Sunday, November 30, 2008

In the name of art!!

Art installation placed on a fountain in the middle of the Nile river in Cairo entitled ‘Going Bananas’ on Nov. 28. The art installation project, organized by the Austrian Cultural Forum, consisted of around 2,000 1.6 meter-long inflatable yellow bananas which were to be ejected into the river by the Nile fountain.I beleive the event did not go as planned cos os some technical hitch...
This I must go and see, if only to figure, how strange can one get in the name of art!

Saudi Sheikhs’ fatwas in the spotlight

While browsing through the net, came across this. I know I have been there (fatwas that is) before, but I wanted to post it so that I kept the article.

By Yasmine Saleh
Daily Star
First Published: October 2, 2008

CAIRO: A Saudi Sheikh recently issued a fatwa stating that women who wear the niqab (full face veil) are only allowed to show one eye, covering the other along with the rest of their bodies.

Sheikh Mohamed Al-Habdan issued that decree during his appearance on Al-Majd satellite channel.

“When Ibn Abbas [known for his knowledge and his interpretations of the Quran and the Prophet’s sayings] was reading the holy Quranic verse that mentions the veil, he covered his face and one eye, while showed a little of his other eye and said: this is the face veil, just enough to be able to see the way,” Al-Habdan said.

He went on to urge Muslim women who wear the niqab to adjust it so that it only shows one of their eyes, adding that showing both eyes is “Islamically incorrect.”

However, controversial fatwas are nothing new to Al-Habdan. He had also issued another fatwa forbidding Muslim women from going out without a mehrem — a male guardian, usually the husband or a relative who is religiously banned from marrying that woman (father, brother, son, maternal or paternal uncle, grandfather or nephew).

Al-Majd satellite channel was once before the platform for another controversial fatwa by Sheikh Saleh El-Lheidan, chief of the Saudi’s Supreme Judiciary Council, against watching the Olympics and Turkish soap operas.

El-Lheidan said the Olympics includes “obscene scenes” and “nothing made Satan happier than seeing females athletes dressed in skimpy outfits.”

As for the Turkish soap operas, El-Lheidan commented on the scenes that show bedrooms or are shot in bedrooms.

He went further to issue another fatwa that permits the killing of the owners of satellite TV stations who show “immoral” content.

“I advise the owners of the shameless satellite stations who distribute programs promoting impudence, insolence and silly humor,” said El-Lheidan. “I warn them, they’re wasting people’s time and corrupting them. If they don’t heed our call, their killing could be permissible.”

The holy month of Ramadan has seen its share of controversial fatwas such as one deeming Mickey Mouse “an agent of Satan.”

Saudi Sheikh Muhammad Munajid reportedly said that “both household mice and their cartoon counterparts must be killed.”

Saturday, November 29, 2008

Hell hath no fury than a woman scorned!

Nestled practically on the bank of the Nile, at No. 1 Kafour Street , is a beautifully restored mansion, that is home to an enviable Western European art collection. Once the home of Senate President Khalil Bey and his French wife Emilienne Hector, the contents of the museum are a tribute to the Khalils' passion for art, and perhaps Emilienne's desire to be considred creme de la creme of Cairo's high society!

Mahmoud Khalil Bey, a lawyer by profession, would later go on to become a senior statesman and later senate president.
Emilienne Hector, born into a French family, worked in the French theatre for a while, was known for her passion for being over dressed especially as far as her jewels were concerned.
It is said that Khalil Bey was enamored with everything French. French wife, French cuisine, French theatre, French culture, French architecture and thanks to his wife, French art! That would explain the huge collection of French artists that the museum houses.
This collection would have remained in private hands, had it not been for the fury of a woman scorned! In his old age, Khalil Bey became enamoured of a much younger and beautiful Egyptian lady, and, supposedly had a male offspring from this association, something that Emilienne had been unable to give him. While Khalil Bey's will bequeathed the house and the art collection to Emilienne, she wasn't willing to forget and forgive. Consequently, she bequeathed the entire collection to the State upon her death!

So I guess one needs to thank Khalil Bey for his promiscuity for being able to view this collection in Cairo!

No 1 Kahfour Street houses a number of very famous French painters like Champmartin, Daumier, Ricard, Delacroix and Toulouse Lautrec, Renoir, Monet, Pissaro, Trovon, Sisley, Millet, Moticelli, Milot, Diaz de la Penas,a and, not to forget Van Gough.

There is a painting "Jeune Fille Assise" by Morisot Berthe Marie which is very remniscent of Renoir.

You are not allowed to take photographs so I tried to look up the paintings on the net. Except for a few paintings, the images are not available, probably given that this was a private collection.

There are signed replicas of sculptures by Rodin. The ones to especially see are The Thinker and The Head of Victor Hugo.

There is a painting "Fatima au Odalisque" by Jeane Auguste Ingres (see below) which intrigued me due to the name (given that it was a nude)..

I thought "el Nil" by Eugene Fromentin, depicting a group of girls on a bank of this mighty river with a fortress visible on the other side, is also very striking. Pissarro's Cricket in Bedford Park is nice.

