Thursday, October 30, 2008

Segragation in mosques

This one is credited to Cairo Typ0 who sent me off on this path after a thought about why were there separate areas for men and women in mosques.

As far as I knew Islam specified behavioural norms and dress codes for men and women, but whether any text specified segregation I was not aware. Quite honestly, I always assumed that it was probably part of the hadith, and, never gave it another thought since it did not really impact me.

Browsed through a number of websites and this is what I have understood:

Both men and women are allowed to pray in the Mosque in the same congregational prayer. However, when they do pray, the men line up behind the Iman, then the children and finally the women.

As per this website (, this was the way that Muslims prayed, seated behind the Prophet, and the practice has continued since, but the Prophet did not ordain a curtain / wall between the men and the women praying with him.

According to the Shari`ah, it is not required to have a partition, temporary or permanent, between men and women in the Masjid. However, it is expected that the women would be appropriately dressed in an Islamic way.

Another hadith talks about Asma, the daughter of Abu Bakr who said,

I heard the Apostle of God say, "One of you who believes in God and in the Last Day should not raise her head until the men raise their heads (after prostration) lest she should see the private parts of men."(Sunan Abu Dawud, No. 850).

This implies that there was no segregation but a norm of behaviour specified and the order of seating defined - women behind the men.

From what I have read on the net (and I would be very happy if someone who reads this has any idea about this) the Quran also does not specify segregation but seeks to reduce physical proximity that may lead to improper (?) behaviour.

I guess somewhere in the later years, a Victoran sense of morality prevailed or more likely, some cleric probably interpreted the texts in a conservative manner which resulted in praying areas being segregated for men and women.

Wednesday, October 29, 2008

Diwali with Kids

A friend of mine came up with the brilliant idea of celebrating Diwali with all the young Indian kids, and, giving them a sense of what Diwali is like back home.

So she invited all the young Indian kids that we knew in Maadi. Yours truly had the responsibility of doing a half hour session with the kids on the legends associated with Diwali (that by the way is the origin of the earlier post on Diwali). Some of us moms cooked traditional Indian food, so that potluck would reduce the pressure on my friend whose house the entire event was being organised.

While I narrated the legends of Diwali to the kids, I was amazed at the extent of awareness that these NRI (non resident Indian) kids had about their roots - it was much more than I had expected. At the same time, their irreverent take on some of the characters was hilarious. As one of the kids, rather uncharitably said of the mighty "Kumbhkaran" - that fat dude! But it was a fun session and kept the kids occupied while my friend got the games ready.

Once the games were over, came the fun part! The fireworks! My friend had organised lots of fireworks which she had got from Downtown. I was surprised at the variety that she had managed to get. I had only seen sparklers and some bombs before, but was delighted to see some anars (that is what you can see in the picture below).

The kids just loved the whole evening, and, for all of us, it was reinforcement of the spirit of joy, fun and enjoyment that Diwali embodies!

Diwali at home

Since I am on the subject of Diwali, we celebrated Diwali at home on 28th. Of course, it was a much smaller affair than it would have been if we had been at home. But not being at home, was no excuse to not celebrate Diwali.

My son and I made a small rangoli at home. My son was very excited about making the rangoli and scurried around fetching and carrying for me. Traditionally, we use rice paste or even poster paints but I was worried that these would stain the marble, so we decided to be innovative and used dry flour instead. Of course, it made the process very tedious and long, but we both enjoyed ourselves!

All the rooms in the house were lit with candles. Back home, we would have used diyas filled with mustard oil and lit using cotton wicks, but tea lights worked just as well!
Traditional sweets and food were made at home. I sat my son down and read to him the stories related to Diwali. After all this, we burst a few crackers and lit a few sparklers that we had purchased in Downtown.

It made me feel closer to home and the associated festivities , and hopefully, gave my son a perspective on what all we do during Diwali.

Tomorrow we are going to celebrate Diwali with all the young Indian kids, that we know, who live in Maadi. Shall write about it and post snaps.

Diwali - the festival of lights

28th October was a big Indian festival - Diwali or Deepavali - which is celebrated with great enthu and lights and firecracers back home.

