Tuesday, September 30, 2008

Eid Mubarak

I would like to wish all my Devoted Readers readers a happy and blessed Eid al-Fitr!

You Can Quote Me on That

Here is some more food for thought on the issue of censorship:

"If your library is not 'unsafe', it probably isn't doing its job."
- John Berry, Iii, Library Journal, October 1999

"There are worse crimes than burning books. One of them is not reading them."
- Joseph Alexandrovitch Brodsky

"Everyone is in favor of free speech. Hardly a day passes without its being extolled, but some people's idea of it is that they are free to say what they like, but if anyone else says anything back, that is an outrage." 

- Winston Churchill

"If librarianship is the connecting of people to ideas – and I believe that is the truest definition of what we do – it is crucial to remember that we must keep and make available, not just good ideas and noble ideas, but bad ideas, silly ideas, and yes, even dangerous or wicked ideas."

- Graceanne A. Decandido

"Don't join the book burners. Don't think you are going to conceal thoughts by concealing evidence that they ever existed."

- Dwight D. Eisenhower

"If the human body's obscene, complain to the manufacturer, not me."

- Larry Flynt

"They that can give up essential liberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety."

- Benjamin Franklin

"Books won't stay banned. They won't burn. Ideas won't go to jail. In the long run of history, the censor and the inquisitor have always lost. The only sure weapon against bad ideas is better ideas. The source of better ideas is wisdom. The surest path to wisdom is a liberal education."

- Alfred Whitney Griswold, Essays on Education

"Where they have burned books, they will end in burning human beings."

- Heinrich Heine

"To prohibit the reading of certain books is to declare the inhabitants to be either fools or slaves."
- Claude Adrien Helvetius,

"Civil government cannot let any group ride roughshod over others simply because their consciences tell them to do so."

- Robert H. Jackson

"Books and ideas are the most effective weapons against intolerance and ignorance."

- Lyndon Baines Johnson

"Censorship, like charity, should begin at home; but unlike charity, it should end there."

- Clare Booth Luce

"One cannot and must not try to erase the past merely because it does not fit the present."

- Golda Meir

"A censor is an expert in cutting remarks. A censor is a man who knows more than he thinks you ought to."
- Dr. Laurence Peter

"What is freedom of expression? Without the freedom to offend, it ceases to exist."

- Salman Rushdie

"Censorship reflects a society's lack of confidence in itself. It is the hallmark of an authoritarian regime..."

- Justice Potter Stewart, dissenting Ginzberg v. United States,

"Censorship is telling a man he can't have a steak just because a baby can't chew it."

- Mark Twain

"Adam was but human - this explains it all. He did not want the apple for the apple's sake, he wanted it only because it was forbidden. The mistake was in not forbidding the serpent; then he would have eaten the serpent."

- Mark Twain

"All these people talk so eloquently about getting back to good old-fashioned values. Well, as an old poop I can remember back to when we had those old-fashioned values, and I say let's get back to the good old-fashioned First Amendment of the good old-fashioned Constitution of the United States -- and to hell with the censors! Give me knowledge or give me death!"

- Kurt Vonnegut

"There is no such thing as a moral book or an immoral book. Books are well written or badly written. That is all."

- Oscar Wilde

Monday, September 29, 2008


Today is a remarkable day in the history of Wandering the World. No, Mum, I’m still not pregnant! In fact, for someone who could barely be bothered to do her homework 86% of the time, this is an even more momentous occasion than expectant motherhood. You are currently reading my 500th post!

My third blog-iversary was last week but I decided to put off that celebration in favour of marking the big five-oh-oh. I’ll be first to admit that not all of my posts have been interesting, creative, or even terribly original but I have always tried to be honest with you, my Devoted Readers, about who I was at that moment in my life. Of course, sometimes who I was at that moment was everything from a wannabe journalist to a crazy girl who wanted to vent about pointless things. But no matter which of my many personalities was in charge of blogging on a given day, I still made a point of getting my thoughts out there in the blogosphere. (Except for when Lazy Smurf was in charge. Those were the days when we didn’t blog at all. Obviously she’s the one giving orders more often than not.)

After the equivalent of a post every other day for three years I think we can safely say that I don’t maintain this site out of a false sense of duty. In fact, this blog is my safety net of sanity and in an incredibly cheesy way makes me ridiculously happy. Where else can you go and talk about yourself day after day and know that those who listen to your ramblings won’t judge you (much)? And don’t say therapy because we both know that deep down shrinks are totally calling you out for being nutters. (Or maybe that was just in my sessions…)

So, for giving me a safe place to be me and joining me on this quest for sanity I’d like to take this opportunity to thank each and every Devoted Reader out there. This blog would simply be me talking to myself (again) without you. I look forward to your visits and your comments more than you know.

Thank you, and here’s to the next 500 posts!

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Page Turners

I’m sure that my mother will be the first to pipe up and say that I didn’t always enjoy reading, but I sincerely can’t remember a time when I didn’t love escaping into the world of books. So you can imagine my nostalgic amusement last week I was reading Amazon’s book blog and came across a website where famous people talked about their favourite childhood book. I didn’t read all of the responses, but there were a few that made me smile and think back to the days when I curled up with a copy of “The Fantastic Mr. Fox” or “The Phantom Tollbooth.”

Much to his never-ending exasperation, Hubby will be the first to tell you that I am incapable of falling asleep without reading. Curled up on my side, the covers pulled up over my shoulder, with the book only inches from my face is my all time favourite place to read. Of course, were I Pinocchio I have a feeling that by now my books would be much, much further away from my face due to the number of times I have said the words, “Just until the end of this chapter,” and then proceeded to mentally block out all chapter headings in my quest to finish a good book. In fact, I’ve been saying it for so long, I’m pretty sure it will be my epitaph when I die.

Reading has always been my favourite way of escaping reality. I don’t remember the title of the first book I read as a child. I can’t even tell you the name of the best book I read as a child. But what I remember more than anything is reading and rereading all the books I could get my hands on. Orphans who change the lives of everyone they meet, figuring out why sanitary napkins require belts, or simply the desire not to be forgotten after you die -- I connected with the characters between the pages of countless books far more easily than I did with the people I knew I real life.