And I absolutely loved Monet's Westminster Abbey. A part of his London series, it shows Westminster Abbey through the typical London mist, and its hazy reflection in the waters of the Thames.

Renoir's Pommes et Poires and Tasse et Mandarines are ok.

Also a must see is The Singing Lesson by Toulouse Lautrec.

I think the piece de resistence of the museum is the painting "Life and Death" by Paul Gaugin. Valued at 10USD million, (or thats what I was told)the painting was a part of the Gauguin exhibition in Rome and was returned to the museum only in March this year. Am glad I did not go earlier. Would have hated to miss this!

In the painting a naked female bather with red hair, is looking at her arm, over which is draped a cloth, while another girl has her head in her hands, her legs raised, her elbow on her knees, holding her head. Obviously, the girl in warm red hues represents life, while the one in death-like blue represents death.

There is also a beautiful Van Gogh "Rhythm and the Poppy Flower" but I think I preferred the Gauguin.

The place is well maintained and beautifully restored. Wonder what it must have been like to stay here? Imagine the confusion in deciding the room that you wanted to occupy? Mercifully, they had no kids, or Emilienne might have had to spend her time running around looking for them!

Another word of caution. The paintings are catalouged in French, so you don't have a clue to their names unless you've read about it earlier! Or if you know French! They are supposed to have some literature in English, but the guy apologetically shrugged his shoulders saying that he had run out of them!

The museum offers you reproductions of Life and Death and a couple of other paintings, so I ordered one. At 30 LE its a steal, except that the quality is not really good. Its been simply printed on canvas, not the quality that you can pick up at other big museums. But hey, I liked Life and Death so much, that even this was welcome!

If you enjoy Western European art, do go visit the museum, its worth the time that you spend. The ticket is priced at LE 25, but if you are a resident, you get to pay only LE 12. Open from 10 am to 5.30 pm, its closed on Mondays.

Location: On the corner of Giza Street & Kafur Street next to the state council (Maglis al Dawla).

The Step Pyramids of Saqqara

Most people living in Cairo / visiting Cairo would have been to the Step Pyramid of Saqqarra..Well, despite all my travels, I had only seen the Step Pyramid from the outside, never ventured inside the complex. This is despite sending tons of guests to see the pyramid!

According to historians, the Step Pyramid complex holds a very special place in the history of Egyptian architecture as it was here, that limestone was first used on a large scale as a construction material, and here the idea of a monumental royal tomb in the form of a pyramid was given shape.

Since hubby was out of town, and, I had the time, decided to go see the Saqqarra pyramids.

Near the ticket office is the small Imhotep Museum which contains the sarcophagus of Imhotep, who is credited with building Egypt's first pyramid. He is recognized as a doctor, a priest, scribe, sage, poet, astrologer, and a vizier and chief minister to Djoser, the second king of Egypt's third dynasty.

The colours from centuries ago are still bright and the detailing absolutely clear!
The Step Pyramid of Djoser! While many credit it to be the first known pyramid to mankind, recent findings seem to suggest step pyramids of earlier vintage, but as per popular concensus it is still considered the first known pyramid to mankind!

It is believed that this pyramid marks the transition of funeral tombs from a mastaba to a proper pyramid. In fact, the pyramid probably started out life as a mastaba and was subsequently added to, which explains the structure and the distinct steps...
There is a large facade through which you enter the complex, and, walk into a colonnaded entrance.

The colonnaded entrance contains 40 columns - 20 on each side. They are considered to represent the provinces of Upper and Lower Egypt.

The corridor opens into a rectangular vestibule which served as the final entrance to the courtyard. I understand that this courtyard used to serve as a running field for the King's Sed Festival during which the king would demonstrate to the people his continuing physical prowess and ability.

The south tomb's chapel. Its exterior has niches over which a frieze of cobras protect the facility..
The carvings above the entrance of the tomb of Inefrt..

The name of the Prince Inefrt written in heirogyphics at the entrance of the tomb.
Frescos on the wall at the entrance to the inner chamber of the tomb..

Heirogyphics on a false door in the tomb....
Original colours on the frescos from over 3000 years ago....

I can just imagine what this must have looked like when the colours were still bright!I understand that there are two other tombs which are in a better condition, but did not go in there this time.

Another engraving at the entrance to another tomb...

The pyramid of Unnas, the last king of the 5th dynasty. The pyramid is infinitely more well known than the man who built it, because for the first time in the history of the excavation of pyramids, they discovered 128 magical spells of the Pyramid Text on the walls of its subterranean chambers!
The duck like figure at the bottom represents the number 1000. The fresco indicates sacrifices made of 1000 cows, 1000 horses, 1000 deer etc...

In the shadows of Dsojer's pyramids, stands the pyramid of Userkaf who was considered the founder of the 5th Dynasty.His pyramid was called "Pure are the (cult) places of Userkaf", but today, in keeping with its state of disrepair, locally its known as the "ruined pyramid".
The duo at Saqqara...

I am glad that I did make the trip. Now my son and I are hoping to be able to go see the new pyramid that they discovered at Saqqara!

