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Friday, 21 December 2012



Imagine this. You are thinking about next year's holiday and you feel you want to guarantee some sun and warm weather. After all, if you're from nothern Europe it's pretty cold and dark right now so the thought of sunshine is VERY appealing.

You check out the brochures and decide to come to Egypt.

You find a hotel you like the look of, the price is right and you think you know where the hotel is. After all it tells you in the brochure. Maybe you're in Hurghada, for example. You check out Hurghada on the internet and decide it's the sort of place you'd like to spend your time.

You go ahead and book. You wait. The day finally arrives for you to travel. You are exccited. The day travelling tires you out but you finally land at the destination airport, board the transfer coach and arrive at your hotel. The hotel is fine and lives up to all expectations. You felt the rush of heat from the tarmac when you got off the plane so the weather is also at least up to expectations if not beyond.

Your room is OK. It may not exactly match the picture in the brochure but there is certainly a room somewhere in the hotel that does. But you have a balcony with a nice view and the room is clean. You start to unpack then set off in search of the restaurant. You are very hungry.

The food is OK but not gourmet cuisine. Still what did you expect for a relatively cheap all-inclusive deal. You can at least find something along the buffet that you recognise or like the look of and it doesn't taste at all bad. You have dessert and then go in search of the "free" alcohol.

You find the bar and settle for a couple of hours before retiring to bed. It has been an exceptionally long day and you are exhausted.

The next day you wake late, have breakfast and determine to check out the local town. After all, you booked a hotel in Hurghada right (or Safaga or Quseir or Marsa Alam etc)?


This is where it all goes tits up (if you'll pardon the expression). When I was working as a Resort Rep (Tour Leader) in Hurghada one of the most frequent complaints was, "we booked this hotel because it's supposed to be in Hurghada but there's nothing here".

The guests were right, so how come?

In this case the hotel was a 20 minute drive from Hurghada town centre. It cost LE2 (about 0.25/£0.20) on the local microbus (quite an experience if you haven't been in Egypt or somewhere else similar before. Also check out a previous blog - it can be quite a difficult and intimidating experience if you don't speak Arabic and know exactly where you want to go) or LE30 (about 3.75/£3.00) in the local taxi. You are, of course, encouraged to take the hotel limousine service. Don't be taken in by the name - you will not get a big stretched white limmo. This is just a normal car with a driver. This will cost you about 10. Everything in the hotels is priced in Euros and the Euro is the currency of choice at the moment in Egypt. However, they will readily also take Sterling and US Dollars.

This particular hotel was right on a main road which made getting a bus or a taxi relatively easy. There is also some development around it, including a decent sized mall with some good shops, coffee outlets and restaurants which gives an opportunity to shop for those who don't want to risk the local transport. The mall is a 5 minute walk away from this hotel.

Not all the hotels are as lucky.

So, were the guests misled by the brochure listing the hotel as being in Hurghada?

I currently work at a dive centre based in the grounds of the Pensee Azur/Utopia Beach hotels. We have a house reef that is arguably the best in the entire Red Sea. First, here is the truth about the hotel.

The Pensee Azur/Utopia Beach complex is approximatley 20km from the nearest town - a small place of 50,000 inhabitants called El Quseir. The nearest airport is 40km to the south and is called Marsa Alam International Airport. In fact, the airport is just outside a small place called Port Ghalib which is a new, man-made town on the edge of the desert. The Pensee Azur/Utopia Beach is about 120km north of Marsa Alam city (it's a small place and anywhere else would be called a village or, at best, a town).

In the brochures this hotel is listed as the Pensee Azur, MARSA ALAM!!!!!

Every day on my way to work I pass a construction site where a new hotel is being built. The board outside the site advertises the development of the Novotel MARSA ALAM yet it's 2km or 3km further away from Marsa Alam than the Pensee.

In this area the hotels really are remote. For example, the nearest neighbours to the Pensee/Utopia complex are at least 5km away. The hotel is on a main road (the main route from the north to Marsa Alam passing through Hurghada, Safaga, El Quseir and Port Ghalib) but there is no bus or taxis service on this road. Across the road is only desert.

In Hurghada the company I worked for got away with their description because along the main highway there are signs saying "Welcome to Hurghada" placed about 15km north of the city and again about 30km to the south. As the hotel lies between these 2 signs there is a argument, albeit a specious one, that the hotel is, in fact, in Hurghada.

This is not the case with the Pensee. There are signs saying "Welcome to Quseir". One is placed about 30kn to the north and the other about 35km to the south. Using the same logic as above we could, then, say that the hotel is in El Quseir so how can it be described as being in Marsa Alam.

Here is another ruse the travel companies are using. If your flight lands at Marsa Alam International Airport then automatically the hotel served by these flights is designated as being in Marsa Alam. But, don't forget, the airport is already 80km north of Marsa Alam itself.

Are you being lied to?

Only you can decide if you believe this to be a case of misrepresentation in the brochure or simply a case of descriptive licence.

It's up to you.

Sunday, 16 December 2012

A Question of Eyebrows

To pluck or not to pluck, that is the question.....

I have always liked my thick eyebrows. When I was a teenager and we used a small brush with a block of mascara that we spat on before rubbing the brush along it to get enough black on the brush to colour our eyebrows and eyelashes, I used to put the mascara through my eyebrows to make them appear even darker and thicker. 