The literal meaning of Deepavali in Sanskrit is 'a row of lamps.' That's why Diwali is called the festival of lights.

Before the Diwali season, houses are cleaned and white-washed. One of the main features of the festival is the worship of Lakshmi (Laxmi), the Goddess of Fortune, Beauty, Prosperity and Wealth. Deepawali is celebrated on Amavasya, the darkest night of the month, and houses, shops, places of work, etc., are lit all through the night, least Lakshmi turn her back on a house that is dark. Since she will not enter a dirty place, the residence or the place of work is thoroughly washed and cleaned.

This post is for my son - for him to read and re-read and acquaint himself with the rich mythological heritage that India has. This has been collected from numerous sources on the internet, and, some input from yours truly.

Compiling it made me realise how many aspects and legends there are to our festivals that even I am not aware of!

Day I
The festival begins with Dhanteras, which celebrates the birth of goddess Lakshmi from the bottomless ocean.

A very interesting story about Dhanteras Festival says that the son of King Hima was doomed to die by a snake-bite on the 4th day of his marriage. However on that particular day, his wife did not allow him to sleep. She sang to him, told him stories, and covered the entrance of his room with glittering jewels.

When Yamdoot, the God of Death, arrived to claim the young prince, he was blinded by the dazzle of the jewels, and, captivated by the melodious songs and fascinatings tories of the young princess, so much so that he forgot to claim the young prince and had to leave empty handed in the early rays of dawn.

Since then this day of Dhanteras came to be known as the day of "Yamadeepdaan" and lamps are kept burning throughout the night in reverence to Yam, the god of Death.

Day II
The second day is "Narak Chaturdhashi", which commemmorates the felling of the demon "Narakasura" by Queen Satyabhama with the help of Krishna.
The most famous legend behind the celebrations of Diwali is about the prince of Ayodhya, Lord Shri Ram Chandra, his defeating Ravana and his return from exile by lighting lamps on this darkest night of the year.

Exiled to the forest for 14 years, Ram waged a war against Ravan, the Kinf of lanka to rightfully claim back his consort who had been abducted by Ravana. The battle signifies the eternal struggle between the good and the evil, and Ram's victory a declaration of the victory of good over evil. His victory and turn to his kingdom from exile is celbrated by lighting lamps during Diwali.
Day IV
The fourth day of Diwali is devoted to Govardhan Pooja which celebrates Krishna's feat of lifting the Govardhan hill on his little finger. People organize a special puja on this day.

On seeing that the inhabitants of Vrindavan had neglected to worship him, lndra, the King of Heaven, decided to punish them by sending terrible rain clouds to inundate the land of Vrindavan. The inhabitants of Vrindavan approached Lord Krishna for shelter. Krishna immediately lifted Govardhana Hill with His left hand, and, held it up like an umbrella. Bringing all their household possessions, the inhabitants of Vrindavan, along with their cows, took shelter from the torrential rains under Govardhana Hill. For seven days they remained safe under the hill, not even disturbed by hunger and thirst. This was how he saved them from the wrath of Indra.

Day V
The five day festival is wrapped up by Bhai Duj, the time to honour the brother-sister relationship. There are many versions as to how Bhai Dooj originated. One version states that Yamraj, the Lord of Death, visited his sister Yami on this day. She welcomed him by applying a tilak (vermillion powder with raw rice grains) on his forehead. From there originated the parctice of bhai dhooj where a sister applies a tilak to her brother and prays for his long life.

Customs & Traditions of Diwali
Diwali is associated with many customs and traditions. Like the tradition of rangoli, tradition of burning crackers, tradition of lights, tradition of Diwali pujas and Diwali gifts.

Lights and diyas are lit to signifying the driving away of darkness and ignorance, as well as the awakening of the light within ourselves

Lighting of diyas is also an important part of Diwali celebration. Lighting diyas brings divine brightness and joy with the hope of finding light in darkness, achieving knowledge where there is ignorance and spreading love where there is hatred. It symbolizes the victory of good over evil and light over darkness.

The tradition of gambling on Diwali also has a legend behind it. It is believed that on this day, Goddess Parvati played dice with her husband Lord Shiva and she decreed that whosoever gambled on Diwali night would prosper throughout the ensuing year.

