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Monday, 15 February 2010

Doggy Doo on my shoe and other litter!!

I was walking from home to work the other day and almost stepped in some doggy doo. I was very lucky not to end up with doggy doo on my shoes. At first I thought nothing of it but then I came across some more, then some more, and then yet more!!

That set me thinking about the state of the streets here in Hurghada.

The area I was walking in is known as the Touristic Centre. Basically, it's a small development of mainly villas (please don't think grand or anything like you find in Spain and Portugal called a Villa). These are for the most part quite ordinary 3 bedroom terraced dwellings with very small front gardens and a slightly larger garden at the back. They are on 2 levels just like an English house. Many of them are owned by foreigners, quite a few by Egyptians and several are used as offices by businesses. It is to an office that I was walking at the time. It's a quiet area just off the main promenade of the "New Hurghada" or "Village Road". This is the most modern part of Hurghada and is quite some distance from the original fishing village of Dahar (where tourism here all began about 25 years ago) and the main tourist shopping centre of Sekala.

Just after I narrowly missed stepping in this stuff I saw a man walking his dog along the road. That set me thinking about WHO had left the doggy doo on the public pavement.

It is quite unusual here for Egyptians to have pets in the house. Some may have cats but not many have dogs. There is no welfare state here and most feel the money spent on pets is better spent on the family. That said, there are, as always, exceptions. However, I started to notice the dog walkers in this area over a number of days. I only saw 1 Egyptian with a dog. All the others (around 12) were ex-pats from somewhere else.

This begs the question of why the doggie doo was on the pavement even more. I know in Europe there are laws about this kind of thing. In England not only is it against the law to not clean up after your pet (it is accepted you cannot always stop the dog from producing the doggie doo in the first place) but it is also socially unacceptable meaning that the majority of people carry scoops and plastic bags with them when walking the dog. In parks and recreational areas there are often special bins for this crap (forgive the word used but I think it is appropriate here). I just wonder why someone would come from a country where they would be very careful to clean up after their pet and think they don't have to bother here – just because they're in Egypt. We are here as guests and should behave as such. Egypt is not our dumping ground or an excuse not to conduct ourselves properly. I had thought to be charitable and blame it on the street dogs but there aren't many of them in this area.

However, looking around I decided I wasn't really surprised. You should see the state of the streets here.

Littering abounds in Hurghada and the streets are full of it. It is commonplace to see an Egyptian come out of a shop with a packet of cigarettes, open them as he walks along throwing the packaging down in the street as he goes. Similarly, if they have a drinks can as soon as the drink is finished the can is discarded wherever they happen to be. There is no culture of taking things home to dispose of in the domestic rubbish nor any campaign to mirror the "it just takes a minute to bag it and bin it" promotion in the UK.

Part of the problem, I believe, is the lack of litter bins in the streets. The one thing the new promenade area has done well is place lots of litter bins around. Consequently, there is far less litter here than elsewhere in Hurghada.

In Dahar and Sekala, on the other hand, it is impossible to go anywhere without walking through someone else's rubbish. If you stray off the main tarmac street down the side-streets it can be like walking through your local rubbish dump. You have to appreciate here though that Hurghada is still very much a 'work in progress'. Building work started about 25 years ago when it was first discovered and is still going on. Don't be fooled into thinking this means that Hurghada is a hive of building activity. On the contrary, work continues but VERY slowly. A very large number of buildings were started and have been in a partially built state for more than 15 years now. The land, which was owned by the Government, was sold off exceptionally cheaply. The new owners put in some footings (that is if they could be bothered to do anything at all or if their contract called for it – there is still a lot of land lying fallow) and simply left them. Meanwhile land prices have risen astronomically so there are quite a few theoretically rich Egyptians around once they cash in on the land. This situation may now improve because the local Governorate recently passed an order that any land that was not substantially developed within a certain time from now will revert back to the Government at the original price. That has certainly spurred some of the owners into action.

However, the upshot of all this 'work in progress' is that streets are not finished because no-one wants to spend money laying expensive tarmac only for it to be dug up a couple of years later for new water mains, electricity cables, sewage pipes etc. to be laid. Therefore, they are waiting until buildings are completed and then finishing the roads.