I was worried that having them plucked might result in something I didn't like very much. So, for 57  years I managed to avoid the experience.

Then, when I was working as a Tour Leader and living in a hotel the hairdresser made me an excellent offer of a day of real self-indulgence; haircut/colour, pedicure, manicure and eyebrow plucking using tweezers and something they do here with a twisted string to pull out  unwanted body hair. I was happy about everything EXCEPT the eyebrow bit. However, she was very persuasive and promised me I'd like the result so I let her go ahead. 

I cannot claim to have enjoyed the process. I found it EXTREMELY painful and any pain near my eyes and nose makes me sneeze so the whole event was not without its problems. However, she was right about the result.

I LOVED these eyebrows. She did a really good job. She managed to keep the same basic shape and length while clearing my eyelid making my eyes look bigger and doing wonders for my face. I made up my mind that I would let her do my eyebrows regularly. That was about 4 1/2 years ago.

However, soon after that I left the hotel because I left the travel company. I started work in a local dive centre and no longer had money for the luxury of eyebrow plucking. I promised to keep them in line myself but was so busy and physically tired after work each day that it never happened and after a while my eyebrows were almost back to their original glorious selves.

This positive experience had nonetheless changed my attitude towards the idea of having my brows plucked.

Then, about 4 years ago I became friends with a German lady who visits Egypt regularly at least twice a year. For a long time I did not know what her job was at home but then found out she is a hairdresser. When she visited Egypt last July and stayed with me in my flat she brought her hairdressing things with her and resolved to cut my hair for me. Working as a diver is very bad for the hair. It gets soaked in salt then dried in the scorching midday summer sun before being soaked once more in salt and dried out again. No matter how much it is washed and conditioned at the end of the day it still becomes brittle with lots of split ends. So, I let my friend cut my hair and I have to say it was excellent. I was very proud of my new style. She promised to come again and said that next time she would not only cut my hair but would do my eyebrows.


She came back about 3 weeks ago and once again stayed a few days with me in my flat. During this time she cut my hair again. She cut it shorter than last time but still managed to make it look fantastic.

Then came the eyebrows. She used a special tool to remove the excess hair (it seems the twisted cotton may be a particularly Egyptian thing) and I have to say it REALLY REALLY hurt. You cannot imagine the pain and it seemed like she would never stop. Even when I thought she had finished she found some more hair that needed to be plucked and started again. 

Sadly we did this in my living room where I did not have access to a mirror, otherwise I might have stopped here very early on. As it was I let her continue until she said she was finished.

Then, with a spring in my step and great expectations I hurried to the bathroom to have a look.

I was devastated!!!!!

My eyebrows are naturally long but she had shortened them my at least 1/4. There should be a smooth curve around my eye instead of which there were 2 straight lines at an angle as though the lashes went uphill from my nose to mid brow then downhill to a stubby end. She left all the thickness near the nose and almost no brow around the outer edge of my eye. She did not clear any hair from the underside of my eyebrow so the plucking had no effect on my eyelid therefore did nothing to make my eyes seem bigger or to open up my face. 


She could see I was upset and tried to use mascara (the modern kind like a felt tip pen) to replace the missing hair but that looked so false I thought it better to go without.

She wanted to take a photo of my new hairstyle but I refused because I couldn't bear to appear with such dreadful eyebrows. In the end I changed the hairstyle preferring to pull the ends forwards over my face (rather than back) in an attempt to hide the terrible spectre of my mangled eyebrows.

She tried to reassure me that they would grow back but it's been 3 weeks now and, although there has been some improvement, they are still not as they should be. I hope I don't have to wait too long for a return to normal.

I did discuss the technique and outcome with her, showing her photos of what it looked like last time and describing how it had been done. Her reply was that the way she had done my brows was the way she was taught in Germany. So, I guess the way they are done may be a cultural thing.

The moral of this story would, therefore, appear to be to only get my eyebrows done here in Egypt by an Egyptian hairdresser.

I have the photos below - judge for yourselves.

My untended eyebrows - a bit bushy I accept but I like them.
My plucked eyebrows first time around. I LOVED these
eyebrows and hoped to have the same thing again.
This by the Egyptian hairdresser.
Three weeks after the recent plucking. Too fat near the nose,
too thin at the ends and not left long enough. I feel like I have
a couple of slugs living at the top of my nose. I HATE these
eyebrows and hope they grow back soon. It's been 3 weeks
already and they're still not right.

Why Not Convert to Islam?

Well, I have been living in a Muslim country for just over 5 years now so why not convert? 

Here is my attempt to explain why. In the writing I sincerely hope I do not upset anyone out there. It is not my intention to denigrate or insult any religion. I am only stating my own personal opinions. So here goes.

When I first arrived in Egypt I was working as a Tour Leader (Resort Rep for those English people out there) and it was plain for everyone to see that my time in Egypt would be limited. In this context the subject of religion was rarely raised.

However, after I left the travel company and decided to settle here to work as a diving instructor suddenly a lot of people wanted to talk to me about religion and, in particular, about the wonders of Islam.

