Tuesday, April 29, 2008

Wandering Again

I’m afraid the blog will be quiet again for a few days as Hubby and I are off to Zanzibar for the weekend. I just hope that unlike our last weekend away, this time I don’t end up with food poisoning. *eek*

See you all next week!

Saturday, April 26, 2008

I’m bored

I am bored.
I’m bored

I am bored.
I’m bored.

I’m bored.
I am soooo bored.

I’m so freaking bored.
Me is bored.


Friday, April 25, 2008

Truth in Advertising

Today's blog is brought to you courtesy of 'Ren's friend T-Boy. And yes, yes they do!

Thursday, April 24, 2008

Playtime in Central Park

Over the years, CNN reporter Richard Quest’s distinctive speaking style and over the top delivery have become comedy fodder for everyone from Daily Show host Jon Stewart to great (and modest) bloggers like myself. Now, I’m not going to deny that the man was once a serious and talented journalist but he has successfully turned himself into a punch line. And sadly Quest’s actions last Friday will only add to the chuckles.

I look forward to my monthly doses of Business Traveler and Quest as much as the next girl but I have a sneaking suspicion that the events of this past weekend are about to overshadow Richard’s semi-serious career. “I’m Richard Quest and this is an American prison!”
Travel presenter Richard Quest in a bind over drugs scandal
By: Mark Frary and Ginny McGrath

The future of quirky CNN presenter Richard Quest hangs in the balance today after he was arrested in the early hours of Friday morning in Central Park.

CNN said it had “no comment at this stage” on whether Quest would continue to work for the channel or, if he does remain, whether his programmes – the monthly feature programmes Quest and Business Traveller – would continue to air.

The decorated journalist has won a number of awards for his broadcasts, including Business Travel media personality of the year.

A spokesperson for the New York Police department confirmed that Quest was arrested in Central Park on Friday 18 April at 3.42am. “He was arrested for criminal possession of a controlled substance, believed to be methamphetamine and for being in Central Park after closing time. He was stopped initially because he was spotted in the park after the curfew,” said the spokesman.

Methamphetamine – also known as crystal meth or ice – is said to “bring on a feeling of exhilaration and produces increased arousal and activity levels”, according to the Frank drugs campaign.

However, the story has been given extra legs by rumours published in an article on Friday in the New York Post, owned by Times Online’s parent company News Corporation, about other items that were found on Quest – a rope tied around his person and a sex toy in the boot of his car.

Contributors to Quest’s Facebook webpage have been largely supportive, with some asking CNN not to sack him.

Quest’s programmes on CNN, sponsored by Egyptian international investment group Artoc, are very popular, and his sacking would constitute a blow to the cable channel.

Liverpool-born Quest, 45, holds a law degree from Leeds University and worked for the BBC’s News 24 channel before joining CNN in 2001.

Wednesday, April 23, 2008

Museum Hill

Last week I was lucky enough to join some of the ladies from the Association for a tour of the Nairobi National Museum. I say lucky because the reopening of this museum has been scheduled and rescheduled for months now. Everything from funding to the “Kenyan situation” have managed to get in the way of the resurrection of this cultural landmark.

Our host that morning was the Museum Society chairperson who did a fantastic job of taking us around not only the public face of the museum but also gave us the chance to see some of the lesser known artifacts that the museum has in its collection including an ancient fish called a Coelacanth.

(For the sake of full disclosure, I will note here that while we were in the museum’s back offices to see the fish I had a bit of a freak out. I have four words for you: dead things in jars. *shudder*)

At only 1,500 Ksh for a family, membership in the Museum Society is a great deal. Not only are you helping out an organization that does a lot of great work right here in Nairobi, but you also get free entrance into all the museums in Kenya including the National Museum , Karen Blixen House in Karen, and, for those who like that sort of thing, the incredibly icky Snake Park.

But on with the tour…. In the main room was an incredible sculpture made with gourds from all over Kenya. The Kenya Room, as (I think) it was called featured items from different areas of Kenya including musical instruments and hand-woven baskets.

Although it may be difficult to tell from my photo, this Kenya-shaped artwork is covered with butterflies from all over the country.

The next room tries to tell the story of the various mammals found throughout the country, from tiny hares to massive elephants. One fairly unpopular attraction to the ladies I was with was the giant scale that told you how heavy you were in comparison with various animals. Are you a gazelle or an elephant? Yeah, like I was going to hop up on that thing!

At this point in our tour, photography became verboten. Sorry. The biggest bummer of the tour was that in order to get a close look at the museum’s collection human skulls one has to pay yet another 400Ksh. I believe (although am not certain) that these skulls depict the evolutionary chain and are thus considered too valuable to have out for regular viewing.