Playing around with my photographs

My newest toy is a software that allows me to mess around with photographs and creating silhouttes, cartoons, sketches etc with them...

My first attempt were the most common and famous sights of Egypt! This is what it looks like! Quite nice, well, at least my 7 year old son thought so!

Friday, November 28, 2008

My frustrations with Blogger!

I am feeling rather targetted and prosecuted right now! Can someone explain to me why Blogger refuses to upload my photographs the way I want them uploaded?

I usually upload them in the sequence that I plan to write but for the last 1 week I find that irrespective of the order in which I attach them, when they get uploaded, they are in random order!

As it is, it takes ages to upload a JPEG file, on top of that if I start loading them one by one, instead of a batch, I'll be only uploading photographs the whole day long!

The Cairene Sabil: Umm Abbas

After seeing the Sultan Hassan mosque, I still had some time to spare before my son came home, so my driver volunteered to drive me around that area. As per him, there were a number of old and beautiful buildings in that area which I could see from the comfort of my car.. Since I had time to spare, I happily agreed. It seemed like a good idea!

Suddenly, my driver very excitedly called out "look Miss Manisha" and I looked around rather fazed for I could only see traffic , and, some dilapidated buildings around me. And then I spotted what had got him so excited. A lovely marble structure with beautiful gold engravings that was juxtaposed against a brown wall. Having read a little about Cairo's monuments and structures, I recognised it as a sabil.

A sabil was a kind of water reservoir built by the rich & famous to provide water to the denizens of Cairo. I believe the origins of the sabils lie in the Quran and the hadith since providing free water for all to drink, something that is highly regarded in the Koran.

Very often, a sabil would have a first floor which would be used as a khutub or a school where the poor could be taught the Koran.

This particular sabil was built by Bambah Qadin - the granddaughter of Abbas I, who ruled Egypt from 1848 to 1854 A.D, and the mother of Abbas II. "Umm" in Arabic means mother so the sabil of the mother of Abbas, hence the name Sabil Umm Abbas!

Located off Saliba Street at the corner of the side alley ‘al-Siufiya’, Saliba Street can be reached from Midan al-Qal’a (Citadel Square), also called Mohammed Ali Square where Sultan Hassan mosque and Rifai mosque stand.

The sabil's facade is really beautiful with Ottoman style decorative panels running around the sabil & inscriptions above the windows. Obviously, the monument has been recently restored, as is obvious by the bright gilded decorations. The colours are too bright for them to be original, but the restorers have done a wonderful job. The facade is adorned by gilded Ottoman inscriptions & decorations standing out against blue and deep red backgrounds to which the marble structure provides a perfect foil.

Umm Abbas's sabil is obviously a labour of care and detailed attention. You don't really need to spend much time, but the structure is gorgeous and definately worth one look! It stands out amidst the stone, dull brown buildings and crowded roads.

I believe, some sabils were open only at certain hours; others remained open day and night. However, during Ramadan, all the sabils were closed. Each sabil was run by a manager or a keeper who made sure that it functioned well.

As per records of the 18th century, there were over 300 sabils in existence, while current records show only around 70 still extant. Now while I have no intentions of seeing all 70, there a few others that I do want to see, like the Bazdar and Maghlawi sabils , and the sabil of Tusun Pasha & that of Katkhuda....

Mumbai blasts

Have been to a lot of places the last few days that I wanted to write about but for now my mind is numb as I watch my city reeling under the worst possible terrorist attack that the country has ever many lives wasted, so much destruction, terror and the feeling of helplessness and anger...

Broke my heart to see a 2 year old child whose birthday gift today was the news of his parents' death...

I wonder how does anyone ever justify the deliberate destruction of innocent lives, no matter what the cause? Whose God condons or pardons horrifying acts perpetuated in the name of a cause? What kind of people actually get to sleep carrying the blood of so many innocent lives on their hands?

Thursday, November 27, 2008

El Pannello Cafe

I had just got my son back from the barber, after a rather close encounter with the barber's scissors, the result of which was a rather close cropped haircut, much to my son's dismay, nay agony! Much angst was directed at a heartless mother who'd made him part company with his lustrous locks!

To make up for that I decided to take him to El Pannello Ceramic Cafe where he could paint for all he was worth and we could grab a bite to eat as well. I had been reading about the cafe ever since we came to Cairo, and had even safely kept a cutting of its ad in the Egyptian Mail. However, like may other items on my "to do list", this too had remained undone. But I was about to remedy that!

The Cafe has two branches - one at Heliopolis and the other at Mohandasien. We decided to go to the one at Heliopolis.

As you walk into the cafe, there is a shelf full of painted and fired ceramic items in myriad hues, all on sale at a fixed price of LE 35. I guess these are things that people painted but never came back to collect.

As you walk into the dining area, there is a big shelf covering an entire wall which is stacked with all sorts of objects in clay that have been fired once , and, then dipped in distemper.

They are a lovely white, and, you can choose from a variety of shapes & figures - a Santa, reindeers, snowmen, a mexican figurine, cups, plates, tiles, a pharonic can turn the figures over to check out the price underneath. A pharonic head would cost you LE 145, mugs range from LE 30 to LE 50, a plate could set you back by LE 120...