I was brought up a Christian in the Church of England. I went to Sunday School and later to bible classes. I belonged to Brownies and Guides - organisations back then having roots in Christian practices. When I was older I joined a bible study group. Then, for many years my involvement waned considerably and occasionally, when I felt guilty, I would accompany my mother to church on a Sunday. I also worked for some time for a Christian charity that has links in the Catholic church. During this time I was able to reflect more on my personal beliefs. I am still committed to the basic ethics of Christianity but I do not believe I need the hierarchy of a church to enable my faith. Rather, I believe my faith is a personal issue between me and God and it something that I can practice/follow without the clergy. I therefore now describe my religion as Protestant rather than Church of England.

With this background, when people were constantly asking me what religion I have and then started talking about Islam I bought a translation of the Koran which I read. I cannot say I have read the Koran. Let's be quite clear. My Muslim friends will correct me if I say that. They say you can only read the Koran (Qu'ran) in the original Arabic being the language in which is was dictated by the Angel of God to the Prophet Mohamed. They will say that any translation by definition may place a different emphasis on the words used or may even use a translation that has a very slightly different meaning from the original so cannot be rightly called Koran. I am OK with this. The translation I read was the one backed by the Al Azhar University in Cairo which is considered to be one of the most prestigious seats of Islam so I am happy that I have certainly understood the gist of the writing.

The Koran is quite clear that Muslims should accept the "people of the book" or what they call here in Egypt the "divine religions" meaning Jews and Christians. So why do I need to be converted.

As one man put it (he was the accountant in the first dive centre where I worked) he most certainly accepted my Christianity but after Mohamed everyone is supposed to be Muslim because only by converting to Islam will I be able to enter into paradise.

I have to say he was quite persistent in his attempts and spent long hours during breaks and periods of little work trying to get me to change my mind. The Koran makes it clear we are supposed to be able to choose so I wondered a little at his persistence. I later found out that many Muslims believe that if a person converts to Islam and during the conversion ceremony (in Egypt this takes place in Cairo at Al Azhar Mosque where converts are received into the community of Islam with their new Islamic name that they have chosen for themselves) mentions their name as the reason for or as being instrumental to that person's conversion then they are guaranteed entry into paradise no matter what course their life has taken or what acts they may have committed or omitted. So, there is a strong personal interest in having a convert who will say that you are the reason for this change of faith.

Since then 5 more people have tried to convert me. One was a man I worked for who went so far as to bring me back leaflets in English from the mosque each week with titles such as "The Light of Islam" or "A Glimpse of Islamic Faith" or "Islam Religion of Life" or "The Concept of God in Islam" or "The True Religion of God" and so on - all of which I read to add to my knowledge of Islam. I'm sure you get the picture.

Even today yet another man seems to be trying to convert me but he is much more subtle. I started having private Arabic lessons because I felt ashamed that after 5 years here I still don't speak the language. We meet 2 times a week and we focus on reading and writing as well as speaking. At first it was pretty basic but more recently we seem to be moving towards something more. Not long ago he gave me a short piece of reading called, in translation, "honest work". Sounds OK but very soon we are into religion and how religion encourages a work ethic and the work carried out by the various prophets, including both Jesus and Mohamed. Another piece was about water and how much of the earth's surface it covers which seemed to move seamlessly into  a piece about God's creation of the world and all that's in it.

I have asked many questions about the place of women in Islam and am always reassured that women are equal with men and are free and empowered by Islam. Looking around me that doesn't seem to be the case at all but the argument is that much of the way the society here is structured and the way women's lives may seem to be restricted when looking from the outside is (a) cultural and not religious and (b) a misconception. The men who speak to me take pains to tell me the women's lifestyle is their own choice.

Certainly there are a lot of similarities between Islam and Christianity. So, with so many similarities accompanied by freedom and empowerment for women why not convert?

Here is why:

Although Muslims believe in the virgin birth they do not believe that Jesus was the son of God. In fact the Koran specifically says that God was not begotten and did not beget. However, as a Christian I firmly believe in Jesus as the son of God and the saviour of the world.

Muslims do not believe in the crucifixion/death/burial/resurrection of Jesus. They believe he was sentenced to crucifixion but that another was crucified in his place. That God caused this other person to take on the image of Christ so the crowds would think it was Jesus. They believe that Jesus was taken into paradise but this was not a resurrection. As a Christian I believe wholeheartedly in the crucifixion/death/burial/resurrection so I have some problems with the Islamic take on this.

So, while I can agree that both religions do have a great deal in common these are very significant differences that I cannot see my way to abandon. That is why I will continue with my Christianity in spite of the best efforts of those around me to convert.

Thank you for reading and God bless you all.

Tuesday, 21 February 2012


Imagine this if you will. You are sitting in a train- or bus-station, or anywhere else you may have to wait a while, and there is a vending machine in front of you. You've been there for some time already and still have a bit to wait. You start to feel hungry and the chocolate bar on display just seems to be shouting out at you to "take me, take me". So, you get up and walk to the vending machine. Life is easy – you don't need money so you don't have to search for change or worry about the machine being able to give you change. The machine will read your implanted identification device and automatically take the cost of the chocolate bar from your bank account.

So, you key in the code for the chocolate bar.

Within seconds an automated voice says, "Sorry, we are unable to process your request. Your Body Mass Index exceeds the maximum for receipt of this item. As an alternative if you would like the apple, please press 1; for the banana press 2; or for the orange press 3. To cancel your request press 5 and return to your seat."