One of the things I love about going home to visit my family in Toronto is seeing my nieces and nephews reading the same books I did when I was their age. In fact, based on some of the markings some horrible infant made on their pages many years ago, I can tell you that they are the exact same editions I read as a child. I love the fact that these children of the new millennium might learn to love the same books that I read and loved despite the passage of time.

So to bring us back to the topic at hand, what is your favourite book from childhood? Which ones still have places of honour on your adult bookshelves? Since I’m not sure that I’m ready to pick a favourite, I’m going to go and read some Shel Silverstein and maybe invite some other dreamers, wishers, liars, and magic bean buyers to join me.

Saturday, September 27, 2008

Challenging Reading

The ALA’s annual Banned Books Week celebrates something very close to my heart: the freedom to read. According to the American Library Association, more than 400 books were challenged in 2007. The 10 most challenged titles were:

1. "And Tango Makes Three" by Justin Richardson/Peter Parnell

Reasons: Anti-Ethnic, Sexism, Homosexuality, Anti-Family, Religious Viewpoint, Unsuited to Age Group

2. "The Chocolate War" by Robert Cormier

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Violence

3. "Olive's Ocean" by Kevin Henkes

Reasons: Sexually Explicit and Offensive Language

4. "The Golden Compass" by Philip Pullman
Reason: Religious Viewpoint

5. "The Adventures of Huckleberry Finn" by Mark Twain
Reason: Racism

6. "The Color Purple" by Alice Walker

Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language,

7. "TTYL" by Lauren Myracle

Reasons: Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

8. "I Know Why the Caged Bird Sings" by Maya Angelou

Reason: Sexually Explicit

9. "It's Perfectly Normal" by Robie Harris

Reasons: Sex Education, Sexually Explicit

10. "The Perks of Being A Wallflower" by Stephen Chbosky

Reasons: Homosexuality, Sexually Explicit, Offensive Language, Unsuited to Age Group

Friday, September 26, 2008

Banned Books Week

To mark the beginning of the American Library Association’s annual Banned Books Week, I I would like to share one of my favourite XTC songs.

"Books Are Burning"

Books are burning
In the main square, and I saw there
The fire eating the text

Books are burning
In the still air
And you know where they burn books
People are next

I believe the printed word should be forgiven
Doesn't matter what it said
Wisdom hotline from the dead back to the living
Key to the larder for your heart and head

Books are burning
In our own town, watch us turn 'round
And cast our glances elsewhere

Books are burning
In the playground
Smell of burnt book is not unlike human hair

I believe the printed word is more than sacred
Beyond the gauge of good or bad
The human right to let your soul fly free and naked
Above the violence of the fearful and sad
The church of matches
Anoints in ignorance with gasoline
The church of matches
Grows fat by breathing in the smoke of dreams
It's quite obscene

Books are burning
More each day now, and I pray now
You boys will tire of these games

Books are burning
I hope somehow, this will allow
A phoenix up from the flames

Something to Strive For

I spoke with my soon-to-be Arabic tutor yesterday morning and we agreed that my classes would begin in about two weeks. We also somehow agreed that I would show up for my first class at 7:30 a.m. Sunday morning. If I didn’t know better, I would think that I was either a) being Punk’d, or b) extremely intoxicated when I agreed to such an insanely early class. The last time I had to be coherent and socially acceptable at that hour of the morning, I was being paid a not overly insulting amount of money.

I am hoping that my tutor, whose name I didn’t actually catch because I was still in shock at agreeing to be ready to learn at 7 freaking 30 in the morning, will be willing to renegotiate our schedule. Let’s be honest, I’m not going to be up to learning anything at that hour of the morning. Heck, I’m barely up to being civil to my husband at that hour of the morning!

So how long do you think it will take until I can read a Harry Potter book in Arabic? What can i say, I'm the queen of unattainable goals!

Thursday, September 25, 2008

Wrestling with Reality

As of today, I have been online for fourteen years. During virtually all of that time, I have been known as Typ0 and I have always tried to be careful about revealing too much of the real me. That said, I have met people from the Internet and occasionally revealed fairly personal things about myself. The only thing is that I didn’t really realize how much I did of the latter until an old friend from my Library days pointed it out to me the other day.

When I started this blog, I made a promise to myself and Hubby that I would not use our real names or post photos of our faces. I further committed to giving the same degree of privacy to our friends and family. I have taken that commitment to various organizations with whom I work by asking that they not post photos of me online. I thought I was being safe – paranoid but safe.

About a year or two ago, I joined Facebook and didn’t think twice about logging in with my real name although I continued my camera phobia by not posting an actual photo of myself. (Surprisingly, I don’t actually look like a giraffe.) I posted certain bits of information about myself but never enough, I thought, to let anyone track me down or steal my identity. Of course, I post updates about my location and what is going on in my life but, I told myself, I kept enough back to remain anonymous except to those who knew better. After all, no one could see my Facebook profile except people I had designated as my “friends.”

But my Library friend has forced me to think twice about my decision to even be on Facebook. More than that, he has made me question the existence of this blog. Am I giving too much away? Despite the paranoia I have cultivated about anonymity, am I really out there for everyone to find and track down? I don’t know.

This internal, and now blogged, debate also has me wondering if I can actually live without Facebook and all the camaraderie it brings with it. More importantly, I’d have to live without games like Scramble and Word Twist and that would leave dozens of hours each day that I’d be forced to fill with actual work or productivity.

So what do you think, Devoted Readers? Should I pack it in here and on Facebook and live with the anonymity I claim to desire? Or should I simply tone it all down a few notches? While I’m not sure how to be more vague here about who I am, I do know that I am incapable of not blogging as it gives me a wonderful outlet for my the parts of me that might otherwise run rampant and free like Godzilla in Tokyo. That said, this weekend my Facebook self will be taking a savage beating as I delete information and try to blur the lines between who I am online and who I am in reality. I just hope I can still find that line through the haze.

