Wednesday, December 29, 2010

Art in Cairo

There are many forms of art around Cairo.  Here are some photos showing the variety.  Some ancient, some modern; some serious, some whimsical.
Outside the Opera House

Major intersection near the Nile

Mural on Road 9, the main street of Maadi (close-ups of this mural are below).

The "evil eye" is a symbol to protect against jeolousy so one doesn't
covet things belonging to others.

Sculpture outside of the Egyptian Museum.  (Below is a broader view of the same.)

Statue near Tahrir Square, home of the main government building said to be home to a thousand offices.
The Metro at the Opera Stop.  (The mural below is at the same metro station.)
I read that ancient Egyptians believed that art should show them with all limbs visible; they believed if one or more limbs were not visible, then the person who had died would come back to live without that limb.  The result is that two dimensional art shows a somewhat stylized look that is part silhouette and part frontal view.

Cameron at the Fish Gardens.  
I found this video on YouTube discussing a children's art program in Egypt.  If you click on it twice you'll be directed to the YouTube video where you can watch it with the full screen.
Below is a mural of children's art at the busiest metro station downtown, Sadat.  If you click on the photo, it becomes larger, then you can click on the magnifying glass and see details.
One of the big stories when we arrived was about the theft of a valuable Van Gogh painting from a Cairo art museum.  Here's the painting, Poppy Flowers, worth $55 million:
After it was stolen this past August, the deputy culture minister who was also the head of the fine arts dept. with an office in the museum was charged criminally for negligence with regard to the theft.  Here's an article about the story.  

On a different topic, the Opera House in Cairo is a gem of a resource for celebrating the arts.  Jeff, Cameron and I really enjoyed attending a wonderful ballet production of Zorba the Great last month.   We got balcony seats for 30 pounds each (about $6).   Cameron was transfixed by the dancing and music.  
The Opera House is very elegant.  It reminds me of the Kennedy Center in D.C.   
The bottom photo is of one of the many beautiful sculptures outside of the Opera House.  I took this photo the night we went to the ballet.

Sunday, December 19, 2010

The Eye of Horus

The Eye of Horus symbol is seen often in Egyptian art now and dating back to ancient time.  According to one online source, it is a symbol of protection, prosperity, wisdom and good health.   It is found in ancient heiroglyphs:

The word "Horus" was the name of an ancient Egyptian sky god who was symbolized as a falcon.  The right eye of the falcon was associated with the sun, called Ra.  The eye symbol represents the Peregrine Falcon's eye with a teardrop in it.  The left eye sometimes symbolizes the moon and another god, Djehuti (Thoth).

I read this summary of the Egyptian myth about the eye on one website:
"According to the old myth, the rivalling god Seth tore Horus' eye out. Seth was his uncle, who contended with him for the Egyptian throne after he had killed and dismembered his father, Osiris. Thot, the wise moon god and the patron of the sciences and the art of writing, put it patiently back in order and healed it. As an ambiguous symbol, it describes the status of regained soundness."

The eye would often be painted on boats to insure safe travel.  Perhaps that's part of why this eye (below) is hanging in the Travel Office at American University in Cairo.

Here's a photo of a section of mural in Maadi near where we live.

Saturday, December 18, 2010

The Holidays in Cairo

Cameron's school is all decked out for the holidays.  For a small school, they work very hard at decorating with each change in season and holiday.  Here's the look for Christmas:

Cameron made this rein deer.  The two ears are his hand shapes
and the face is his foot shape, then he wrote  Merry Christmas.  
Here's the whole wall of reindeer in his classroom.