My son chose an astronaut! This is what it looked like before it was painted!

Next you've got to choose your colours. You can choose any 6 out of some 15-20 odd colours that they have. They have a plate fired with all the colours that they have on offer, so that you know what these will look like once the object has been fired! The cost of the item includes the cost of the colours and firing. This is my son busy figuring out the colours that he wants for his astronaut.

Having chosen his paints, now came the fun part. While we waited for our food, my Van Gogh got to work! Though given his current style of drawing . painting, Kandinsky would be more appropriate!

The food at the Cafe is quite nice too. The menu is extensive, offering a reasonable choice, even for the vegetarians. My son and I ordered some Morzzarella sticks (LE 15 ) and Spring Rolls (LE 12.50) to share as starters. Son also decided that he was hungry enough to wolf down a Spaghetti Bolognese (LE 25) while my mother-in-law decided to be safe with a club sandwich (LE 24). My greed getting the better of me, I ordered a cheese mozarella sandwich (LE 13).
There were a number of special platters with veal and chicken on offer. It sounded tempting especially since they are served with Basmati rice, curry and mashed potatoes! But we had already placed the order!
The starters were nice, and, the portions of the main entrees really large. Neither my mom-in-law nor my son were able to finish their main courses.

While we ate, Van Gogh continued to paint furiously, and, at least for the moment forgot about his haircut!

Watching him, I was inspired too, and, decided to paint a long mug. Unfortunately, I droped two blobs of paint on it, and, the guy at the counter very helpfully offered to fix it! Unfortunately, that was the last I saw of the mug! They spent half an hour hunting for the mug subsequently, but I fear, in their enthusiasm to help, they erased the entire mug instead of just the blobs of paint, lol!

Barring this, the service is quite polite and efficent, and, the food quite nice!
The Cafe hands you receipts for your pieces of art, and you need to collect them after 5 days, during which they fire and glaze them. So shall send my driver to collect them sometime next week!
We had great fun at the ceramic cafe, and, ended up spending 3-4 hours there instead of the 1-2 hours that we had envisaged. My son enjoyed himself, and the rather sensitive topic of "haircut" was forgotten, at least temporarily!

El Pannello Cafe
2 Omar Ibn el Khattab Street
Haroon Rasheed Square
(in front of the English school)
Tel: 22417603

12 el Mahruqi Street
from El Batat Ahmed Add el Aziz Street
Tel: 33038696

Pirated DVDs - just desserts!

Talk about co-incidences and just desserts. Whoever said "dont buy pirated DVDs" was absolutely right!

My son has been whining about not having been able to watch Ironman while all his friends did (yup, I know its a very old whine but kids tend to get fixated!) so when I saw a DVD at Hyper, I decided to buy it. I knew it was piratd but decided to buy it nevertheless! Occassionally, its good to contribute to the parallel economy. In any case he or I were not going to get to watch in a theatre now, and, I had not been able to find the original. At the least, it would stop his constant cry for Ironman!

Came home to a very excited child, who immediately ripped open the cover and decided to watch it NOW! To our utter surprise, nay, shock, the movie came dubbed in Hindi (India's national language)!! If this was not surprise enough, the next 10 minutes were in English and then again Hindi! Rather discerning DVD eh, language suited to the country of the audience, lol!

Clearly this had been originally dubbed for the Indian market, but obviously the guy who was dubbing was napping, so got his tracks mixed up! Or this was his idea of international integration, lol!!

Tuesday, November 25, 2008

The Yacoubian Building

Last week went and bought myself this book after having heard so much about it.

The Yacoubian Building was the best selling Arabic novel for 2002 and 2003, and was voted Best Novel for 2003 by listeners to Egypt's Middle East Broadcasting Service. With credentials like this, definately wanted to read it...

Unfortunately, have not been able to read it as yet....


Was looking up how to do some stuff on a blog on the internet, when my search threw up something which analyses your blog. I must admit it intrigued me a little. This was like "answer x number of questions and get to know more about your personality " type of stuff. But for a blog?

In all honesty, I assumed that this would take a while for someone to read and figure out what kind of blog it was, so why bother? However, as I was at a loose end, for a lark, I decided to try it out anyways!

You've got to input your blog address and hey presto, the utility throws up an analysis of your personality based on how you write your blog!, Yes, that's right!

I must admit, the response time fazed me....pages and pages of posts written over months, and it took the darned utility all of 2 seconds to analyse it!

Here is what it says about my personality...

ENTP - The Visionaries

The charming and trend savvy type. They are especially attuned to the big picture and anticipate trends. They often have sophisticated language skills and come across as witty and social. At the end of the day, however, they are pragmatic decision makers and have a good analytical abilitity. They enjoy work that lets them use their cleverness, great communication skills and knack for new exciting ventures. They have to look out not to become quitters, since they easily get bored when the creative exciting start-up phase is over.

Hmmm.. interesting! The big question - how much of it is really true? Should ask hubby dear! lol!