After a (far too) brief explanation about the correlation between Sickle Cell Anemia and immunity to the mosquito borne disease Malaria we proceeded through a room filled with animal photos and finally to a display which depicts the “life cycle of the average Kenyan.”

We were told that the museum was trying to depict the birth, childhood, adulthood, and death of multiple Kenyan tribes in the exhibit. In a rather disconcerting move toward modernity, the museum chose to place modern items alongside traditional and historical objects. For example, in a display of gourds and other devices used to nurse babies was a modern Winnie the Pooh baby bottle.

Toward the back of the museum and unfortunately not very well marked was an interesting exhibit about cave art found all around Africa.

As I’ve mentioned, the museum is a work in progress and several of the exhibit halls remain all but empty. Despite this, I highly encourage people to visit the museum as soon as possible. Not only will you enjoy a fabulous cultural experience but your entrance fee is desperately needed by this cash strapped institution.

Tuesday, April 22, 2008

Yay Kenya!

Robert Cheruiyot of Kenya won his third straight Boston Marathon this weekend. Woo hoo! Yay Kenya!

Monday, April 21, 2008

Lying Liars and the Lies We Tell

Despite being a bit of a compulsive liar in my misbegotten youth, I now try to live my life as honestly as I am able. Yes, I still tell slight fudges for the sake of social politeness but overall I try to ‘fess up to my occasional bouts of naughtiness and even try to accept the blame when I am actually at fault (as rare as that may be). But honesty can only get you so far – eventually there are things you can’t share with everyone and things you must hide for the greater good.

And I’m not talking about hiding a few packages of Twinkies here. Not that I’ve done that…

We have known about Hubby’s job for quite some time now. Once we knew for certain what was happening with Cairo I immediately put in my resignation at those local associations that were counting on me for next year so that they would have sufficient time to find replacements. Sadly; however, we can’t tell everyone at the same time.

Take Lucy, one of Hubby’s colleagues who will be starting with the Organization shortly. We weren’t allowed to tell him until just a few weeks ago despite Hubby having already submitted his resignation. I felt horrible lying and saying how much we were looking forward to him being the neighborhood. Don’t get me wrong, we are excited– we just won’t be here to enjoy his company.

The bigger lies involve our staff – Tori and Rock. Expat logic states that we don’t tell them until anywhere from a week to a month before we leave in fear that staff will abandon their jobs in hopes of finding a new position that doesn’t have an expiry date. Hubby and I have never held with this theory but we weren’t very well going to tell them in January – seven months notice is a wee bit much even by our standards.

The problem is that despite explicit warnings, people (including myself) keep talking about the move in front of my staff! I have already had to outright lie to Rock when he asked if we were selling car to a rather indiscrete passenger who kept talking about our move despite my broad hints to her to drop the subject. “Don’t be silly, Rock. We need the car after all. She just wants to borrow it during the summer when we go home.” This conversation came after I all but laid our plans in front of him while on the phone to my mother a few weeks ago. (I have a sneaking suspicion that the jig may be up as far as Rock is concerned.)

In case y’all were wondering, I am not a spy for the CIA – I can’t even keep a secret from my driver!!

So far my most bald face lie was last Thursday and I have been feeling dreadfully guilty about it ever since. (Damn my Catholic conscience!) The incredibly sweet young man who works at the printer where I have the Association’s newsletter printed called me to say that my newsletters were ready to be picked up and asked me flat out if I were leaving. I didn’t even pause as I unflinchingly lied and said I was here for the long haul, “You can’t get rid of me that easily!” I quipped.

Admittedly, Rock was within hearing distance and I didn’t want to confess to my departure themed sins in front of him but I immediately felt horrible. Have I become so adept at covering up our move that I can look someone in the cell phone and prevaricate like that?

Of course, as we start selling off our goods and furniture Rock and Tori are bound to suspect something is up despite the white lies we’ve been telling them. Thus after much debate and discussion, Hubby and I have agreed to tell break the news to our staff in about two weeks.

Yes, we are far ahead of the typical expat schedule but I trust Rock and Tori not to leave in search of greener pastures – or at least to give us some notice if they are. I can honestly say that we wouldn’t have lasted this long in Nairobi without their help (driving here = scary) and to that end we are currently looking for potential future employers for them.

Regardless of how they take the news that we are leaving I will be glad that I can finally stop lying about the situation. That will leave far more time for me to find other things to fudge about – like my age, weight, and how you can hardly tell that Hubby is going bald.