"FICTION", I hear you cry. Sadly, this may be FACT sooner than you think.

A Facebook friend yesterday posted something on my wall. It looked like  'just another evangelical message' but I decided to have a look anyway because something about it roused my curiosity.

The video was a pastor telling us we are on the verge of the end of times because very soon mankind will carry the mark of the beast as forseen in the book of Revelations. He was referring to Revelations Chapter 13 verse 13 onwards and linking this to some 'recent' legislation.

Well, you can call me sceptical but I didn't see the connection myself until I started to dig a bit deeper.

The legislation in question is a "little" thing called Obamacare and it would appear this was designed to be his signature piece of domestic work as President. Checking the text of 'Obamacare' (and there is a LOT of text – over 1000 pages) you first notice, of course, the title:

H. R. 3200
To provide affordable, quality health care for all Americans and reduce
the growth in health care spending, and for other purposes.

Well, gee, I have to say I'd sign up for that straight away. Wouldn't you.? Sounds like just the ticket for a country with no national health service. I can see why Obama would want this as his 'showpiece' legislation. Surely everyone will want this. Just think of the improvements in their lives if healthcare becomes more affordable and better quality for EVERYONE.

Press coverage at the time highlighted the benefits of better cover, more entitlement to subsidised or free care, better communication between healthcare services to provide unique tailored care for each individual, and so on. In fact, it seemed too good to be true.  We didn't seem to hear much about it outside the US – presumably because it was considered to be a domestic issue with no international relevance.

Well, someone I very much respect once said "if it seems too good to be true, then it is too good to be true".

On closer inspection of this document you will find buried the invitation to Big Brother to come in and take over the lives of the Americans almost completely. This document is weighty, boring and long so I cannot for the life of me imagine the average American settling down with it as a 'good read'. However, hidden way back towards the end of this document there is reference to a medical device that is "implantable, life-supporting, or life-sustaining". There are other references in the document to this device which would apparently positively identify patients and automatically link any medical facility to the patient records. There would also be links through this device to either the patients bank account or other social records proving eligibility for free medical care or even current health insurance validity.  The document highlights the need for all Americans to have such a device before 1 January 2013.

WOW!!! Rock on George Orwell – how could you possibly know?????

So, imagine my relief when I discovered that this Bill never made it into Law.

My research actually showed:

" The proposed America's Affordable Health Choices Act of 2009 (or HR 3200) was an unsuccessful bill introduced in the U.S. House of Representatives on July 14, 2009." (Source: Wikipedia)


"This bill is obsolete. To read, comment and link to the current health care reform bills in Congress, see the links below:

Instead the US Government adopted something called the Patient Protection and Affordable Care Act (PPACA) which was signed into law on 23 March 2010.

I did TRY to read this document (also very long, dry and boring). I'm not an expert in legalese or American jargon but it appeared to have done away with the idea of compulsory implantation of these identification devices.


I can't tell you how good that made me feel. No panic.


My original research turned up an RFID as the device referred to so I started to ask myself, "what is an RFID?".

Well, it seems this stands for 'Radio Frequency Identification Device'. They can provide access to a LOT of information and the newest ones are only the size of a grain of rice. They are also implantable. The technology is already all around us. When we have our pets chipped we are using RFID technology. Some vehicles use it for tracking and quite a large number of businesses use it instead of barcodes these days for tracking sales, inventory and stock movement. But is there a more sinister side perhaps?  Here are some examples that I found on the internet – let's start with something I'm sure most of us would find innocuous:

Texas-based DeviceFidelity developed a specialised microSD card which, when inserted into a mobile phone can be both a passive tag and an RFID reader though which a user's phone can be linked to banks accounts for use in mobile payment.

Another American company has started using RFIDs on mobile phones as part of a loyalty and rewards programme. Customers ask for an RFID tag. Once it is activated the phone receives promotions and coupons which the store can read.

Another well-known supermarket chain has introduced a touch-free payment system. Those joining the scheme are given a free Nokia 3220 phone. Once activated they can pay on their credit card via the mobile phone at any of this chain's worldwide stores.

Now, if you think Minority Report showed some far-fetched ideas with the advertising hoardings actually speaking to Tom Cruise by name (not his real name, of course, but his character in the film), think again. Bear in mind also that some of these RFID tags can be read from up to 100 metres away and can be read THROUGH an item. It is also possible to read 100s of RFID tags at a time:

In a clothing store, for example, the RFID can be used for advertising. When a customer enters a dressing room, the mirror reflects their image and also images of celebrities wearing the same item on an interactive display. At the same time a webcam projects the image of the customer wearing the item to the website.

RFID passports are now in use in Malaysia, Norway, Japan, Hong Kong, the USA, Serbia, the Republic of Korea, Taiwan, Albania, Australia, The Philippines, the Republic of Macedonia and most of the EU including the UK, Spain and Ireland. They record the date, time and place of entries and exits from the country.

Some theme parks insist children wear an RFID bracelet to they are easily found if they go missing.

"OK", I hear you say. Maybe science-fiction is becoming science-fact. But nothing here about implantation. Oh, no. Just read on:

It seems that in 2004 Conrad Chase was already offering implanted chips to his VIP customers in his night clubs in Barcelona and Rotterdam. The RFID chip identified them immediately as VIP customers and they used the RFID chip to pay for their drinks.