Monday, November 24, 2008


While everyone does the regular tourist circuit, Cairo has a number of other places of varying vintage and interest, that you just need to have the time, and, of course the inclination to go see.

One such place, that had been on my agenda for over a year, is the Nilometer on Roda Island, but somehow everytime I planned to go there, something came up, and, I could not. However, a friend was equally keen to see the place, so we finally did manage to make the trip, and, at least for me, it was worth the trip, notwithstanding my vertigo!

Deciding to go see it was the easy part, finding it was another story all together! Its amazing how these things are overlooked not only by tourists but also locals. Finally, it was a hotel concierge who came to our rescue, and, after a broken car mirror, a visibly upset driver, and, terrific traffic, we made it to the Nilometer. Nestled between the Nile and a lot of greenery, it is rather easy to miss it. And while you are searching for it, might make sense to ask for Mikyas al-Nil - might make it easier to find it!

I guess the importance of Nilometer in earlier Egyptian life cannot be underestimated. The rulers and their officials derived their power from the Nilometer? Strange? Not really, when you consider that the levels of the water as measured in the Nilometer, helped the officials predict the level of inundation, which indicated the extent of deposits of fertile black soil which was so crucial to cultivation. More importantly, this determined the level of taxes to be paid to the ruler, hence playing an important political and administrative role.

Though you would have thought that the years of experience would have taught the peasants to read the signs when the Nile was flooding, much better than the officials reading it off a Nilometer, but there is a premium to being royalty and having access to years of acumulated data which probably made the prediction a little more accurate, and, made it sound a lot more hi-fi (much like management speak vis-a-vis common sense, lol!)

From the outside, the conical dome is very modern and you need to hunt out the caretakers to open the doors and allow you to go in. We found a very helpful one, who could not speak a word of anything other than Arabic, but nevertheless, very sweetly proceeded to explain things to us (God bless CSA and my driver for my Arabic lessons!).
The Nilometer was built on the oredrs of the Caliph al-Mutawakkil (847-861) under the direction of Ahmad ibn Muhammad al-Hasib at the end of his reign in 861.The Nilometer, as it stands today, is almost as it was originally except for the wooden painted dome roof which was a later addition as part of a restoration project.

The roof, I understand, was destroyed in a bombing by the French during their occupation of Egypt (wonder why the Egyptians are still so fascinated with the French? French language, French au pairs, french food?) after which a new dome was built in the same style as it is today. This however, was not destined to last too long either, and, was destroyed by a factory explosion, and, then restored as close to the original as possible, based on an 18th century painting by the Danish traveler, Fredrik Ludvig Norden as a reference. It is indeed beautiful (see photo below)!

The Nilometer consists of a well which houses an octagonal marble column which is graded and divided into 19 cubits. From what I understood with my limited knowledge of Arabic, water upto the 16th mark meant an ideal flood, anything below 16 meant famine and drought, and anything above 19 meant tragedy! I also read somewhere that prior to the expected flood, this column would be anointed with saffron and musk in order to help induce a good water level!

This well, that houses the marble column, continues deep into the ground, beyond the surface level of the Nile. This well was connected to the Nile through tunnels, which are sealed now (see tunnel doors below).

The walls of the well are inscribed with Kufic Qur'anic inscriptions referring to water, prosperity and vegetation.

The Nilometer was also importat as a trigger for Fath al-Khalij or the festival of the Opening of the Canal. The Khalij Canal originated opposite Roda Island and would be opened when the Nilometer reached the 16 mark. At this level, the water filled up the canal and provided irrigation for the farmers.
From what I have read, during the celebrations, decorated boats would crowd the river. Those who witnessed it referred to it as Cairo's most spectacular festival. Of course the celebrations were not guaranteed. If the water levels remained below 16, then far from celebrating, the locals would be fasting and praying to the rain gods!

The first time I went, my vertigo got the better of me, and, I did not manage to go down the well. The absence of any railings/ support makes it worse!
The next time round, I gritted my teeth and went down, couldn't let a fear get the better of me! And believe me, the view, as you look up from the ground, with the light streaming through the dome, is really worth the trek down!

How to get there: Nilometer is located inside the gardened compound of Cairo's Al Manasterly Palace. The entrance fees is LE15 er head.

Toxic brown cloud expected to appear in Egypt’s sky

Daily News
By Yasmine Saleh
First Published: November 19, 2008

CAIRO: The United Nations Environment Program (UNEP) warned of the passing of the “brown” cloud, which is full of toxic chemical material, over the Middle East.

The cloud is around three kilometers long.

According to the UNEP report, which was first released on Nov. 13, the cloud would pass over the Middle East within three to seven days. Some suspect that the fog that has engulfed the city on Wednesday is part of the cloud. No reports have confirmed such claims.

When contacted by Daily News Egypt, officials at the Ministry of Environmental Affairs were unavailable for comment by press time.
According to the report, “the cloud center is in South Korea and is called brown because of its brown color.”

The report also indicated that the cloud is considered to be of great danger to the international environment.

“The cloud will have a serious reaction that might lead to the death of thousands of people and harm agricultural products,” read the report.
According to Achim Steiner, UN under-secretary general and executive director of UNEP, the cloud started to move from Asia to Africa and the Middle East.

