Sunday, August 26, 2012

thank you for smoking

it's an understatement to say that everyone in egypt smokes. everyone in egypt smokes. cigarettes are very cheap here, especially by nyc standards, and ok- let's say that everyone has or needs a vice. well given that alcohol isn't really available, cigarettes have become the go-to solution when in need of a fix.

in effort to curb the volume of cigarettes consumed, all cigarette packs are now sold with these unappealing, appetite-losing, gut wrenching images of the effects of smoking.i don't know what's more disturbing. the fact that these are ignored, or the fact that i still have to sit at tables where these images are being shoved in my face.yucky.


Halfway down the east coast of Egypt is hurgada, a popular beach town on the red sea. It takes about 7 hours to get there by bus from Cairo. The trip is long, but there's about a 2 hour stretch of beautiful scenery. The road runs parallel to the water and on the opposite side are desert mountains. I was happy to see that they are taking advantage of wind energy there too.
It is usually packed with tourists from Russia and the UK, but this year we went during eid, so we found more Egyptians on holidays there, than we may have wanted to. See, I've never been one to like any touristy scene. I like to have local, cultural experiences. And I especially don't like to come to Egypt to go where all the Russians are... I want to be here in Egypt. But the only thing worse than too many tourists are too many annoying Egyptians... the kind who tend to ruin everything with their loud, screaming kids; their- not actually a bathing suit but an entire outfit from headscarf to leggings- bathing suits, and the tisk, shame on you for wearing a real bathing suit, glances that are associated with them; and my favorite: the let me sample this bowl of dip from the same spoon that it is served by. This is not typical of all egyptians, this is typical of completely lacking class. so we were initially put off by the crowd when we arrived and were worried about our experience.

I don't really know how to judge hurgada. I mean, ok it is the most popular destination in Egypt, and ok there are nice beaches, and ok the sun is super hot, and the reefs make for great diving. But I've never been one to enjoy staying in hotel resorts or those packaged trips. We eat here, we sleep here, we swim here. And once we go outside, everything is written in Russian. Huh? Where am I?

Don't get me wrong, going to any beach and swimming and sunning is always great in my book, so I can't complain there. I think I just prefer a place like Sahel shimaly where I can relax, and still feel like I'm in Egypt.

On our 2nd day, we took an all day cruise to dive to see the corals. The dive trip helped me reconfirm how much I am not cut out for diving. A few years ago, I began pursuing my PADI certification to get my license. During which, I discovered I have a major claustrophobic fear being deep in the water. The darkness, the cold, the unfamiliarity, and especially that insane reliance on one apparatus to provide me air to maintain my life, make it really difficult for me to relax. You know what, give me a snorkel and I'll float and observe from above. There's nothing I need to see up close.

But in spite of all that, it really is remarkable to see all the different and amazing types of fish there are, as well as the coral reefs. It's like the real-life version of Finding Nemo.

So of course I'm happy to have come, but all it is is a tourist beach destination with prices adjusted accordingly. These 3 days were the most expensive bulk of any short trip I've taken and I can't see the value in that.

Wednesday, August 22, 2012

Sahel shimaly

The north coast of Egypt lies along the Mediterranean sea, and about an hour west of Alexandria is where most Egyptians spend their summers each year. The coast is called sahel shimaly, and is lined with resort after resort and everyone flocks there at some point to enjoy the beaches.

Everyone in my family has a place there so we always wind up spending time there, and I love it. Our area has clean, private beaches with pristine, turquoise waters. Every now and then you'll spot a vendor patrolling the beach selling fresca, a favorite of my brother's. It is thin wafer sandwich with honey in the middle. So light and yummy to eat on the beach.

My family and I came here for 3 days to spend eid and just get out town. It was paradise. We always have a great time no matter what we do.

The nightlife is Sahel is really active, and gets super crowded. The traffic sucks too. Mixed with the crazy egyptian sense of driving, and my cousin's fear of driving at night, it is really nerve racking to go out. There's a mix of all different crowds, but really, a lot of nobody's trying to be somebody's. I'm not the kind of person who travels to seek a nightlife or that kind of social atmosphere, but having the opportunity to hang out with my cousins and smoke shisha is always a good time to me.