Rangoli is a traditional Hindu folk art; it is a kind of designs generally created on a floor on special festive occasions. Rangolis are a symbol of auspiciousness. It is believed that during Laxmi Puja, the Goddess Laxmi actually enters the household .The rangoli made at the entrance to a home, invites Goddess lakshmi into the household, and drives away the evil spirits. It is also created to please her, in the hope that she may bless the house and to ensure that she stays the full year.

Diwali is the joyous celebration of the triumph of good over evil. It is the popular belief that the fireworks that add splendor to the festivities actually reduces the evil to ashes.

Thursday, October 23, 2008

Sultan Hussein mosque

This is the Sultan Hussein mosque near Khan el Khalili. As you are walking out of the Khan, you can see one of the minarets through the higgedly piggedly maze of the buildings of the Khan..

The mosque is really large with the areas for women and men being segregated and seprated by a wall. There is a shrine covered in silver which has access from both the male and the female section of the mosque.

The women's section.......

EDITED (3 Nov '08): Met some Pakistani friends yesterday with whom I raised this topic. As per them, physical segregation in terms of separate places does not exist even at Kaba, so its arisen more out of practice than a specified tenet.

Wednesday, October 22, 2008

Of sleepless nights that never seem to end...

Last night my mother-in-law finally lost it. The incessant loud noise from the contruction site next door, I think, finally broke all barriers of her patience. Not that I blame her! We are all suffering from lack of sleep courtesy the drill that seems to drone on and on the whole night, till our eyes shut with sheer exhaustion!

And it would appear that there is no rule about not working through the night, or at least no rule that appears to apply to the Wadi Degla guys who are promoting the property next door!

We have complained to the police before, but all they seem to be interested in is our passport, the report be dammed! An Egyptian neighbour explained that it was not enough to report, you need to know the right senior policemen to get this stopped, and even then, the respite will be temporary!

You can imagine her sense of frustration cos she even called on the number advertised for the Flying Squad, but I suspect that they were lucky enough not to have a contruction site next to their office, and were blissfully asleep at night, cos no one answered!

I understand that Maadi has a rule about no trucks entering the area before 8 pm and after 8 am, so I can understand trucks coming in after 8 loading and leaving but continuing to drop / load stuff that makes a racket till 2.30 a.m. is a bit unfair.

So last night ma-in-law freaked out , and, I think, took them by sheer surprise, cos we slept in blissful silence thereafter.

Egyptians have a huge amount of respect for "mother". Everywhere, we go ma gets preferential treatment cos she's "mother"! It would appear that the respect extends to construction as well!

So willy nilly, mom-in-law has been nominated to yell every night in the hope that they shall discontinue work, and, we shall, sleep in peace, lol!


Last night, dinner conversation was rather serious about the molestation of women in Gamet al-Dowal in Mohandaseein during Eid and what drives men to do it especially when they're emerging from what is supposed to be the most religious period of the year (Ramadan) and during the holy festival of Eid! And the tragedy? This is not the only Eid that this has happened. I believe "hormonal imbalance" happened earlier in 2006 as well!

I was trying to look up views on the entire episode when I came across a post by someone called KAding in a forum ( where a copy of an ad released by the local authorities in the newspapers has been reproduced.

And the post translates the text as " You won't be able to stop them (i.e. guys), but you can protect yourself. He who created you knows what's best for you!"

The ad left me completely speechless, not to mention flummoxed! I am not sure what the ad is trying to say?

a/ Guys will be guys, can't be helped?
b/ As a society we are unable to do anything about this, so women, you've got to help yourselves?
c/ If you are not covered (am a little unsure what covered here refers to), expect to get harrassed? So the victim is responsible and not the perpetuators?

But does being covered, really protect you? Apparently not, cos the newspaper reports all talk about women wearing a niqab also being subjected to this terrible experience. And you possibly can't be more covered, in every sense, than with a niqab! So what does a woman do, cease to have a life outside the home?

And what about the men who perpetuate this? Don't they need to be made an example of so that others do not dare to do the same?

Saturday, October 18, 2008

Saudi medical standards?

