Friday, July 24, 2009


Today I'm sad and disgusted.

Usually - being one of life's eternal optimists - I can see a silver lining in the blackest of clouds, but not today.

Last year a fishing enthusiast who is the owner of a holiday apartment at the beach resort where we live, caught an Eagle Ray.

These beautiful creatures - which can measure as much as 2.5 metres from wingtip to wingtip and are considered endangered - are peaceful and harmless.
I've been fortunate enough to have them glide past me while I've been snorkelling.

Mr. Super Fisherman thought he was clever.

Not for him the patient waiting, the skillful reeling in of a catch. That was for mugs.

He had his own smart method.

He'd line up four or five rods on the beach, swim out over the small reef with a small live fish on each line as bait which he weighted down on the sea bed, leaving the unfortunate little fish trapped overnight in the hopes of attracting something larger.

He would then swagger up in the morning to see what he'd caught - or rather what had been unlucky enough to get hooked without any effort from him.

In this case the beautiful - and quite inedible - Eagle Ray which must have struggled for hours as it had half of it's jaw torn away as it tried to release itself from the huge hook and very thick fishing line.

The so-called fisherman discovered his "catch" very early in the morning, dragged it onto the beach and left it to die just so that we could all applaud his amazing skill at having landed such a monster.


How impressive.

Several other residents were as horrified as I was about this needless carnage and we agreed that this kind of fishing should not be allowed on the private beach of our resort.
We would however set aside a 10-metre stretch of beach - away from where we all swim and snorkel - for people who wished to fish and could sit there with their rods in their hands.

I even painted two signs by hand.

The "no dogs" part is not because I dislike them I hasten to add, but just that a few irresponsible owners let them run anywhere off the leash and foul the beach without cleaning up after them.

Mr. Fisherman was surprisingly amenable and willingly complied, but a couple of others - including a woman - made it plain that they were going to fish anywhere they chose.
This is despite the area in question being beside a little man-made lagoon where small children can safely splash around and learn how to swim.

There is also the beginnings of a new coral reef which is forming after having had years of desecration due to local fishing boats dynamiting the area and dragging nets through it.
We are delighted to see colourful reef fish begin to populate the area and new tiny pieces of coral take hold on the rocks.

Today as I came down to the beach, this woman was fishing directly onto the rocks where the fish are breeding.

She was defiant and rude when approached which shocked me as she is a teacher at an international school in Cairo and herself a mother of two children.

Doesn't she realise that she should be setting an example to others?

Doesn't she care that her kids - and future grandchildren - will grow up in a world that has been ruined by their parents?

Egypt has become over the past few years - and not a moment too soon either - aware of the importance of conserving natural resources and are trying to get across the message to the general public.

As an educator this woman cannot be ignorant of the damage that she's doing - even if it is on a very small and personal scale.

I don't see how the wider issues of conservation and climate change will ever be solved if there are people in charge of educating future generations who cannot see the importance of protecting and conserving what is right in front of them.

Which is why today I can only feel despair.

Friday, July 3, 2009


My very own Housework Genie - the wonderful Saber

One of the big pluses of life abroad is that you have Help In The House - or so I thought in naive innocence before embarking on my expat lifestyle.

I mean, what could be better than somebody taking all of that boring housework off your hands - and at a fraction of what it would cost back in Britain?

After arriving in Bahrain I did hear a few stories from others who'd been less than successful with their choices of housemaids or houseboys but hey! - I was the one who was going treat them better than any other employer had ever done, thereby ensuring a grateful and happy employee...right?

I made sure that the separate staff quarters in our garden had every comfort, put an ad in the local newspaper and started interviewing.

The pretty 24 year old girl I engaged borrowed my clothes while we were away on holiday - without my permission of course - and was stupid enough to be photographed wearing them while she was out with her friends, then left the pictures lying around in her room.

She also - it turned out, unbeknown to me - had a second "job" which involved numerous phone calls from men.....!

We thought we'd ensure this didn't happen again by hiring a married couple.
She was to help in the house and he as a general handyman in his spare time from his day job.

We soon discovered that she had an inordinate fondness for the contents of our drinks cupboard and to cap it all, he "borrowed" my new Suzuki jeep which had been a birthday present from my husband, drove it without a license and overturned it.
The fact that he had a can of beer in his hand at the time didn't help and we had to bail him out of prison before we sent them packing.

Eventually I was lucky enough to get a lovely lady who worked for us for many years without mishap though just before we left, her husband died and she had to return to her home country.

When we came to Egypt, I learned that here you employ local people rather than the other nationalities who had been the only ones to work as domestic help back in Bahrain.