Tuesday, September 23, 2008


One thing I have learned from our many moves is that I won’t be happy or content until I have made our apartment a home. There is something about hanging your own art on the wall, putting your clothes in the drawers where they belong, and arranging bookshelves just so that makes life in a new place easier to bear. Although we are still one shipment short of a real home, the process that Adelpha calls “nesting” has definitely begun.

Since we arrived more than a month ago now, I have been negligent about even simple things like deciding exactly which drawer t-shirts should be placed and how best to organize our sorry excuse for a kitchen. When our air shipment arrived last week, it was the final push I needed to remember that Cairo wasn’t just another hotel – it was our new home.

Due to the horrific condition our clothes arrived in, every single article of clothing had to be laundered including suits that were still in their plastic dry cleaner bags. Thankfully, I have a wonderful husband who spent numerous hours cycling our dusty clothes through the washing machine and hanging them on our drying rack. With his help, I spent most of the weekend putting things away, organizing, discussing where things should be put away, and folding mountains of laundry.

The biggest step toward feeling more at home has been underway for a few weeks now. Some of you may remember what our flat looked like when we arrived in August. Thanks to some artful pouting and polite complaining, the Housing Department took pity on us and sent over some slightly less hideous couches for our living room. When we were asked what we thought of our new seating, we diplomatically said that they were “a huge improvement.”

Sure, the new sofas weren’t ideal but I didn’t lie when I said we liked them more than our old ones. The pattern is less jarring to the eye and they’re high enough that adults can sit comfortably. I would call that an upgrade any day of the week.

In even better news, our new curtains were installed yesterday and to call them a simple upgrade doesn’t do them justice. We went from “attack of the floral monstrosity” to simplistic, white bliss.

To be honest, when Curtain Guy arrived I was beyond dubious. He laid out heavy white canvas sheets that he had cut to fit to our windows and then unpacked some lovely off-white sheers. I had a sudden fear that the ugliness was going on our side of the apartment and asked Hubby if he thought Curtain Guy would be willing to scrap the opaque curtains and simply hang the ones that would block peeping eyes but allow us to enjoy the Egyptian sun. Hubby insisted that I trust the person whose job it was to hang non-ugly curtains.

Given the odds, it was bound to happen eventually – Hubby was right and I was less right. (Unless you have photographic evidence, I am never actually wrong.) The new curtains look awesome. He hung the ugly opaque ones next to the window and they are covered quite lightly and elegantly by the off-white sheers. Better than that, I can open only the heavier layer, leaving the sheer toile-like fabric to filter the light and brighten my living room.

I realize that today’s blog is of little interest to anyone but me, but I’m excited about finally almost being comfortable in my new surroundings. The remainder of our things will arrive soon and my foray into nesting will be complete. Which leads us to the problem of what I’m going to do with my time when I finish nesting and the Housing Department works its way through the rather lengthy list I’m making of things that still need to be done to the flat. At this rate, I might be forced to go and get a life! *eek*

Monday, September 22, 2008

Clean at Last

For a girl who adored the bliss of not having to clean up after herself for the last three years I was incredibly negligent about hiring a maid when I arrived in Cairo. (Hubby Edit: Only the last three years??) It isn’t even as if I was going to dust or mop the floors myself while we waited for a maid to materialize. Sadly the dust-infested state of our flat was simply due to laziness and fear on my part.

The lovely lady I knew I would end up hiring, and didn’t want to hire, is evidently famous for inadvertently breaking everything in sight. I used to get upset at Tori for simply not returning my knick-knacks to the exact spots where I had placed them; I knew I couldn’t deal with someone who could possibly break those same beloved items.

In addition to my desire to save my highly fragile things from destruction was also the knowledge that my Arabic classes don’t start until next month and the most I can say in the local language is “left, right, and no cheese.” Interviewing a stranger, negotiating salaries, explaining duties, and developing a friendly relationship with the woman who will be folding my unmentionables is simply beyond my current linguistic abilities.

But the yuckiness of my living situation was finally beginning to become more oppressive than my unwillingness to look foolish in front of someone with whom I couldn’t communicate. So it was with no small amount of embarrassment that I asked Hubby to ask our baowab Ash to ask Queen if she would please come to clean our apartment.

After Hubby assisted with negotiations, Queen agreed to work for us twice a week. When she arrived the next day with her daughter in tow it was clear to me that she had noticed how filth-tastic I had allowed our home to become during the past four weeks. In fact, at one point she had swept a rather large Shame Spiral™ inducing pile of dust into one embarrassingly large pile. She patted me on my shoulder when she saw my mortified look of self-disgust and said something that I think probably translated to, “You’re a bad wife who does not care for her husband properly. But it is OK because now Queen is here for you.”

I’d like to take this opportunity to say that our flat didn’t appear that bad prior to her arrival. In fact, a few years ago before we had experienced the joy of maids, we probably would have considered it clean. But it was dingy. A point that was further highlighted by the way the apartment literally gleamed after Queen left later that afternoon.

So that’s the story of how Hubby and I hired and so far love our new maid. She may end up breaking things in the near future but for now she has brought cleanliness, the overwhelming scent of bleach, and less shame to our happy home.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

In Which We Are One for Two

Thursday started off as a day of much happiness in the Typ0 household. It began with my being called at 7:30 a.m. by the Institution to be told that one of my two shipments would be delivered in a few hours. I twittered incomprehensibly to the woman on the other end of the line while I did my pathetic dance of joy to celebrate. This was followed by my singing a song (to the theme of “Jungle Fever”) about how “I have stuff and you don’t.” (Sometimes it really is for the best that I don’t have a web cam recording my every movement.)

Although the promised shipment contained mostly Hubby's nerd books, a quick review of the spreadsheets (on which I had meticulously documented every item in our shipments) promised clothes for both of us, DVDs, and emergency kitchen supplies. The thought of having one of our good Japanese knives as opposed to the dull “cutting tools” we were given by the Institution thrilled the chef in me and I began planning meals for Hubby to prepare.

