Wednesday, January 02, 2008

New Year in Cairo

Each evening when the sun has dipped and the sky has dimmed something magical happens to Cairo. The dirt and the dust disappears. The ugliness of tatty gingery buildings, litter laden streets, dingy battered cars, and forests of daisy-like satellite dishes on top of the flat roofs all vanishes. What is left is pools of yellow light gilding the buildings, bright neon lighting the sky and the black surface of the Nile reflects each light a dozen times in its ripples, and young couples, shoulder to shoulder - but rarely more - line the bridges and whisper dreams to each other.

At night the whole city dreams. There are still car horns but somehow the sound becomes more festive. The mosque minarets are lit with grass-and-emerald green lights, and spires all over the city point elegant green fingers to the sky. There is not one star. The sky becomes a dusky red-purple as the perpetual Cairo smog reflects the lights of the city that throbs below.

I sat last night in a window on the 20th floor overlooking the narrow edge of the Nile that wraps around the back of the island I live on. It is called Gezira and literally this is Island. They call our suburb Zamalek. Suburbs here seem to alternate grotty with elegant, defined mostly by the width of the streets. Narrow is grotty, wide boulevards are elegant - no matter how many lines of cars force themselves along the marked lanes.

The Nile wraps around Gezira, two thirds on one side and one third on the other, and I was looking over the narrow strip. It is like a back entrance compared to the front one - less loved, without the grace element of feluccas drifting slowly under sail, lined by somewhat seedy 'houseboats' used as clubs and restaurants and places for wedding parties. Occasionally one of the little motor boats loved by Egyptians for happy Thursday night parties drifted through - hot pink, lime, scarlet and lemon neons flashing, and music blasting so loudly that remnants reached even the heights of the twentieth floor, to break through shouted conversations with thin thready drifts of Arabic music.

A friend had volunteered a party for New Year's Eve and I was able to hog a seat in the window and withdraw a little from festivities. Our youngest daughter fitted in beautifully and I loved watching her mixing and chatting, and her bubble of a laugh gurgling through the other party sounds. Most of the group was young. I had several glasses of punch which I assumed - rather stupidly considering that it was a party for New Year's Eve in a Western house - that the punch contained nothing more lethal than fruit juice and tea. By the time I had had three glasses of it I was starting to realise that there may have been something more - as the initial glass of Moet and Chandon champagne was not enough to account for the fact that I was somewhat blurred and concentrating carefully on what I said.

So - I sat in the window and mulled over the year that has just passed and how much I love this city - and how sad I will be to leave. We were looking down on the Fish Gardens - a park area not lit at night so it made a large black pool beneath the apartment block. Then the Nile. Then the busy and crowded streets of Aguza, and the high rise of Mohandiseen and Dokki behind. It has been such a privilege to live in a city like this - large and unwieldy and complicated and not always well behaved. I have had such joy here and probably equal frustration. I often think knowing the time I have is finite is easier as I know the annoyances are temporary and that the pleasures the same - so I make the most of the best things, and let the bad slide past to the keeper.

The best this year was undoubtedly my trip to Gilf Kebir and Jebel Uweinat - and I promise I will finish the write-up in the next few days. The worst was coming in to my kitchen to find my dear chef profoundly distressed by the fact that he had collected his mother from her home to bring her to spend the evening with his family, and they both walked straight into an honour killing and saw the whole thing in terrible detail. His hands shook as he recounted what he had seen, and how the brother and father who had killed the young woman had just sat down beside her body and lit cigarettes until the police came to take them away. His mother had fainted against him, and he could not carry her away so was pinned there to watch, and it had all happened so fast that the group nearby had been too horrified to move until it was over.

I still feel my own horror and our chef's frustration and he still occasionally talks about the murder - but his grief is all for the mother who lost her daughter, her son, and her husband all in one moment.

Happy New Year to all those out there who read this blog. I feel sometimes that I talk to my friends when I write this, and yet most of you I have never met and might never meet. I started this to tell friends and family of my life here without having to mail out dozens of emails and risk missing people. This way my family and friends can choose to see what is happening, or not. Sometimes it feels almost as if I am dropping stones in a deep well, as it is an odd way to communicate - strangely one sided and quiet as I know there are a lot more readers than there are comments. Then I travel somewhere, and find that there is someone in a group who reads my blog - and I come back with a new burst of energy!