Great, I thought....that means not having to go through all the documentation that hiring expatriate staff involves nor supplying an air ticket back to their homeland every couple of years.

Once again disillusionment set in as I discovered that in Egypt they use cleaning methods all of their own and even if you tell them that you want a job done a certain way, they nod their heads sagely - and then go back to their original method.

They know full well that eventually they'll wear you down and that you're going to get sick of telling them to change their ways.

They've got time on their side after all....they're the ancient civilisation who built the Pyramids aren't they?

My first girl was pleasant enough but she must have been a seal in a previous existence as she loved using as much water as possible when cleaning.

I came back from shopping to find that she'd used a hose to wash down the tiled walls and floor of our bathroom, leaving sodden towels and drowned toilet rolls in her wake.
I explained that this wasn't the way I wanted the job doing and she smiled and said she understood.

A couple of days later I found our new sofas standing in 10 cms of water and rugs floating like waterlily pads as she'd repeated her "water torture" method again on the living room floors - so it was time for us to part company and find someone else less inclined to turn our home into a water park.

After a few more - who metamorphosed into lazy slobs after a week or two, despite initially appearing keen and bright - we took on a mother and her daughter who seemed to be everything we wanted.
Clean and cheerful, they were hard workers who turned up on time, the house sparkled and the daughter ironed our clothes beautifully.

When a few items went missing from time to time - a pair of pretty bone china mugs for example - they always assured me that they hadn't seen them and as our home was quite large and rambling, I assumed that they'd turn up eventually.

Our ladies were extremely well paid, were treated like family and I was always giving them things so it wasn't possible that they'd steal from me.....was it?

Eventually a watch belonging to Hubby which had huge sentimental value as well as being very expensive - disappeared from a drawer. Nobody else could have been responsible for it's disappearance.

So it was with a heavy heart I had to say goodbye to them.

For the past five years we've had a young man working for us and - dare I say it - he's the best yet.

In fact I secretly believe that he's actually a genie, who appeared in a puff of smoke from one of my old glass bottles that I found in Old Cairo

Saber insists on using his own methods of cleaning (yes, I was worn down eventually) but these days I've learned to take the attitude that as long as the job is done properly without damaging anything, how he does it is his business.

For example, if he prefers to bend double and drag an old wet towel over the tiles while the excellent electric floor washer/polisher gathers dust in the cupboard, who am I to criticise as long as the floors are clean and shiny ?

He has so far - fingers and everything else crossed! - proved to be scrupulously honest and we do our part by having bought a safe and not leaving temptation in his way.

We just hope and pray to every known deity that he stays with us for a long, long time.

Tuesday, June 30, 2009


You know, whenever I tell somebody that I live in Egypt while I'm visiting Britain, the almost universal reaction is an incredulous look and the comment - "is it safe?"- and even when I assure them that it is, you can see the disbelief on their faces.

I've just been reading a report in a British daily newspaper about how an 82-year old lady was stabbed in broad daylight in London yesterday as she got off the bus with her carrier bags of groceries, going home to her husband for whom she is the sole carer.

This lady is only 5' 2" tall and the crime is apparently motiveless as it seems she wasn't robbed.
She is now fighting for her life in hospital.

Hardly a day goes by without at least one similar crime making the headlines and not just in the cities but increasingly in smaller towns too.

Now I know that I'm sometimes guilty of having a giggle at Egypt's expense - at their way of doing things, at the lack of organisation.

But one thing that I don't worry about is my personal safety, especially in broad daylight.

I can walk in old Cairo on my own (and often have done so when buying jewellery supplies) and my only fears are being hassled by an over-enthusiastic Tshirt or postcard seller.
Or "accidentally-on-purpose" having my breast or rear touched by a passing Lothario with sex on his mind. And I also know that if I complained about that loudly, I would instantly be surrounded by a dozen people who would take it upon themselves to protect me, even chasing after the offender.

A year or so ago there was a report of a mystery man in the suburb of Maadi who carried out random stabbing attacks on women - though they were only really cuts as he seemed to just lunge at them in passing and run off. Nobody was seriously injured.

When the young guy was caught he was sentenced to 43 years in prison with hard labour.

Now I know that Egypt has a notoriously bad human rights the crime figures here to those of Britain and the US.

In the UK the streets are are being terrorised by gangs of underage kids - girls as well as boys - who know that their only punishment will be probation and community service. Even the police don't scare them.

A friend who was visiting from the US was really surprised that I could sit in my parked car in the street without having to close the windows and lock the doors - and I was just as amazed to think that anybody would have to do that.

I'm not saying that Egyptians are angels - there's lots of petty pilfering and pickpocketing that goes on in Cairo.