I have pulled a muscle in my lower back and its quite painful. So bought a muscle relaxant "Radian Massage Cream" at the local pharmacy, which the pharmacist assured me was the best.

While applying the cream, noticed that its made by a Ransom Consumer Healthcare in the UK, but what was interesting is the legend on the face of the tube "New pack to comply with Saudi MOH standards".

I am very intrigued. Is this because Saudi has the most stringent Ministry of Health (MOH) standards in the Arab world or because they are the largest medicine market in the Arab world? Still trying to figure out why Saudi MOH standards?

Al Azhar

This is a random photograph. While at Khan, waiting for the car, I happened to look out towards Al Azhar, and the towers against the white clouds looked really beautiful so just clicked a photograph!

Bab Zuwayla

Next to the Al Azhar mosque is the sprawling Al Ghouri Wikala or at least what I suspect is a part of the Al Ghouri complex. There is an open archway through which a bustling passage stretches as far as the eye can see. If you take this pathway and keep walking, you come at the other end at Bab Zuwayla, which is the Southern gate of the old walled city of Al Qahira.

Bab Zuwayla is one of the three gates that remain of the original 60 that guarded the walls of Al Qahira. Built in 1092, the wall has survived the years being beefed up at different points in time. In fact you can “read the wall” or see the different reinforcements effected in the form of different colours / textures of stones.

The word “Bab” means gates and “Zuwalya” refers to the soldiers of the Berber tribe Zuwayla who was part of the Fatimid army and whose barracks were near this gate. Local folklore has it that the gate was considered unlucky, probably on account of the fact that in the earlier times executions were carried out here and the heads hung out on spikes on the top of the gate! Ugh!

However, the gate subsequently gained popularity as Bab al Mitwalli after a saint who lived near the gate and was rumoured to perform miracles!

As you enter the gate, you find yourself standing on steps which are atop the walls of the old walled city. One step you are within the limits of the old Fatimid city of Al Qahira, and, the next moment you are not!

A set of 76 steps carry you to the roof of the gate which is adorned by two circular towers. This is the loggia that at one time used to house the Royal Orchestra which would announce the arrival of the Royal Fatimid processions. During the Mamluk reign, drummers at the loggia would herald the arrival of the Amir into the city! I suspect this is also where the executions were carried out – a rather creepy feeling!

On both sides of the gate are beautifully carved minarets. Each minaret has a narrow staircase that leads up to the top, to a panoramic view of Cairo, though I must admit, the immediate view is not exactly eye candy! For a moment I had second thoughts about going up, seeing it gets a little dark and rather narrow but decided to brave it!

Despite the fact that you are in a crowded part of old Cairo, its incredibly peaceful, and, at this time of the year, very pleasant!

Friday, October 17, 2008

Local Musical instrument at the Tannoura performance

I had mentioned the local instruments that the musicians play like rebaba (fiddle), ney (flute), mizmar (shawm), sagat (cymbals), and tabla (doumbek drum). This is what they look like





Tannoura at Al-Ghouri wikala

The one thing that has been on my agenda for the past one year has been to watch the Tannoura performance at Al Ghouri. Unfortunately, not too much information is available on it on the net, and, somehow the things never fell into place.

My husband is travelling, and, I was footloose, so decided this was my moment. The performances are held on Wednesdays and Saturdays so decided on Tuesday morning that I would go. Asked a few like minded friends if they’d like to come watch the show and round it of with dinner at Naquib Mahfouz at the Khan! They all agreed, it sounded like a plan!

Wednesday night found us at the Al Ghouri centre near the Khan, trying to figure out where the show was being held. Finally, a kind soul showed us the way. Al Ghouri centre is on the left of the foot bridge, which by the way is popularly known as the 6 hours bridge, cos it was supposedly erected in 6 hours. At night the resident went to sleep, and, in the morning, hey presto, the bridge was there! I am not kidding. They had pre-fabricated the bridge and then erected it here, my friend explained.

You have to ignore the main building and go to the left of this (if you are facing Al Ghouri) and head towards the Wikala.

You walk past the security to a host of finely made wooden Mashrabiya, overlooking the courtyard as well as the facade of the building. The stone of the walls and the dark brown of aged wood make for a startling combination that looks hauntingly romantic in the subdued hues of the yellow halogen lamps.