By two that afternoon, I was on pins and needles jumping every time I heard the elevator doors clank. When the bell finally rang, I literally sprinted to the door like a child looking for Santa. “Hi!” I gushed to the woman on the other side not initially noticing the perturbed look on her face.

She explained that she was from the Institution and had my eight boxes but that there was a problem. My heart stopped beating as I imagined my DVDs sitting in some Egyptian Customs Officer’s office while he and his friends watched Xena and mocked the stupid foreigner who foolishly tried to bring such great entertainment into their country.

When Box Lady moved aside so that her assistant could start bringing our things inside the apartment, I immediately saw what had her so upset. The first box was gaping at the top, torn at the bottom, and was obviously only staying together by virtue of the massive amounts of tape that encircled it.

Back in June when the air shipment guys were busy packing our things up, I blogged about the crap-tacular job they did and my fear that my things would not survive the admittedly short trip from Kenya to Egypt. I went to their offices and oversaw the repacking of one box of clothes and the delicate bubble wrapping of my DVDs that they had initially packed into pink garbage bags. When Rock and I drove back home that afternoon, I trusted that the packers would continue to carefully repack all our things.

Good God I'm an idiot!

Back then when I saw the moving people put all of Hubby’s books into two boxes I implored them to repack. “You can’t put 350 kilograms of hardcover books in two boxes and not expect the boxes to collapse and break apart!” I squeaked at the time. But it turns out that they had more stupidly misplaced faith in the powers of cardboard than any reasonable human being ought to. The result is that neither box of books survived intact although so far it appears that only the journals were severely damaged.

Our clothes, as luck would have it, had somehow ended up in his and hers boxes. His was fine. And in typical Typ0 fashion, hers was not.

It was easy to tell which boxes the Customs officials had riffled through since they used a different colour tape from the shipping company. My initial foray into my DVDs proved Hubby right and provided the first giggles of the afternoon. It was obvious that they had cut through the individually bubble wrapped packages as they had left cut marks on several boxes. Much as Hubby had predicted all those months ago, they had also removed and probably watched “The Running Man” as it was the only DVD that wasn’t still in some sort of wrapping.

During all of these discoveries, Box Lady was insisting that in all her years doing this job for the Institution she had never, ever, ever (her words not mine) seen such horrible packing. She helped me take all these photos and insisted that I sit down as soon as she left and email a letter of complaint to the shipping company. I may have been outraged at the poor handling of our things by the shipping company but she was sincerely offended. I liked her righteous indignation so she’ll be getting a ‘cc on the email I am currently composing (and deleting expletives from) to send to the shippers.

Finally, since I don’t like to end these sessions of ours on a down note, here’s a bit of humor. You see, while our books were treated with less respect than the dust shows the desert, and our DVDs were given more than a cursory glance by Customs officials, those same men did take the time to look at some things more closely than others. At the top of the list of things Egyptian Customs found suspicious was several sealed boxes of condoms. When Hubby and I inventoried our things, we noticed that both of these boxes had been torn open rather forcefully and their contents had definitely been inspected with due diligence.

Arnold Schwarzenegger movies and condoms – it's no wonder Customs didn’t want to release our shipment sooner!

Saturday, September 20, 2008

When Worlds Collide

I saw this sign when Hubby and I went to Carrefour last week. I love it when American consumerism and Islamic fundamentalism meet and declare a truce.

Friday, September 19, 2008

Withdrawal Symptoms

Never let it be said that I am even remotely normal. In fact, I have always been known as the girl who is slightly to the left of normal. Were I to be honest I would tell you that I was the girl who was WAY to the left of normal. Don’t get me wrong, I like being weird because it is a far more fun way to spend a day. But sometimes I am confronted with the fact that I may be too odd even for the oddballs.

Take ATMs for example. In Nairobi, being mugged after taking money out of your local machine o’money is considered a common and not unreasonable fear. Hubby even told me of a group of people who were taking it one step further and carjacking you after your visit to the ATM. But my warped mind knows an even more sinister way of having your money stolen after a trip to the bank: psychics!

Don’t mock me until you hear my (scarily) well-thought out idea. Whenever you type your PIN into your ATM, you think the numbers as you type. You walk up to the machine and after checking that the person in line behind you is at least 10 feet away, you put your card in the slot, and think to yourself, “Nine, oh, two, one, oh,” as you hit the numbers in front of you. Now imagine that the 10-feet-away-guy didn’t need to be able to see over your shoulder because he could read your mind. All he has to do is pick your pocket for a card you won’t miss for several days at the very least. Boom! The perfect psychic crime!

If you’re done making fun of me, please allow me to finish my story. I came up with this theory several months ago and have actually begun thinking the wrong numbers as I type just in case there’s a psychic in the area. The sad part of this story is that it is absolutely true. And the scary part is that the ATM craziness isn’t even the tip of the wacky iceberg that is my mind.

Imagine a world where magic exists and fairy tales have some sort of grounding in reality. Think about a place where stuffed animals have social lives when you’re not around and the naughtier, more wicked version of yourself exists just beyond the backwards surface of your existence. If you can grasp these off kilter ideas, you may begin to comprehend the kind of things that go on in my mind every day.

Why be normal when you can be me!

Thursday, September 18, 2008

The Great Debate

Perhaps one of the most important debates to ever be discussed here on “Wandering the World,” today’s topic touches at the heart of literally dozens of people around the world. Friendships have ended over disagreements on this subject and relationships have dissolved. No, I’m not talking about whether you support Obama or McCain, or if you think that Sarah Palin is a raging idiot (or as Hubby thinks, a super hot raging idiot). I’m talking about foosball.

Last Friday, the Pirates, Hubby, and I went over to Maadi to hang out and meet some new friends at a local expat club there. After the yummy BBQ dinner, we headed over to the game room, which boasted a basketball game, Ping-Pong table, air hockey, and the aforementioned foosball table. After being roundly trounced at all of the other games by the 10 and 12 year olds in the room, the four of us decided to square off in a marital game of foosball.