Just that I'd like to send out the message that at least here, when you leave your home - or hotel if you're a tourist - you don't have to be in fear of your life.

Thursday, June 25, 2009


One of the engaging characteristics of the Egyptians is their sense of humour.

Although they'd be understandably affronted if a foreigner poked fun of the country, amongst themselves they have a wonderful wry humour about the foibles of their homeland.

I often get emails entitled "Only in Egypt" with photos showing some of the hilarious things that you can see on any street.......

.....such as this novel way that a tour bus driver has managed to prop up his vehicle whilst changing a flat tyre!

Or the donkey using the steps up to a flyover pedestrian crossing!

The picture above reminds us that it's definitely a man's world!

It seems that the architect for this building never graduated from primary school!

And pickup drivers have amazing confidence that their vehicles can carry everything!

All of this adds a sort of quirky sense of surprise to life and each time you go out, carrying a camera is a must.
Thank heavens that these days small digital cameras and mobile phones mean that you never miss a photo op.

I've coined a phrase for such things - "The E Factor" - which saves causing offense but conveys a sense of the wonderfully chaotic world which is Egypt.

Friday, June 19, 2009


When we first came to live in Egypt, home was a house surrounded by farm fields on the road between the Pyramids of Giza and Sakkara.

Rural Egypt is completely different from rural England where I'd grown up so every day was a discovery for me.

There were several varieties of date palms which were harvested around September by fearless farm workers who climbed up the tree trunks supported by a sling and carrying a huge flat basket.

When the big bunches of dates were cut from the trees by large curved knives they were tossed into the basket which was lowered to the ground with a rope before the man himself came down.

One day I opened the front door to find the branches of freshly cut dates plus the old boots of the farm worker lying there in such a way that it shouted "painting" to me!

I made some quick sketches and "The Date Harvest" in watercolours was finished a couple of weeks later.

Thursday, June 18, 2009

It's a tough life......................

I've lived near the sea all my life but never as close as I do now.

The majority of holidays were beach ones as it's always been my favourite environment.

I never thought that I'd be lucky enough to actually be able to walk to the beach in literally two minutes.
Egypt has - except for a couple of very hot months - a lovely climate so we appreciate being outside as much as we can.

Sometimes I'm lucky enough to swim with the dolphins who pass by

We're also able to grow some stunning flowers in our garden - Hibiscus, Frangipani and Bougainvillea - as well as cactus that flower several times each year.

Yes of course there are downsides to this lifestyle but for the most part they're far outweighed by the good.

And I never, ever, forget to count my blessings.

Saturday, June 6, 2009


I love living in the Middle East but one aspect that drives me nuts is the prevalent culture of the Macho Male.

The Macho Male, you must understand, is a self-proclaimed superior being. He is unshakable in his belief that he is the strongest as well as the most intelligent and above all is he never, ever wrong.

In his eyes women automatically fall at his feet regardless of whether he's a testosterone-fuelled teenager or a saggy old bloke who's so far past his sell-by date that he should be consigned to landfill.

The Macho Male at all times must remain aloof from mundane day to day domestic trivia as he loses Macho Points if seen to show the slightest interest in such unworthy dross.

Not for him the simple tasks of putting his used plate in the dishwasher or throwing his dirty socks in the laundry basket.

He must believe in good fairies or some such invisible powers as how else does a house run so smoothly as he's convinced that his womenfolk spend their lives doing frivolous, girly things.

For example how does carelessly discarded dirty laundry find it's way clean and folded back to the cupboard?

Who else can have created a buffet of lip-smackingly delicious dishes for a gathering of friends at home? And so on.

If he ever bothered to think about it, it would be a mystery to him.

It's not that Macho Male is deliberately being unkind - merely that he's never been taught to be thoughtful.

Coming from the kind of Western family where all the men helped around the house, I knew it didn't have to be that way and wondered at first if it was a genetic thing.

But it turns out that mostly it's the women who have brought it all on themselves.

I've come across countless mothers from all walks of life who dote on their sons and wait on them hand and foot whilst their daughters are expected to make themselves useful and even join their mothers in pampering their fathers and brothers to the extreme.

In turn the boys expect the superior treatment to continue when they get married and so it goes on ad infinitum.

Oddly enough the women are forever complaining amongst themselves at the general attitude of men, how lazy and helpless they are, without realising that the solution is in their own hands.

So ladies...yes, your son may well be a wondrous child but please don't turn him into a spoiled Macho Male.

Teach him to make his own bed, produce a simple meal and do the dishes once in a while and you will have the unwavering gratitude of generations of future wives.

And the Macho Male culture will be unceremoniously consigned to the past where it deserves to be.