In progress

Image

Flying over the Red Sea, between Saudi Arabia and the Sinai Peninsula

Over the last few weeks we’ve experienced many exciting and “blog worthy” things. While “the situation” in Cairo became increasingly complicated and terrible (especially this week), we were off exploring the rest of this amazing country. A trip down the Nile and back in time visiting the ancient sites from Luxor to Abu Simbel, relaxing in the heat of beautiful Aswan, then a last minute trip to celebrate Eid in laid back Dahab, including a hike up Mt. Sinai. All helped us adjust to and appreciate our new home country, despite its many problems. The day after we came back to Cairo we moved in to our new apartment. We have a yard!! Yay!
I have a bunch of posts in progress my drafts folder, but a few factors (plus the fact that I have and will always be bad at keeping on top of these types of things) have prevented me from keeping my dear (5?) readers up to date on our adventures. Before we left for our cruise the computer got a virus, then on our second day visiting all the breathtaking and majorly photographic ruins our good camera died! Of all the times for that to happen! Thankfully on day three some fellow tourists lent us their extra camera for the remaining two days, and my phone takes ok pics. Back in Cairo we found a place to order the needed camera part, and we bought an inexpensive camera as back up. And what’s a travel blog post without pictures?!! So I still need to upload photos off the various memory cards and sources before I can do our wonderful experiences justice and share them with you! Excuses excuses! Soon, I promise… (I just knew I would be the worst “blogger” of all time…)

And a brief update about “the situation”: we are doing well in Maadi, which is a safe neighborhood largely unaffected by what is happening in many other neighborhoods.What you see on the news is happening in isolated pockets far away from where we are. There is a curfew in effect, from 7pm to 6am, so we make sure to come home earlier in the evening. But during the day we hang out in some safe places with other people in order not to feel too isolated and trapped. Tal has been having a blast playing with all his new friends: Everyone simply loves him! Our new apartment is lovely, with the huge important bonus of a beautiful backyard (or “garden” as it’s called here). So we’re not as stir crazy as we would have been if we were still living in our last (strange and unhomey) apartment. We’ve explored much of Egypt, but have yet to explore Cairo. I’m antsy to get to know this city, but that will have to wait until things are more stable. Insha’allah.

(jc)

Umbrellas in Egypt

At the fruit market this afternoon, the man working the floor offers Jackie a slice of fresh mango.

Image

Last night, as we enjoy a meal on an outdoor terrace, a mango falls from a tree.  This particular mango falls from a tree and onto the head of a sorry woman eating at the table next to ours.  Only then – no rain, no shine – do we realize how fortunate we are to have an umbrella at our table.

[b]

We walked to the Nile

The name of our neighbourhood, Maadi, comes from the Arabic word for “ferry boat,” because it was once a place for people to cross the Nile. So we knew that if we walked in somewhat of the right direction we might be able to catch a glimpse of the river that gave life to one of the world’s oldest civilizations.

We had already walked most of the way across Maadi (from our apartment in Maadi Degla to Road 9, a main drag lined with shops) on another occasion, so the Nile looked doable on the map.  We walked to Road 9, followed it down and continued on, looking for a way to cross the train tracks that separate us from the other side of Maadi. Walking past a couple of mosques and a subway station, we finally found an overpass. We crossed and entered another world.

Overlooking the corniche side of the railway tracks.

Overlooking the corniche side of the railway tracks from the pedestrian overpass.

It was still Maadi, but this market area on the other side of the tracks seemed like the so-called “real” Egypt, the urban Egypt of your mind. There were donkeys pulling carts and baskets full of chickens and rabbits. The long-studied map was no longer of any help to us, as we had no idea what street we were on, so we just followed our instincts. We made it to a busy street and got completely confused, so Ben used his expanding Arabic to ask for directions (or as he says, pointed to the map, using well-pronounced but in the end totally out of place phrases!) to the Nile Corniche.  The corniche winds alongside the Nile and into Cairo.

Luckily we were not far from our destination, and after a block or two we caught our first glimpse of the great river! While I cannot say the Nile is awe-inspiring in itself, just knowing that it is the Nile is pretty amazing.

The mighty Nile

The mighty Nile viewed from the cafe.

We first had to make our way past a few young army men with machine guns. And tanks: there were three manned tanks.  (For security reasons, we assume, they were stationed outside one of the main entrances to Maadi, between the town and the corniche.)  A uniformed officer eventually stopped traffic in one direction to help us half way across the corniche, AKA boulevard of crazy-mayhem-traffic-death.

Finally across, we dashed for the first cafe in sight.  None of the other patrons was eating, just relaxing, Ramadan style.  The cafe kitchen was up and running, so “screw it” we thought and ordered a mezza platter, a salad, and some lower-case “d” drinks.

The mezza platter, unfortunately, was not as vegetarian as expected.  This, I only discovered after Ben informed me that the falafel I’d just eaten was actually a ball of beef!  I’m not going to die of that one kebab . . . but note to self: beware Cairo’s boulevards of doom!

