Saturday, November 21, 2009

The Essential Egyptian Breakfast

Our cleaning lady, Manal, comes once week to our flat. Alhamdulillah we found someone we can actually trust and clean well and is a decent person at the same time.  Two things living in Egypt we cannot go without:  fuul (fava beans) and tama3a (falafel).  It can also be the most monotonous food if one isn't creative.  The tama3a (falafel) is made of green vegetables and sometimes hummus (chick peas) fried in oil and served with ayesh baladi (pita bread) alongside salata (salad consisting of fresh khiar (cucumbers), tomatoes, onions, garlic and a vinegar based dressing with lemon juice.

It was Friday morning and Manal arrived on time at 10 a.m.   As she was cleaning the kitchen, Mira was still sleeping and Hassan and I were watching TV wondering how we were going to make our way to the kitchen to make some fuul (fava beans).  Not ten minutes later, Manal walked in with a tray of food, without us even asking her to make us anything.

It was such a pleasant surprise to see breakfast right before out eyes. And it was delicious too. Fuul is never made the same way twice.  Most of the time I just make it with EVOO and salt and pepper, however, Manal made it with tomato paste, onions, garlic and cumin. It was very Mexican-like and very satisfying. Manal even made bittengen mekhelen (pickled eggplant).  It was delicious.  Hassan and I couldn't get enough of the food and wished she had made more.

Just as we were finished I smelled something sweet coming from the kitchen.  Manal was baking sweet potatoes. But not just any sweet potatoes -- Egyptian sweet potatoes.  These sweet potatoes need absolutely nothing but time to let them cool off enough to eat.



Saturday, November 14, 2009

An Egyptian Wedding

We attended our first wedding in Egypt the other night.  It was a Coptic wedding that began at a church with the reception downtown at a club along the Nile.  Hassan's friend's brother-in-law got married and we were invited to attend.  Since Ehab is such a good friend, how could we refuse?

The wedding ceremony took place in a church.  The priest chanted the prayers with bakhoor (incense) burning throughout the ceremony. I have a lot of bakhoor (incense) at home, but quite honestly it always smells better in a church. As the ceremony progressed he explained the most important part beforehand:  where the Holy Spirit descends upon the couple to bless them.  Then he said a recited a prayer that the priest being God's representative is the only one who can place the rings on the finger. And no human can remove them. Divorce is not allowed in the Coptic church.

Just as there are Stations of the Cross in the Catholic Church, there are what seems to be an equivalent to the life of Mary.  It starts on the far right (since Egyptians read from right to left) with the Annunication, followed by the birth of Jesus, the Holy Family on the move to Egypt, and ending with the descent of the Holy Spirit.

The work is hand-carved and quite extensive. I captured only four of the hand carvings that span the width of the church.

The reception then moved to a club along the Nile.  There was a lot of music, dancing by the bride and groom, and various actors portraying Egyptians throughout history. 

Mira all dressed up.




Monday, October 26, 2009

What to do when your child gets sick in Egypt

#1 - Do not self diagnose.  Take your child to a pediatrician.

I have been very fortunate with Mira's health. Alhamdulillah she is healthy, although she gets sick this time every year with the same upper respiratory infection.  I have always taken her to a doctor where we live in Al Rehab City, and I have been fairly satisfied.

There are new medical centers here with many different doctors. Mira goes to a group of doctors that are affiliated with a children's hospital in Cairo, Tabarek Hospital. While I am satisfied with the doctors, I am disappointed that the doctors don't keep individual files on the children they see. While the doctors know Mira because she stands out for being from an American mother and an Egyptian father, I wish they would keep individual records.

Mira wasn't feeling well last week. I kept an eye on her and did something that most people do in Egypt - go to the pharmacy and buy an antibiotic from the pharmacist without having seen a doctor first.  I bought her zithromax because I thought it was the same type of bacterial infection she had in the past.  I gave her the three day dose the pharamcist told me to give her, even though I think it should have been five.  He said if she doesn't get better after three days take her to the doctor.  Well, she didn't get better after three days, even though her appetite proved otherwise.  She stayed home from school for two days, and even though she might have been feeling a little better overall, she didn't sound any better.  So I took her to the doctor.

