Friday, July 27, 2012

Finally a cycling mate

Early in the morning, I was crossing the street after having walked and jogged in the desert and saw – oh dear! – another cyclist! But too late to call him: he was already driving down the road and I only saw the helmet, a blue shirt and two drinking bottles behind the saddle just as triathletes keep them. This was some weeks ago.

Early in the morning, I was riding my bicycle on the inner ring road when a car stopped in front of me giving me the sign to stop beside. As usual, I passed by since I do not appreciate the usual silly small talk of Egyptians who are trying to pick up a foreign lady or just want to take a picture (as it happened last year in Ramadan). Yet, the car came alongside and a young guy asked me politely if I usually rode in the mornings. I affirmed and he said he too was cycling regularly. He asked if we could have a ride together the following Friday. Before I agreed, I asked some questions about his bicycle and his shirt – and I knew that he was the one I had seen before. This was some three weeks ago.

Early in the morning today, we already went for our second ride, fighting the opposing wind and enjoying the tailwind together, enjoying not to have to ride alone in the deserted streets. After more than a year, since Sussie has left, I’ve found another cycling mate and we hope to find some more in Hurghada. In these blazing summer days we start at 6 am. Who wants to join?

Sunday, July 22, 2012

Drinking water scarcity

They are getting more and more. I mean the everyday problems.

It’s five months now that queuing at petrol stations is normal. Buses, lorries, taxis and private cars are waiting until three or four o’clock in the morning for the much sought after fuel.

Like every year, this summer as well, Egypt is suffering from power cuts that last from a couple of minutes to many hours. Sometimes, there are “only” current fluctuations. Only is meant sarcastically, because not only food in the fridge and the freezer become inedible but also electric appliances can’t deal with it and die. That may get expensive.

Since a couple of days ago, drinking water is not available everywhere. First, there were no 6 and 7 litre bottles anymore and I put up with the 1,5 litre bottles. They are more expensive and each single bottle means more rubbish, even though there are PET-collectors. Since two days ago, there are not even any 1,5 litre bottles to be bought in my supermarket. Not all parts of the town are concerned in the same way. I already imagine that I’ll have to ask my students to bring their own water along with them and I will boil water for me.

Today I was lucky enough to have a car and a driver and so I went to buy 35 litres of water in another region. I hope that its consumption, the supply will be less worrisome. Otherwise, I really will have to boil the water. Egypt teaches to help oneself.

Why is there a drinking water scarcity? Allegedly because of the fuel shortage. And why is there a fuel shortage? And why are there power cuts? And why? And why?

Yesterday evening, an (Egyptian) friend and I discussed many of these Whys on which Egypt doesn’t seem to have an answer. But of course there is. But nobody is seriously asking about them. Why? Because Egyptians put up with everything, accept everything, don’t question anything, don’t criticize anything. You just have to spend a couple of hours at a train station to witness the following: even if a train is late for several hours, nobody complains. My friend said that Egypt hasn’t changed at all for centuries. Even Napoleon described Egyptians to be extremely indulgent, patient and fatalistic. Egyptians put up with almost everything.

Sometimes, I could fall into despair about this.

Thursday, July 19, 2012

Omar Suleiman has died

Omar Suleiman has died this morning in the USA. He left Egypt right after the presidential elections. He was a candidate but was excluded and he challenged this ruling but had no chance although he was a “felul” – a member of the old regime.

The news can be read in all media today.

However, I knew it by an unexpected way. My student was reading a sms and asked me if I knew Omar Suleiman. Yes, of course – although not personally. “He has died today in the USA… His daughter and his son in law are very good friends of mine. I liked this guy… I’m really touched.”

Somehow, I felt irritated. Omar Suleiman had friends, was liked and respected? I never thought of this. I saw him as the ex-spy chief, Mubarak’s ex-Vice President and others – but never as a human being. What an error! Yet: how can a human being agree to torturing tens of thousands of innocents who died of the tortures or suffered from physical or mental problems for the rest of their lives?

I couldn’t bring myself to express my sympathy; I only asked A. if we should stop our lesson. He didn’t want to and so we went on practicing.

My irritation remains.

Sunday, July 15, 2012


Marvellous, sweet, red cherries: first I’ve found them at Spinney’s, the big shopping mall, and then to my surprise I’ve seen them at the local food and vegetable market in Dahar. The cherries are from Alexandria – that’s what I’ve been told at Spinney’s.

That’s new. Years before, there were only imported cherries in some of the other supermarkets. I looked at them and dreamt of the huge, pulpy, almost black cherries from the South of France, Italy or at home. I didn’t buy them because they were, let’s say, rather mature. That’s why my joy about the cherries now is even bigger and the price is ok as well.

Since Spinney’s has opened a branch in Senzo Mall, shopping has become a bit easier. The choice has become manifold and prices are more attractive than in other shops. I also trust frozen products there more whereas one must be aware that the cold chain is not respected in other places. You’ll realise it when you get stomach ache after eating – which is not really funny at all. However, neither Spinney’s nor the other supermarkets have constant supplies down pat. Time after time, exactly those products that I need to buy are missing.

But let’s come back to the delicacies. Now and then, there are real surprises: for example Emmentaler matured for 18 months, or a real Gruyère – no imitations (such as Egyptian or French Emmentaler). My delicate taste does not really appreciate Emmi’s products (for the non-Swiss: this is the biggest producer and exporter of Swiss cheese) but they are anyway better than the everlasting Gouda products (sorry Holland!). Since some time, also real Parmigiano Reggiano and Grano Padano can be found.

Last week, I discovered to my delight several kinds of French cheese specialities, such as a Reblochon de Savoie, a Tomme de Chèvre, a Bûche de Chèvre beside Brie and Camembert.