All the kids made Christmas cards.  They're displayed here:

Cameron had a very nice concert at the Irish International School.  The kids had memorized several Christmas songs like Let It Snow, Think of Christmas, Santa Clause Is Coming to Town, The Little Drummer Boy and We Wish You a Merry Christmas.
Each song was introduced by a different child.  Cameron didn't tell us beforehand that he was doing the introduction to the song Let It Snow.  His part was to say, "Although there's no snow in Cairo.  We can pretend we do.  So imagine the weather is much colder, as we sing, Let It Snow."  
After all the songs, Santa came out of the school and gave each child a present (-- the parents were instructed to send a present for their child).  Here's Cameron with Santa.
This is the second time we've seen Santa here.   The first time we saw him was at a craft fair hosted by our church.  It was convenient to see him because Cameron had concerns about Santa finding him.  Before we came to Egypt, I was asking Cameron how he felt about coming to Cairo and he said he was a little worried.  I asked him why and he said he as worried that there wouldn't be foods that he liked to eat and he was worried that Santa wouldn't know where to find him.  I told him we could write a letter to Santa to tell him we had moved to Cairo.   (The food situation has also resolved itself since he's found things he likes to eat here-- I'll do a blog entry on foods at some point.)  

Last month, Cameron had a new concern about Santa not finding him since we don't have a fireplace with chimney here.  He asked how Santa would get into our apartment.  I told him Santa could come in through the balcony door.  So when Cameron met with Santa, he told Santa that he should come through the balcony door to get in our apartment since we don't have a fireplace with a chimney.  Cameron added, "But Santa, you have to be sure to shut the balcony door when you come in to keep out the mosquitos."  Santa reassured him that he would be sure to do that.  

We didn't buy a Christmas tree for our apartment this year, but we did get a Christmas bush.  A live Christmas tree didn't seem right considering we're living in a desert. There actually are live Christmas trees sold on the block where all the plant/bush/flower shops are; there were some pretty Norfolk pines shipped in from Sweden.  But I don't want to support shipping trees to another continent so expatriots can have Christmas trees.  
The fake Christmas trees are also sold in the shops but they're expensive (almost $100 for the nice ones!)  I think our Christmas bush is just fine.  We decorated  it with lovely ornaments we bought at the church craft fair.  The little glass ornaments are made here in Cairo from recycled glass.  

We also celebrated Hannakah here which was from Dec. 1-8 this year.  We celebrate back home but I didn't think to bring the menora since I thought we'd be able to pick up something like that here, but I haven't seen anything like that, so we improvised, using floating candles in a bowl instead of a menora.  

Here is Cameron wearing one of his Hannakah presents, another thing I got at the church craft fair.  Cameron is crazy about cats this year.  He was a cat for Halloween, he draws stories about adventures of his two former cats (which we put in little bound folders), and he has started a cat collection with the allowance money he gets each week for picking up his room and helping set the table and sort the silverware into the drawers.  

Friday, December 17, 2010

Solar Energy in Egypt

When I first came here, I was surprised to look out over all of Cairo and not see any solar panels on rooftops.  There is so much sun here, literally almost every day of the year.   In the four months we've been here so far, we have not seen any rain and there have probably been fewer than 10 overcast days.  So the potential for solar power is amazing.
Here's the view from the 11th floor of our hotel during our first week.
If you click on the photo and then click again on the magnifying glass, you can get a closer look.

I was pleased to see when driving through the desert on the way back from our desert safari that there are some solar panels providing electricity at regular intervals along this one desert road.

These solar array were about every 10 miles or so for a stretch (-- about 10 or so total).
And in googling around, I learned there are some other solar project underway here in Egypt.  I found this photo on Google Images with a caption that described how these solar panels were part of a project by SolarCities (see in a Cairo neighborhood where the Zabaleen live.  The Zabaleen are the Christian community that unofficially handles most of the recycling in the city---  the area where they live is known as Garbage City since this is where the trash is taken to be recycled.  

Here is a link to an article that tells more about what this group Solarcities is doing:
Solar Cities has been installing solar panels in one of the poorest neighborhoods in Cairo since 2003, installing 34 solar-powered hot water systems and 5 biogas reactors so far.  

I was also very pleased to read an article from two months ago about how the World Bank will be providing Egypt with $270 million to fund a solar power plant would be part of a $100 billion to $120 billion plan to triple the capacity of the power plant by the year 2027.