Usually doctors in Egypt are only open in the evenings and at night, but I thought I would take a chance while I'm out.  My instinct was right on.  I took her to the doctor's office and he saw her immediately - very unusual for a pediatrician in Egypt this time of year.  He said that the zithromax wasn't working because it wasn't strong enough.  He said she has a throat infection and needed a stronger antibiotic so he prescribed augmentin.  I knew I shouldn't have given her the zithromax but I did anyway.

I asked him about the flu and he said while the swine flu is not a major concern right now, many different influenza viruses are beginning to surface, and will be prevalent in all schools within two weeks.

In the meantime Mira is on her new antibiotic and building her immune system by eating a lot of fruits.

Do not self diagnose and self prescribe medicine in Egypt. It is bes to see a doctor before heading to the pharmacy. And remember to finish the full course of antibiotics even if you feel better.



Tuesday, October 20, 2009

Here's What's Happening in My Neck of the World

The heat has been unbearable. Usually in late October we have experienced some cooler weather, relatively speaking of course, by this time of year. Unfortunately this year has been extremely hot. Not only has it hit 40 C a few times in the past week, it is impossible to breathe. The air consists of the black cloud (stagnant pollution) and dust which creates a miserable yellow haze that stays all day, without any breeze to blow it out of the city.  At night there is the smell of fields burning, which the farmers were not supposed to be doing anymore, but I guess it just is not enforced.

Some sort of ILI (influenza-like illness) has gripped the school where I am working.  Yesterday we sent home eight students with fevers in the high school alone. Today we had a drop to three students going home ill. I was relieved, however, I know with the intense heat this time of year and lack of air circulating, germs don't move.  There are air conditions at the school - each classroom is equipped with its own air conditioner. However, one of my daughter's teacher told the class that leaving the air conditioning on during class promotes swine flu. Maybe if one was on an airplane and continued to inhale recirulated air for hours on end, then yes, it is possible. But nothing in Egypt is air tight. As far as I am concerned, it is more sanitary than breathing the thick yellow haze.

There is no autumn in Egypt. The weather moves from summer to winter overnight. I am waiting. The winter in Cairo feels like November in the Washington, DC area without the snow, rain, and frost.

In order to stay healthy, I am taking every precaution.  I wash my hands all the time - more than usual, wipe my desk and computer with disinfectant wipes, and try to get enough rest, take my vitamins and eat healthy. I also read online that eating raw lemons or drinking apple cider vinegar boosts the immune system. I love lemons, but it must be with a lot of sugar. So I think I will try the apple cider vinegar. I am addicted to vinegar these days; actually it is the imported pickles that is feeding my addiction these days.



Thursday, October 08, 2009

Rumors and Hearsay About Swine Flu

When I first moved to Egypt, I relied on information that was factual, not rumor or hearsay.  I have to admit that over the years I have become one who relies upon hearsay and rumors.  There have been many rumors swirling around Cairo with regards to the swine flu and how it will hit Egypt, when it will hit, when schools will be closed and for how long.

Mira came to me at the end of the day today and told me that the swine flu is at an American school in Cairo. I didn't believe her because I was sure that one of my colleagues would have told me. Interestingly enough, Mira was right.

Because of the dense population in Egypt, there can be as many as 50 students in one classroom, especially in the government schools.  However, the swine flu has hit Egypt in the private schools, a foreign school in Alexandria, at the AUC, and now at Rajac American School, a private school on the outskirts of Cairo.

The Ministry of Education announced that if there are three or more cases of swine flu at school, the school will be closed for one month. There is tremendous hysteria in regards to the swine flu in Egypt.  While some of the madness makes me crazy, I am relieved that people are more aware of their health and cleanliness.

From what I understand there will be 20,000 vaccines available at first, in Egypt.  I hope those whom I know who are at risk are among those first to receive it.


Friday, February 27, 2009

It's "Amsheer" - The Windy Month

Amsheer has arrived. It is the month of windy, sandy, dusty, and sometimes rainy weather. It reminds me of "Winnie the Pooh and the Blustery Day" x 30. Maybe not a lot of rain, but considering that there are no storm drains on the roads, a small shower can add up to road closures.

It's ok. I enjoy this weather. It reminds me of the changing weather in Maryland which occurs about 11 months out of the year - just kidding. It's the March weather with the wind. The October wind without the leaves blowing.

The clouds are amazing. Although I absolutely adore the sun and blue sky in Egypt, I also enjoy the rain, clouds rolling in, and clearing out. There is something about the air after a rain no matter how short or long; it seems fresher.