As we positioned ourselves on opposite sides of the table, we all inspected our men and turned the handles in front of us. That’s when Black Beard said the words that always causes dissention before any game of table soccer, “No twirlies!”

Hubby and I looked at him, aghast that he would even think to outlaw such a basic and fundamental part of the game. “Sorry, BB, but twirlies are allowed,” we countered, standing our ground and executing perfect double twirls with our men.

Luckily, Adelpha agreed with us and we were able to continue to play (and eventually lose) without any further discussion. But midway through our game, a friend came up and admired our foo skills and piped in with a firm, “No twirlies!” We glared at her and continued to twirl our men with abandon but at the back of all of our minds remained the question of who was right.

So I put it to you my Devoted Readers to join the debate and weigh in on this important issue. Do you agree that twirlies are as much a part of the game of foosball as beer and lost ping pong balls? Or do you wish to outlaw this tradition and send it to the tombs with other once cherished customs like the touchdown dance and hitting someone in the arm when you see a Punch Buggy?

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

A Little Soap and Water

My obsession with the Food Network (and later BBC Food) has been documented and mocked numerous times over the past several years. Although I’m not a fan of the Anti-Christ (aka Emeril Lagasse), I do worship at the altar of Mario Batali, Jamie Oliver, and Alton Brown. When Hubby goes back to the States later this month, he will be purchasing the latest offering from Giada Delaurentis which will join the bookstore’s worth of cookbooks I have solely written by Food Network stars. (Please note that I do have scores of non-FN cookbooks; while wonderful, they are not the focus of today’s rant.)

The one thing that has always bothered both Hubby and I about the majority of these shows is the lack of hygiene they portray. While these shows help educate their viewers on how to create the perfect pear and almond tart, issues like food safety and buzz words like cross contamination do not seem to be on their radar. It sincerely disturbs me to see professional chefs touch chicken and then move on to chopping the next vegetable without changing the cutting board or washing their hands.

Some shows do pretend to care but very rarely are the food stars seen doing anything more than wiping their hands on a tea towel or even mentioning the dangers of things like raw chicken. Michael Smith, star of Chef at Home, is one of the few that is always filmed washing his hands with hot water and soap after handling raw meat.

Hubby and I discuss this issue almost every time we watch a cooking show so it was with great pleasure that I spotted a link to this article the other day. After all of the salmonella outbreaks in the US over the past few summers, food safety should be a priority not only for foodies but also the people that fuel their food fantasies.
New study finds Food Network shows aren't teaching food safety per se
By: Judy Walker

A new Texas Tech University study on food safety measures analyzed practices on the Food Networks' heavy hitter shows: 30 Minute Meals with Rachael Ray, The Essence of Emeril, Everyday Italian, Paula's Home Cooking and Semi Homemade Cooking with Sandra Lee.

The results were not good.

The survey found 118 positive food-safety measures and 460 poor food handling incidents, including not washing fruits, vegetables and herbs properly and a lack of hand washing in general.

Positive categories included hand washing, cleaning equipment, washing fruits and vegetables, adequate refrigeration, use of a thermometer or other positives.

Negative behaviors include food from unsafe sources, failure to use a thermometer, use of food from the floor, failure to refrigerate perishables, failure to wash fruits or vegetables, inadequately washing equipment, sampling food or licking fingers, cross-contamination of ready-to-eat or raw foods, touching the face and failing to wash hands.
(Since moving abroad we have been lucky enough to watch BBC Food, which boasts a new universe of cooking stars for me to worship and not a single one of them ever says the word, “Bam!”)

Tuesday, September 16, 2008

The Curse of Pheromones

Last Wednesday morning, I met the lovely Lynda of Lulu’s Bay, who kindly invited me for coffee out in Maadi. Since I had made a point last week of getting out of the house to explore every day, I wasn’t worried about getting in a taxi and driving across town. Little did I know that my natural sexiness would almost cause several traffic accidents before I even managed to get on the road.

After showering and putting my hair up in a sweat-proof ponytail, I headed out to one of my favourite taxi finding spots. After walking a few meters down the road, I turned around and searched for a black and white taxi. I spotted one coming around the corner and stuck out my hand in a manner I’m sure would have impressed any seasoned New Yorker. I was pleased when the car pulled up before me.

Or I should say, I was happy until I noticed that there was already a passenger in the car. Despite trying to wave off the car, the driver kept following me. “You have someone in your car! I am not getting in a car with two men!” I explained in a semi-rational tone. After literally five minutes of stalking me, the taxi driver finally got the point and drove off.

Less than twenty seconds later, another black and white pulled up. This car had a woman in a yellow dress sitting in the back. I explained once again that the driver had a fare and he shouldn’t stop to pick other people up. The Lady in Yellow agreed and was became visibly annoyed with her driver who finally took the hint and left.

Several full taxis later, I finally had a passenger-less car approach me by cutting off three lanes of traffic and almost running over a police officer. Of course, the overpowering pheromones that had been affecting taxi drivers since I had exited my home continued to haunt me as the driver spent the next thirty minutes flirting with me. He asked me my opinion of Islam and Cairo, and asked when I was going to start Arabic lessons. And then asked for my phone number.

Several hours later, I returned home and recounted my story to Hubby who explained that it wasn’t my innate hotness that prompted all those men to stop for me. It turns out that taxi sharing is standard practice here. Black Beard later chimed in and said that the light flirting and exchanging of phone numbers was also common here.

So what is the moral of today’s tale? Other than the fact that I am not as irresistible as I thought, and that I don’t have magical powers over the taxi drivers in Cairo, I think I can safely say that today’s lesson is that one should never look a gift taxi in the mouth.

Monday, September 15, 2008

Welcome to the Neighbourhood

As you may or may not know, I know a little something about meeting people on the Internet. The initial moment of that in-person meeting is always slightly awkward as you introduce yourself using the moniker you are usually only known by in cyberspace. “Hi, I’m So-and-So. You may know me better as Typ0.” The usual response is, “Typ0? OMG, I’m RandomMonicker!”

