Friday, March 24, 2006

My New Toy

I just got myslef a new toy, and I'm loving it!

I've been wanting to get a digital camera for a while, and finally I took the plunge.

I really into photography in the past, but I've been too lasy recently. Now, that is all going to change. I'll be posting pics soon.

Stupid Neighbor

Our upstairs neighbors are morons. They’re idiots who live on a flipped schedule: they wake up at 9 pm, stay up all night long – every night - then they sleep at around 10 am. Two issues here: 1) they are EXTREMELY noisy people, and 2) our walls are not sound proof at all. We can hear everything that happens up there in their apartment: the TV shows they watch at 1 am, The Koran recitals and religious tapes they have on at 3 am on full blast, the stupid songs that the guy sings to his whining daughter, the carpentry work he gets off on at 4 am, and the fights he has with his wife. The fights are the worst. The other night H couldn’t sleep at all from a major fight they had (thankfully, I’m a heavy sleeper). The reason for the fight? Apparently the woman received a couple (relatives of her) in the house while her husband wasn’t home! He was telling her: “This is Zena (adultery)! Zena!! You are heading straight to hell”. He freaked out because there was a strange man in the house – even though the guy is a relative and was with is wife. So stupid. He was shouting at her, humiliating her, threatening her with divorce, and all around bullying her for around 3 full hours. All throughout what was her response? She was begging for mercy. Idiots like this have reduced religion to such trivial things - it disgusts me.

We don’t really know what to do with this guy. We have spoken to him numerous times – he promises to be better every time. We sent over the security guards to him. We wrote notes. If the police were of any use we would have filed a complaint. Grrrrrrrr.

The Bird Flu Incident

What would you do if your dog came over with a dead bird in its mouth in the middle of the huge bird flu scare we’re experiencing in Egypt these days?

That is exactly what happened to us the other day. Can you imagine that – a dead bird! Naturally, H (my wife) freaked out. Big time. Unfortunately, I was away at the time so she had to handle that on her own. First thing she did was call the bird flu hotline number that is shoved down our throats a Gazzilion times a day. Nobody answered! So much for the heightened state of readiness of our government. We start calling up vets that we know and most confirm that dogs have not so far been known to be infected by (or carry) the virus. We calm down a bit. Next question: what to do with the bird? Answer: careful handling of the carcass (with gloves) and burning the bird in the garden with the assistance of H’s dad. Poor D (our dog) had to be quarantined for a while and so far things look OK (some time has passed since then). Freaky, isn’t it?

Saturday, March 04, 2006

A Monastery, an Eco-lodge, and A Day of Exploration.‎

We decided to go exploring yesterday. I had read before about the monasteries of Wadi ‎El-Natrun and had always seen the sign to them when traveling to Alexandria. I read that ‎this group of monasteries, 100 km north of Cairo, were the oldest monasteries in the ‎world – dating back to the 4th century AD (the monastic tradition was born there and then ‎later spread to the rest of the world). And since yesterday was a nice and sunny day, it ‎seemed like the perfect day to go and explore the area.‎

We only had time to visit one of the 4 main monasteries, so we went for the oldest and ‎most famous: the Monastery of Anba Bishoy. My first reaction when we reached there ‎was one of surprise. It was much larger than I expected. It was actually a compound ‎with very high walls enclosing three chapels, a castle, a visitors' centre, a gift shop, the ‎monks' quarters and a garden. I had expected something much smaller. I was also ‎surprised from the number of crowds visiting there. Hundreds of Christians, many ‎coming in groups from all over Egypt, were there on pilgrimage. I had expected a quiet ‎and reflective atmosphere. Inside on of the chapels, religious icons lined the walls, as the ‎pilgrims were praying and getting their blessings. As we stood inside, a couple of ‎pilgrims started on a religious chant – the lyrics were posted on the wall for those that ‎didn’t know them. Gradually, more and more people joined them, and before we knew it, ‎there were like 40 to 50 people, all chanting together. It was such a spiritual atmosphere, ‎that we found ourselves chanting with them even though we’re not Christian (couldn’t ‎help but wonder then what some of our more religious relatives would think about this!). ‎Even my 2 year old son was chanting with us! It reminded me so much of the time I was ‎in Tibet and I went into a Buddhist temple there and attended a session of prayers and ‎chants with around 100 monks – another amazingly spiritual experience. You completely ‎lose yourself. I think that there are so many ways and routes to achieve spirituality that ‎it is just too limiting to try to reach God from the way you were taught to do. As they sy, ‎God speaks many languages.

On the way back from the monastery, we found signs on the road leading to an eco-lodge ‎called Al Hammra Eco-lodge. Naturally, we had to check it out.

