Thursday, August 04, 2005

More from Tabbi

It is Jenny here and I am back in Cairo! I managed to hold off on sending boring details of my Australian travel to the blog, on grounds that it is hard to relate to 'Postcards from Cairo'.

There are two more emails from Tabbi though - that cover her travel in Cairo and the rest of Egypt. I love her writing - it is fresh and vivid and she sees things differently from me. The first is on her return from Damascus, somewhat tummy-bugged and a bit frail. The second is more on Agami and Alexandria. But - I will let her tell you!

Here she is.

Due to doctor's orders I've been doing relatively little for the past couple of days. Have somewhat subdued the bug (probably due to the cocktail of 5 tablets I take twice a day) and lounging around in air conditioned comfort.

Thus there is no massive adventure to be documented, and this email should be as chilled out and relaxed as our gorgeous fellucca ride on the Nile at sunset. Breezey, delightful, and full of lovely images.

The latter might be hard to recreate, but I'll try!

First, I believe it is necessary to devote a full description to the house we reside in in Zamalek. I think of it as 'the palace'. It's gorgeous, regal, built in the 1920s - complete with large slabs of marble and swampingly high ceilings. Changing a lightbulb looks like it would involve a crane, or at least 4 men standing on each other's shoulders.

The garden is greener than I ever would have dreamed in such a dry climate. Due to proximity to the Nile, our lawn is flawless, our palms look like they are in a rainforest on the Daintree, and the flowers bloom through the lush green. (My father was inspired to tell me about a time in our embassy in Damascus when a chief clerk was happily running an illegal florist out of the embassy. If Gamal, our lovely
Egyptian gardener, was so inclined, he would have plenty of stock.)

Everytime I walk out the front door I feel like a wealthy countess - wish there were a way to stand out there with a brandy balloon and a long cigarette holder in evening wear. The columns outside deserve such embellishment.

But I don't smoke and I'm not a fan of brandy.

Ok, enough rambling, but my friends, you must come and visit. If nothing else, to see this beautiful palace. There are plenty of bathrooms and spare beds. I'll ensure my parents keep the fridge stocked with sour cherry juice, just on the off chance you are coming by.

On Monday evening, while I was still a little bit fragile, Dad suggested the least strenous activity in Cairo - a ride on a fellucca (a type of boat with a long sail) along the Nile. We left at 6pm, and the temperature outside the jeep was still 38 degrees (and it would have cooled down since midday).

The banks of the Nile, particularly in the CBD, are shrowded with giant hotel monstrosities. High rise apartment blocks blocking out any ambience to be able to charge higher rates for 'a Nile view'. So we braved the Cairo traffic (as Lonely Planet aptly puts it "like Ben Hur with Fiats") and drove down the Nile and away from downtown.

We boarded our Fellucca, and Ahmed skipper/pilot/captain of our vessel gently released us from shore, and took us on our 2 hour tour.


I took far too many photos. But the sun setting over the Nile cast light in shades of coral and apricot across the water and lit the buildings gold. The palms and bullrushes on the river's edge were a rich green.

On the river, it is hard to remember that you are in the world's second most polluted city. That it is 38 degrees on shore (as a breeze comes up from the water) and that the Nile itself is the central sewerage system for 22 African countries.

The last fact caused me to hold the boat tightly as we went around corners.

It was such a beautiful experience. 2 Hours cost $20 Australian.

The next day, at 7am, my darling father was whisked away by a presidential car (complete with guard on motorbike) to present his official credentials to President Mubarak. He looked so smart, and returned 3 hours later officially 'His Excellency the Australian Ambassador to the Arab Republic of Egypt'.

Despite Dad's efforts to avoid the office, we had to duck into the embassy before he went to an Asian Ambassador's luncheon, and I went to the dentist.

The view from the Australian embassy is indescribable. A full 270 degree view of the Nile. On a clear day you can see the Pyramids in the distance. Incredible.

Next Mohammed (one of three embassy drivers) dropped Dad at his lunch (complete with the little Australian flag flying on the bonnet of the Merc!) then took me to the dentist (without flag).

I hate dentists. The estimated bill for the work I needed in Canberra was so high I cried - I could have bought 2 ipods and have $100 to spare! and that's WITH my private health insurance! - so I decided to get the work done here, as services are much cheaper in Egypt.

She was lovely and gentle. I felt guilty for cringing and crying out when it hurt. One filling done, one to go. At least the worst one is over.

Here begins the first of my small victories - I managed to walk from the dentist back to the house! I found my way!! There were a few beautiful shoe shops which nearly lured me off the path, but I fought the temptation and made it safely home!

Small individual victories such as this, in a place so unlike home, in a city so full of chaos, one way roads, identical gorgeous old buildings and people with as little English as I have Arabic, equate to confidence. Triumph over adversity. The beginning of understanding the elusive 'Other'.

It was great.

