Saturday, December 31, 2011

Egypt to reassure diplomatic ties following raids on NGO offices

This past week saw yet another question mark raised in how exactly Egypt wishes to continue with their diplomatic relations with Western nations. The raid by security of 17 NGOs, under the auspices of alleged concern over foreign funding received, has been met with alarm and diplomatic outrage by not only the US, but the UK and Germany as well. Below the BBC provides a report on the increasingly strained ties between Egypt and the West, and how Egypt is in turn attempting to assuage their fears.

Egypt has reassured the US that it will stop raids on the offices of non-governmental organisations (NGOs), the US state department says.
Officials said property seized in the raids would be returned to the groups, which include two based in the US.
Defence Secretary Leon Panetta has spoken to Egypt's military ruler by phone to discuss the issue, they added.
Egypt raided the offices of 17 NGOs in Cairo on Thursday, after expressing concern over foreign funding.
The country's ruling military council has said repeatedly it will not tolerate foreign interference in the country's affairs.
But the US reacted sharply to the move, condemning it as an attack on democratic values and hinting that it could review the $1.3bn (£0.84bn) in annual US military aid to Cairo if such incidents continued.
'Normal operations'
On Friday, Mr Panetta and the US ambassador to Egypt, Anne Patterson, spoke to top Egyptian officials including military ruler Field Marshall Mohamed Tantawi, the US state department said.
"The ambassador has sought and received Egyptian leadership assurances that the raids will cease and property will be returned immediately," spokeswoman Victoria Nuland said in emailed comments.
"She has also made clear that we expect all international NGOs, including those that receive US government support, be able to return to normal operations as soon as possible in support of the democratic transition underway in Egypt."
David Kramer, the director of the US human rights watchdog Freedom House, told the BBC that while the reassurance was welcome, it was not enough to undo the damage.
Mr Kramer, whose office was among those raided, said some of his seized property had still not been returned.
Thursday's raids were part of a probe by Egypt into allegations of illegal funding from abroad.
Evidence suggested some groups were violating Egyptian laws, including by not having permits, prosecutors were quoted as saying on Thursday.
But analysts said they were part of a broader move by the ruling military council to silence dissent after months of criticism of its human rights record.
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (Scaf) has been running Egypt since a popular uprising ousted former President Hosni Mubarak in February.
But in recent months the military government has found itself the focus of protests, as activists questioned its commitment to democratic reform.

Thursday, December 29, 2011

Back from a Hiatus

I'm back online after a week long Hiatus, during which I travelled to the Sinai peninsula. I'll be updating my blog with the details of these travels, including hot spots in Dahab for eating, snorkelling, and more :)

In the meantime, I hope that everyone has had a wonderful Christmas, and that 2012 will bring love and light to everyone reading! Happy New Year! 

Sunday, December 18, 2011

The US war in Iraq is officially over!!!

Today marks the day that the last U.S. convoy leaves Iraq, leaving a country that is learning to stand on its own two democratic feet. It has been a long nine years, and has cost Iraq and the U.S. dearly. I hope that Iraq becomes a beacon for the rest of the Arab world on what real political cohesiveness and positive outlooks for the future can bring about for a country, even one devastated by war. Below, a report from Aswat al-Iraq on the last U.S. convoy to leave Iraq and signal the end of a nine year conflict.

BAGHDAD / Aswat al-Iraq: The last US Army convoy has crossed Iraq's borders into Kuwait on Sunday at dawn, officially ending the withdrawal of the American Forces from Iraq.

The final withdrawal comes after 9 years of war and military interference, resulting in the deaths of 4,500 Americans and tens of thousands of Iraqis, Reuters News Agency reported.

"The last US convoy, including 100 American armored vehicles, carrying 500 soldiers, have crossed Iraq's southern desert during Saturday night, on the main highway leading to the Kuwaiti borders," Reuters added.

US Staff Sergeant Christian Schutlz said, prior to leaving Contingency Operating Base Adder, 300 km to the south of Baghdad, and heading for border, “It’s good to see this thing coming to a close. I was here when it started."

"I saw a lot of good changes, a lot of progress, and a lot of bad things too," he added.

Friday, December 16, 2011

Where to Go - Glow

Christmas in Egypt is unique, to say the least. Whereas in Europe and the U.S. you are bombarded by lights, music, carolers, trees, santas, elves, etc. pretty much wherever you go, here you're lucky to find a small Christmas display in certain shops. These displays inevitably involve the same tinsel, the same Christmas ornaments, and the same big bottles of "champagne" stuffed with chocolates. Ah, I can't forget, the 'fizzy non-alcoholic wine' of course.

As a result, as friends start posting pictures of their trees on facebook and elsewhere, a strange pattern emerges. "Hey...I have those EXACT same decorations on my tree!" Coincidence? Not really, as there's likely only one manufacturer of ornaments in Egypt / importing into Egypt.

This means that Christmas shopping for people at this time of year, or looking for that unique ornament to set your tree aside becomes very difficult. While Senzo mall has a decent array of Christmas supplies, they are limited in what you can give as seasonal gifts for this time of year.

Even more difficult than the hunt for gifts? The search for Christmas wrapping paper. I cannot tell you how many places I went to before I was able to find wrapping paper that wouldn't run out after wrapping one present!

Glow is located right behind the Sheraton street Metro, and is a great place to go to get niff-nacks throughout the year. I know that Glow has ribbons for sale, and throughout the year standard wrapping paper, so I thought I would give it a try.

I was pleasantly surprised. Glow is jam packed with Christmas goodies. Ranging from light up snowmen you won't find elsewhere in Hurghada, to stockings, to Christmas decorations, to multitudes of wrapping paper, to perfect stocking stuffers and fillers for crackers, I'm sure my eyes popped out of my head a little upon walking in.