This makes perfect sense but, in the meantime, we have the rubbish problem. Great piles of it are to be found in the dirt streets. For many, their local rubbish collection point is a street corner where everything is left in plastic bags which are then torn apart by the street dogs and cats looking for a meal – not to mention the crows.

To be fair, the rubbish collection vehicle (a much smaller version of those you see throughout Europe) does the rounds most days. Before they arrive a local Street Cleaner from Care Services (this is the branch of Local Government that looks after the streets) does his best to put everything into one huge rugged blue bag. The vehicle crew then try to heave this new oversize sac up into the hold. If extra rubbish has accumulated they toss this up as well. They normally have someone riding in the hold who helps by catching what is thrown up. Sadly, he often misses and then more rubbish is scattered back all over the street. They do not set about collecting this. It takes too long. They simply leave it and move along to the next corner. So, for a full week this rubbish blows around in the wind.

In some households the people are too lazy to take the rubbish even to the corner for collection and tend to leave it outside an adjacent building. I noticed they never leave it outside their own building – always outside someone else's. This rubbish is therefore overlooked when the collection vehicle comes and builds up, often smelling rather bad, until someone sets fire to it, a local answer to rubbish disposal. At least the fire gets rid of the smell and reduces the volume of the rubbish.

Sadly, a very large number of plastic bags do get blown into the sea and create hazards for the underwater flora and fauna. On the annual 'Clean Up Day' divers will retrieve hundreds of tons of plastic bags, discarded plastic and glass jars and bottles, drinks cans and some more amusing items. On one clean up a bed was found complete with a blanket.

Many groups, including prominent environmental groups, have been complaining about this for ages and campaigning for improvements. Their pleas seemed to fall very much on deaf ears until recently. There have been some recent developments that are definitely a move in the right direction.

Firstly, the Governorate has decreed that shopping should be presented in paper bags and that plastic bags are to be a thing of the past. This is very good news and is being implemented by the major supermarkets in the area. In Hurghada we have Metro, Spinney, Abo Ashara and Hamed Sons as the main players and they are all now plastic bag free zones. It can be a little more difficult getting the shopping home if you don't have a car because the paper bags are not as strong as the plastic ones and can't carry as much but it's worth it. Two of these supermarkets are using recyclable paper – not sure about the other two though. Also, there has been some opposition because the free paper bags do not have handles. They are similar to the paper grocery bags you see in American movies. If you want a stronger bag with handles you have to pay for it. It costs a whole 80 piastres – at the moment that's about 10p English money (0.10GBP). But you can, of course, use the same bag again next time as long as you remember to take it with you.

The second thing is that a local organisation called HEPCA (Hurghada Environmental Protection and Conservation Agency) has been given a contract to keep the streets of Sekala clean. This organisation already has a large waste collection and recycling plant in Hurghada and another in Marsa Alam. They have been busy helping hotels to sort and recycle their waste and even collect it from them. They have a lot of projects centred around protecting and improving the environment – both terrestrial and maritime. I read about this new contract around a week ago and was amazed, when I visited Sekala just yesterday, at what a difference they've made already. The main street (a properly made street) was certainly much cleaner. The area outside Macdonald's is usually pretty littered but was clear. I ventured up a side street expecting to wade through the rubbish only to find this street was also clear and much more pleasant. I wandered down a few more side-streets and it was the same story. It just proves that even with no proper surface the streets can be clean and pleasant places to be rather than an eyesore to be ashamed of. I just hope they will now extend this contract to take in the rest of Hurghada. It's such a pity when the first thing our visitors from abroad see as they leave the airport is a landscape full of rubbish. How much nicer it would be to see the pristine desert as it should be.

So, how does this help with the doggy doo? Well, I'm sure this is NOT top of the agenda. However, I'm hoping that as things move from better to excellent we may even start to see the doggy doo bins appearing here and then woe betide any who do not clean up after their pets. We can all do without the doo on our shoes.

Valentine's Day - what did you do?

So, what did you make of yesterday? It was, of course, St. Valentine's Day. In modern times this is a day for lovers to exchange special gifts but what does it REALLY mean today?

There is confusion about the origins of this day. In history there are several saints called Valentine (or Valentinus) who were martyred in Rome. In ancient times this was a common name from the Latin 'valens' meaning 'strong'.