It should be noted that there are worse ways to introduce yourself to your online buddies. “Hi, are you RandomMonicker?” This method usually causes the person you are speaking with to fear that they have a stalker. I know, I tried it on Friday night and I think I gave the very cool Miss Four a heart attack.

Since I first started chatting online back in 1995, I have gone through this introduction process countless times and met some very good friends. From the folks at #altmusic to the ladies from ecfans, the one thing that always takes time to get used to is calling people by their real names. The weird thing is that with only a few exceptions, despite having met and shared meals with some of my online buddies, I still think of them and refer to them in person using their online identities.

Thus it was amusingly odd to meet a few of my fellow Cairo bloggers over the past week. Allow me to clarify. It was wicked cool to meet these people whose lives I had been reading about for months and whose blogs I have looked forward to reading every morning. What I found odd was that the three of the people I met all use their real names online. Thus the weird nickname real name introduction was more on my side

(An aside for a moment if I may. For those of you not in the know, it may come as a surprise that my mother didn't christen me Typ0. Whenever people ask me about my nick, they want to know its origin so here it is: I have been using Typ0, or some derivation thereof, since I first hit the online chatting scene in 1995. And while that makes me feel old, keep in mind that Hubby has been on even longer than I have. I call myself Typ0 because I can either type quickly or accurately but not both. So no, it has nothing to do with blood types, just my inability to spell without the aid of Spell-check™.)

Before any raging anti-internet-meet-up types start flaming me for encouraging people to meet, please don’t. As I have often pointed out, my first big meet-up was back in the good old days before the Internet became evil and scary. And later meetings were all arranged with due diligence or serendipity. I’m not an evil Internet freak. I’m just a regular freak so meeting me in person has never scarred anyone except mentally.

I always think that it is fun to meet people in person that you have only imagined from the Internet. They’re never quite what you pictured and almost always cooler than you dreamed. My week of accidental blogger stalking was fun and helped put faces and personalities to people I had only previously suspected of being uber cool. Now I can fully appreciate their levels of coolness and only hope that I haven’t scared them all off for good.

Sunday, September 14, 2008


Do you remember this picture?

What about this one?

These digital photographs are currently all I have left of the two shipments we said goodbye to in Nairobi last June. About three weeks ago, we were informed that both shipments had allegedly arrived safe and sound in Egypt. Since then, we have waited, started at our blank white walls and then waited some more.

It is commonly believed amongst those in our circle that our shipments were stolen by pirates off the coast of Somalia. Scoff if you must, but people whose shipments had to fly halfway around the world already have their things whilst our home still boasts sad, bare walls and a distinct lack of kitchen gadgets.

I promise to update you if our things ever arrive. In the meantime, I am sitting curled up in a ball, rocking back and forth, and wondering how long Hubby is going to hold out for our clippers to get here before he breaks down and gets a professional haircut.

Which brings us to my pathetic moment of the day: I WANT MY STUFF!!!

Saturday, September 13, 2008

Too Much of a Good Thing?

In the last four years I have lived in four countries, moved three times, owned and sold three cars, and visited nineteen different countries on five continents. During all of these wanderings, I have learned a few skills that will serve me well during my life and picked up others that are useless outside of the gypsy lifestyle Hubby and I have chosen to lead.

Take jetlag for example. I have heard from several people that they truly struggled with jetlag upon arriving in Cairo whether from home leave or fresh arrivals like us. Hubby and I, on the other hand, have been moving from place to place long enough to have permanently damaged our internal clocks. When we arrived, we stayed up until nine or ten that evening and then got a solid night’s rest. Sure, we may have slept in an hour or so extra for a few days, but we were pretty much on Egypt time immediately. While I would love to find an internal clock repairman, I realize that jetlag would greatly interfere with my travel habit.

Speaking of our rather expensive and addictive habit, when we traveled to Scotland in February of 2004, we spent considerable time packing our suitcases and carryons. We reviewed our selections by laying them on the bed and packed at least a day in advance. Fast forward to August of 2008 when we went to the Anti-Vegetarian conference in South Africa. Having barely unpacked from our arrival in Cairo three days earlier, we spent a sum total of 15 minutes packing our bags, throwing stuffed animals into our carryons, and refilling our travel sized shampoo from Aveda. All of this, it should be noted, was done about 30 minutes before the taxi arrived to take us to the airport.

While the ability to pack for a week long trip in less time than it takes to make Kraft Dinner is a valuable skill, it is also one that Hubby and I have realized will serve us little good should we ever move back to the Real World.

Other skills we have picked up during our travels include the ability to throw things out that most people would think are valuable for sentimental reasons but really take up space when you have a limited shipment allowance. We have also learned to jam 12 months worth of shopping into 1 trip to Wal-Mart, 2 weeks of mall walking, and four overweight suitcases. Sadly, we have also learned to eat airline food, find comfort in airplane seats, and which airports have the best duty free shops with the widest selection of liquor.

No matter what numbers or dubious skills I have picked up since we first decided to move abroad, one thing has remained constant: the love I have for my husband. I may drive him crazy and tease him mercilessly (both in real live and on this blog), but the truth of the matter is that nothing I do and nowhere I may travel is as much fun if he isn’t there with me. We’re a team and while we don’t exactly have a perfect record, we do have a winning one. And I’m proud to call him my husband.

Happy fake anniversary, sweetie. I’d marry you thrice.

Friday, September 12, 2008

NFL and other Nightmares

I have never made a secret of my obsessive love of television and all the wonderful hours I have spent with this surrogate parent. From the first kiss I ever shared with Hubby to learning where Will Smith was “born and raised,” most of my happiest memories include television. Heck, I even remember when Friends premiered because I was watching TV that night in Halifax on a friend’s bed in Bronson House at Dalhousie.

Today’s history lesson starts in the Midwest where we received cable completely free of charge. Television in India meant that we paid approximately $7.00 per month for six English channels and a million channels broadcasted in languages I don’t speak. Kenya’s cable boasted far more English but at the cost of a bill about twelve times that of the one we paid in Delhi. All of which means that in a span of three years our cable bill demonstrated a significant rate of inflation.