Wrapping paper is sold by the sheet, and although a little bit on the expensive side at 7 LE for one, I purchased 5 sheets and had plenty left over to spare. Alongside wrapping paper, they have perfect stars to stick to pressies, little "to and from" tags, Christmas gag gifts, ornamental displays, table covers, Christmas candles, gifts ideal for youngsters, and so on. Really I cannot detail everything on here, so instead I recommend that you head out there yourself and get your Christmas shopping spirit lifted!

Glow's opens at 11 a.m, in the morning, shuts for an afternoon break and then re-opens at 5 p.m. Pass by and check out their Christmas array for yourself, they are located just behind the Metro on Sheraton Street, Hadaba.

Merry Christmas! 

Tuesday, December 13, 2011

Ginger snaps

It's that time of year again when baking becomes a natural past-time. This year I'm embarking on making a new selection of goodies, including minced pies, of which I will post the recipe later. 

A few years ago I posted a recipe for Sparkling Ginger Cookies, and although this is similar, these Ginger Snaps are in a league of their own. I have had multiple people who have tasted these request the recipe, so your wish is my command! Below find the recipe for a delectable Christmas treat, sure to go over well with any crowd. As per usual, I found an original recipe (in this case in the Joy of Cooking) and altered it to fit my needs - and through trial and error. In my opinion their recipe had too much ginger; it made the cookies far too spicy, so I reduced quantities as necessary. 

Here's what you'll need. 

1 3/4 cups fine baking flour
3/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/4 teaspoon baking soda
2 teaspoons ginger
1 teaspoon cinnamon
1/8 teaspoon ground cloves 
6 tablespoons softened butter (unsalted)
3/4 cup white sugar (or you can do half white half brown)
1 large egg
1/4 cup dark molasses
1/4 teaspoon grated lemon zest
1 teaspoon fresh lemon juice


Preheat your oven to 350 Fahrenheit (176 Celsius). Although Joy calls to grease a cookie sheet, I have found that the butter already in the recipe makes it so the cookies don't stick as it is. So it's your call to grease or not :)

Mix together your dry ingredients (flour, baking powder, baking soda, ginger, cinnamon and cloves) and add a pinch of salt. -- I bought fresh cloves and crushed them myself, I love the smell of fresh cloves! 

Beat together your butter and sugar until fluffy. 

Add to your butter mix your egg, molasses, lemon zest and lemon juice. Mix until well combined. 

Gradually stir in the flour mixture until well mixed. 

Roll out little balls (about the size of a bouncy ball) and place on your baking sheet. 

Bake for about 10-12 minutes each. If you want softer cookies, bake for 8 minutes. 

Alternatively, once you've rolled the dough into balls, you can also then coat with a sugar / cinnamon mix for a little extra sweetness on top. 

Bon appetit!!!

Sunday, December 11, 2011

Hurghada's TNR

Anyone who has ever been to Egypt will often remark on one thing: the amount of stray cats and dogs that roam throughout the streets. Hurghada is no different, and various areas throughout the city are home to dog packs and ferral cats.

To combat this problem, the government (or even individual citizens) will throw poisoned meat down. This creates huge issues, as far too many people have lost their own dogs or cats to poison. Not only this, but it poses a grave danger to children were they to come in contact with it.

Residents of Hurghada want to ensure the realisation that poison is not the way to deal with the issue is brought about by the death of a child. Instead, the community has come together to provide a sustainable solution to the issue.

The Blue Moon animal shelter, run by a dedicated woman Monica, has launched a mass TNR programme, whereby residents in Hurghada will bring by ferral cats and stray dogs on designated days. The animal will be neutered, given worming meds and rabies jabs, tagged to ensure it's clear it's been taken in, and re-released to the streets.

This entire process is not as easy as it sounds, and has taken a huge level of collaboration between residents and the Blue Moon shelter. For the next few weeks, every Tuesday groups will be collecting dogs and cats throughout Hurghada, bringing them to the Blue Moon, and re-releasing them at the end of the day.

I've already had our building's ferral cat, nicknamed Bravie, spayed. She's already had 2-3 litters of kittens, and alone has contributed to the growing cat population around my street. She was easy as she's very used to human contact, and since her surgery has adopted my front door as  her new home, meowing in the morning when she's ready for her breakfast.

If you have any questions or you want to find out how you can get involved, feel free to use the tab above and contact me, and I'll let you know what area they will be targeting next.

Initiatives like this fuel hope that one day the problem of strays in Egypt will actually be brought under control, as long as we all work together!

Orien and Bravie chilling on a very dusty balcony!

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Watch out for those cucumbers ladies!

Every once in a while you'll find a gem of a quote that is just so far fetched, it has to be true. Today is one of those days. Ladies, I'm sure you will enjoy this one as much as I did.

Love me some Cucumber!
Image from Bikya Masr
An unnamed sheikh, ironically enough residing in Europe, has recently warned that women should stay away from fruits such as bananas and cucumbers, in order to avoid any "sexual thoughts." Featured in an article on el-Senousa news, the sheikh has said that these fruits "resemble the male penis," and accordingly could cause arousal in the women or "make them think of sex."

I don't know about you, but I definitely love some sexy fruit!

Added to the list of 'forbidden sexy foods' were carrots and zucchini. When asked by the interviewer what women should do who wish to eat these foods, he advised that a male, preferably husband, father or brother, should cut up the fruit / veg into smaller pieces - out of eye shot of the women lest we start having any inappropriate thoughts.

The interview also questioned the sheikh what should be done for women when out grocery shopping who wish to purchase these items, to which he responded "this is a matter between her and God."

I'm so glad that we have these outrageous statements around to keep us on the right path. At least this will make your next shopping experience that much more entertaining!

And to the 'unnamed sheikh,' I must ask, pray tell - what would you tell women about the fruit from the magnolia tree, pictured below? :-o

For further reading, click here. 