The way there has us pass the pyramids so I got to enjoy scenery on the way and back. we also took a stop on our road trip to Carrefour. Carrefour has a very special place in my heart, as my brother and I would love going to this French mega grocery/goods store when we summered in France. It was like our big trip out of the country and we looked forward to it every time. Having these stores in Egypt now is so cool for me. Oh Egypt.

Tuesday, August 14, 2012


ahhh, cairo. my home away from home. whenever i get off my plane in cairo, i look forward to that notorious cairo smell. i take in a deep breath of heat, pollution, car exhaust, and maybe a little bit of urine. yes, i'm back.

i hadn't flown egyptair in nearly 7 years, so i was amazed at how much it has improved and stepped up its game. since we were all breaking our fast an hour into the flight, they had done a great job of getting us all served our meals in time. the funny thing was that just 3 hours after they announced the iftar, they announced the imsaq, or, the beginning of the fast in cairo time. so everyone was scrambling to get in some water and food before the fast. i really wanted to be fasting on my first day so that i could enjoy the breakfast with my family. in ramadan, you don't have to fast if you're traveling or experiencing any hardships, but really, it's not that hard, i wanted to do it.

they say that ramadan is the best in cairo. the streets are decorated with streamers and the fanous, or laterns, everywhere. the tradition behind the fanous is that parents would give their children little lanterns to carry with them while they went out to play with their friends at night, and that just continues here. there are neighborhoods set up with rows of tables where families provide food for the poor, and if you're caught in iftar-hour traffic, you will more than likely be handed a date by pedestrians or fellow drivers who pass them to you. once the sun sets and people start eating, cairo comes alive, and traffic is just a melange of four letter words. less face it, since a huge part of egyptian culture is eating, not eating is like oppression for these people!

when i arrived at my grandmother's house, i found her making babaghanoush, the way she taught me. one of my cousins came over and we all broke fast together- which we will continue to do for the rest of the week until Eid comes this weekend.

the tradition for Eid is that you must must must go shopping and get a new outfit (or many). this tradition comes directly from the Prophet Muhammad himself, who always purchased a new outfit for Eid, so we gladly embrace it. that's why in Ramadan, you'll see plenty of Muslim families at the mall looking for their Eid outfits. it seems like we'll be doing a lot of that here this week, it's all anyone's been talking about- my cousins have been doing it for the last 2 weeks already! and then for Eid, we'll be heading up to their villa on the mediterranean coast, which i don't exactly need words to describe how excited i am for that!

so all in all, i am so happy to be here, i am so excited for the many family break fasts and outfits to come this week, and well, i just love cairo.

my new life starts now.

i've just done the craziest thing i've ever done in my life: i quit my job and decided to take a year off to travel, visit family, and just figure out what my future is going to be. i've been bitten by the travel bug, and since my trips have become more adventurous, so has my spirit. and sitting at a desk at a job that doesn't seem to have a point anymore, wasn't cutting it for me.

i don't want to say that i was having a quarter-life crisis or a career-life crisis, but the truth is, i just turned 29, and there's nothing that put my life into perspective better than the prospect of turning 30 next year. i'm not at all afraid or sad to be turning 30, on the contrary, i look at 30 as the beginning of my real life. all good things will happen to me in my 30s: marriage, kids, family life, etc. i spent my 20s working hard- in college, grad school, work; and i had my fair share of play, but whatever i was doing, wasn't enough. so i figured, i have only one life, i'm still young and have zero attachments or responsibilities holding me back, so GO LIVE LIFE.

now, i'll be sharing my stories on this blog and my new one: i'm afraid that that might get confusing, but i just felt that this blog has been all about my observations and adventures, and my whole year-long journey to figure out my future should be kept separate. What's going to happen is that later in the next few months, I'm going to pick a city to settle in for an extended period of time, and then this blog won't really be appropriate for day-to-day living, so... i'll post links to the blogs in my posts to keep things simple.