Happy New Year. I hope for all of you and for all my dearly loved family and friends that the year will bring the best of what you hope for, and that the problems will be easily solved.


Blogger Feather on a Wire said...

OK, my New Year resolution is nothing more than to let other bloggers know how much they give.

Yours was the first blog I started reading. It is compulsive.
I worried about you on your trip when you kept having breathing problems (and then even worse, went quiet).
Your blog in the main is a travelogue from a quilter's viewpoint. Sometimes I'm jealous, sometimes not. Either way, reading it is a joy.
Thank you,

2:19 am  
Blogger beadbabe49 said...

I've left comments occasionally, but I always read your new posts and can't thank you enough for all the wonderful photos you take...I know how time consuming all that is, but it's given me (and many others, I'm sure) a chance to see a city and country that we will most likely never be able to visit in actuality!
I hope the new year brings you more pleasure and less frustration...thanks so much, jenny!

6:41 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

What a wonderful way to start the New Year - to read your blog and imagine life in such a different country! You have such a way with words and conjure up these wonderful views for us all to enjoy, without the discomforts and frustrations.Thankyou that you share your life with us all.
Margaret in NZ

6:45 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy new year Jenny.
i have been reading your blog all year and look forward to every installment. i enjoy every aspect of it but in particular have loved your descriptions of your life in Egypt. I dream of going to Egypt and you have opened it up to me in so many different ways than I would see as a regular tourist.
I hope 2008 is good to you and your family
thank you

8:19 am  
Anonymous ERS said...

Oh, my. . .the "honor" killing. I've been working on these crimes for years, but the individual cases never cease to horrify.

Ellen R. Sheeley, Author
"Reclaiming Honor in Jordan"

9:45 am  
Blogger Karen said...

Your poor chef -- to have stumbled upon such horror and witnessed it first hand.

My wish for our world this year is that somehow, in some way, we can heighten awareness of these brutal killings and help change laws and change minds and that one day women will be free to choose and marry whomever they wish without fear of their very lives.

Karen Tintori, author
Unto the Daughters: The Legacy of an Honor Killing in a Sicilian-American Family

4:46 pm  
Blogger carrie said...

Happy New Year!

I have been reading your blog for what seems like forever; it has given me great pleasure. Thank you


8:42 pm  
Blogger Lindi said...

Thank you, Jenny, for such an entertaining, sometimes humorous, sometimes thought provoking, always interesting, blog.
Wishing you, your family, and all your staff a wonderful, peace filled 2008.
Thank you for thinking of us (your readers) as friends. I'm sure most of us consider that you truly are a friend of ours.

1:07 am  
Blogger Lisa Walton said...

Jenny - the imagery of your writing is only matched by the beauty of your quilts. Like hundreds of others who await your posts, your life in Cairo has fascinated (and sometimes horrified) us but we await each episode expectantly. As I sit her looking at my wonderful quilt from the Tentmakers I count myself fortunate to have you as a friend as well.

3:06 am  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

This latest stone you dropped in the well sent a wide ripple my way. I am looking forward to more on the trip through the desert. I am amazed and appalled to hear an almost first hand account of events that many on our side of the world cannot believe really happen.
Thank you for blogging the beautiful and the horrific.
Diane - yarngoddess

5:46 am  
Blogger brdhsbldr said...

From my safe and warm home in south eastern British it is a privilege to read your lovely letters of heat and dust while our snow piles up outside.

3:40 pm  
Blogger mycamerandme365 said...

Jenny, I too have been reading and enjoying your Blog for a very long time, but having just returned from a month in Egypt, some of the time in Cairo, your most recent post meant so much more to me. Thank you for your very well worded paragraphs. Sue, Melbourne, Australia.

6:13 pm  
Blogger Quilter said...

Jenny. I read all your posts but don't very often leave a comment. Thank you for allowing us to share your life in Cairo. I just had a thought, what am I going to do when you leave Cairo and I no longer have your Blog to read. Once again, thank you. Dorothy.

9:50 am  
Blogger teri springer said...

Jenny, you take such wonderful pictures and paint even more wonderful ones with your words. Thank you for this blog.

“You Make My Day Award.”
Here’s what the guidelines for this award say: Give the award to up to 10 people whose blogs bring you happiness and inspiration and make you feel so happy about Blogland! Let them know by posting a comment on their blog so that they can pass it on. Beware! You may get the award several times!