However, there is one saint in particular who is the most likely candidate to have given his name to this day. This Valentinus was martyred for marrying Christian couples (thus supporting and allowing the spread of this new religion) and even, on occasion, for presiding over the marriage of a Roman soldier with a Christian woman. It is said his death was very drawn out – supposedly he was first beaten with clubs, then stoned, and then, as he still hadn't died, beheaded. The last one did the trick and he was dead afterwards. Dates are fuzzy but this apparently happened somewhere between 269AD and 273AD – either that or it took him 4 years to die.

I wonder what he would make of this festival today.

Of course, big business is overjoyed every time we have a 'special day'. The greetings card industry makes millions and florists look forward to them eagerly. Another winner is the chocolate industry. A traditional offering between couples seems to be chocolates and flowers for almost any special occasion. I just wonder how many billions are spent every year on these items. Of course, there are so many good causes in the world today it's easy to say the money could be better spent. However, can you imagine the workaholic father coming home, late as usual in spite of all the promises as he left in the morning, to the family he hardly sees (because he's always at work) and instead of presenting the anticipated offering to prove he remembered the special day and DOES want to say he loves his wife, telling her he would have liked so much to bring chocolates and roses but decided it was better to give the money he would have spent on these to the poor/homeless/children with cancer/etc etc etc. She would certainly NOT be impressed, I'm sure. So, he goes for the safe option and buys the necessary gifts on the way home - or, if he is lucky enough to have a secretary, gets her to buy them for him. At least that's one supper that is served with tenderness and a glass of wine rather than burnt or in the bin before he gets there. There is even the possibility of sharing a romantic dinner for 2 in an expensive (but overcrowded tonight) restaurant during which there are lame attempts to rekindle conversations not normally held because the couple hardly see each other.

Women, it seems, are not automatically expected to deliver a gift to the loved one. It's enough to cook a lovely meal for when he comes home or to be dressed up and looking one's finest ready on time (for a change instead of half an hour late as usual) to go for the romantic meal in the special restaurant he has chosen for this exquisite wining and dining experience.

In short, everything is done to try and ensure a state of peace and harmony to share this special day and try to rekindle the feelings that couples had for each other when they first met and which seem to have rusted with age. This day provides an opportunity to get them out and polish them – with any luck they will stay bright and shiny for a long time to come.

Of course, there are couples out there for whom this is a genuinely loving and moving experience whose feelings for each other have not yet become staid with age and I do not want to deter them. You love each other and you want to show it so do. In fact, show the world. Enjoy the meaning of the day.

And, of course, they are both expected to give each other cards. It would seem that the Valentine's Card was the original greeting card. It is all rumoured to have started back in 1415 when, after the Battle of Agincourt, a Frenchman called Charles who was the Duke of Orleans was imprisoned in the Tower of London and wrote romantic poems and rhymed love letters to his wife in France. Others got to know about this and the practice caught on becoming ever more popular. The first commercial hand-made cards were available in the early 1800s. The first manufactured cards arrived on the scene around the end of the 1800s/early 1900s.

Today, Valentine's Day is the second largest card sending day in the year with over 1 billion cards sent. The only day to claim more card sending is Christmas.

Yesterday led me to recalling some of my own Valentine's Day experiences. One that comes to mind happened when I was just 16 years old. I had sent Valentine's cards before that but this year was particularly memorable. I was dating someone. In common with most girls of that age, my feelings were particularly intense and I believed this boy, also just 16, was the love of my life, my knight in shining armour, the only one in the whole world ever. Just like many others of that age I decided I wanted to test him somehow. Therefore, on Valentine's Day I decided to send him two (yes, two) cards. Now back then, cards were always sent anonymously so the trick was to make sure that the card could not be traced back to you. It was common for friends to write the addresses on the envelopes for each other and the post could be relied upon in those days, unlike now, to deliver on time. Now this poor guy was in a "Catch 22". When I asked him if he'd received any cards he couldn't say "no" because he knew I'd have been certain to send him one. He also couldn't say he'd received more than one because he would think I would want to know who else he had been seeing when, in fact, he was innocent (or at least I think he was). But, if he said he'd only received 1 card I would accuse him of lying because I would know I had sent 2. So, he just couldn't win. He did present the necessary gifts (flowers and chocolates) and we did date for another 2 years before going our separate ways so I suppose it wasn't so tough after all.

