water, as he used - every morning before going to work - to carry water to the sick and the old who could not fetch water for themselves.

The two churches are unique in that they reminded me of Cappadocia in Turkey given that they are carved out of fact they are popularly known as the cave churches......

This is the Virgin Mary church which has a central hall called the St Simon Hall... ...where the walls are decorated with pictures engraved on the rocks representing scenes from the Bible

...and this is St Simon's church...

Interestingly enough, though now a Muslim country, Egypt was the first home of monasteries, the most famous ones being St Anthony on the Red Sea Coast and also St Catherine near Sharm. The only earlier record of moansteries is that of the Essenes, prior to Christianity, who withdrew from society and formed monastery style communities in order to pursue a contemplative life.

As per Egyptian chronicals, it was the persecution of Christians in Egypt (by the Romans, who controlled Egypt at that time) and the heavy taxation that caused many people to loose their homes and land, which led to Christians forminng monesterial (suspect there is no such word, but it serves the purpose!) communities. In fact, the word anchorite which was used to refer to Christian monks, originally referred to people who left their land rather than face imprisonment for non-payment of debt.

Whatever be the reason, the churches and monasteries are an unexpected bonus in Egypt, and I for one, prior to coming to Egypt had never known, that before the advent of the Ottomans, Egypt was a predominantly Christian community! Well, you live and learn....

While not on the standard Egypt itenerary, the unusual location, the unexpected size of the caves and the beauty of the engravings at the Simon the Tanner monastery are worth a few hours out of a hectic schedule, probaby en route to Citadel.....

... the Zabbalin village and the monastery are both a tribute to the indomitable spirit of man, who even in adversity and arduous environs, manages to find joie de vivre and create an oasis of peace and tranquility......