Another suggested use has been in vending machines. If the customer has an RFID tag they could make a selection and purchase from a vending machine without having any actual money with them as the amount would be automatically debited from the bank account. These tags could be implanted or via the mobile phone.

So, now we have implantation. BUT this was VOLUNTARY. Indeed, unless you were very rich and thought of by Mr Chase as a VIP you had no chance of getting an implant. In fact, I'm sure if you weren't already VERY rich indeed you probably needed to remortgage your house to pay for a drink in either of his night clubs.

BUT here is something entirely more sinister in my opinion:

Since 2004 a number of US hospitals have begun implanting patients with RFID tags and using RFID systems, usually for workflow and inventory management. (Source: Wikipedia).

So, now we have a miniature chip that through a unique number can link in to all your personal information, your medical records, your bank account details (all in real time) and act as a GPS tracking system.

It has, in some circles, been suggested that some individuals (for example, the elderly with Alzheimer's) should be tagged for their own safety.

Hmmmmm!!! So we start with external tags, then move to implanted tags for specific reasons, then we find reasons to implant tags and "persuade" those involved to co-operate (or, perhaps, those charged with their care).


After all, what happens in America today often happens here very soon!!!!

As someone who values personal privacy beyond almost everything else I have so far avoided having a photo driving licence and was so glad I got my passport before the new RFID ones were issued. This whole idea seems to be a gross erosion of personal privacy and I am very scared.


Thursday, 16 February 2012

Desperate woman in a Man's World

I have long suspected that I am living in a Man's World. The evidence is all around me, I see it every day. Men do everything that involves being seen in public; they wait on tables in the coffee shops and restaurants, own and work in the shops, make the bread at the bakery, drive the buses and taxis, operate checkouts at larger stores, manage reception at hotels or anywhere else that needs this facility, do the cleaning jobs anywhere public - in short they are everywhere. When they're not working you can see them sitting in the coffee shops enjoying tea with shisha (water pipe or bong) and/or cigarettes. And it's only men. Yes, just men. You don't see the women out and about getting on with their lives. Occasionally you will see a woman shopping for food but that's about as much as you get.

That said, as a woman I wouldn't want to sit in the same coffee shops the men use. They seem oblivious to the dirt, dust and rubbish all around them. The coffee shops are generally very grubby and badly decorated with questionable hygiene. I shudder to think what can be caught from a glass of tea. Please don't imagine that glasses are actually properly "washed up". They have to make do with a quick swill in cold water from the tap (i.e. not filtered and not guaranteed clean water), a short shake and then back into service for the next customer. The seats are less than comfortable wooden dining chairs and the "tables" are a small square of metal, just large enough for a glass and an ashtray, welded to a wrought iron stand.

However, in the more touristic locations things are changing slowly. We can see the introduction of very nice coffee shops with large, air-conditioned indoor seating areas, comfortable seats, nice  tables and an apparent improvement in basic hygiene. These are places that actually feel inviting where you can pleasantly spent quite a while. Some of the seating is so comfortable you really don't want to leave.

Then there are those in the middle. From the outside they look like the better ones described in the previous paragraph but, deep down, they are only dressing up the more 'traditional' places described at the beginning of this piece. So as you pass by you think how nice it would be to sit and enjoy a leisurely cup of tea and you are lulled into a false sense of security.

I found this out myself when I decided to spend the day back near my old home about 150kms from where I live now. My old flat looked out over a small square with a 'typical' coffee shop just across the road and a more modern one on the other side of the square.

My ex neighbour had called me a couple of days before suggesting that when I have a day off I should go for a visit. I had the day off so made the journey.

You have to know my ex neighbour is a really nice person but he has a problem - or rather two. His first is with his ego. Everything is about him but deep down he really would do anything for you if he likes you. His second is with alcohol. He lives a lifestyle where he often goes to bed around 4am or 5am, usually after an evening out where he drinks far too much, and doesn't get up again until around 5pm or 6pm and woe betide any who wake him earlier.

So, having arrived nearby before he was likely to be out of bed I decided it was best not to disturb him. I just had the slight problem of being "caught short".

Now, this country where I live is not renowned for the provision of public toilets. You mostly only find these at major tourist attractions where there will be someone 'on guard' to take 1LE (about $0.06/€0.075/£0.09) in return for which you will receive 2 squares of very flimsy toilet paper and be shown into a small cubicle full of rubbish that somehow missed the bin and smelling like it hasn't been cleaned or flushed for quite some time. It will also be full of flies. Certainly, in this neighbourhood you can forget any idea of public toilets. But, after 2 cups of coffee plus a glass of juice and about 2½ hours travelling I was desperate.

My only hope was a bar or coffee shop. There are no bars nearby so had to go for the coffee shop option.

I knew it would be no good trying the 'traditional' outlet as they probably didn't have any toilet facilities at all so opted for the newer version on the other side of the square.

This place certainly looks very pleasant. The sun was shining and  the chairs were comfortable. I put my bags on a chair and sat on the sofa alongside. I waited and waited but, even though there were customers (all men) no-one came to ask what I wanted. I had decided to order a drink and then find the toilet so it didn't seem like I was there only for the facilities. However, I was getting more desperate by the minute and could wait no longer. I could see the sign for "WC" with an arrow below it so picked up my bag and made for my salvation.

