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.