Sunday, December 4, 2011

Hurghada protests suggested boat tax

Boating and snorkelling trips are one of the hot commodities as far as tourism excursions go in the Red Sea. Hurghada is no exception. It's unlikely that you can run into anybody who has come to spend time on the sea-side resort town who will not be taking a boat trip. Diving, trips to surrounding islands, boat parties, snorkelling outings, dolphin sighting trips, the list goes on. There is no shortage in boat trips to choose from. This made recent suggestions to impose a 10 LE per person per boat tax a seemingly great way to earn some extra revenue.  

It came as a surprise to tour operators and boat owners when last week the Governor of Hurghada, newly appointed after the Revolution, announced plans to impose a 10 LE charge (just under 2 dollars) per person, per boat trip, for all companies. This included live aboards, dive trips, down to the average boat ferrying people back and forth to Giftun island. This 10 LE surcharge was in addition to the taxes and fees already paid by each company to the government, taxes that include environmental protection taxes, security taxes, marine taxes, the list goes on.

A protest was organized for today, Sunday, among tour groups, boat owners, and excursion companies. Approximately 200 protesters all gathered in front of Hurghada's Naval building, located near the Nile Hospital. Their demands were simple. At a time when tourism in Egypt is already suffering as a result of continued unrest, companies do not need additional unnecessary surcharges per client, particularly when the destination of this surcharge was not clarified.

The protesters were gathered on a well-travelled road in Hurghada, and consequently took great care to ensure they were not disrupting the normal flow of traffic. The protest was peaceful and orderly, with one 'spokesman' leading the chants with the protesters demands.

Ultimately, the end result proved successful. The governor initially promised to "look over" the proposal and see if it could be amended, but following pressure from the protesters - who promised a sit-in did the governor not comply - the governor recanted his initial statements, ensuring protesters that the tax would not be imposed.

Below are some shots from the protest, all photos copyright Karim Mubariz.

The leader of the protest, shouting out their demands 

Down on the street, protesters urged people upwards
to ensure normal flow of traffic.

Close up of the "spokesman"

Monday, November 28, 2011

Voting in Egypt gets underway

What an exciting day for Egypt today. The start of what is hoped will be true democracy in the country. Even Google has gotten in on the Egyptian spirit.

Already there are reports of votes being 'bought' and individual lists and candidates handing out sugar, tomatoes, and meat to entice Egyptians to vote for their party, as well as reports indicating that again the dead are able to cast their votes. But I have not confirmed any of this, and it's not surprising to see rumours abound. I did however pass the polling station closest to my house earlier on today, and was happy to see people queuing up to cast their votes, with army and police personnel stationed around the entrance to help provide security. The next few months will be a telling time for the future of Egyptian politics, and I wish everyone today who is out there voting the best of luck. Yalla Masr!

For live updates on the progress of the elections, provided by al-Masri al-Yawm, click here

Wednesday, November 23, 2011

Ongoing unrest in Egypt

I have intentionally stayed quiet on this topic for a few days now for a few reasons. One being that I'm not in Cairo this time around, so I only have what I'm seeing on the media to go by and the last Revolution at least taught us that the media is only showing about 10 percent of what's really going on.

One thing I would like to highlight is that although through the media it looks as though the entire fabric of Egypt is collapsing again, this is not the case. In Hurghada we are very much isolated from what is going on, and were anyone to ask me "is it safe to come to the Red Sea at the moment," my answer would immediately be yes. We are already starting to see the repercussions of the unrest in Cairo, with the Egyptian pound weakening and the markets already closing early on Wednesday. Of course the primary objective at the moment is to restore peace and stability to the country, and my heart goes out to those in Tahrir fighting for their freedom. But I cannot let myself get caught up in the fervor and make it out that the entire country is on the verge of breaking down. As K said to me yesterday, were it not for the news and the internet we really wouldn't have any idea of what was going on in the rest of the country from here in Hurghada.

I said this yesterday, and I will repeat it again here. As we are all watching the scenes in Cairo and throughout the rest of Egypt unfold, I would like to take this time to remind everyone that aggression and hostility will not help anyone. The continuing tensions are undoubtedly causing cracks in the surface. We must remember to be patient when listening to others, when dealing with others in the streets. We must remember the fundamental cores of democracy that the people in Tahrir are fighting for. The right to freedom of expression, the right to live securely. If we can all remember these little facets of what the original revolution was meant to be about, together we can hope to keep the fabric of Egyptian society strong.

My thoughts are with my friends in Tahrir, and with those I hold dear in Cairo. Please let us at least remember some of the lessons we were taught in the last revolution: spreading discord and rumours will only come to bite us in the long run. Check before you're posting anything, and be patient with those around you. Remember that as expats, no matter how much we feel that Egypt is our home, this is an Egyptian fight. The best role that we can play at the moment is to stand back, show our support, help with supplies when necessary, and avoid falling into the trap of believing everything that we read. 

Saturday, November 19, 2011

Red Sea Earthquake

This morning I felt like I'd transplanted myself back a few years to when I used to live in California. At 9:12 a.m. this morning, the Red Sea was hit by a series of "mini quakes" felt throughout Sharm and Hurghada, with the highest registering a 4.1 on the Richter scale.

As is the norm in a country that isn't regularly hit by earthquakes, the rumours have started. It didn't take long for news outlets to begin reporting that there were experts 'predicting' that there would be another, bigger quake to follow the series of quakes this morning.

So, I'm here to blow open some of these myths about earthquakes, and tips on what you can do if you find the ground shaking under your boots.

Let's visit the first, and perhaps most common myth in Egypt, that experts can "predict" earthquakes. This is entirely false. While their predictions may seem to come true, these are aftershocks from the initial tremor, and rarely if ever exceed the magnitude of the first quake. As the U.S. Geological Survey says: "Neither the USGS nor Caltech nor any other scientists have ever predicted a major earthquake. They do not know how, and they do not expect to know how any time in the foreseeable future. However based on scientific data, probabilities can be calculated for potential future earthquakes."