I think the most futile Valentine's Day in my life has to be the year my son was born. He arrived on 27 February and will be 32 on his birthday this year. At that time I was still married to his father and we were living in Spain. On Valentine's Day my husband gave me a beautiful card, declared his undying love and anticipation of the imminent arrival of our son, bought me flowers and chocolate AND took me out for a romantic meal. The memory is, however, a little soured by the fact he left me 6 weeks later when he ran off to South Africa with the daughter of our best friends. She was only 15 and already 3 months pregnant by him – it seems the 'affair' had been going on around 6 months after she developed a teenage crush on him.

Probably the most poignant Valentine's Day was about 10 years ago. I was with someone I really loved and I know he loved me too just as much. We did all the normal things together on that day. We had been together for about 12 years and had the sort of relationship where we couldn't bear to be apart. For example, on the way to work each day we'd call each other, during breaks we'd call each other, at lunch (I had an hour and he had 30 minutes) I'd drive 20 minutes to spend 20 minutes with him and drive 20 minutes back to work. We were constantly reaffirming our love for each other no matter what day it was. A few days after Valentine's Day we went to a travel agent and booked a skiing holiday together for 4 weeks later. We never went skiing together. Just over a week after Valentine's Day he died very suddenly of a massive heart attack. I am lucky that we had such a good relationship with so many happy times together to remember; that we had not argued and I have no regrets about things I should/should not have said or done before he died.

This year was a very quiet Valentine's Day which I spent alone. I have been seeing someone on and off for a while. He always says the right things but does not back this up with the right behaviour and I've been disenchanted with the relationship for several months now. Yesterday I ended the relationship. He DID remember Valentine's Day but I am no longer interested in a false show of something that he does not feel inside. Believe it or not, I don't feel at all sad about this. I actually feel really good today and have no regrets at all about finishing things on Valentine's Day.

I believe if you love someone you should show it every day in every way. You don't need Valentine's Day to remind you. When my parents were alive my father brought my mother chocolates OR flowers every Friday without fail on his way home from work. Even after he retired he continued to buy her these gifts every week. I was very lucky to be brought up by a couple who loved each other so completely that every day was a Valentine's Day.

It just goes to show you don't need all the hype to show you care. Nonetheless, I hope everyone enjoyed the day.

Wednesday, 3 February 2010

The Things People Do in Public!!

OK. I know this is an odd subject for a Blog and some may find it embarrassing. It came to mind while I was walking to work this morning. Don’t ask me what triggered it because I can’t for the life of me figure it out. However, it did come to mind and I felt I had to get it down somewhere. So here goes.

I would like to make it clear at this point that I do not intend in any way to insult anyone by this Blog. I especially do not intend to insult the religion of Islam for which I have a very high regard. I am not a Muslim myself but I have chosen to live in an Islamic country and I have a very high respect for the religion. Therefore, please do not read into this anything that does not appear in black and white here in this Blog.

As I mentioned, this topic came to mind while I was walking to work this morning. It did not come directly – more sidled in somehow. I was thinking about a day a couple of years ago when I lived in a hotel but was finding my way around and needed to visit a different district in Hurghada, a place called Dahar (when I left the holiday company I moved to this district and lived there for a year. I now live in an area called Mubarak 2 near the main tourist centre of Sekala). I had wandered off the beaten track, as we say in English, down a street rarely seen by tourists to take my shoes to have new heels. I was working as a Tour Leader/Holiday Rep and they were my uniform shoes so I had to take them on my day off.

You could tell this street was not intended for tourists. There was no English, German, Russian etc anywhere in sight. Everything was in Arabic. The shops were not like the conventional shops we have in Europe and we are used to. They were all very open to the street. The ‘specialists’ were also working in open fronted ‘rooms’ (never saw any access to a back room and toilet so Heaven alone knows how they coped with basic natural necessities). Their services were advertised in Arabic but you could guess what they did by the equipment they had on view. For example, the man with bolts of cloth, a couple of sewing machines, a clothes press and some new clothes on hangers was obviously the local tailor etc. I’m sure you get the picture. Of course, in this environment, no-one speaks anything but Arabic so being understood can be difficult. At this point I had only been in Egypt about 3 months and my Arabic was about 5 phrases – the normal; yes please, no thank you, good morning/afternoon/evening, how much is it, hello, good-bye! I was obviously going to do well here – NOT.