Not too long ago, we purchased our first flat screen TV and had cable installed. While it was initially a wonderful experience, I have come to almost regret the introduction of American-style programming in our home. You see, our new cable package comes complete with football. And not just the cute boys in short shorts kind either. You see, I got to spend Sunday night watching American football. Aren’t I a lucky, lucky girl?

While I don’t mind watching TV shows from the early 80’s like Knight Rider, and The Incredible Hulk, I draw the line at traveling halfway around the world and still having to watch crappy American sports that I don’t understand or like. When the “throwy guy” got injured last Sunday and Hubby was busy mocking people in his Fantasy Football League, I was simply amazed that he could have actually injured himself while wearing sixty pounds of protective padding.

So now, my first great love has betrayed me, and no amount of NCIS, Buffy, or Ugly Betty reruns can make it better. At this rate, I may actually learn to prefer the outdoors rather than the tender love that cartoons, 80’s movies, and old sitcoms can provide for me. Inshallah that will never, ever happen.

Thursday, September 11, 2008

Eavesdropping in Cairo

The following is an actual conversation I overheard earlier this evening in Zamalek.

“How do you get her started?”

“The bigger one doesn’t work. You have to use the small one.”

“But I can’t figure out which hole it to put it into. I just keep putting it in all the holes.”

“Put it in the one in the middle. It always works. Just don’t use the big one. It won’t take.”

Just to be clear, we were discussing how to ignite our gas ovens. Despite first impressions, it won’t start automatically like the burners do, while the long lighter we were given by the Institution isn’t the best method for ignition. Matches, I learned on Friday, are far more useful.

Now you know. And knowing is half the battle.

Tuesday, September 09, 2008

A Lift Up

As many of you know, my biggest complaint about our incredibly awesome flat in Nairobi was that we lived on the fourth floor and didn’t need a Stairmaster™. The lack of elevator in our old apartment was a problem on those occasions when we had groceries, or twelve heavy suitcases, or when I just plain felt lazy. In other words, walking up four flights of stairs several times a day bothered me about 98% of the time.

Our new fifth floor apartment, I am pleased to report, comes complete with two rather old school elevators. Of course, I think that they may well be two of the original Schindler elevators from the turn of the last century and only one of them ever works at a time. But beggars can’t be choosers, now can we?

The tiny two-person elevator is fronted by two wooden shutter doors and a metal gate on each floor. All three must be closed or the elevator won’t work. In case you’re wondering how I know this, Hubby decided to test the door theory last week. As we were on our way down to the ground floor, he decided to open the wooden door to “see what would happen.” The elevator stopped in between floors and Hubby’s latest science experiment was complete.

The elevator has broken down at least once since we moved in last month and evidence of previous repairs isn’t hard to find. A mysterious cardboard box is covering what we believe to be part of the electrical system between two floors. As you pass each floor, the car makes an odd scraping sound that we have decided to ignore and justify as useful for the blind.

None of which is to say that the elevators are anything less than cool - their old fashioned quaintness adds to the charm of the building. The wood has been rubbed smooth after years of use and the mirror isn’t entirely unflattering. But when all is said and done, I do like old, quirky things. Isn’t that right, Hubby?

Monday, September 08, 2008

A Day for Cherries

The workweek in Egypt is Sunday through Thursday, which means that yesterday was Hubby’s first official day of work. It was like watching my very own child go off to their first day of school. Only without the crying, whining that they didn’t want to go, and I didn’t have to make lunch the night before. So basically, it was nothing like a child’s first day of school except that it was his first day of work.

In an effort to move the story along, we’re all going to have to pretend that last paragraph never happened. Agreed? Excellent!

Just days after having our fabulous wireless Internet installed, it died on Saturday thanks to one of several power cuts we experienced over the weekend. The odd thing was that the router still worked with the RJ45 cord, but the magic that makes the wireless work died. It was like God thought I was too happy and wanted to drive me insane, just for fun.

So it was, that while Hubby had his first day of work, I had my first unaccompanied taxi ride in Cairo. Hubby wrote down the address, provided me with a map, and a list of Arabic words I would need to get where I was going. Despite this great planning on his part, the first taxi took my 13 pounds and left me in the middle of nowhere. After much hand waving and mangling of languages, a second taxi got me where I needed to go.

Explaining to a bunch of computer geeks that I’m not an idiot was far more complicated than arriving at their offices. After playing with the router for a few minutes, they looked at me and declared, “The router works.” While desperately trying to not roll my eyes or shout, I gently explained that the router worked very well with the cord but not as a provider of wireless. “Ohhhh!” The geeks then proceeded to troubleshoot and do exactly what Hubby had tried the night before only to discover (cue drum roll) that the router was broken.

Thankfully, geeks are the same the world over, and my slightly tight top meant that in addition to giving me a new router, they felt the need to program everything for me. I enjoy being a girl. Hubby may have braved an office that barely functions and trying out completely new skills, but I spoke Arabic, fixed the Internet, contemplated chores, and did it all while rocking a really cute new hairdo.

It’s time for me to find hobbies and get a job, huh?

Saturday, September 06, 2008

Happy Me Day!

Friday, September 05, 2008

Ramadan Kareem

When Daylight Savings Time kicked in on Thursday night and we set our clocks back an hour, it was the first of many signs that Ramadan was imminent. Other signs that we were slightly less informed about ahead of time included the zoo of people to be found at every supermarket in Cairo over the weekend. We decided to take a Yellow Cab to get to City Stars so that we could buy a printer and go food shopping. We were successful in the former task, as for the latter… well, let’s just say that we left our cart in the middle of the store and fought our way out of the sea of humanity that was busy pulling everything off the shelves as if it were Christmas Eve and the day before a snowstorm all rolled into one.

Scary moments at Spinney’s aside, Ramadan has been interesting to experience thus far. This month of fasting, which kicked off on Monday, has made Cairo an oddly quiet place. During the day, no one eats or drinks so much as a glass of water, good Muslims also abstain from smoking (normally an Olympic sport here), and around 2 p.m. the entire city hops in their cars and heads home.