Another common myth that accompanies earthquakes, which I myself have been prone to telling people, is that the safest place you should find refuge is a door frame. Myth. California's Department of Conservation explains:  The safest place to be in an earthquake is under a doorway. That's true only if you live in an unreinforced adobe home. In a modern structure the doorway is no stronger than the rest of the building. Actually, you're more likely to be hurt (by the door swinging wildly) in a doorway. And in a public building, you could be in danger from people trying to hurry outside. If you're inside, get under a table or desk and hang on to it.

I was told this morning by an individual that they had been told ground floor apartments were safer in the event of an earthquake, because you would be able to run outside if it struck. This fails to take into consideration two very important factors. One: The time it takes you to get outside may not be much shorter than the actual length of the quake, which are often less than 30 seconds long. Unless you're standing right by your front door, can you make it out of your house in under 30 seconds? Two: In Egypt we face the problem of buildings that are not constructed to an "earthquake code." This means that the ground floor is actually one of the more dangerous floors to be on, as the building can pancake in on itself during an earthquake. If you look back to the Cairo quake of 1992, most of the fatalities occurred due to buildings collapsing and panicked people stampeding out of buildings. The New York Times reported that over 100 school children were trampled as they attempted to run out of their school building. 

Finally, one of the hot contended topics is that animals can "predict" earthquakes. This is not 100 % proven, nor is it dis-proven. As dogs in particular are known for their sensitive hearing, the chances are more likely that they hear the deep rumblings of the earth long before we do. Often animals will seek refuge in corners, or under beds, but you can rest assured that they most likely know the safest place to be in your house. Fortunately (or unfortunately?) for us, Orien was sleeping at my feet this morning, and did little more than grunt and roll over. Very tense dog we have :p 

So, overall things to remember: 

No - earthquakes cannot be predicted. 

Yes - you should seek refuge under a desk or table. Check out more information on the "triangle of life." 

For a more detailed list of frequently asked earthquake questions, click here.  

Where to Go - Continental Stables

This weeks Where to Go falls into the sports and outdoorsy categories, the Continental Stables.

Located at the Continental Hotel, on Mamsha in Hurghada, the Continental Stables is sure to offer you the perfect horse riding experience. Their location puts them in the perfect locale to arrange desert rides or beach rides, and they have a menage ideal for lessons or working on your own skills and techniques. For the rider craving a little bit more adventure, day rides into the mountains surrounding Hurghada are also offered. Although, for those who are not used to riding - five hours in the saddle will render you incapable of walking the next day; consider yourself warned ;)

Our little celebrity Chico - Is always a hit with experienced
The Continental Stables are run and managed by Claire and Mohammed, who have been working together in the equine industry for many years. Claire is a certified British Horse Association trainer, and offers lessons in a wide range of disciplines. Always yearned to learn how to jump? Or fancy taking on some 'horse ballet' more commonly known as dressage? The Continental Stables have the horse suited to your skills and needs.

Desert rides
One thing that the stables are doing to make a name for themselves is throwing themselves into the world of Hurghada kids. Busy Bees Nursery holds a monthly flea market (with the next one scheduled for the 9th of December), where the Continental Stables also participates. They offer pony rides to the younger children, moulding the next generation of horse enthusiasts.

Programmes offered through the stable include leasing and livery, or simply riding lessons or riding out with experienced guides. Also in the works is a children's educational programme, whereby the young riders will be taught how to hone their riding skills, basic care and maintenance of a horse, how to tack up and general horse care. The objective is to ensure that lessons with the Continental Stables guarantee a well-rounded programme.

And yes, for those wondering, this is the same location as the rescue barn :) Added bonus: Develop your riding skills, and meet the new rescue cases brought in by the stable and their dedicated team.

For more information contact Mohammed on: 018-365-2325. Horses are available for all levels of riders, camel rides are also available. Groups are welcome. If you have any other questions you may hit the 'contact me' button above.

Happy trails! 

Wednesday, November 16, 2011

Maadi thugs use stun guns to attack females

Reposting from Simply LeAnne, for all women in and around Maadi please watch out for this gang. When possible, avoid walking alone, as it is evident that daylight does not deter these men.

Watch out for a dark blue Mitsubishi with three males around the age of 25-30-years-old who are now using a stun gun to attack.

Photo Source:
It’s no secret that crime rate has skyrocketed in Egypt post-revolution, but the petty thefts that were occurring seem to have taken a new, dangerous tone.

In the Maadi area around Sakanat, Mustafa Kamel and Road 13 there are three stories that are similar and confirmed, but last night a new twist was added.

There is a car with men patrolling this area looking for easy targets: women. The other day, a woman was standing near her friend’s home with her purse strapped across her shoulders when a car pulled up pretending to park. All of the sudden, the guys jumped out and pushed the female to the ground and attempted to take her purse. A group of drivers were nearby and came to the woman’s aid and the culprits immediately jumped in the car, unsuccessful in their attempt, and drove away. Escalation #1: The thugs saw the other men standing nearby and were not deterred.

It gets worse. Last night (November 15) a car with the same MO (although it could be a group of people committing the same actions with various cars) was scouting the same area. The car is a dark blue Mitsubishi with three males around the ages of 25-30 years old. The attack happened at 11 am, but the daylight bit with all the people on the street isn’t even the worst part. The worst part is that now a stun gun is being used. The female was attacked by a stun gun while the men attempted to get her in the car. Unsuccessful, they tried for her purse and ended up dragging her from Road 13 to Mustafa Kamel street. They did get her purse and she is currently in the hospital. My thoughts and prayers go out to her.

Another similar, but unsuccessful attempt was made on another woman in the same area.

The problem is that despite onlookers being present, the thugs seem to have no qualms about executing their actions. God only knows what would have happened to this poor woman should they have gotten her inside their car. The more worrisome aspect is that now a stun gun is being used.

This is one of the many problems post-revolution and it will only get worse as elections near. When many of you watched from afar the media reports, you saw stones being thrown and sticks being used as weapons. Now it is relatively easy to find artillery and the like. In fact, I’ve seen an AK-47 and hand grenades just lying about at a house. The EVEN MORE worrisome aspect is that people don’t know how to properly use this equipment which makes me fearful of the violence that could ensue during elections or in the likely event that the elections are delayed again, the out lash from various people.