Wednesday, April 16, 2008

More News From Dreamland

As I have mentioned here previously, I dream in Technicolor. I’m talking full on Dorothy-in-Oz-style Technicolor – farmhands and backdrops from Kansas need not apply.

To put my REM-time hobby into perspective, let me explain a few things to you: most people dream in black and white, most of those people rarely remember their dreams, and Hubby claims not to dream (much) at all. In contrast, I have novella-esque dreams with some degree of continuity. I have people, scenarios, and even locations that recur from time to time in my dreams. And it all happens in beautiful high def.

But my dreams do have a few weird qualities. For example, I can’t read in my dreams. This is as close as I assume that dyslexic people feel because in my dreams words and numbers are completely jumbled up. Part of me knows what they say but yet I know I can’t fully understand what is in front of my dream self.

For those of you who know me in real life this next one may seem odd – but I’m skinny in my dreams. Or more to the point, I’m not fat. I have decided to blame this extremely hot dream version of my body as the reason I am unable to lose weight in my extremely unhot reality body. (I like having external people or things to blame for my failures – otherwise I might have to take responsibility myself. *shudder*)

Sometimes my dreams are freakishly vivid and real. I’m not talking about snakes on the windows that jolt me awake screaming in terror (although those dreams suck mightily). These are the dreams where you wake up, go through your morning routine including showering and dressing and are half way out the door when you wake up to realize that the last 20 minutes never really happened. (Those dreams are highly annoying because they also mean that I’m usually running late!)

So is my dream-life weird? Am I the only person out there whose dreams are only slightly less tangible than reality? Or is this nether world lurking in my subconscious the real reason I’m only slightly more normal than Mork?

Tuesday, April 15, 2008

Nacho Flavoured Dreams

It could be the PMS talking but I am currently thinking that murder would not be too drastic a step if it meant that could have some shredded beef nachos from Qdoba. (Extra cheese sauce on the side please.)

I want nachos, dammit!!

Monday, April 14, 2008

Wake up Call

My plans for today sadly included waking up early and going into the office with Hubby so that I could pick up my friend, Wrestler, and make our way to the High Courts. While all of these happened today, some of them – like waking up – didn’t happen quite as I planned.

First off, Hubby woke up at 5:30 a.m. with stomach problems. (TMI perhaps but still pertinent to the story.) This naturally meant that I was woken up at 5:30 a.m. so I could call down the stairs periodically to see how he was feeling. Aren’t I a lucky girl? After reading a few chapters of “To Kill a Mockingbird” for my Book Group and chatting with Hubby about our plans for the future, I had finally fallen back asleep when my phone beeped at 7:30 a.m. to indicate that I had received an SMS.

Since no one I know has fully grasped that I don’t wake-up before 9:00 a.m., I assumed it was either Wrestler with news about a change in plans (that hopefully included me sleeping for another hour), or another friend whom I could plot to kill later. Turns out I was wrong on both counts.

“Security Update: Mungiki riots and area affected: Kawangware…” I stopped reading at this point since I knew that the news was already affecting my morning commute to the Organization. A few minutes later, I received a second message, this time saying that the police “had taken cover.” I decided that it was a typo and that the sender meant that the police had taken control of the situation.

Despite what many people first assumed, the riots were not in response to yesterday’s news about the world’s most bloated and overpopulated cabinet. (Honestly, if you’re the loser MP who didn’t get a Cabinet post yesterday, I kind of feel bad for you.) Rock quickly filled us in on the real cause for the disturbances: They were in response to last week’s killing of the wife and driver of the jailed Mungiki sect leader Maina Njenga. According to Rock, the Mungiki believed that the police were behind the two murders and also wanted to pressure the government into releasing Njenga from prison.

After debating whether or not the riots had leached onto the streets of downtown Nairobi, Wrestler and I made our way to the High Courts to act as moral support for the friend of a friend who was on trial for murder. It turns out that we were actually there for an arraignment hearing, meaning that we were able to sit through twelve other trials first – none of which we could hear. The lawyers and judges on Law and Order are WAY better mic’ed than their counterparts in the High Court.

The good news from the trial was that the charges against Friend of Friend were dropped – the first-degree murder ones that is. The judge then said that the police were free to re-arrest her on the lesser charge of manslaughter as soon as she had been released from custody. FoF has spent the last three and a half months in prison and I’m guessing that new charges will start her clock ticking again meaning that there is no telling when her real trial will be.

As all of this was going on, someone in the gallery kept calling out, “Murderess!” much to the consternation of the two-dozen people who were there on FoF’s behalf. I will share the details of the case, as they have been made familiar to me, at another time. Needless to say, this first-hand introduction to the Kenyan legal system was quite enlightening.