Turns out it’s a really ‎nice and cozy lodge built close to a salt water lake by an ex army General. His car got ‎stuck there one day, and he loved the place, so he bought the land and built an eco lodge ‎on it! The chalets there are all built from natural materials and we had a great time ‎walking around, enjoying the scenery, chatting with the owner and his guests, and eating ‎some nice home cooked food. I just love eco-lodges. I would take them any day over ‎fancy resorts. Other eco-lodges I recommend in Egypt: Basata in the Sinai, Zad Al ‎Musafir in Tunis (close to Fayyoum), and I hear that Adrere Amellal in Siwa is amazing ‎‎(but still haven’t been there though).‎

It was certainly my kind of day. No plan, no schedule, but you learn and explore and enjoy so much more than you would if you had one.

Thursday, March 02, 2006

Jimmy’s Engagement

The talk of the town these days is about Gamal Mubarak’s engagement. Finally, he’s ‎getting engaged to a hottie 20 years his junior. Everybody’s talking about the venue of ‎the engagement party, the dress the bride ordered from Paris, the ring, the girl’s family, ‎etc….. In typical fashion, Egyptians have started to make fun of the event. I found some ‎great stuff in the readers’ comments section of the Al Arabiya article on the event. My picks:‎

ألف مبروك يا جيمي و بالرفاء و البنين أهم حاجة ماتكونش البنت طمعانة في مصر قصدي في ثروتك

الف مبروك يا جيمى يادوبك 42 سنه لسه مكون نفسك ومجهز الشقه الله يكون فى عونك‏

جيمى عندة 40 سنة ولم يتزوج لحد دلوقتى اذا دل فانة يدل على انة راجل عصامى حاول يبنى نفسة بنفسة لحد ما ‏وصل للمنصب الكبير اللى هو فية‎ ‎
‎ ‎
القفص+ دخول جمال مبارك القفص الذهبي = ا علان مملكه مصر ‏ayman nour ‎دخول

Ya Beirut Ya Sett El Denia‎

Just got back from a week in Beirut on business. My first time there in 7 years. God, has it changed since then. Some observations:

- The restaurant and club scene still remains as buzzing as ever. I went to some Fantastic restaurants: Cuban, Japanese, Lebanese, Italian, Seafod, and French. It’s true they’re expensive as hell. But it’s worth it for the great ambience, great food, and amazing décor. They’re packed even on week nights (the Lebanese do know how to enjoy life). I wish we had such variety and quality in Cairo.
- The Lebanese people are still the biggest complainers. They still complain about everything: life, politics, inflation, crowds, work, other people, etc……….. It really struck me that many Lebanese people have sort of taken the blessings they have in their country for granted and can only see the bad side. Couldn’t help but contrast that to the attitude of so many Egyptians who are living in miserable conditions and still manage to smile and joke in the midst of their misery.
- Faraya is amazing. I went up to a place called Faraya up the mountain (an hour’s drive from Beirut) to try my hand at skiing. It was amazing! It was a hot, sunny day and the snow was everywhere – an amazing contrast. Some people were skiing in tank tops!! They have several slopes in Faraya ranging from very easy to very difficult. Obviously, I took the easiest slope with an instructor and managed to go down the simple slope without falling. The skiing scene is such a lively and fun scene. Beautiful scenery, an incredibly fun sport, beautiful people, and great food in mountain lodge style restaurants. The Lebanese are lucky to have all of this so close to their homes.
- Yes, the babes and hunks are as stunning as they appear on TV. And yes, plastic surgery is rampant over there (even the male waiter in the corner coffee shop had a plaster on his nose from the nose job he’s had).

Cover Your Ass

In the professional world, one of the most widely-practiced business principles is CYA – Cover Your Ass. When people are scared of being blamed for any decision at work, they cover their asses in a variety of ways. I am experiencing this CYA business first hand these days - by my boss and some colleagues of mine. You see, there’s a project I’m working on right now which everybody was fully aligned to. The initial results are coming out and some of them are freaking out because they’re thinking it might not work – that’s when you see CYA in action.

There are several ways people Cover Their Asses:
- When committing to a decision, they leave themselves an exit door: for example they would say I agree to this, but I’m not sure it will work. i.e. I agree but don’t really agree. This way if it works, they can celebrate and say I knew it would work all along. If not, they can still say I told you so.
- They can say the concept was great but you screwed up the execution.
- They can flatly lie and say I never agreed to this in the first place, when they did all along. These people avoid written documentation like the plague.

Don’t you think it’s pathetic what people will do for a paycheck at the end of the month?