Ladies, please begin keeping some weapon on you at all times. Even if you don’t believe in a weapon per se for fear it might be used against you, please have some self-defense gear ready and don’t expect the men on the street to come to your defense. It isn’t that they won’t, but don’t count on it. And if you can avoid it, do not walk alone.

Thursday, November 10, 2011

Hurghada Rental Cars and Taxis

Recently there has been an apparent increase in road accidents in and around the Hurghada area. They often involve buses being driven by unlicensed drivers, stoned drivers, or simply people that consider themselves the next Michael Schumacher. These drivers are also rampant in Taxis and personal cars. There is no lack in crazy drivers in Hurghada.

For many people that reside in and around the Red Sea area, this begs the question "How can I get to my destination safely?" Getting into a microbus usually means that you will be taking hairpin turns at breakneck speeds, while dealing with not so savory clientele that will accompany you on your microbus journey. For those of us that don't have cars, this leaves taxis as the only option. So we get into a stranger's car, assuming that they are in fact taxi drivers, and hope that they are both licensed and considerate drivers. This is not always the case.

In travelling throughout Hurghada lately, it seems that the number of taxis on the roads driven by children are increasing exponentially. Just the other day, I had to wave away three cabs whose drivers looked not a day over fifteen. Seeing as how many people in Egypt are able to get their driving license by paying a little extra, this is a worrying trend.

Also worrying, is not knowing if your taxi driver is one of the many drivers in Egypt that uses chemicals and drugs to keep himself awake. Cocaine, hashish, dramadol, the list goes on. For many, working long hours into the night is the only way of ensuring that they will be able to cover their expenses, and therefore rely on drugs to see them through. This of course does not include the growing "taxi mafia" such as what you see in locations like Senzo Mall, or that I see directly in front of the Continental Hotel in Mamsha. Taxis will park outside, and knowing that the amount of taxi traffic that passes by is minimal, will quote you outrageous prices - double, often triple what you should legally be paying. Should you tell one taxi driver no, the next taxi driver will quote you the same price - they know that by sticking together you'll end up with no choice but to accept the higher rates. Most frustrating however, is when you tell the drivers that they should do what is legally required of them, i.e. turn on their meter. This will often result in ridicule and curses flung at you, for daring to suggest they actually work by the book. Interesting aside: if taxis are caught going through police check points in Hurghada and do NOT have their meter on, they face immediate fines ranging between 50 LE (just under ten dollars) up to 300 LE. To avoid this fine, you'll notice the cheeky taxi drivers unabashedly turn on their meter just before the check point.

This doesn't even go anywhere near the number of unlicensed taxis that are driving around. For anyone reading this, pay attention to the numbers listed on the side of the taxi cab. If that number is not there, do not get into the taxi. Their registration numbers should be clearly visible, otherwise you have no way of ensuring they are actually registered and licensed. To help residents get around Hurghada, a facebook group has been created documenting both the white listed and reliable taxi drivers, and the black listed taxis that should be avoided. Reasons for their blacklisting include: theft, groping, vulgar language, over-charging, drug use, among others. I recommend you check this link and find a decent and reliable taxi driver - only then will we start to see the number of maniacs reduced on the streets.

For those journeys that you just cannot take with a taxi, renting a car is the only other option. Renting a car in Hurghada is an entirely different headache on its own. You will face either extortionate prices, up to 400 LE a day with a kilometer limit of about 100 km a day, to paying 120 LE a day for a car that will break down within 2 hours of leaving the shop.

Rental cars here are not strictly regulated like they are outside of Egypt. We have rented cars and had to immediately change the oil, reverse our direction to find out what fell off the bottom of the car, dealt with broken and bunk CD players and other electronics in the car, cracked windscreens, and don't even get me started on the tires. For us to rent a car, our first destination has always got to be the mechanic to ensure that the car will safely get us to our destination. If you find any problems, the rental company will tell you it's "not their issue," and that the car was "just fine when you took it." Should you have to pay extra money to get the car working, don't expect to see that money come back to you.

Now the above points are assuming you even GET the car. K and I have had to deal with rental companies in Hurghada more times than I care to mention. We will put in the request for the rental car up to three days in advance, and are always assured "no problem, the car will be here on the day you request." Come the day that we are meant to pick it up, they are always "en route" from either Cairo or Marsa Alam. Once the rental company has told you the car is on its way, and should be expected within a few hours, they will stop answering your phone calls. Normally, 12-24 hours later, they will phone you and let you know that the "car has arrived" and you may now pick it up. Forget about having to get to your destination on time: rental car companies here have no way of ensuring that the cars are returned to them on the days they are meant to. Better still: You are still expected to pay the price you were originally quoted, even if you have to wait an extra day to get the car and potentially miss the appointment you needed the car for in the first place.

The Egyptian idiom of "mafish mushkela" (no problem) and "InshAllah" (God willing) rule in the rental world. If you're looking to rent a car in the Red Sea, expect to pay extortionate prices and not be able to drive anywhere outside of the city limits (or end up paying a dollar extra PER KM you go over), or to pay an acceptable price and have no guarantee that your car will arrive on time. I should note, the last car we rented came through one of the "expensive" rental companies, and this was the car that had items falling off the bottom chassis of the car, with the electronics not working, and overall a P.O.S. vehicle for paying close to 75 dollars a day.

So what's our end solution? Buy our own car. That seems to be the only way to avoid all the hassle and unreliability of taxi cabs and rental companies here. And buying a car? That's a wholeeeee other can of worms that I will open in a blog in the future. 

Sunday, November 6, 2011

Egypt's media needs a revolution

Brilliant article providing insight into how media in Egypt is run. Posted by The Guardian's Austin Mackell, read on.