I could close my eyes and see the bustling place the wikala must have been with women peering down into the courtyard from their mashrabiya windows as they watched the hustle and bustle of the courtyard, I fancied I could hear the sounds of the traders dismounting with their goods, and, the conversation of the workers as they lugged goods to the storerooms on the 1st and 2nd floor. I could imagine the laughter and yells of young children as they ran around the courtyard, playing their childish games!

Was brought back to reality as we realised that most of the seating was taken! The courtyard had free seating, based on first come first served. The gates are opened at 7.30 p.m. and the show begins at 8.30 p.m. sharp. There are no tickets, and the show is rather popular, the courtyard small, so it fills up very quickly.

The show starts with a set of musicians playing local instruments. The pristine white of their Sufi dresses reminded me the Mawlawia singing praise of the prophet. The musicians all play the local instruments like rebaba (fiddle), ney (flute), mizmar (shawm), sagat (cymbals), and tabla (doumbek drum).

The highlight of the performance was the “jugalbandi” that took place between individual musicians and the rest of the troupe. Each musician steps forward, and plays his instrument which the rest of them attempt to match. It was fantastic!

There was one chap with cymbals / castanets who was grace personified in his movements and the music he made with just the castanets was soothingly gentle and reflected the grace of his movements. And his “jugalbandi” with the rest of the troupe was fascinating. It was amazing that so light an instrument could sound as majestic and strong as a set of drums and tambourines!

This set the mood for what was to come. Accompanied by a singer and the musicians, the Lafife (main dancer) came centrestage. All I can say is that his performance had me captivated for the entire half hour or more that he was twirling. The bright hues of his skirt, the trance like devotion with which he twirled, the white robed Hanatia (junior dancers) who dance tirelessly around him, the soulful melodies that the singer sang so effortlessly, the music rhythms that swung from the slow, the moderate to the accelerated, all added to the impact of the dance.

People say that the secret of the Lafife even with consistent whirls lies in his foot movement. The twirls are broken by the different foot movements which ensures that he does not loose his balance. I do not know whether it’s the footwork or the trance like devotion which keeps them straight on their feet, but whatever it is, its awe inspiring.

Just when we thought the program had ended, the stage was set ablaze by three tannoura dancers in bright hues of red, green, blue, yellow, orange and what have you. If the earlier dance was frenzied but devotional, this was pure entertainment. They twirled, they bent back, lay on the floor, toyed with each other, continuing to twirl the detached skirt. It made me wish that my son was here to see this.

It was a visual delight – myriad colours meshing with a flurry of movements to the recurring beats of drums and some enthusiastic singing! While talking to the manager later, I discovered that these guys are not professionally trained but have inherited this art spontaneously from their forefathers.
The Egyptian Tannoura is different from the Whirling Dervishes of Turkey in that it’s folksier and is much more a popular Egyptian dance rather than a religious one with direct religious rituals, at least that is what was explained to me. This is reinforced by the colourful costumes which reflect the local environment rather than the stark pristine white robes of the Dervishes.

We decided to round the evening off with dinner at Naquib Mahfouz cafĂ© at the Khan – befitting and appropriate end to an Egyptian evening!

Spotlight on Egypt's marriage crisis

By Magdi Abdelhadi
BBC News, Cairo

"I want to get married" is a perfectly normal thing to say for a young Egyptian man. But when a girl says it in such a conservative society - let alone writes a book with that title - she is making a political statement.

"Girls are not supposed to be actively seeking something, a girl simply exists for someone to marry or divorce her," says the author of the top-selling book, Ghada Abdelaal. "To say she wants something is seen as impolite."

The book started as a blog, before it was spotted by an Egyptian publisher and printed as a series of comic sketches in which flawed and failed suitors came knocking at her parents' door.

A paranoid policeman, a hirsute fundamentalist, a pathological liar and other hilarious caricatures are portrayed in sparkling Egyptian vernacular.

Marriage anxiety

The veiled, softly-spoken Abdelaal is a sharp and witty observer of social incongruity in Egypt, a feisty spirit trying to tear up stifling tradition.