Sunday, April 13, 2008

Vroom Vroom

Since the Bahrain Grand Prix occurred last weekend, I thought I would share some photos of the Bahrain International Circuit. Hubby was incredibly excited to visit this Mecca of speed during our Christmas holiday, which was rather weird. For someone who is famously disdainful of racing in all its forms this behavior seemed most odd - at least until I saw the sign for the go-carts. But I’m getting ahead of myself…

Although I’ve never been much of a racing fan, driving up to the track you cannot help but see what a big deal Formula One racing is in Bahrain. The first indication of its popularity hits you the moment you leave the airport and are confronted with signs every few miles telling you that you are on the right track (pardon the pun) toward finding the Bahrain International Circuit.

After driving by the ubiquitous McDonald’s – located only a few miles from the main entrance to the track – you start to notice all empty yet paved space on your left. If you drive past entrance you would see that the paved squares continue on seemingly forever – on both sides of the highway. The parking lots (plural thank you) go on for several miles, which made me wonder if the walk from your car would take longer than the race itself. We were told that the event sells out months before the actual race every year and that the lots closest to the track would fill hours before the race actually started.

Despite visiting the Circuit on two separate days we were unable to try out the go-carts as the miniature track was being repaired. (I’m not positive as we weren’t able to drive them, but it looked like the cars were Formula 1-shaped. Tres cool!) We also managed to miss out on a tour of the facilities. This was despite seeing other people being shown around the inner track and observation tower. Not that we were bitter… Much.

After purchasing the requisite sports jersey from the gift shop, Hubby and I made our way over to the grandstands. Both of us found ourselves quickly caught up in the F1 mystique – I swear I could hear the roar of the engines racing by as we walked around the seats we thought were probably at the finish line. “Look, there’s where they pull over for pit stops!” “This would be a great place to sit!” “You can see the whole track from here.”

Hubby keeps talking about buying property in Bahrain saying that he loves the island nation. But I secretly think that he’s turning into a motor head and wants to attend the annual F1 race. Jacques Villeneuve had better watch out!

Thursday, April 10, 2008


Despite a day of searching we were unable to find Michael Jackson’s Bahrain home. We did; however, find a girl wearing this incredibly cool abaya. Power to the rebel who must conform.

Wednesday, April 09, 2008

The Closest I’m Going to Get

Intriguing news about the future notwithstanding, there are still many blogs to be written before we finally bid adieu to Kenya. So today I thought I would finally tell you some more about our wonderful Christmas vacation in Bahrain. (Yes, I know that was four months ago!)

While looking at billboards depicting the Three Amigos (aka the three emirs who rule Bahrain – we think) was a fun way to pass the time every three feet while driving, we tried to make a point of actually seeing one or two things that weren’t related to shopping, eating, or drinking. On the top of our list was a trip to Saudi Arabia – at least as close to as it non-Saudis can get.

The easiest way to get from here to there (Bahrain to Saudi) is by car over the King Fahd Causeway, which is a 26 kilometer bridge between the two countries. Visitors such as myself are not allowed to obtain visas to enter the Kingdom of Saudi Arabia – you either have to be a citizen or have a work permit – neither of which we had.

Luckily, the folks that built the Causeway realized that lame people like me would want to get as close to KSA as possible. With us in mind, they built a mini-city in the middle of the bridge complete with viewing tower and even a (really lame) restaurant.

After paying the small fee for the privilege of seeing the view, Hubby and I made our way up the tower in the tiny elevator and watched as the skyline opened up before us. Sadly it was rather hazy that day so our "taste of KSA" was rather muted.

I have realized in the writing of today’s blog that this trip to the middle of a bridge may have been more interesting to those of us on the trip than it is to read about. Sorry – but it was frightfully cool at the time. And hey, it might not count as a new country for “The List” but we get points for at least trying.

Tuesday, April 08, 2008

Recurring Themes

I was going to continue blogging about Bahrain today but it looks like Kibaki and Odinga had different plans for me. It would appear that the only way these two children can agree on anything is to have an axe over both of their heads – wielded with great skill by Kofi Annan over several weeks during January and February of this year. After weeks spent debating who has the bigger… err… whose party will yield command over which cabinet positions, talks have broken down over certain fiefdoms including Energy, Transport, and Roads.

I find it somewhat amusing (which is to say depressing) that both of these men say that they intend to stamp out corruption and yet the cabinet positions in dispute are considered some of the most lucrative. I’m sure that’s just a coincidence, though…
Kenya opposition halts talks, protests flare
By Katie Nguyen and Daniel Wallis

Kenya's opposition suspended talks with President Mwai Kibaki's party on Tuesday and police fired teargas to scatter opposition supporters protesting at deepening deadlock over a power-sharing cabinet.