As Egypt's deeply flawed parliamentary elections approach and the revolution struggles to maintain momentum, the battle over the media – and TV in particular – is of great importance. In a country with an illiteracy rate of 40%, television is the main and most trusted source of news. This is not lost on Egypt's activists, who are busy looking for ways to reach those outside the informed and critical Twitter/Facebook circles that have been the central means of spreading dissent so far.
Alaa Abd El Fatah, the prominent blogger who is currently imprisoned, was among a group of activists hoping to set up a nonprofit broadcaster in Egypt. Such a channel would still be vulnerable to direct military intervention (troops have entered TV studios on at least three occasions, and in the case of al-Jazeera Mubasher they seized equipment and forced the channel off air). It would, however, prevent the military rulers and other establishment figures leaning on a single owner or group of owners to control the channel's coverage.
That practice – in some ways more insidious than outright censorship – is said to be rife. The activists are not alone in making this accusation; prominent journalist Yosri Foda recently cancelled his show Akher Kallam("The Last Word") saying that if he couldn't tell the truth, he would say nothing at all. Unfortunately, such journalistic integrity is far from universal in the Egyptian media. More common is what Foda described as "cheap and propaganda-style journalism". The most extreme form of this is to be found in the government media which have made themselves accomplices in state terror.
It is hard to imagine a more perfect example of media malpractice than the events of 9 October. Unarmed protesters were being shot and crushed to death under army vehicles, literally within spitting distance from the famousMaspero building, where state media is headquartered.
Meanwhile, inside, state TV anchor Rasha Magdy was reporting the opposite: armed "Christians" had attacked soldiers, killing three, she said. She went on to call for "honourable citizens" to come to the streets and defend the army – directly inciting sectarian violence.
State TV's malpractices, including showing tranquil shots of the Nile during the January uprising while massive protests filled Tahrir Square just a few blocks away, and coverage of the 6 October holiday celebrating Egypt's "victory" in the 1973 war with Israel can border on the absurd – though in reality they are no laughing matter.
A former state TV employee told me recently how explicit commands would filter down from management to report a story a certain way, or to ignore it, or to wait for an official statement – the reading of which would be as far as coverage on that issue went. "I felt like a liar for a long time before I decided to quit," she said, adding: "We didn't actually cover Tunisia until Ben Ali fled".
Despite a protest and sit-in by some state TV employees in the months immediately after Mubarak's fall, calling for wage increases and a purge of the higher echelons, this culture of obedience has survived but with one distinct change. Before the instructions had come primarily from the ministry of information; now, they come almost exclusively from the military.
Just as worrying as these workplace practices however, was the manner in which my acquaintance got her job in the first place – through a connection she describes as her "godfather" in the organisation. This is typical of the culture inside Maspero, where networks of nepotism, rather than professional merit are what determine employment and promotion.
These networks of client-patron relations – reminiscent of ancient Rome or the modern-day mafia – are not limited to state TV, but infect every element of Egyptian bureaucracy, business and society and are the wire that holds the old order in place. Before this revolution can be complete they will all need to be challenged. The state broadcaster is a perfect place to start.

Friday, November 4, 2011

Horse rescue in Hurghada

It's Eid in Egypt again. This time of year for many animal activists, particularly in Cairo, is marred by the slaughter of many animals, and the flogging of horses in the pyramids area from dawn till dusk to cart the holiday makers around. For stable owners in Giza, Eid means increased business. For horses, it means less rest and more running. A vicious cycle indeed.

It is no coincidence that I have chosen this time to introduce Hurghada's new horse rescue and rehabilitation programme. This is an attempt not only to highlight to readers the importance of picking horses that are well nourished, but also to underline that there are people out there doing their utmost to make a difference even if it is just in the life of one animal at a time.

Meet Cleo.

Cleo is a grey mare who was rescued from the Giza pyramids area just over one month ago. In the state that she was in, Cleo was still being used as a riding pony to take people back and forth from the desert.

Cleo on the day she arrived. The wounds on her back were
horrific. One was deeper than three inches. 

She had open gaping wounds where the saddle had rubbed her skin raw. She was listless, and barely had the strength to stand up herself, let alone be carrying people around!

Cleo is the first in what will hopefully become many horses to find a new home in the Continental Rescue and Rehab stables. Rescued by Claire Dunkerley and her husband Mohammed, Claire knew as soon as she laid eyes on Cleo that she was a special horse. At once, Claire began bargaining a price for her to give her the care and attention she so desperately needed.

After 1 week in the Continental
Upon arrival to her new home in Hurghada, Cleo was met with love, affection, and cleaning agents. Claire and I, Susan Richards-Benson, immediately went to work cleaning up her wounds (although my stomach of steel - hah! - meant Claire did a great deal more of the cleaning than I did!). The little mare was evidently distressed and in pain, but so weak that she could do little more than feebly turn her head in protest. Upon further inspection and vet checks, it was uncovered that not only was she grossly malnourished, this emaciated animal was also pregnant. This of course complicated the healing process, as generally a horse would be given a round of anti-biotics to help clear up the infected wounds. Cleo could not receive the same treatment for fear that it would cause a mis-carriage and jeopardise her own safety.

Instead, Cleo has been tended to daily by Claire, Mohammed, and their dedicated team at the stables. She has touched a piece of all of us; her lust for life is contagious and the strength she is already exhibiting inspirational. I have been blessed to be a part of her rehab, and have great hopes for what the future for this little horse holds.

The Continental Rescue and Rehab has one simple goal: to help the desperate and derelict horses throughout Egypt. What sets it apart from other horse rescues, is that the rescuing isn't the primary goal. Once the horses have been re-habbed and brought back to full health, they will be re-homed to a good home where they will never again suffer neglect at the hands of humans. Cleo was meant to be the first horse in a long line of many to be re-homed through the Continental, but her spirit has firmly implanted itself in the stable, and she will hopefully never have to leave again.