I also went and bought groceries, was given a choice of olives to taste before purchasing, and found the right money.

I am woman, hear me roar!

(Well, maybe not, but I did walk home with a silly big smile on my face)

Today I am going out to get my birthday present from my parents - a leather coat. Then Dad will join me and we will head to the Cairo museum and gorge ourselves on mummies and artefacts, before heading to a rather formal dinner at a fancy restaurant with a business colleague of Dads.

Tomorrow (My 22nd birthday!!) we leave Cairo for Alexandria, and the house in Agamy - on the coast to the west of Alexandria.

I guess you'll hear from me on my return.

Look after yourselves my lovely friends and family.


And the second one!

Hello everybody!

This isn't going to be as long as my previous emails, as we're about to leave for a long drive to St Anthonys Monastery, out in the middle of the desert in the middle of nowhere. Should be incredibly hot but interesting! We're staying overnight somewhere on the Red Sea, then returning by tomorrow afternoon.

The embassy has a villa 2 hours out of Cairo, in the town of Agamy – about a 45 minute (due to dodgy roads) out of Alexandria. While this may sound like one of those over-the-top perks to diplomats, it's necessary to give people who work in an environment like Cairo occasional respite.

And it is fabulously relaxing.

The villa has a pool and a wall of Jasmine, honeysuckle and hibiscus fragrances the air. We drove down on my birthday. When we left Cairo it was 10am and 36 degrees. When we arrived in Agamy it was 28. Bliss.

That night we headed into Alex for my birthday. We went to a restaurant called 'the Fish Market' where you select the fish/seafood of your choice and they cook it to your instructions. It is situated high on the waters edge, and has an incredible 180 degree view of the harbour. Just awesome.

The next day Dad and I headed in to explore Alexandria. What an AWESOME city! The sea is beautiful, there is so much history, and the air is so CLEAN after being in Cairo. The new national museum was fabulous, and there was a photographer from Egypt's main newspaper wanting to take photos of people in the museum. As we were the only visitors at the time, he sort of stalked us around the building with a
camera. As we were leaving, Dad gave him his card and asked to have the paper sent. The look on the camera man's face, on seeing who my father was, was priceless!

So nice to travel with my most Excellent pa.

On leaving the museum the tourist police came up and offered my father and I a guard for the day. It was so surreal. We declined and went to lunch at Abu Ashraf.

Abu Ashraf is the best seafood restaurant I have eaten in. Basically, a couple of Egyptians have covered over an alleyway with some sort of roofing, filled it with plastic tables and chairs, put in a television blaring some Egyptian soap opera, then succeeded to turn it into a local's paradise.

Once again, you choose your fish/prawns and they cook them to order. We picked out the most beautiful looking Snapper. He was gleaming and pink (sorry my vegetarian friends!) and you are charged by the weight of the fish (Our 1 kilo snapper was $20 Australian. With the addition of prawns our meal came to $30AU all together. A free and delicious spread of dips and an awesome eggplant dish!) Running out of time, but it was one of the best meals ever.

We then headed into the Bibliotech – the new national library of Alexandria, about 200 metres west of the original. Incredible building, stunning architecture and a great tour guide was counteracted by a security guard who followed us around hassling dad repeatedly for a Visa. So odd.

We spent the next day just loitering around in Agamy. Jumping in the pool, swimming, drinking Kakadae (A tea made from Hibiscus flowers), lying on lounge chairs in the sun to dry off, and generally relaxing.

Then headed back to Cairo, where Dad and I had dinner at a local
restaurant on the Nile.

Yesterday I went on a 'Mosque-crawl' with a good friend of my parents. We saw about 5 mosques, all interesting and different, then had a fantastic traditional Egyptian lunch – I have discovered the world's BEST student food in Koshuri – cheap to make, filling and totally delcious – lentils, rice, pasta and an awesome tomato sauce with
crispy onions. It sounds bad but its SO good.

Hope you are all fantastic well and happy!

The Merc is in the driveway waiting.

Love and all that Jazz



Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny:

Welcome back! What a delight to read Tabbi's fabulous e-mails: she made it all SO interesting to read. Can't wait to visit "The Palace!"

Take care much love Tena

4:10 pm  
Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny and Tabbi,
It is soooo good to have you back on "air". Every morning I come armed with my cup of coffee to the computer and yours is the very first site I turned to. It is wonderful to read about these places which I must confess I have never really thought about before.

Regards Helen

10:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Hi Jenny Loved hearing from your daughter, but may I say that I think she has learnt her descriptive writing from her mother! She certainly has a similar talent to you in giving the feeling of the place,

11:56 am  
Anonymous debbie jordan, elf4 said...

hi jenny and tabi,
i have loved reading tabi's thoughts....between the two of you, you have made a part of the world i have never thought much about, come so alive.....tabi, could you please post the recipie for the student food - my dd would love it! keep writing, it makes having a morning cup of tea so much more enjoyable.

9:52 am  
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