Kibaki and rival Raila Odinga delayed naming the new cabinet on Monday after disagreeing over how to share out ministries and traded blame over who was responsible. The cabinet is central to a deal on ending Kenya's post-election crisis

Anyang' Nyong'o, secretary-general of Odinga's Orange Democratic Movement (ODM), said talks would be suspended until Kibaki's party "fully recognises the 50/50 power-sharing arrangement and the principle of portfolio balance".

As he spoke, Nairobi's sprawling Kibera slum was convulsed by the biggest protests since both sides signed a power-sharing deal in February to end turmoil that killed at least 1,200 people after Kibaki's disputed re-election in December.

Residents said angry youths looted shops and burned tyres. Some ripped up railway lines connecting the Kenyan port of Mombasa, the region's largest, with Uganda.

"Police are firing teargas and also firing in the air," said witness Justine Mokua.

The shilling currency weakened almost 3.8 percent to close at 64.70/80 on news of the opposition walk-out. It closed at 62.35/45 on Monday.

"These politics can do real harm to our economy," said Friday Mwafuga, head of trading at Cooperative Bank. "Until this problem is solved, we are in for a rough ride ahead."

Kenya, east Africa's biggest economy and an important regional trade, transport and tourism hub, suffered heavily from the post-election riots and ethnic violence -- the worst turmoil since independence in 1963.

N'yongo said the opposition was demanding a partial cabinet already named by Kibaki be dissolved before any more talks took place. He said the opposition would no longer respect an earlier agreement to a 40-member cabinet and wanted it to have 34 posts.

But some analysts believe that while Odinga's party is clearly stepping up the pressure to get what it wants, it has little room for maneuver.

"They can accept the offices offered, withdraw from the coalition or resort to mass action," said Kenyan political analyst Mutahi Ngunyi.

If they withdrew that would hand all power back to Kibaki, he said, but "mass action does not make sense at this time" because of the bloodshed it provoked in January.

Most of the recent disagreement centres on a handful of ministries that Odinga, the prime minister-designate, says Kibaki's Party of National Unity (PNU) had promised to give up.

PNU denies that, and Kibaki said on Monday he was ready to conclude the process of forming the cabinet as soon as possible.

One post not in dispute is finance, which means current Finance Minister Amos Kimunya is almost certain to keep his job.

Duncan Kimani, a senior currency trader at Bank of Africa Kenya Ltd., hoped the dispute would not degenerate further.

"Already the country has suffered enough in terms of tourism and the supply chain being cut off," he told Reuters. "So a prolonged deadlock would mean that even the 4 or 5 percent growth target we're looking at might not be achievable."

Wangui Mbatia, who works with families displaced by the post-election bloodshed, said many Kenyans feared both sides were most focused on taking control of lucrative portfolios.

"If there is a corruption-free government it shouldn't matter who has what," she said.

Monday, April 07, 2008

The Wandering Continues

Well, ladies and gentlemen, you all knew that it couldn’t last. Hubby and I have some big news to share with you. *deep breath* Hubby and I will be leaving Kenya this summer for the next destination on our tour of world domination.

By now, you have probably guessed that our new home will be Cairo, Egypt. While there, Hubby will finally be putting that PhD to some good use as a professor at a local university. I, on the other hand, will continue my Expat Wife ways of doing as little as possible in between Arabic classes and blogging here.

Before you ask too many questions, I have copied (and edited for Typ0-ness) some information that Hubby shared with some of you last week.

Did the Organization not work out?

It totally did and Hubby will continue his association with the Organization. But he has always wanted to teach and this way he can do research as a consultant and teach as a professor. If I were Miley Cyrus, I might call this the “best of both worlds.”

Does this have anything to do with the "troubles" in Kenya now?

Nope. This had been in the works long before the elections. Plus with Hubby’s ongoing work with the Org, we’ll be back fairly frequently.

When will you leave?

The school year starts in early September, so we'll be in Cairo in mid-August. Backtracking in the calendar, we will likely leave Nairobi in mid-July for a short trip home for nachos, martinis, and lots of shopping.

So when can I visit?

Keeping in mind that all visitors must carry books, Kraft Dinner, and other souvenirs of the Real World, you are all, as always, welcome to visit us in our new home. Give us a month or two to settle in, but we should be up and ready for visitors by the end of October or so.

What about your amazing kitchen in Nairobi?

You had to turn the knife didn’t you. *sob* I’m going to miss this killer apartment and the world’s greatest kitchen more than you can ever imagine. *sob*

But I wanted to see you in Kenya.