The report also stated that the cloud had serious impacts on air quality and agriculture in Asia “increasing risks to human health and food production for three billion people.”

“Cities from Beijing to New Delhi are getting darker, glaciers in ranges like the Himalayas are melting faster and weather systems are becoming more extreme, in part, due to the combined effects of human-made Atmospheric Brown Clouds (ABCs) and greenhouse gases in the atmosphere,” stated the UNEP report.

The report has also identified 13 cities as ABC hotpots. Those cities are: Bangkok, Beijing, Cairo, Dhaka, Karachi, Kolkata, Lagos, Mumbai, New Delhi, Seoul, Shanghai, Shenzhen and Tehran, where soot levels are 10 percent of the total mass of all human-made particles.

According to the report, cities with large concentrations of ABCs may be getting cloudier which might lead to a 25 percent decrease in visibility.
According to Steiner, the clouds can lead to serious respiratory problems and complications in blood vessels.

As for the agricultural products, the cloud might lead to a decrease in the productivity and the quality of products like rice, wheat and Soya beans.
The report also explained that the brown cloud resulted from burning of fossil fuels and biomass in some cases and regions aggravating the impacts of greenhouse gas-induced climate change.

“Globally, however, brown clouds may be countering or ‘masking’ the warming impacts of climate change by between 20 and up to 80 percent, the researchers suggest,” the report indicated.

On the other hand, Sabri Abdel Hadi, manager of the health department at Egypt’s Ministry for Environmental Affairs, said that “he did not receive any information about this cloud” and added that “South Korea is tens of thousands kilometers away from Egypt which makes it unreasonable for the cloud to reach Egypt,” according to his statement to Amal Al Omah news website, that is run by the Muslim Brotherhood in Alexandria.

Dr Ahmed Aboul Seoud, manager of the quality of air department at the Ministry for Environmental Affairs, also told the website that the arrival of this cloud to Egypt is “far-fetched” but added that the ministry will issue a special warning to all citizens not to leave their houses in the unlikely case of its appearance.

Aboul Seoud has also indicated that the Ministry of State for Environmental Affairs will be able to monitor this cloud by satellites if it appeared in the Egyptian sky and will find solutions to eliminate it by water.

Friday, November 21, 2008


Its amazing how sometimes we don't look beyond the obvious, well, at least I did not..

My car is usually fuelled by the driver, and, the only cognizant memory I have of the fuel is that its cheap. A 100 le goes a long way, and I don't have to fill up petrol every other day, despite the fact that I move around quite a bit.

Two days ago, the driver called in sick, and, I had to drive, and, fill petrol. It was then that the penny dropped! Well, high time it did!

Petrol costs 1.80 le per gallon (1 gallon = approx 4 litres) while water costs 1.50 le for a litre bottle. The difference was so stark that it caught me by surprise. Well, it should not, cos this is dessert land, where water is at a premium. Plus in a sense, water is essential to life, and, petrol is not, so there should be a premium for it!

But coming from a country where the petrol cost is some 10 times the cost of water, this seems such a paradox!

Or is it really? Every situation, every circumstance warrants its own set of peculiarities, and, we need to learn to make the most of them. I guess that's true of everything in life, isn't it?

A 4,300- year-old pyramid discovered in Sakkara desert

Daily News Egypt
By Marwa Al-A’sar

First Published: November 11, 2008

CAIRO: A 4,300-year-old pyramid of a Pharaonic queen was discovered in Sakkara desert, Secretary General of the Supreme Council of Antiquities Zahi Hawass told reporters in a press conference on site Tuesday.
“The pyramid is believed to belong to Queen Sesheshet, the mother of King Titi (2323 – 2291 BC), the founder of ancient Egypt‘s Sixth Dynasty,” Hawass said.

The pyramid is part of the cemetery associated with King Titi, who had his funerary complex built north-east to that of King Djoser (2630 – 2611 BC). It is 4.5 meters high with a square base of 22 meters on each side. The original height is estimated to be about 14 meters.

“We are about to reach the burial area, yet I don’t think we will find much because we found traces of robbery there,” Hawass said.
Sesheshet’s pyramid is located near those of Titi’s two wives, Khuit and Iputi. The three pyramids were designed similarly.

Though Sesheshet was recognized from inscriptions on a medical papyrus, no identified tomb for her has ever been discovered in the Sakkara necropolis, according to Hawass.

He pointed out that the Egyptian excavation in the Titi cemetery has added a lot to the understanding of the beginning of the sixth Dynasty.

An Egyptian archeological team has been excavating the site since 1988. But the discovery was made a few months ago when it appeared that the structure unveiled under the sand was a pyramid.

The Sesheshet pyramid is the 118th discovered so far in Egypt. There are 20 pyramids more found out but with only the bases remaining.
“The newly discovered pyramid is expected to be unveiled after two months,” Hawass concluded.

The queen mother played an important role in the establishment of the sixth dynasty at a time when two branches of the former ruling family were in conflict.