Egypt now has a plant with 25,000 megawatts of power capacity.  The article reports this plant had repeated outages this year.  We are quite familiar with losing power.  At first, we didn't know what to think of it and worried we would lose all our food in the refrigerator if the power remained out for a day or so, but then we realized that it generally comes back on after about an hour or so, so usually there's nothing to be done but be patient.

Here is an interesting video about the World Bank solar project in Egypt.

I am quite ambivalent about the World Bank since part of what I've been studying about is how World Bank projects for many years focused on privatization which in some underdeveloped countries has been quite detrimental to those countries.  For example, the World Bank conditioned most of its water projects in the 'Third World' on those countries privatizing their water systems, which sometimes resulted in big transnational water distributors coming into a country with an eye on making a profit, which sometimes resulted in sky-rocketing prices for water, such as in Bolivia and Tanzania.    This solar panel project seems like a good idea though.

I was also happy to read about the World Bank providing a $220 million loan for a Wind Power Development project that would work on developing the infrastructure for wind power.  Egypt reportedly has some of the best wind power resources in the world, particularly around the area of the Gulf of Suez and on the west and east banks of the Nile."

We haven't yet been to the Gulf of Suez, but I have experienced just how windy it is on the bridge crossing the Nile!

Wednesday, December 15, 2010


Cairo had a sandstorm a couple days ago.  Sandstorms are interesting to me since I never experienced them before I came here.  The storm started at night.  I heard what sounded like rain on our terrace but when I went outside, there wasn't any rain.  It just felt dusty.  Then the next day, the sky was overcast and there was an orangey hue to the air.  It was dusty and sometimes windy.  I walked by some cars that looked like they were streaked with raindrops but it wasn't rain; it was sand.  Some palms from palm trees blew down and one whole tree bent over at the trunk.  

Jeff told me that the airport at Alexandria (a city a couple hours from Cairo) had been closed because of the sandstorm.  

I found a video on YouTube of a Sandstorm in Cairo.  

Here's another video from YouTube of a sandstorm in Kuwait.

Sandstorms are caused by winds that pick up loose sand and dust from the desert.  There are particular seasons in desert regions when sandstorms, also called dust storms, are more likely.   Here is a satellite photo taken by NASA of a sandstorm over Afghanistan and Pakistan taken on August 24, 2010:
 Sometimes visibility during a sandstorm can be really bad, the desert equivalent of a snowstorm.  This video shows this:

I found this article on the recent sandstorm we experienced.  In Alexandria, a factory apparently collapsed, with the accident blamed in part on weather conditions.  The article discusses how 29 ships were barred from passing through the Suez Canal during the storm.  There were winds up to 40 knots on the canal.  All 8 of Egypt's ports on the Red Sea were closed.  The article says residents were warned to stay inside.  Visibility was said to be only 300 meters. 

We didn't hear the 'stay inside' warning at the time.  It wasn't so bad in our neighborhood (no rain and mild winds).  I was surprised when I went to pick Cameron up from school that all the kids were kept inside instead of playing on the playground as they usually do at the end of the day.  Cameron asked if he could play outside and I said sure.  It was colder than usual, but still nothing compared to New England winters.  Jeff, Cameron and I decided to go to a restaurant that night.  The streets were pretty empty, probably because this weather is quite cold for Egyptians.   People are wearing hats and scarves.  

Our terrace is now covered with a layer of dusty sand.  During the afternoon of the sandstorm, I could even smell the dusty air inside our bedroom... it had seeped into the room through the air conditioning unit I guess.  We were glad to discover last night that the air conditioning unit is actually a heater as well so we could be toasty warm last night despite the chilly night air.  

The day after the sandstorm it was clear and sunny again.  We still haven't seen a drop of rain since we've been here. 

Sunday, December 12, 2010

The Christmas Pageant, with live camels!

We went to the Christmas Pageant at our church, the Maadi Community Church, last night.  Christmas events are held quite early here because a lot of the expatriot community flies home to their home country over the holidays.  Even schools get out very early here.  Cameron's last day of school before the three week break is this Thursday.