11:24 am  
Anonymous Hendsmaster said...

Happy new year Jenny...

I proud of you.. I just try to find info about Cairo, and I find your blog at the top in
Actually, I suprised to know that you're Australian but enoug 4 me to know about Cairo.
I want to know more about this city.. Would you like to exchange blog link with me Jenny

5:55 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Happy New Year Jenny

I have been a faithful reader of your blog from the start of your adventures in Cario. I came accross the blog when checking out your web site and the reading of your column in Down Under Quilts (which I also enjoy very much). Your descriptions of life in Cario are incrediable. To date I have not left a comment but today I just wanted to let you know how much I enjoy both your pictures and commentary. Thank you

Jan S. Victoria BC Canada

8:42 am  
Blogger Helen Suzanne said...

I'm yet another one who reads your blog with great delight but doesn't leave a comment Jenny. I love the way you express yourself and would like to say "thank you" for your time and efforts to document your life there. It touches many more than you realise and in thought provoked ways. I hope you keep writing where ever you live. All the best for 2008

11:42 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Wow what an adventure! I loved reading your blog and viewing your incredible photos. Thanks so much for sharing with us. All power to the wild woman in us all...PKK

3:45 pm  
Blogger Lynda said...

My goodness what a contrast - from Moet to honor killing. It left me breathless. I can not imagine how traumatised one would be after such an experience. Happy New Year to you...

9:15 pm  
Blogger magsramsay said...

I've so enjoyed reading your blog and sharing your experiences of living in a place, both good and bad. I can relate to your enjoyment of the desert ( as a botanist it's so restful when there aren't any plants !)
I treasure your tale of the breakfast weevils - that has now passed into out family mythology.
Best wishes to you and your family in the future- hope to hear more of your adventures

8:56 am  
Blogger Di said...

Jenny, it has been a real joy whenever I have checked back to your blog and found a new 'treasure' of an instalment there to savour. Your latest word picture of Cairo on New Year's eve is no exception. You have the extraordinary ability to evoke a sense of place as you write. I can see, smell and hear Cairo - and I'm sure it has little to do with having been there. Thank you so very much for sharing your adventures with us - it would have been so easy for you to have hidden behind protocol, but you've found a way to be generous instead. Love, Di

11:32 pm  
Blogger TOR Hershman said...

You have a most interesting blog.

5:08 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

As the eldest daughter of Jenny, I can be the odd one out to say how much I look forward to the end of my mother's stay in Cairo, as there is even more pleasure to be found in the person than the blog! I know Mum will miss the Middle East desperately, but I am so excited that she is coming home that I don't even feel bad about her having to leave her 2nd home! I too have enjoyed reading the blogs (but I haven't left comments), but it is so nice having her in the same city as me! I love you Mum.

2:46 pm  
Anonymous Marcelle said...

Hello Jenny, Ahhh Cairo, you penned a clear picture of a fascinating place on New Years .....having only spent 3 days there I felt somewhat cheated. I found the Tentmakers and met with Ayman...I could've wandered with my clicking camera for hours. Alas, after happily purchasing 3 pieces from Ayman, my husband could do no more than make it back to a crazy Cairo taxi...he had the dreaded tummy bug...for the slow ride back to the hotel. It was my sons birthday this day and most of our group was out for the count. Thanks so much for taking the time to reply with Aymans details when I can see you were so busy.
Reading the comments to your blog, couldn't help the teary eyes reading from your daughter are the essence of life. Sounds like your return is much awaited!!! Thanks again jenny, Regards, Marcelle Clark

10:30 pm  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Perhaps you already solved this - response to an earlier post: Regarding saving a copy of your site as a book - a complete soft copy can easily be captured using the full version of Adobe Acrobat software (not Acrobet Reader): go to 'file - 'create PDF' - 'from webpage' -'get entire site'. If you then wish to have it printed, most graphics houses can provide color laser printing from a digital file. Capturing the site will take time, and probably a lot of hard disk space. Single pages from your site seem to be about one-half MB. You might want to purchase en external drive for the download and leave it overnight. But it's easy to do.

3:00 am  
Anonymous Bren Boardman said...

Ive just started reading your blog and, like many, enjoy your writing very much, so Ive now Ive learned how to use the RSS link and can enjoy all your works.
Please write a book!

6:54 pm  
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11:05 pm  
Anonymous vishav bhraman said...

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11:11 pm  

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