This exodus from the office is so that people can make it home in time for iftaar – the meal that breaks the fast. This daily feast is highlighted with a variety of foods, many of which I would describe (incorrectly) as Lebanese. Although we have not yet attended an iftaar in Cairo, Hubby was present for one when he was in Pakistan and he still raves about the food almost three years later.

From the front window in our flat, Ramadan appears to be a quiet time (post-iftaar), a bright holiday thanks to the beautiful sheets of red fabric that are draped here and there throughout our neighborhood and the gorgeous lanterns that seem to be hung everywhere in honor of Ramadan. The other big difference that we have noticed is the prevalence of firecrackers that the local kids have been setting off every few minutes.

In case you were wondering if the religious fasting extended to non-Muslim foreigners like myself, the short answer is no. While it is considered polite to eat indoors and where your hungry Muslim neighbors can’t see you, restaurants are still open and willing to deliver. According to Hubby, people at the Institution were behaving as if it were any other month as the food kiosks and vending machines were all doing a booming business.

Once I have actually been invited to and attended an iftaar, and once I have gone out to experience Cairo during Ramadan more fully, I promise to blog about it in more detail. In the meantime, below is a list of words that come up a lot during Ramadan. Many thanks to the blogger who put this little wiki together – it was very educational.
  • Adhaan/Azaan: Muslim call for Prayer
  • Duaa/Du'aa: Supplication
  • Eid al Fitr: Muslim Festival at the end of Ramadan
  • Fajr: The morning prayer that marks the starting of the fast for the day
  • Iftaar: The time when Muslims break their fast as the sun begins to set, coincides with the Maghrib prayer
  • Leylatul Qadr: The night of power, Falls under the last ten days of Ramadan. A night in which the first verse of the Quran was revealed
  • Maghrib: The evening prayer that marks the ending of the fast for the day
  • Masjid: Mosque, Muslim place of worship
  • Ramadan: The holy month of fasting
  • Salat/Namaz: Prayer
  • Sadaqah: Charitable giving (not obligatory like Zakat)
  • Sehri/Suhor: The pre-dawn meal
  • Taraweeh: Evening prayer only in the month of Ramadan where 1/30 of the Quran daily is read until completion at the end of the month
  • Zakat: Almsgiving, one of the five pillars of Islam

Thursday, September 04, 2008


The day we have all been looking forward to has finally arrived! No, Mother, I’m not pregnant! My news is even better - I have Internet! *bounce* Better than that, I have Internet whose speed exceeds 1996-era dial-up and isn’t “borrowed.” As I type, Hubby and I are sitting opposite each other on slightly less ugly couches than we had last week, and writing emails simultaneously thanks to our new wireless network. Life is good.

Of course, now that we have Internet, I have yet another excuse to become an agoraphobic hermit who never leaves her flat. Despite my best efforts, I have not yet managed to go out to meet new people and really start my new life in Cairo. Although no one believes it, I really am a shy person at heart and just walking up to someone (even a fellow newbie during orientation) is more difficult than it sounds.

I am currently using Ramadan, which kicked off on Monday, as my excuse since asking someone to meet me for coffee wouldn’t be on during a Muslim month of fasting. Hubby, were he writing this blog, would point out that I could at least sign up for clubs and charities that will help keep me busy over the next few years. But since he’s not writing this blog, I don’t have to listen to “well meaning” advice like that.

In the meantime, I am going to enjoy the pleasantly empty streets during iftaar, ignore the annoying fire crackers that the local kids seem to enjoy setting off at all hours of the day and night, and enjoy my newly installed Internet by ordering some Indian food for dinner. And maybe if I’m feeling very proactive, I’ll look-up the addresses of some of the organizations I’m avoiding signing up with. Maybe…

Wednesday, September 03, 2008

The Learning Curve

Never let it be said that I have ever lied about my (in)ability to learn new things. It takes me months to learn the names of new people I meet, I can’t remember my own phone number let alone someone else’s, and the idea of having to learn a new skill sends me into fits. Thus, you can imagine how I felt this past week meeting dozens of other new Institution arrivals with whom I shared a “classroom” while attempting to learn Arabic.

Before I share my new linguistic skills with you, allow me to put it all into perspective…

Last week, Hubby and I enjoyed our first ever “new country orientation” in three and a half years of living abroad. And, I must admit, it was lovely. Imagine working for an organization that cares enough about its employees to teach them and their families about the ins and outs of their new locale, gives you a buddy family to take you around when you arrive, and holds parties to introduce newbies to the old guard. We had heard rumors of companies like this but never actually experienced it first hand. It was lovely to feel welcomed by Hubby’s new company for a change.

The first day of the orientation was spent at the Institution’s new location out in the middle of nowhere. For a place that is supposed to be up and working by the first week of September, they have a bit of work to do yet. Not only was Hubby’s office not yet ready to view, the building wasn’t even finished. The buildings we did see, however, boasted of great promise in their lovely architecture and high-tech gadgetry.

The part of orientation that most people were looking forward to was the three days of survival Arabic classes. During these hours, we would learn everything from how to get a taxi, ordering food in a restaurant, and how to hold a polite (if brief) conversation. Before you start thinking that I am now fluent in Arabic, allow me to burst both of our bubbles – unlike the great linguist Hubby, I only managed to retain a handful of phrases.

Arabic is a much harder language to learn than any of my previous linguistic outings. For example, in Arabic, Garden City is Gardin Citee and delivery, we were told, is deeliveree. How do they expect me to learn all this?!

Jokes aside, I found the way we were taught to be counterintuitive and while I was able to parrot our teachers when needed, I retained very little. Luckily, the Institution offers its employees (and their learning challenged spouses) free private tutors. These tutorials normally cost $40/hour so they are not only a wonderful benefit but also a great deal.

Outside of it being ridiculously hot 24/7, I still haven’t formed any solid opinions about living in Cairo. Every time I start liking it, something happens to remind me what a misogynistic society I am now living in. But thanks to my Arabic classes, I will soon be able to tell off the whistlers, cat callers, and impolite men in their own language. I can’t wait.