The friendly hostess temporarily abducted Tal, and the two played while Ben and I enjoyed a few moments with our food.  Looking again at the crazy corniche, the decision to take a cab back was an easy one.  Ben practiced his Arabic instructions and we made it home, a few detours later, for $1.50.

I can see how one could get used to taking a taxi everywhere. It’s probably the single most affordable and practical luxury here.  But Maadi is so walkable, and I really enjoy experiencing my city from the pavement.  So I’ll do the walk again.  After all, for the first time in my life I can say, “I walked to the Nile.”

And a picture of Tal overlooking the Nile, because we all know that's why you are here ;)

And a picture of Tal overlooking the Nile, because we all know that’s why you are here ;)

[j]

PRIDE to Protests

I started a bare bones draft of this post in Toronto, but things got crazy busy with the move, and it has just been sitting in my drafts folder for over a week now. A lot has happened since then. It was right after PRIDE weekend, and before Morsi was forced to step down. We were following the news in Egypt closely and unsure of the timing of our upcoming move, which was far from perfect to say the least.

Our Toronto apartment building surrounded by half the city. PRIDE 2013

Our Toronto apartment building surrounded by half the city. PRIDE 2013

It was especially interesting to juxtapose what was happening in our future home with what had just taken place on our very doorstep in Toronto’s gaybourhood. For the last 5 years PRIDE has significantly disrupted our daily life for a week every summer. Every year I dread its arrival, but eventually every year I can’t help but get in the spirit of things. PRIDE is LOUD — our dilapidated apartment was surrounded by three stages which pumped competing heavy Euro-beat dance music into the wee hours of the morning, shaking our poor apartment. But PRIDE is LOVE — the atmosphere is so full of love, acceptance, and celebration that it is impossible not to love it. Tens of thousands flock to our neighbourhood to celebrate, party, see and be seen. But it is so safe, you never hear of anything bad happening.

The last day of PRIDE, June 30th, marked one year of Morsi being in power. We were warned 10 days ahead of time about the scheduled anti-Morsi protests that were to happen in Egypt on that day. We had no idea what to expect. But the mass protests that broke out over the next week were so different, yet still somewhat similar in various ways to the crazy love fest that had just happened on our doorstep. I don’t really know what to write about what is happening right now in Egypt, but some Egyptians would surely say it also involves love.

I guess we always choose interesting places to call home.

[j]

P.S. I must make note that we feel safe where we live in Cairo and are very removed from the areas where the protests and demonstrations are taking place. It feels bizarre to know our city is so central in the news right now, when we go outside it seems like none of that is happening. But we remain extra careful.

Friday: Enjoy the Silence

Today was our first day out and about on a Friday, the holy day, during and after the jum’ah services. It’s the first Friday of Ramadan.

It’s standard to hear the call to private prayer five times over the course of any given day and night, but the difference here’s that the call to prayer happens before the jum’ah, which is communal. And the jum’ah accompanies a sermon.

If ever, these are the instants that will spill into the streets, and the days on which protests and demonstrations are planned. We’re also hearing that demonstrations have been scheduled to coincide with tonight’s iftar (the breaking of the daily fast during Ramadan). So the silence doesn’t last long.

A quiet day in Maadi Sarayat.

A quiet day in Maadi Sarayat.

Read what you will into the Friday silence. And it’s tempting to do so: compared to the non-stop hubbub of city life, the silence tightens the air. Gone for a short time is the chattering of car horns, and what you hear in its place are the voices of sermonizers over loudspeakers. Men gather on greens, listening. Nearby, women huddle together.

For what it’s worth, we’re in one of the safest parts of Cairo – and almost all of Cairo is safe – and we stay clear of “hotspots.”

As always, be aware, but learn to enjoy the silence.

[b]

Call me Cairo

“Call me Cairo.”  We have arrived!

We land shortly past 5 AM on the first day of Ramadan.  As we enter the airport we’re greeted by a representative of the university – a friendly and characterful Egyptian fellow.  It’s his 37th year on the job, he says, as he whisks us through the required airport stations.  A handshake here, a duck into a smoke-filled office there, and we emerge magically with visas in hand.  Some waiting for the luggage, stamps at the customs desk, and – presto! – Cairo.

Jet lagged, we are happy to arrive at our apartment in the leafy neighbourhood of Maadi.

Here is a view from the balcony of our temporary apartment:

Image

Maadi, Cairo: balcony view.

[b]

Welcome

After a number of requests (and my own secret desire) to start a blog in order to provide updates and chronicle our daily life in the land of the Pharaohs, here we are! My main initial obstacle was finding a suitable blog name, apparently I have a tendency to lean towards the punny and embarrassing in my choices… “Sun and Moon Letters” was inspired by Ben’s initial attempt to learn Arabic. A few months ago he told me about this poetic phrase which describes two categories of Arabic letters (I know no Arabic yet, so I can’t offer any further insight). It’s beautiful yet mundane, relevant to our new life yet not too Cairo or Egypt specific. And I like it enough for it to stick with me for a while (insha’alla). I’m not sure how much I will be able to update this site, but here we go! Days to departure: 5