We have been here two years, you know. Luckily, you still have until mid-May to arrive, safari, and leave again. We have always encouraged visitors and bringers of Kraft Mac & Cheese and hope that you will try to squeeze us in before we bid adieu to Nairobi.

So how long are you going to last here??

Excellent and sadly pertinent question. We were supposed to be in Delhi for three years. We managed ten months. Nairobi was also scheduled for three years and will be at two on the dot when we leave.

Hubby’s contract is for two years but this is the most excited I have seen him in many years. He has been selecting textbooks and writing up syllabi since the moment he got the offer. I sincerely expect to be in Egypt for quite some time. *crosses fingers*

Sunday, April 06, 2008

My Death Vision

You already know about my epic journey to get to Cairo but I haven’t told you much about the city itself. Since we were short a full day of our planned long-weekend, Hubby and I were unable to explore the city the way we had planned. That said, we did see enough of it to form a few opinions.

Unlike the lush multi-hued greenness of Nairobi (and even Delhi to an extent), Cairo is rather brown. There are few planned parks – or oases of nature – but they seemed to me to be few and far between. One person we spoke with said that one of his favorite treats was to walk barefoot in grass whenever he had the opportunity. The way he said it, it didn’t seem like a treat he was able to indulge in very frequently.

That said, this city can boast more history in a square mile than all of Canada put together. One of my first whispered comments to Hubby that Friday was that I hoped that Cairo had a Seven Cities-style program so that I could explore all of the amazing history block by block. The gentleman who picked us up from the airport referred to his “grandfather” who built one particular monument. He was talking about a Pharaoh!

But Cairo wasn’t all good news. In fact, some of it was sheer terror.

I have always assumed that I was going to die in some romantic or at least memorable fashion. Most people don’t spend time thinking about this sort of thing – but I do. Earthquake, saving someone’s life, or perishing from a disease I pick up on one of our wanderings would all be acceptable epitaphs. But now I know it isn’t to be - because I’m going to die in a car crash in Cairo, Egypt.

Don’t mock me – driving there is an extreme sport that even the locals look upon with trepidation. Being a passenger watching passively as hundreds of cars proceed to cut each other off in an increasingly dangerous fashion is sure to give anyone nightmares.

Imagine the chaos of Delhi’s roads and then combine it with the unpredictability and aggressiveness of Nairobi’s drivers, then multiply that by a hundred and you may start to understand Cairo’s traffic. Hubby, who loves to drive and has driven in both Delhi and Nairobi – both cities where foreigners are considered rather brave to position themselves behind the wheel – has said that he would NOT be driving in Cairo.

I managed to survive our many taxi rides in Cairo but such was not to be the end of my near death experiences in Cairo. I was in Egypt for three and a half days and I managed to get food poisoning. Oh yeah, I have mad skills!

Egypt’s answer to Delhi Belly is locally referred to as Mummy Tummy and I had a full-on case of it by Sunday evening. The culprit was not, as I had first suspected, bad ice at the bar where I had naught but a can of Diet Coke. No, I came all the way to Egypt and was rendered unto death by a quesadilla from Chili’s.

Ok now you can mock me. *sob*

Saturday, April 05, 2008


After our morning at Giza, our driver took us to Saqqara just outside Cairo where I proceeded to be a big baby and complained about the heat and being tired. These older pyramids are incredibly well preserved and since they are off the beaten track do not have nearly as many tourists (or touts) around to annoy you.

The two best parts of this stop, for me anyways, were the museum at the foot of the hill and the hieroglyphics. The museum has some really interesting statues and even a few mummies, which admittedly, freaked me out. Dead bodies. Eww.

The hieroglyphics, on the other hand, are not gross – they are really cool! These stories from the ancients that are carved and painted into walls for people to see millennia after they were first conceived. Sometimes it was obvious what the artist was trying to depict –
a boat about to be tipped over by a hippo, men rowing a ship, or simply the raw coolness of the pharaoh.

I can sincerely say that the hieroglyphics moved me – like looking at an amazing piece of art in a gallery. They were simply and utterly beautiful in this incredibly raw way. For people who can read them they’re more than art -- they’re a great story in a good book. The perfect piece of well-rounded art.

Friday, April 04, 2008

Riddle of the Sphinx

What goes on four legs in the morning, on two legs at noon, and on three legs in the evening?

Do you remember Oedipus’s answer? Oh yeah, he’s not just famous for sleeping with his mother. He also defeated the wisdom of the Sphinx. But more on that later.