Hurghada is home for an active Italian community and where there are Italians, there is also Italian food. A family from Milan produces fresh Mozarella Buffalo, Taleggio and other cheese specialities according to traditional recipes and without any artificial additives. There are also Focaccia and Salami to be bought. Somewhere else, one can get fresh homemade pasta. Fresh Italian ice-cream, espresso and pizzas are simply the best from Italians. Thanks to the Italian community, the supermarkets also sell risotto, polenta and aceto balsamico.

Even the variety of bread has multiplied. The Germans are the leaders in this market. There are several bakeries with shops and others only bake upon online-order. That works well and mostly, bread, rolls, pretzels and pastries are good or almost as good as in Germany.

Pork and its specialities can also be bought online. However, I haven’t tried it yet because the portions are too big for me.

Seven or eight years ago this must have been rather different. I was told that people went to Cairo for their monthly shopping, carrying cool boxes with them, because there was not really anything (hygienic) to be found in Hurghada. This has changed a great deal within the last four years.

Please do not misunderstand: I haven’t got anything against the local products. The choice of available fruit is simply fantastic. However, the variety of vegetables is drearier, depending on the season it might be rather tedious – so then I buy frozen or tinned vegetables. With leaf salads, one has to be modest, but with a bit of luck, one can find some nice salad as well. Pita-bread, Romy cheese, olive paste, feta and tahina are part of my diet – but sometimes I miss a good piece of bread, a real pretzel and a savoury cheese.

And what about Swiss chocolate? The Toblerone that is modelled on mountain peaks can be found everywhere but I don’t like it so much. I consider it as a tourist product and it has not much to do with Swiss chocolate. For some time, there were Lindt & Sprüngli chocolate bars made in Switzerland (my everlasting favourite) and such made in Saudi Arabia (non-edible). Both have disappeared and I had to put up with other products.

Yet hey, what do I see there: a full display of Frey chocolate bars? “Migros-Schoggi” (for non-Swiss: a famous Swiss food retailer that sells its own brands) I thought and blissfully grinned to myself. I bought some and gave one of them away immediately.

The only negative aspect: all those imported delicacies cost as much as in Europe or even more and are prohibitive for my local income… but so tasty J!

Monday, July 9, 2012

Manners: where are you hiding?

„Hi, I’ll be five minutes late, sorry“ said one of my students and I was surprised. He especially called me, did not just send a message or just came late.

He’s an exception. I’m used to very different manners…

There are students who are 10 minutes or 15 minutes late and when I ask what happened, they reply that traffic was bad or they give neither an explanation nor an excuse. Or they don’t come at all, have overslept or anything else – but I get to know this only on our next date.

Am I getting old? Am I old fashioned? Or even both? No, this is not the case as discussions with colleagues and friends show. But manners seem to be out of fashion.

When I cleaned my shoes in front of my French teacher’s home, she said appreciatively that no-one else was doing so. So what for is such a rug in front of an apartment door? Me too, I’ve got one: black, big, obvious, the only one on my landing. Yet, I have to ask 9 out of 10 people to please clean their shoes. This is very embarrassing for me, since after all, there are doctors, managers, bankers and others among my students… and nevertheless, it is so necessary. The streets are always sandy, there’s always some kind of disgusting rubbish and the water tank lories spill their precious commodity so that often a sticky stuff… sticks on the sole of the shoes.

I don’t want to shake hands. I’m disgusted from the lacking hygiene. There are people who practise nose-picking, pimple squeezing and sneezing into their hands without using a paper tissue, although there is a tissue box on the table. And I should shake hands?

Then, there are people who leave used paper tissues, empty coke cans, broken pencils and others on my table – rubbish that I have to dispose of. Am I the public waste disposal?

In turn, others ask for a second, third or fourth glass of water instead of bringing their own, although they just finished doing sports and consequently are thirstier as usual. Am I a café?

And yet others charge their mobile phones and notebooks without asking. Am I a power station?

The longer I work as a „teacher“ and the more I meet people from all walks of life, the more I am surprised how little manners, politeness and good grace are spread. This hasn’t got anything to do with different cultures; my experiences result from across all walks of life and all nationalities. I am able to make differences: when my Koreans sip water noisily, I can understand. Somehow, a normal young travel guide for whom my lessons may be expensive might show better manners and even brings a gift on his return from his home town. However, a doctor and owner of a clinic lies half across the table, the hyper nervous dentist gets up and walks to and fro in my flat because he cannot sit quiet for an hour. The diving instructor’s papers and books look as if they had lain in the sand for a year and he regularly asks for a pen because he always forgets his own one.

The more I praise the job of that person who taught me manners, respect and politeness: my mother. She laid the foundation and I learned more while travelling and in business life.

Manners haven’t become extinct completely yet: some of my students give thanks to my lessons as much as I thank them for their attention. Some discretely take their rubbish with them or ask me if they may put it into the waste bin. There are these tiny signs of attention, few words and simple gestures that let as feel at ease with one another. I really wonder why this is not more common.

Mursi: war declaration?

Yesterday, Mursi issued a decree declaring the dissolution of the parliament invalid and that parliament should convene.

During the election campaign he claimed he would respect the judge’s decision.

He’s a liar – nothing new about that.

When I read this news I thought that this looked like a war declaration to the SCAF. An open confrontation against the most powerful institution in the country? Against the one that helped him and the Muslim brothers to gain power?


Maybe not. Don’t forget that the Muslim brothers never protested and they never called for demonstrations against the SCAF but always sought and apparently found chime.

There is another possibility (among many): SCAF and the Muslim brothers are in cahoots together. Mursi may show heroic actions in order to avoid losing his face. On the other hand, nobody gets hurt because the SCAF will have its reaction ready. The system of (un-)justice is at its disposal.

Bad bunch.