We really enjoyed the Christmas Pageant.  The chorus was good, the acting was very humorous in parts, the live animals (camels, sheep and a donkey) were a real treat.  The pageant is so popular that the church does two shows and sells tickets, 10 pounds a person (about $1.75).  We got our tickets weeks in advance because we'd heard it would sell out.  We got three extra tickets too and invited our neighbors who have an apartment below ours.  The mother, who is from Australia, came with her two kids (one of whom is a little girl just Cameron's age).

Here are some photos of the pageant.
Mary and Joseph with the baby
The choir of angels with angel Gabriel.
When Gabriel was asked how God would let her know that the baby was born,
she said, he's got me on speed dial of course!

The shepards celebrating after hearing from the angels about the baby who will be born.
The wise men entering on their camels.
  Each of the wise men on the camel had a person guiding the camels.  I think they're taking extra safety measures because I heard one year, when the camels stood up, one of the wisemen flipped over the front landing on the ground (... a long way to fall... those camels are pretty tall!).

The final scene.
The sermons in church for the last couple Fridays (... church here is Friday night at 5pm for us) has been on the Wise Men.  The minister does a lot of research so his sermons are very educational.  He talked about how the wise men were astronomers who knew not only about stars but also about the prophesy that there would be a star over Judea.  He talked about what must have been going through the wise men's minds when they decided that the stars were demonstrating what the prophesy said and so they decided to give up their lives for several months, and spend a lot of money and time travelling across deserts on camels to follow this bright star.  Because of the enormity of such an expedition and because they were carrying valuables (e.g., gold), they likely had a caravan of helpers making the trek with them.   Assuming this is historically accurate, it really is pretty amazing that they did that.

Saturday, December 11, 2010

The Village in the Bahariya Oasis

This set of photos is again from our trip to the Bahariya Oasis.  This village is actually a small city of about 25,000 people, but it still felt more like a village.  When we were at the hotel asking about going to town to look at the museum where the Golden Mummies were, I said perhaps we could get a cab.  The man laughed saying there aren't cabs.   We did see a kind of covered pick-up truck with little benches on each side which seemed like the equivalent to a local bus.  We told the man at the hotel that we would just walk to town.  He said, but it's a half hour!  (I guess most tour groups that come through there are not big walkers).  We said that would be fine and off we went.

There were a few things that I found interesting and unique about this town.  One is that many of the houses are in a row flanking the street and are walled in with a doorway in the wall.  It seems to be the style of the community.  I guess one advantage of this style is that children can play inside the walled in part while still being outside the actual house part.  It must also add to a sense of privacy.

Another feature of this town was that stone doorways, in the form of archways, are often found next to the road even if it's just nature behind it or a path leading eventually to a house.  

Here are a couple photos of the downtown area.
Here are some photos of kids.  I asked kids if I could take their photos.  Some were delighted.  Others shook their head emphatically no.  I suspect this an area that was impacted heavily by tourism after the Golden Mummies were found.  Our guide in the White Desert commented once about what he would do if he ever met that donkey who fell into the hole which lead to the Golden Mummies (... he didn't have friendly feelings toward that donkey).  Not unsurprisingly, even the guide whose livelihood depends on tourism has a great deal of ambivalence about having his home town invaded by tourists.
The boy on the left holding the chicken upside down thought it was very funny
that I was telling him to be careful of that chicken.
(The attitude toward animals here is often different than what I am used to.)

There seemed to be a grove of trees reserved for animal grazing.  
The animals would be left there and the owners would come back later to collect them.

We visited a couple tombs located two blocks from the museum where the Golden Mummies are.   Here's the sign and the outside of the tombs.  Inside, you climb down a precarious set of steps and enter a room with murals on the walls of ancient Egyptians and with small low rooms off the sides of a main walkway flanked with murals.  These low rooms were where the bodies were kept.  

One of the tombs was inside this building.
This steep stairway leads down to the second tomb buried under the earth.
Here are a few photos of the hot springs that were located behind our hotel.   The photos showing the concrete channel is what was built to funnel the hotsprings into the hotel to fill up the hotel's hot tub every night.  We tried dipping our hands in the hotsprings and they were indeed hot, so hot that one couldn't actually climb in without getting burned.