She says her target is not Egyptian men but a tradition known as "gawwaz el-salonat" (living room marriage), where a stranger is brought to the family home and the daughter must decide whether to marry him on the basis of this brief encounter.

"People who go for a picnic need to know each other a little longer than that - let alone make a lifelong commitment," Abdelaal says.

The book's popularity - it is in its third print run with a sitcom in the offing - reflects a widespread anxiety in Egyptian society. More and more young people cannot afford to get married.

Although the book focuses on finding Mr Right, she acknowledges finding an affordable flat remains an almost insurmountable obstacle. Many young people stay engaged for years before they can save up enough money.
"By the time they actually get to live together, they are already tired of each other," says women's rights activist Nihad Abou El Qoumsan. This causes the unusually high rate of divorce among the newlyweds in Egypt, she says.
Such is the impact of property prices on the marriage crisis, a popular talk show has invited engaged couples to join a draw to win a flat.

A new apartment will be given away by a wealthy businessman every day of the fasting and holiday month of Ramadan, in September. Huge numbers have registered.

Sexual frustration

Some describe it as a social time bomb. Religious customs mean there is no sex before marriage. So how do young people react to this situation?

Sociologist Madeeha al-Safty of the American University in Cairo believes one consequence is sexual harassment of women and rape reaching unprecedented levels in Egypt.

"If you are frustrated, there is the possibility that you take it out [through] violence. "Some people choose the safer way in moving towards a more religious attitude - not necessarily extremism, but it might reach the point of extremism," she adds.

But anthropologist Hania Sholkamy hesitates to link the problems of sexual harassment and rape to the marriage crisis. "I don't think people who harass women on the street are necessarily single, or necessarily sexually frustrated. There are many millions of people who are extremely frustrated, but they do not harass women.

"I think the issue is one of violence and gender disparities, pure and simple."

Gender disparity is a theme running throughout Abdelaal's book, from the provocative title questioning the women's passive role in a traditional society to the way children are brought up.

"They ask young girls here when they are three or four, who would you marry… they implant the idea your only purpose in life is to get married.

"Even after she goes to school they tell her that a girl's only future is in her husband's home. So what happens when a girl for any reason cannot get married. Should she set fire to herself?"

Thursday, October 16, 2008

Abdel Zaher book binder

Had read about the bookbinder's market near Khan but save for a few shops on Al Azhar street, did not really see much else.

However, a few days ago, while googling, I came across the name of Abdel Zaher on Times (of London) as being a book binder who practices the old oriental art of book binding and who is in great demand. So decided to go see what he was all about.

First of all, it was very difficult to find the shop. Its behind Al Azhar mosque in a narrow street, where driving a car is definately a test of skill. And we overlooked the shop twice, since there was no signage which mentioned his name or if it was, it was in Arabic!

Went in to a shop that was being renovated and most of the stuff was lying on tables in the centre of the shop.

The shop is full of a number of items all made of papper or cloth. There are photo albums, sketch books, tissue boxes, CD holders, magazine holders etc. They are made from varied materials including tuscany paper, handmade papper, canvas cloth printed with arabic calligraphy etc. The notebooks and photo albums have a leather binding and which can be stamped in gold print depending on what you want written, at no extra cost.
You can check out his website at You can also order online.

I bought an old fashioned photo album with black sheaves and self adhesive corners, though much of his stuff reminded me of smilar things available back home (am I begining to sound like an Indophile or is is that India has so much varied art and craft that I find so many things similar?). I am planning to add the photographs and then go back to him to get the name of the place stamped on the binding!

261 Al Sudan Street

Off the main Al Sudan street, through a nondescript entrance lies the access to clay, colour and fire! Two fierce, large peacocks guard the wooden entrance to Aladdin’s earthy treasure! Welcome to The Pottery Workshop alias the Mud Factory!

261 AL Sudan street in Mohandasein is home to Cairo’s well known potter – Samir Gindi. He does traditional pottery and the workshop is full of vases, dinner plates, tea sets, lanterns, figurines etc of all shapes, hues and sizes. The smell and feel of clay pervades the place, and, when you pick up a piece, you gather all the dust around it as well.