I reached the sign and looked in the direction of the arrow thinking, 'this can't be right'. The arrow pointed to a very dirty, ragged, old curtain that hung across an opening from about 1.7m high and stopped at around knee level from the floor. Everything here was really filthy - walls, floor, ceiling - and there was a certain smell hanging in the air. Wanting as little contact with this mangy curtain as possible and frightened it might actually be alive and able to bite me, I used just the tip of 1 finger to move it back to see what was behind.

I had found the WC alright. The "toilet" in this establishment consisted on a single urinal that may originally have been white but was now a sort of grey colour and placed so high up the wall I had the impression only giants could actually use it. There was no connection for a flush and nowhere to wash hands afterwards.

I'm sure you can imagine how I felt - a mixture of exasperation, desperation and disappointment. What a good job I hadn't actually ordered a drink first. If only I'd been a man I could have happily ignored the grime (they obviously must do) and relieved myself but it was not to be. 

This surely is a man's world!!!!!

Fortunately, being near to a tourist area I did manage (just) to make it to a new tourist-friendly coffee shop with modern toilets where, after using the services FIRST, I sat and spent a very pleasant couple of hours before continuing to visit my ex neighbour.

Wednesday, 15 February 2012

A Tale of Two Cities OR How to get a new pair of glasses!


I am sure for many readers of this blog this will also be your experience - read on.

I've had my glasses for much longer than the 2 years recommended and realise that I don't see as well as I should so it's probably time for a new pair of specs.

A couple of weeks after this realisation I find myself at a loose end on a Saturday. I woke up late, had a brunch of sorts and realised there wasn't too much housework to do. Feeling a bit bored I thought I could meaningfully occupy my time by actually getting some new glasses.

I made my way into the town centre and checked out the larger outlets. I could see the prices clearly displayed in each. After all this work I needed a coffee with somewhere to sit, relax and think. The coffee drunk I made a decision on which outlet to give my valuable custom to and went back there.

As I went in I was greeted in a very friendly and polite way. Once it was established that I needed new glasses and, therefore, an eye test, I was shown to a very comfortable and pleasant waiting room when I sat in a really nice chair and there were magazines to read. After only 10 minutes or possibly less I was called and shown into the examination room.

I underwent a thorough eye examination. Not only was my sight assessed but I was tested for conditions like glaucoma that can be treated if caught early enough but are not always obvious. The exam took around 20 minutes and I already knew the exact cost because the price was clearly displayed as I entered the store.

I left the exam with my prescription and made my way back to the main store area. I was again asked to sit in an equally comfortable waiting area with magazines to read and price lists prominently displayed.

After only about 5 minutes I was collected by a 'consultant'. I sat at his desk while we discussed what type of lenses I wanted, what coatings (anti-scratch, anti-reflective) and what material (plastic or glass) with relevant discussions about costs (already displayed all around the store). Having decided on a pair of varifocal for normal use and a pair of varifocal sunglasses I left the desk to go and find frames I liked.

I already knew the cost of the exam and the lenses. The frames were grouped by price so it was easy to fit the frames to my budget.  Once I had selected the frames I returned to the consultant. He asked me to put the frames on and marked and measured to ensure that when my glasses were finished the focal points in the lenses would match the focal points in my eyes.

Having completed the choices for lenses and frames I left the store and set off in search of some retail therapy in the form of another coffee. I then went for a gentle wander around the local bookstore (very dangerous place for me as I LOVE books and am in danger of spending literally all my money here).

Just over an hour later I returned to the optician's where my glasses were ready and waiting. I was shown to the same consultant I had seen earlier who asked me to put on each pair in turn. He then adjusted the arms to make sure they would naturally sit in the right place and checked that the focal points were correctly aligned for me. That done he gave me some advice on looking after them and made sure I had a cleaning cloth in each little box that they came in. He then accompanied me to the counter where I paid. There were no surprises at all when it came to payment because from the very beginning all the prices had been clearly displayed and discussed.

I left with new glasses feeling very happy at having spent a productive afternoon.


This experience may not be quite so common among you.

It's about 7 years since I got my glasses in City Number 1 and, even when I wear the glasses, I'm beginning to find it difficult to read. Obviously, it must be time for some new glasses but I'm no longer living in the same place. There is nowhere like the shop I went to before here.

My first task was to find somewhere to get an eye test. Turns out there is only 1 optician here who can do this. The 'surgery' is down a back alley with a dirt track for a road in a grotty run-down flat in an unfinished building on the 2nd floor above a bakery. It took a lot of research to find this person and this place, not least because I don't speak the local language well enough.

When I eventually found the 'surgery' I saw a man sitting at a very small desk in the corner of a room. The paint was peeling and the room was lined with really old chairs. Some of the chairs had obviously been there an exceptionally long time (even though the building itself is not yet finished this part was obviously constructed some years ago) that the chair backs have worn a groove in the wall. The man called me over and asked me, in good English, for my name which he wrote in his book. He then looked up and told me there are a lot of names on the list before me so I will have to wait about an hour. This was disappointing because it was early evening and I was very hungry. "Never mind", he said, "go and get your dinner and come back in an hour".

I returned just over an hour later to find that there were still a lot of people in front of me. I waited another hour and a half and eventually got to see the optician at around 11.15pm.