For many years, scholars believed that Iputi was the primary wife of King Titi. Recently, however, Hawass excavated the pyramid of Khuit, discovering that her pyramid was built before Iputi’s, which indicates she was the chief wife.

Tuesday, November 11, 2008

Gorgeous graffitti

Talk about hunting for a needle in a haystack - now I know the feeling! Went around Downtown and Dokki the whole morning in search of some graffitti! Suspect when my hubby hears this, he'll shrug his shoulders in one of those resigned gestures, lol!

However, I think the trek around town was worth the graffitti that I saw. Just check out the pictures below and then go see them in person. To me, it was certainly worth the visit!
Goethe Institute is the headquarters for learning German in Cairo, and, operates as a cultural centre as well, organising numerous events all through the year. This year, the centre completed 50 years of its existence in Cairo, and, decided to celebrate the occassion by rolling out year long celebrations.
Four German artists of the graffiti project “Masala Movement” and two Egyptians came together in the lavish garden surrounding what used to be former East Germany’s embassy in Cairo, and, were allowed to pain the walls of the now defunct East German embassy.

The project tasked the six artists with transforming the walls of the language center (known as ‘the empty space’) into a large piece of art, and, I must admit, they have done a fabulous job.

Bright colours, bold, larger than life figures are beautifully juxtaposed against the brown stone of the walls. There are yet others that been painted at the intersection of two walls, with slatted windows in the middle, lending an interesting perspective to the graffitti!

There is a enormous worm in black and white which resmbles a dragon or an equally wild creature. Painted on the 3 walls of an alcove, its lifelike and really seems like its crawling along the walls!
Then there is a mother and child which seems to represent the connection between the two when the child is born and also when its in the womb or maybe, thats just my hyperactive imagination!

If you’re thinking about checking out their work, make sure to stop by soon.
This one is somewhat remniscent of the work of a famous Indian cartoonist called Mario Miranda.

Just a word of Caution. Goethe Institute seems to be spread all over the place 3-4 buildings. The one that you need to go to is in Dokki at 17 Road.

I, of course, finally got there after seeing practically every Goethe Institute building! The helpful guards/ counter guys at each building, enthusiastically nodded their head and said "aiwa (yes)" when I asked for graffitti. Next time, must remember to check the arabic word for "graffitti" or whatever else it is that I am going looking for!

Monday, November 10, 2008

English news in Cairo

Other than the Daily News/ Egyptian Gazzette or Mail that you normally read with your morning cuppa, I finally managed to find a list of websites which you can go browse for Egypt news, if you want to!

Al-Ahram Weekly
Government affiliated leading Egyptian newspaper, so news / reviews to be read accordingly. However, I find that soem of the articles are very good and most importatly, the travel section in this one is usually good! Egypt
News reports from African sources.

Cairo Live
News on Egypt from international and Egyptian news outlets.

Cairo Times
Small English language section of Egyptian news magazine.

American University in Cairo's student-produced newspaper. Covers campus and regional news in English and Arabic.

Daily News Egypt
The only local independent daily newspaper in the English language, bundled with the International Herald Tribune.

Egypt Daily News
Provides aggregated Egyptian news from various sources.

Egypt Guide
Online magazine featuring information regarding news, business, tourism, travel, and more.

Egypt Information Portal
Official portal providing business and political information and news.

Egypt Today
Leading current affairs magazine in Egypt.

Egyptian Gazette
Middle East's oldest English-language newspaper published in Cairo.

MEMRI: Egypt
Site of US based Middle East Media Research Institute providing analysis and translations of Arabic media reports.

Middle East News Agency (MENA)
Subscription-only news agency.

Middle East Times
Egypt-based regional magazine. Provides more or less objective reporting of Middle East and Egypt news, as well as cultural and business features.

State Information Service
Features official news stories, Cairo press review, and country background information

And while technically not a news site, this does give information of an oft heard name in Egypt.
London-based official web site of the Muslim Brotherhood.

That should be enough for any news / information buff!

Egypt's 1st underwater museum?


The European Institute for Underwater Archaeology is currently carrying out a feasibility study for the construction of the first underwater museum for Egyptian antiquities on the Mediterranean coastal city of Alexandria! Now that would be something really unique! Like the underwater restaurant in Israel?

The museum's design is by the French architect Jacques Rougerie. The design was chosen in an UNESCO-supervised international competition held for this specific purpose. The design envisages a museum which shall be partly above sea level and partly submerged.

However, visitors to Egypt will have a long wait for this, cos the feasibility study alone will be completed only next September. Then there would be the funding, the construction etc.

Hmmm, I think I shall come for my return visit to Egypt once the museum is completed!

Religion over sentiment?

Just read this article in Daily News on the internet, and, was left wondering what should have more value - emotions bound with relationships or religion?

Like in all almost all other countries, laws in Egypt allow for the child to live with the mother till the age of 18, in the event of dissolution of a marriage. I am sure that if lawmakers all over the world recognise and acknowledge the need for the child to be with the mother who typically is an emotional anchor, there must be a justifiable reason for it.