The lady in charge took us upstairs to a room to watch the artisans at work. I wish I could have taken a video, but it did not strike me then. As I watched, a ball of clay was moulded into a small hunched man in galabeyya. Then the man moved to another artisan who in front of our eyes, gave him an aged look with fine wrinkles, a lovely beard, and, loose flowing robes! The speed and deftness with which he worked was amazing!

At another table, an artisan was preparing moulds for lanterns, which were then moved to another table where another artisan, very deftly and without stencils or any instrument other than a sharp knife, cut out the most intricate pattern on the mould.

There was yet another who was busy embellishing a vase with Arabic calligraphy. It was quite an experience watching them at work.

It is worth a visit just to see the artisans at work but you will also find a lot of stuff to buy.

Hunting through piled table ware, I found a beautiful bowl that was glazed lime green on the inside and matt black on the outside. There was another large bowl fired in green, with a traditional Egyptian camel motif running all through. You also have the option of choosing your own colours and designs and asking him to make those for you. They regularly exhibit at the Cairo American College when the school celebrates an Egyptian day. In fact, you can see their pottery at CAC from November 9th I think.

If you are a potter, and, go there looking for something unique, you may be disappointed. He does regular pottery, meant for daily use and is not for eclectic, shapes, designs, glazes or firing styles. But some of the stuff is really lovely, and, I did pick up a tea set, and, 2 bowls.

He had a very nice vase which I asked to be glazed differently and made into a lamp. I hope it turns out well!

Wednesday, October 15, 2008

Egyptian currency notes - a journey through religious monuments

When I had gone to see the Sultan Qait Bay mosque, I kept thinking that I had seen it before, it seemed so familiar. But I knew for sure that I had not, because I had never managed to explore the Cities of the Dead prior to this.

And then the helpful man in the mosque solved the mystery for me! I have been seeing the mosque every single day on the LE 1 note! I pulled out the note, and sure enough there it was - the Qait Bay mosque, just like it was before me now.
This had me fishing out all the notes in the wallet and trying to identify what was on them. I recognised the Ibn Tulun mosque on the LE 5 note, the Citadel on LE 20, the Al Azhar moque on 50 piasters and the Sultan Hassan mosque on the LE100 note.

I asked my driver about the other notes, but he was not able to identify the mosques. Neither was my maid. By now I was really hooked to this quest to find out which mosques where on the LE200/ LE 50 and LE 10 notes. Googled and searched, and, finally got 'em all!
So here goes!

Le 1
The note features Mosque (actually, his funerary complex) of Sultan Qaitbay who was a Mamluk who ruled Egypt from 1468 through 1496.

Le 5
This has the really beautiful Ibn Tulun mosque with its unique square base minaret. You must visit the mosque. It is very serene, very peaceful and very beautiful.

Le 10
The Refa’ie Mosque is printed on this note. This mosque is located opposite the Madrasa of Sultan Hussain in Cairo. Work was originally begun under the supervision of architect Husayn Pasha Fahmy in 1869, but numerous problems, including the deaths of both the architect and his backers. Work was suspended until 1905 when it was finished under the direction of Max Herz Bey.

Le 20
This one can be identified by anyone living in Cairo. The leaded trio of domes of Mohammed Ali Mosque need no introduction!
Le 50
This features the Abu Hurayba Mosque, which is better known as the Al-Ishaqi Mosque, but Prince Qijmas al-Ishaqi died in Syria in 1487 and was buried there. Abu Hurayba though, was entombed here in 1852.

Le 100
Anyone who has been to the Khan often enough, should be able to recognise the Sultan Hassan Mosque.
Le 200
This has the Qani-Bay Mosque, which I know precious little about. Shall try and find out some. Have not been able to find a picture either!

50 piasters
This one should be easy to identify as well. The famous Al-Azhar Mosque.

25 piasters
The main item is said to be the Al-Sayida Aisha Mosque printed in blue. Interestingly, this is not a very well known mosque. Located in the Southern Cemetery (cities of the Dead) in a section known as the Lesser Qarafa, it was built in 1762 by 'Abd al-Rahman Katkhuda and was restored in the early 20th century .
In this quest of mine, came across an interesting article which talks about the first note of each kind issued in Egypt and their modern day version.