The eye exam was quick - around 10 minutes - and only concerned with sight. At the end I was given a prescription and sent back to the receptionist (the man at the small desk) to pay. I thought I knew how much I would have to pay and had made sure I had that much with me. A friend recently had his eyes tested here and had told me the cost. I was therefore stunned when the receptionist asked for a sum about 9 times more than I expected and around 3 times the cost of the test in the UK. The receptionist calmly explained that the number was the same for everyone but if you were local you paid in local currency, if you're foreign (like me)  you pay in Euros or, in other words, you pay 8 x what the locals pay.  In spite of my arguments he insisted he was right. I gave him ALL the money in my wallet and had to promise to go and pay the rest later when I take the glasses back to be checked that they have been made to the right prescription.

Now I have the prescription I have to find somewhere to actually get the glasses. The Optician had recommended somewhere so, the next day on the way home from work, I stopped off at the recommended shop. It was closed. The neighbours said the man would be back in 5 minutes. I waited and waited. Every time I started to walk away one of the neighbours tried to contact the man and reassure me. After just over an hour I'd had enough and left. I called by again the next day with the same story. So, I gave up.

Two days later I had a day off. I used the time to try and find an alternative shop for my glasses. The first one I found was unbelievably small and the man working there really didn't seem to have any idea at all about prescription glasses even though the sign outside said, in English, that they did prescriptions and sun glasses. It transpired they were really only able to provide plastic copies of designer sunglasses to vulnerable tourists who thought they were getting a good deal by paying over the odds for cheap tat.

I eventually found another shop that was dedicated to prescription glasses and where the owner seemed to know what he was talking about. The first obstacle, however, was getting a price for the lenses. He wanted me to choose the frames first and then he'd give me a price for everything together. It took a long time for me to make him understand I have a budget and, as the lenses are essential, I need to know this cost first so I can select frames that keep me within an overall maximum. Eventually, I managed to squeeze out of him the cost for the lenses - like before one pair of clear glasses and 1 pair of sunglasses, both varifocal with anti-reflective and anti-scratch coatings. I then, finally, chose the frames and we calculated the final price. I was asked for a deposit which, again, was more than I had in my purse. I gave him what I had and 2 days later stopped at the shop with the rest of the deposit. I was told I would have my glasses in 8 days.

After 8 days my glasses were still not available. However, the bright spot in this time was a call from the original optician to apologise for trying to overcharge me. He explained that as I live here I would have the same rate as the locals and when I go back for him to check my glasses have been correctly made he will give me a refund.

Several more days and my glasses are still not there. I am given some excuse about a problem with the sunglasses. It seems the factory had made 2 pairs of identical glasses then tried to coat 1 pair with black to turn them into sunglasses. Of course, it didn't work because they had already applied the anti-scratch!!!!!!! I'm told I have to wait another 8 days.

Eventually I received the clear glasses but still had to wait for the sunglasses. When these latter arrived they came with another pair of clear glasses - the ones they'd made and tried to colour afterwards. Somehow I've ended up having these as a spare and paying 1/2 price for them.

The sunglasses were still not right. There was damage to one of the lenses and the frames were not the frames I had ordered so they had to go back to the factory again. They finally did arrive back to me with the lens OK but with frames I had not ordered. I am told the frames I ordered were rare here and none were available for my glasses. It basically boiled down to the fact that I DO have sunglasses and I can either have them with the frames provided or not at all.

At no time when I collected glasses was I asked to put them on, to read anything to make sure they were OK, or asked if the arms needed adjusting at all. I was simply handed the glasses in a little box (like usual) to take home with me.

So the timeline looks like this:

Day 1          Eye test
Day 2          Fruitless visit to closed shop (recommended by optician)
Day 3          Shop still closed
Day 5          Find new shop and order glasses
Day 28       Get clear glasses as ordered
Day 35       Get damaged sunglasses in wrong frames and unsolicited "spare" pair
Day 55       Get repaired sunglasses in different (ie not the same frames as last time) wrong frames

My feelings? VERY frustrated at the amount of effort and time I had to dedicate to this and still not end up with what I wanted or ordered.

The cost? About 1½ times the cost of the experience in City Number 1.

So, next time I guess it will actually be cheaper and much more pleasant to spend the difference in price on a budget flight back to City Number 1 and get them there.

Looking on the bright side, that option would also allow me to visit and catch up with friends I haven't seen in a really long time so perhaps it's not such a bad idea after all.

Beware the Boss - What IS he like????????

I am horrified to see I last did something with this page on 10 May 2010 - that's almost 2 years ago.

I'd like to say that life has been very quiet since then but sadly that's not the case.

It is true that about 3 weeks after my last blog I started a new job with a dive centre in Hurghada which kept me VERY busy. The dive centre was more interested in profit than diver wellbeing (though I didn't see it quite like that at the time - what a wonderful thing is hindsight) and it was not unusual for me to have to dive 6 or 7 times a day and get home too exhausted to do very much at all.

So, with almost no social life, you may wonder why I'm not rich. What about all the money I must have saved???? Fact is, the job wasn't very well paid. It's one of the lowest paying dive centres in the whole of Hurghada and the boss/owner takes it upon himself to constantly change conditions and rules without any prior notice.