To this date Cleo has gained a whopping 15 kg. What makes her recovery process so remarkable is not only that she has not been given any anti-biotics, but when you compare her recovery to many other rescue horses throughout Egypt, her improvements which are seen daily begs the question: how are some of the horses we see that have been rescued months ago still emaciated? Is the entire "rescue process" in the country in need of an overhaul?

Cleo on October 31st.
Regardless of what the reasons are, her recovery process is incredible to watch. For anyone in the Red Sea, or for those who are planning on heading out to this area, I invite you to the Continental Rescue and Rehab, located at the Continental Hotel on Mamsha, to come and meet Cleo for yourself.

For others who would like to track the steps of her recovery, please follow our Facebook page here.

Do you know of any horses that are in desperate need of rescuing? Leave a comment on the page, and we will do our utmost to ensure that Cleo's story is not the only one of a horse in Egypt who's life has done a 180. 

Sunday, October 30, 2011

It all started with one small country

I realise there are quite a few people who follow on here who will not have seen me post this elsewhere. Here is my article I wrote for the International Observatory on Stability and Conflict, and I'm thrilled with the result. Check out the OISC's website for further analysis on the evolving situation of the global protests. So happy to have collaborated with them.

Last spring, the western world watched with wonder and bewilderment the people once under colonialist submission rise to defend their right to self-determination. Concepts such as one man-one vote, direct suffrage, equality for all, redistribution of wealth and freedom of the press were defended amidst blood and sweat, the very same price western peoples paid for their freedom two centuries ago. More importantly, the western world watched as unarmed, young protesters without leaders made decades-long dictatorships fall, in Egypt, Tunisia, Algeria, and more bloodily, in Libya. The once apathetic American youth received a massive electrical shock in 2008; placing all its hopes and dreams on the sole shoulders of President Obama, their activism is now focused against their own leader: corporate greed, corporate personhood, and corporate domination has to fall. The Occupy Wall Street movement has spread nationwide, is unarmed, without a leader, and is very much hoping to reclaim the American Dream. 2011 could be the year of worldwide successful revolutions; it could be the new Dawn of the People. But what are the consequences of such massive political overhaul? Is Occupy Wall Street the child of the Arab Spring, in a reverse clash of civilizations? Journalist Susan Richards-Benson, on the foreground of the new era, gives us a compelling analysis.
“One man, lighting himself on fire in protest of a continued reign of tyranny, through his actions lit a fire in the souls of people around the world”
The world today is trembling, and not just from the movements of its crust. People around the globe are unknowingly uniting together against one front: fighting the continued abuse of power that for so many years went ignored.
It all started with one small country. One man, lighting himself on fire in protest of a continued reign of tyranny, through his actions lit a fire in the souls of people around the world. What started in Tunisia quickly spread to Egypt. It wasn’t long before surrounding countries also began to feel the heat. The spirit of Revolution had been awakened.  But this time, people were not going to simply sit back quietly and accept the tirade of excuses presented by the powers that be. This time, the power of the people would triumph and their voices would be heard.
The Arab Spring sent shockwaves throughout the world. For many sitting in the comfort of their living rooms in the United States, there seemed little reason to be worried. These were countries far away with political policies that barely impacted their everyday lives. How could the United States possibly have anything to fear with the growing tides of revolution in the Middle East?
“Is it possible that people currently in New York really share the same grievances as the Egyptian youth staked out in Tahreer Square?”
The Occupy Wall Street movement serves as a reminder that revolutionary spirit is not limited to developing countries only. As more protesters flood the streets of New York, activists begin looking to protesters across the Atlantic for inspiration on how to best keep the momentum moving. If the revolution in Egypt proved anything, it was the power of social networking to inspire and unite. As with the Occupy Wall Street protests, media outlets initially ignored the growing tensions in both Egypt and Tunisia, leaving it to the protesters themselves to get the word out. Facebook and Twitter have proven to be monumental tools in coordinating protests, garnering support, updating on developments, and ultimately breaking through the blackout wall erected by both regimes and media outlets.
But how similar are the movements in reality? Is it possible that people currently in New York really share the same grievances as the Egyptian youth staked out in Tahreer square?
To answer this question, one must first examine what the root causes behind the protests really are. Are they simply the disgruntled and unemployed who have nothing better to do with their time? Or are they in fact the great majority of a population who have simply tired of being trodden on and suppressed by the ruling elite?
Egyptian society during the Mubarak era was highly striated; the difference between Egyptian and U.S. social hierarchies is that in Egypt, this societal structure is well known and documented. But now, due to global protests, more and more people in the U.S. are realizing that class warfare exists in their home country also. The fundamental difference between the two countries is that in Egypt, people came to accept this hierarchy as an absolute truth, whereas in the U.S. there is always hope that the “American dream” will become a reality if you work just that little bit harder, just that little bit longer.
The Egyptian revolutionary youth broke through this mentality. During the January Revolution, young and old, rich and poor, Muslims and Christians stood side by side united in their cause. Together, they toppled a regime that had kept them under lock and key for three decades. Together, through the power of the people they triumphed. Now however, Egypt is witnessing attempts to rip apart this social fabric that was so carefully woven during the Revolution. Egyptian media outlets are continuously dominated by stories of Muslims attacking Christian churches, of Christian business owners attacking their Muslim neighbors’ store front. It smacks of methods previously employed; methods which had successfully implanted in many minds of Egyptian citizens that they were not all equal and did not all deserve the same chances in life. It is an attempt to sabotage the undeniable solidarity that pushed Hosni Mubarak out of power to begin with.
Protesters in Wall Street should be watching carefully as these tactics are employed throughout Egypt. They too are facing similar tactics, with smear campaigns circulating the very social networks they used to get their message out in the first place. A picture is being painted of social activists who are merely attempting to stir up trouble, and true patriots should never question the ruling elite. It’s worked for centuries has it not? Why rock the boat now?