Ever the optimist, Hubby said he was prepared to be disappointed by the Sphinx. He defended this pre-viewing theory by saying that he had heard that the iconic Egyptian statue was much like the Mona Lisa in Paris – a tiny postage stamp waiting to disappoint and mock you. Let me assure you that the Sphinx, unlike La Jaconde, is NOT disappointing.

Since lame tourists in bygone years enjoyed picking at her sides for souvenirs, you can’t get very close to the Sphinx. But even from the viewing deck to its right you could still feel her majesty. (I know they say that it’s a man but since it was also a symbol of wisdom I’m going with logic and will assume it was really a woman.) Her huge forepaws seemed almost delicate and you could just make out the outline of her tail sitting alongside her back paws.

One of the things that I found interesting was that the Sphinx doesn’t sit in front the Great Pyramid as one might logically think or at least as I always thought. The pyramid you see in background of all her photos is actually Khafre, which is 50 feet shorter than Khufu’s Great Pyramid.

The touts around the Sphinx were incredibly aggressive. Thanks to my skin color, we were getting both the best and worst of it. Many of the touts left us alone assuming I was local – but then others came over and pounded us with offers in Arabic, only going away when I glared at them so much I think they thought I had given them the evil eye.

As a final note: bonus points and a shout out to whoever knows the answer to the Riddle of the Sphinx. No cheating and looking it up. You either know it or the Sphinx will smite you. Good luck!

Thursday, April 03, 2008

Camels of Egypt

We in the developed world may mock bicycle cops and police officers roaming the city on Segways. But here at Giza the law rides camels.

Look! A Canadian camel!

Wednesday, April 02, 2008

By the Power of Ra

As you fly over the deserts of Egypt, you will find yourself looking for pyramids behind every sand dune. The stories you read and hear your entire life have led you to this moment and the knowledge that there are more pyramids in Egypt than stars in the sky. But yet, none appear no matter how hard you look and you arrive at the Cairo airport slightly disappointed not to have seen any pyramids or wandering mummies yet.

But that disappointment changes the day you visit Giza.

A friend of Hubby’s set us up with a driver for the day to take us to see the pyramids. Armed with sunscreen, water, a camera, and wide brimmed hats, we set off on what for me was the fulfillment of a lifelong dream.

We drove through the city chatting with our driver about his children, the history of Egypt, and American politics when all of a sudden out of the corner of my eye I spotted something to my left. In what was obstinately the middle of a city I saw the Great Pyramid of Giza. Not out in the middle of some desert (although it is) but from my left hand car window through a canopy of trees and apartment buildings. Our driver explained that the city used to be further away but had been encroaching for the last few decades due to population growth in Cairo.

After making it through the gauntlet of touts and would-be tour guides, we made our way to Khufu’s Pyramid, or the Great Pyramid as it is more commonly referred to. (It is also sometimes referred to by its Greek name Cheops.) I could comment on its exact size and how each side is exactly the same as the one before it but all you conspiracy theorists already know all of that. But what you can’t anticipate is just how big it is. That realization comes just before the one that it is man made. Not man made with the help of cranes and modern conveniences but shaped and built by actual people who placed the first stone on the bottom and the one on the very top.

Despite the fact that we were there in the middle of March, there were quite a few tourists climbing the stairs to the small opening through which people can gain entrance to the interior of the pyramid. Such was our luck that by the time we got there they had closed access for the morning. Although climbing the pyramid per se hasn’t been allowed now for quite some time, even walking up the carved out stairs is amazing. All around us we could hear people say ,“I’m standing on something that was built thousands of years ago. This is so freaking cool.” Ok I said that. But the sentiment was being shared in at least a dozen languages around us.

Some people took camel rides to the pyramid complex while others sat in horse-drawn carts as they made their way between pyramids. We chose to walk to the second pyramid, Khafre, not realizing that this would require avoiding the annoying teenagers who appeared to be there on a school trip. “Hello! What is your name? Give me water! Give me drink!”

While time and tourists have eroded much of the limestone and stonework on the exterior of all of the pyramids, this slightly smaller edifice is easily distinguished as the pyramid that still has its capstone.

After a bit of exploration, we hopped in our car and drove to a nearby viewing plateau. From this tout-filled spot, you can see all three pyramids at once. Across the expanse of desert, they seem to arise out of nothing and even the doubters start thinking about alien conspiracies.

Then you turn a little to the right and the city looms up in the background and somehow Giza loses a bit of its majesty. Don’t get me wrong, they’re amazing and they always will be, Ra willing, but you can literally see modern life overtaking the Giza Complex and that’s rather depressing. These large tombs of the dead represent the ancient world and they are at risk of being pushed out by the needs of the living.