Anyway, cutting a long (yes, it can be even longer) story short I found the shoe repair man, made him understand what I wanted, managed to understand when my shoes would be ready, and set off back towards the area called Downtown which is the old tourist centre from when Hurghada first became a holiday destination. Walking along this sides treet approaching the roundabout which marked the return to polyglotism I had to pass a coach parked alongside the pavement. I noticed the doors were open and it was when I passed the side door mid-way along the coach that I saw the events that sparked this Blog.

There were three men on board this coach. One was sitting in the back, one was standing in the aisle and one was standing in this doorway (the side door – you know, the one where you have the on-board toilet). It’s a good job I am older and a bit worldly-wise because otherwise I would have been highly embarrassed by what I saw rather than highly amused (as I was).

This man was standing, as I said, in the doorway facing the street. He was holding his galabia (this is the local name for the long garment – the unkind among you may refer to it as a dress – worn by men in Arab countries) high around his waist with his left hand. His underpants were halfway down to his knees. He was using his right hand to knead his penis and masturbate himself!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!! Oddly, he did not seem at all perturbed that people walking past would see him. I guess this man to have been in his late 50s or even early 60s and certainly old enough to know better than to do this sort of thing in public. And – what were the other men thinking being on the same coach with him and letting him carry on like that???????????

BEFORE YOU ASK – NO, I DID NOT STICK AROUND TO WITNESS THE WHOLE PERFORMANCE but I did find the whole experience exceptionally funny.

Also, it is true to say I have not seen anyone else behaving in this way the whole time I have been in Egypt, so hopefully it was a one-off.

It was a surprise to find this in an Islamic country because masturbation is expressly forbidden within the Islamic faith.

I have read a translation of the Qu’ran since I have been in Egypt in an attempt to better understand the society I have chosen to live in. I did not find any specific reference to the prohibition of masturbation, at least not in so many words. However, there are references to guarding your chastity even from your right hand which scholars interpret as forbidding masturbation. Further evidence from the Qu’ran comes from a verse that urges those who cannot afford to marry to remain chaste until God (Allah) grants them his bounty. Scholars quote further evidence from the Sunnah or Hadiths (sayings of the Prophet Mohamed or records of his sayings, actions and things he approved of). I have not read the translations of these so cannot speak from first-hand knowledge.

That doesn’t really matter though. What matters is that in Islam this practice is forbidden, so what on earth was this man thinking of.

There are many Internet sites set up to inform about Islam and, here in Egypt, there are at least 2 Islamic TV channels broadcast in English – I watch Huda TV sometimes and I understand this channel is now available in the UK. Here you will find a regular forum with advice from a high level scholar of Islam (a Sheikh or Mullah). The question of masturbation arises in these sites – not frequently but often enough to be found easily – and advice is offered.

Certainly, all are advised to abstain from this practice. They are mostly advised to fast instead until the urge passes. Fasting is supposed to focus the mind on God (Allah) and away from worldly desires. I have to admit, I admire those who do fast. I tried fasting during Ramadan and barely lasted a single day so I really take my hat off to them for managing this for a whole month. I had wanted to fast as a show of support for my work colleagues but, having failed miserably, had to resort to simply making sure I did not eat or drink in front of them during this time. I would have felt really guilty enjoying my lunch or a Diet Pepsi while they watched knowing that they would not eat or drink until after dusk no matter how hungry or thirsty they were. Ramadan was during the hot weather last year making it even more difficult. This year will be yet more of a challenge because it will start in mid-August so will be hotter than last year and the days will be longer. It takes a great deal of will-power and, I am sure, help from God (Allah) to succeed. I can certainly understand this advice.

However, it seems there are extenuating circumstances where this practice is allowed.

For example, if a married couple are having physical problems in the bedroom then they are allowed to masturbate each other until they can resolve their difficulties. It is also permitted if it prevents the person involved from actually committing adultery which is an even worse sin.

Perhaps this is what the man I witnessed would claim except there was no-one there for him to commit adultery with.

Personally, I just think he was being a dirty old man. Thank goodness there aren’t too many of them around.

Still, I had a good laugh to myself at his expense and he has provided fodder for this Blog so can’t be all bad.

Let’s now sit back and enjoy the wonderful Egyptian sunshine.