Tahrir Square, February 3
“They have learned a valuable lesson; one that should be translated to protesters throughout the rest of the world. In order for the power of the people to triumph, it must be united.”
To this day, many Egyptian protesters are still taking to the streets, despite the lacking media coverage to emphasize their cause. Despite attempts to stir up sectarian tensions amongst everyday citizens, Muslims and Christians together are presenting one voice, one united front: “We are the revolutionary youth. We are all Egyptians.” They have learned a valuable lesson; one that should be translated to protesters throughout the rest of the world. In order for the power of the people to triumph, it must be united. To allow attempts to divide individuals or groups, to plant the idea that one person is somehow more entitled than the next will only serve the very ruling elite people are rebelling against.
Now is the time for governments that were built for the people and by the people to listen to their citizens. To acknowledge their past mistakes. To accept that further dividing a country and its citizens will never succeed. If Egypt proved anything, it is that one voice alone cannot change anything, but a million voices united in a cause can give birth to a new country – to a new future.
As Alexander Solzhenitsyn once said “You only have power over people so long as you don’t take everything away from them. But when you’ve robbed a man of everything he’s no longer in your power – he’s free again.”

Tuesday, October 25, 2011

Where to Go - Harbour Restaurant

Last week K and I decided to go out for dinner. Originally we had planned to head to the "American Restaurant" on the Marina. Upon arrival however, we found it gutted from the inside out and evidently in the midst of renovations. So we improvised, and went to the restaurant right next door, Harbour Restaurant.

Located on the Hurghada New Marina, Harbour Restaurant offers great views of the surrounding area. The advantage to dining here is that we were able to bring Orien along for the night. There's something so nice about going out for dinner together, and Orien was so well behaved it made it all the better.

The prices at Harbour Restaurant are very fair, considering its location on the New Marina. Generally I will avoid eating at many places there, as the prices are usually extortionate. (Although in defense of the restaurants, they don't have a choice when they are being charged thousands of dollars in rent...) Our total bill ended up less than 40 $ for everything, making Harbour Restaurant an ideal place for a date night on a budget.

The menu is fairly diverse, offering a variety of pasta dishes, grilled chicken, steaks and seafood. K inquired about the Barbeque Chicken, specifically how it was grilled. He was told it's not done on a I'm not quite sure how it can be marketed as such, but... yeah. It ended up being grilled chicken, and was quite tasty!

I ordered the Tomato Soup and Caesar Salad, and between the two of us we shared a Spaghetti Bolognese. As far as the quality of the food goes, well it left some things to be desired. My Tomato Soup was very watery, and I would not be surprised if it had come out of a packet. I had to add a great deal of salt and pepper to flavour it up, as it had very little taste to it. The Caesar Salad was smaller than what I had expected, and if you are looking to make a salad your main course, you'd better order two. The salad was also very rich, and was dripping in dressing on the bottom, making it quite a heavy 'light' meal. Next time I will be ordering the dressing on the side.

The Spaghetti Bolognese was tasty, but it wasn't anything unique. It was the a-typical Egyptian style Spaghetti Bolognese (read: seasoned with what was most likely cinnamon and a nutmeggy blend of spices - so it is slightly sweet). K quite enjoyed his chicken, which was garnished with quite a lot of rosemary that he ended up having to scrape off. Served with French Fries, the BBQ chicken is definitely satisfactory for a single person meal.

We arrived at the restaurant around 18:45. There was one other couple there alongside us. Despite being the only ones there, we waited almost 40 minutes for our food, making me wonder how long you would have to wait were the restaurant busy! Seeing as how we arrived at what should be dinner time, I was disappointed with the speed of the service. Our waiter was more than pleasurable, but again, the speed left much to be desired.

If you are looking for a family dinner out on a budget, Harbour Restaurant is a good place to go. I would rate the food a 7 out of 10, location was definitely a 10, and service a 5 out of 10. Overall, I would rate Harbour Restaurant a 6.5 out of 10.

Egypt Unbound on Traveler Voice

This blog was recently nominated for an award on Traveler Voice as one of the top Living Abroad blogs out there.

Although the blog did not win, it did garner special recognition, and for this I would like to thank you! Without your continued support of the blog I would not have been able to do it.

Here's hoping that the next time around, Egypt Unbound will be the winner in its category!

Travel Bloggers Community

Friday, October 21, 2011

Butterscotch Brownies

I was requested that I post this recipe, which was a huge hit. Apparently it tastes very similar to an Egyptian style of cake, so K was more than enthused to have it with his morning Chai Bil Laban (Tea with Milk) for breakfast. As per usual, I found a recipe in the Joy of Cooking and made it my own!

So here's what you'll need: 

1 eight inch baking pan (lined with foil) 
1 cup flour
1/4 teaspoon baking powder
1/8 teaspoon baking soda
1/8 teaspoon salt 
1/2 cup butter (unsalted preferably)
2/3 cup packed light brown sugar
1/4 cup sugar
1 large egg
1 egg yolk
1 1/2 teaspoons vanilla essence 
1 tbsp white sugar mixed with 1/4 tsp water (original recipe called for 1 tbsp corn syrup, but that's something I cannot find here so I improvised)


Preheat your oven to 175 Celsius (350 degrees Fahrenheit).

Grease your foil-lined baking pan. This is very important, if you miss this step you'll end up peeling off foil from your brownies. Mmm...foil covered brownies.

Whisk together in a large bowl your flour, baking soda and powder, and salt. Set aside.

In a non-stick saucepan, melt your butter. Cook over a medium heat, stirring constantly, until the butter turns a golden brown colour (takes three to five minutes).

Remove from heat. Stir in brown and white sugar until well blended.

As the mixture cools, add in your egg, egg yolk, your sugar / water (or corn syrup) blend and vanilla.

Mix your wet ingredients into flour mixture.

Add to baking pan, and cook until top is golden brown and toothpick inserted in the centre comes out clean, between 20-30 minutes.


Et. Voila! Bil Hana Wa Shiva! 

Top with cream, or serve with Ice Cream!