Of course, there is still one part of Giza I haven’t yet discussed – the Sphinx. Stay tuned…

Tuesday, April 01, 2008

The Evil Airline

Many of you have heard me bi… err… complain about Kenyan Airways before. So why, you may ask, did we choose them to fly us to Cairo over the Easter long-weekend? I am not one to point fingers of blame (Hubby) or to say that someone (Hubby) was being cheap and elected to use airmiles to pay for this flight rather than paying for a decent (Emirates) airline. Such behavior would be childish and not entirely relevant to the situation.

Hubby and I left our apartment at 2:00 p.m. on Thursday afternoon in plenty of time for our 5:30 p.m. flight. After making our way through security, we killed time in Java House and waited for our flight to be called. (I realize that all of this may seem obvious but bear with me. The time line will come in handy when you start sympathizing with me and raging against the Kenyan Airlines machine in a few paragraphs.) Once we arrived in our designated waiting area, we watched the clock tick slowly past half five and continued to wait for our flight.

I’m not sure exactly what time it was when we boarded the plane but we were still on the tarmac as the sun made its way across the sky and began to set. This being Nairobi, that means that we had been locked inside the plane for at least an hour when the announcement came over the loudspeaker that there was a mechanical problem with the airplane. Oh yay.

Half of the passengers took this opportunity to deboard and smoke cigarettes on the tarmac. My observations about how incredibly unsafe this was went unheard amid the rush of people flocking to the doors for some fresh air. About thirty minutes later, they told us that plane number one was kaput and that a second plane had been readied for us.

Unsurprisingly, this caused a stampede of people and hand luggage running across the tarmac toward the promised “working plane.” There we stood shivering on the steps demanding to be let in. Yeah, not so much.

We were herded back across the tarmac and into the holding area that would be our home for the next several hours. I feel it important in obtaining your sympathies to point out that Kenyan Airlines did not provide food for its hungry would-be passengers – heck, they didn’t even provide water! Someone who shall continue to remain nameless (Hubby) said that he would not pay to obtain these items if Kenyan Airlines wasn’t going to do it for free. (Hubby Edit: On principle, mind you.)

And so we sat in the extremely hot holding pen watching Mother Nature provide the latest delay in our plans. It didn’t just rain – the lashing rain beat down upon what we would later discover was our luggage.

Around 10:00 p.m. they finally decided that the plane and the rain were ready for us. At first, the airline officials tried to say that only people with umbrellas could board the plane but that lasted exactly 3 seconds before the rest of us charged toward freedom. At exactly 10:45, Plane Number Two took off.

But that is not the end of the story.

Because at 11:45 the pilot announced that our lovely second plane also had an electrical problem so we were turning around – back to Nairobi. On the plus side, since everyone was so tired, no one complained much.

This time when they put us in our holding cell, they locked all of the doors so that not even a breath of fresh air could enter the room. And of course, since by this time we should have already arrived in Cairo, they continued to starve us.

Since this is getting long, I’m going to skip the parts of the story where Hubby left me in the holding cell to do goodness-knows-what along with several other irate passengers. Instead I’ll skip ahead to Hubby and I sitting in a taxi (paid for by Kenyan Airlines, thank you) on our way home.

The next morning, the refugees of our KQ flight all gathered in the airport Java House to swap stories and drink over-priced coffee that the airline still wasn’t paying for. When we had gone gone home, most of the passengers had made their way to various hotels throughout the city to enjoy the 4 hours of sleep that were left to them the night before. We got to know various people from vacationing Canadians, an aid worker who was literally our neighbor, and a hot German guy – I don’t remember what he did other than look really hot. (Hubby Edit: Hmmph, I knew she wanted to get rid of me -- SGH, I think this is our chance!)

Our 8:30 a.m. flight was – and I’m sure you’ll find this shocking – late. But by 10 o’clock we were in the air and on our way to Egypt. We arrived in Cairo 16 hours late with our entire first day almost entirely shot. On the plus side, at least we didn’t pay for the flight thanks to those airmiles.

I know today’s blog is already long but I’d like to take a moment to address Kenyan Airways on the off chance they are reading this. Other than a taxi to and from home after Plane Number Two died, we were given and offered zero compensation - not even a bottle of water or a stale cookie. Moreover, during this entire debacle, we were kept incredibly uninformed about what was going on. We were kept in locked rooms without even so much as a, “We’re working on it.”

This is the fourth trip I’ve taken on Kenyan Airlines. The second time I’ve been delayed overnight due to the poor maintenance of their planes, which appear to break every time I get near one. And the third time they’ve screwed something up. Finally, this is the last time I will EVER fly on this god-forsaken airline.