However, came across a rather interesting article in Daily News today. The article ( talks about Egyptian men who converted to Islam from Christianity, and, happen to be separated from their wives, and, how they are fighting the custody battle on the grounds of incompatible religions! How can the child of a Muslim father be brought up by a Christian mother, is the argument being used by them.

To me that's such an unfair argument. The child needs its mother for the emotional sustenance that he/she draws from the mother. While a lot of fathers of today's generation are active participants in their children's lives, the reality of the majority, especially in Oriental and Asian cultures, is that the mother plays a larger social, emotional and physical role in the child's life. So how can religion be a consideration, let alone the deciding factor, in determining custody?

As it is, a child, of a marriage that has not worked out, lacks the combined presence of both his natural parents in his life. Unless the mother is physically torturing the children, they tend to turn to their mothers especially the young ones. This is about emotions, feelings, relationships, so where does religion come in?

Or does religion take precedence over the emotional comfort of a child?

Vital - the healthy food!

The name describes the product very appropriately! What would describe health food more aptly than the word "Vital"? So clearly Sage Foods got their branding bang on!

In case you are wondering what I am rambling about, there is a bunch of entrepreneurs who call themselves "Sage Foods" who have got together to set up a virtual food chain! They basically figured that the huge fixed overheads of running a physical restaurant is what impacts return on capital employed and renders it unviable. So they decided they would only do home delivery!

Essentially, Vital will offer salads, soups and juices for the health conscious. They claim that they have a wide range of salads in decent size portions, giving you a nutritious, yet satisfying lunch / dinner.

You can also make your own salad by choosing everything from the base salad to the ingredients and the dressing.

They currently deliver only in Maadi, and , their food is also served in El-Shader café, also in Maadi. They plan to open more outlets soon.

This sounds good, so tomorrow I am going to call Sage Foods and try one of their salads and soups! They can be contacted at (02) 2522 2204/5.

In case you want to know more about them, call them and read about them at

P.S. They already do home delivery of beef burgers under the brand name "The Burger Kitchen"!

Thursday, November 6, 2008

A Global Village

Was watching a program on MBC4, when an ad caught my attention. I had to wait for a couple of more ad breaks to see the repeat telecast of the ad.

Came back to Youtube to see if I could find the ad and I did, though, unfortunately I found only the English version of the ad! I googled for quite a while but could not find the Arabic version.

Its an ad for a toothpaste "Close-Up" - just watch it...

Ok, so what's so great about it? Nothing, except that it exemplifies what a global village the word has become!

If you watch the Arabic version, the ad shows an Indian girl romancing an European boy / Westerner in what appears to be a Chinese market, with a Hindi song in the background, and an Arabic voiceover, and, I am watching it in Egypt!

How much more global and integrated can you get?

P.S. Even though the voiceover in this ad is in English, the background score is beautiful! You need to catch the Arabic ad on MBC to appreciate what I mean!

Wednesday, November 5, 2008

City of Dead - Khankah of Sultan Farag Barquq

I think part of the problem of going to see the tombs in the City of the Dead is the complete lack of any signage of any sort which would help find the tombs you are looking for!

My driver used to work for a travel agency before, but even he shrugs his shoulders when its comes to this part of Cairo. "No English tourist come to cemetry" he looks at me rather accusingly! "Er... ana min el Hind, ana mish engeltera!"

I suspect he's not too happy, having to roam the "Qarafa" (the local name for the City of the Dead) but does not have too much choice, given the "idosynchrasies" of his expat employer, lol! Though I keep telling him to look at the brighter side of this - after we are gone, he can probably go back to work for a travel agency, and, this time take them to places where "no man has gone before"! Pardon the last line, but my son's current obsession with all things Star (Star Trek, Star Wars etc) is rubbing off on me!!!

So willy nilly, he had to ask around for the nexy tomb on my list.

Khankah of Sultan Farag Ibn Barquq
My second stop was the Khankah of Sultan Barquq which my driver mistook for another mosque. A Khanqah used to be a kind of hostel / monastery for the Sufis, where they could stay and learn. The tomb was built by his son Al-Nasir Faraj for him, but he was never buried here!

While he ensured a place in the history of Cairo's architecture for his father with this tomb, Al-Nasir Faraj, however had the misfortune of being "the most tragic king of Egypt". He took the throne at the age of ten, and was only twenty-three when he was deposed and killed in Damascus. The khanqah took so long to complete (eleven years), that during its construction the sultan was dethroned twice and traveled to Syria seven times to quell disturbances. His reign was really one of continual strife among the amirs .(

Given this background, wonder where he managed to find the time to build such a beautiful masoleum and kankhah? Lessons in time management, much to learn!
The khankah is rather special on account of two beautiful domes and two minarets. One can climb both minarets, from which there is a fairly panaromic view, not only of the necropolis but of the surrounding areas.

The place has a huge sprawling courtyard which makes you wonder that it may well have been used as a congregational mosque rather than only a madrasa / khankah.

In one corner are stairs which take you to the upper floor to what must have been the living quarters of the sufi scholars who stayed and studied here.

Couldn't see much beyond this, cos I had to be back home in time to pick my son up, but shall be back another day!