Here is an example. When I first started working there I would stay until the office closed even though my students (I'm an instructor) and all the other guests had gone back to their hotels. I was quickly told there was no need for me to stay - that once my students had gone I could also go home. Of course, this wouldn't be on the staff bus but the normal bus from work to my home was easy to catch and didn't cost much. So this is what I did. Then, about a year later on a quiet day workwise my boss saw me leaving at around 4pm. He made a sign to me which I took to be a wave and I waved back. Then, a few minutes later after I was already on the bus, I had a call from the centre manager to ask where I was and hadn't I seen the boss at all. I replied I was on the bus and yes, I had seen the boss and we had waved to each other. The next day the boss spoke to me to explain he had not waved at me. The movement of his hand had been meant to tell me to come back to the dive centre; that as of yesterday everyone has to stay until the office closes at 5.30pm.

OK, I can live with this. However, about a week later things changed again also without notice. It was just after 5.30pm. The staff bus was waiting and everything was being locked up. Suddenly the boss stops all activity and tells us the new closing time - as of right this minute - is 6pm. Never mine how the staff felt, the driver of the staff bus was absolutely furious as he would now be half an hour late for his next contract job!!!!!

Sadly this was normal behaviour for my boss.

He would do the same with salaries; changing the salary downwards on pay day for the previous month so you never really knew you would get what you were owed. I haven't worked for him for 6 months now and there's still a lot of money outstanding from him owed to me that I realise I will never get. Here's what I wrote publicly on Facebook about him which rendered some very helpful expressions all of which were, amazingly, polite:

"NOTE - THIS NOTE IS ABOUT MY OLD BOSS IN HURGHADA - NOT MY NEW BOSS IN EL QUSEIR. Since I moved to El Quseir I am well treated and respected, properly paid and have reasonable time off. However, I was disappointed this (originally a note) does not appear on my Timeline to shame my old boss so here it is now - it was originally written on 31 July 2011. The result of these events was that I was talked back into working for him with a promise of receiving my full commission within "4 or 5 days". That didn't happen so I looked elsewhere. In the end I gave him short notice (only 3 days) that I would leave via the centre manager as my boss didn't answer my phone calls. Eventually, the day after I left and collected my equipment he had the centre manager call me and summon me to a meeting. I was not available at the time stated but did go at a time to suit me. At this meeting I told him everything I've written below as my reason for wanting to leave - he was very angry, said he was hurt because he sees himself as having been somewhat a "father figure" to me!!!!!! iI got quite a lecture from him. Anyway, he DID give me the outstanding commission and told both the Manager and the Administrator (who were both in on the meeting) to make sure they paid me for the 9 days I'd worked in August at the end of the month. However, even today I have not been able to collect this money. First I had to play telephone tag between the 3 of them, then my boss kept backtracking and saying things like "when you leave at short notice you expect to take some losses". Hmmmmm - what about all the last minute changes to our employment conditions without consultation and the fact you don't give anyone a contract of employment????????? So, I've given up asking for the outstanding money. HOPE HE'S HAPPY NOW. Here's the original text from 31 July 2011:-
"I need your help!!! I am trying to find the right word to describe my boss and need some ideas please. I came home angry, upset and confused so my brain is not working well. Here's the reason why. I started work for him in June last year with an agreement I should get salary and commission. It has always been a problem getting paid - mostly the salary was paid on time but the commission was another matter. When I needed money for a vacation last November I had to pester and pester to get enough to pay for my booking but still didn't get all my outstanding commission. Then in November with no consultation we are told there will be no more commission in December, January or February. However, I was still owed money. Again I pestered and pestered and pestered until eventually in January I did get about half of what I was owed. Trying to get the other half was like trying to get blood from a stone and I still don't have it till this day. Then, we had the revolution here in Egypt. Hotels closed, flights were cancelled and the industry died. January's pay was eventually paid in March through no fault of my boss. However, any days we had worked in early February were NOT paid and, we are told, will not be paid because my boss claims he told everyone not to come to work after 31 January. Not sure who he told but certainly not me or the other people working with me the first 8 days of February nor the guests whose money he had taken for courses that I was conducting. So, we were back to work in March but business was very slow and pay was about half what we should normally earn. We were told he hoped to pay us full pay, but without commission, in April but April was also slow so we got more than in March but still not full pay in spite of earlier promises that we would be on full pay this month. Same thing happened in May. Then in June we DID actually get full pay. I asked about commission and was told if I met a certain target in July I would get pay AND commission. I MET AND PASSED THE TARGET!!!!! I was elated. First thing my boss did was try to find ways to say I hadn't met the target such as a course did finish in July but started in June so didn't count in July. Even using this ruse I still exceeded the target - GREAT. Then, here's what made me angry. He admits he did promise the pay and commission and agrees I have passed the target even after the inventive accounting on his part. So, he's suddenly, at the last minute, changed his mind. I can either have my basic salary reduced by 43% and have commission or have my basic salary and no commission. Commission would have been equivalent to 75% of salary this month so this might have seemed like a good idea but I don't trust him not to say once I agree to accept a lower salary that this remains my salary for the future. So, I hope you can see why I'm so upset and angry. I had to accept basic salary and ended up coming home with only 58% of what I was expecting. So, words fail me - help please and come up with a suitable word to describe my boss!!!!!"