The Holiday/Trips/Bathroom Remodeling/Egyptian Museum Update

Wow....I have REALLY been a slacker this time!  There has been a lot going on in these last two and a half months.  We had Ramadan and Thanksgiving, I made two trips, my bathroom is being remodeled, and I finally made it to the Egyptian Museum!  Also, I have been working hard on organizing my family's vacation to Egypt.  That's right, they're ALL coming!  I couldn't be happier and more excited.  But of course it takes planning, so I have done up a lovely Excel spreadsheet, complete with charts and colors and every good thing (except for formulas; I haven't figured out how to work one in yet....but give me time).  Also Christmas is coming up so I am busy getting ready for that.  All in all a bunch of lame excuses, I know, but they're the only ones I have.  So without further ado, here is the long awaited update! 


First off, as many of you know, the Ramadan holiday was from October 4th through November 2nd this year (it starts about 11 days earlier every year...I have heard horror stories of what it's like when Ramadan is in the summer! <shudder>).  I had heard many stories of what Ramadan was like, so I was looking forward to actually experiencing it.  Since around 95% of the country participates, it affects EVERYTHING.  Sleep patterns, schedules, traffic, store hours, attitudes...all are affected in some way. 

Every night at sundown the call to prayer would go off as normal, but during Ramadan everyone waits for this call more anxiously than usual because that is when you can EAT!  You are allowed to eat from sundown to sunrise.  So the obvious answer would be to simply change your schedule, right?  WRONG.  Schedules are slightly altered, but you still have to go to work and school during the day.  So people would "break the fast" at sundown by eating for a while.  Then they would sleep as much as possible, getting up just before sunrise to have another meal to help them make it through the day, and then sleep again until it was time to go to work, school, or whatever.  During Ramadan, most stores open a bit later, and schools cut down the number of hours each day.  But life still goes on.  (Of course, some of those who didn't have work or school DID change their schedule....they slept during the day and stayed up all night eating and talking and watching TV.  Wouldn't you know I was fortunate enough to have neighbors who kept this schedule.  =)  Actually, I stayed up later and slept later during Ramadan too, so it wasn't that bad.)

Those who were not participating in Ramadan were still expected not to eat or drink in public during the daylight hours out of courtesy.  Some restaurants were still open, but they were basically only for take-out, or for parents who wanted to buy something for their kids.  (Children do not have to take part in the fast.)  The fast includes food, drink (yes, water too), gum, candy, cigarettes...basically anything you would put in your mouth.  So it was hard to do that while I was out during the day, but I survived (especially since I could go home and eat all I wanted)!

When the sundown call sounds, everything grinds to a screeching halt.  Stores close, taxis and trams stop running, and the streets empty as everyone rushes home to eat.  The first few days, I took advantage of this by walking to the sea and just enjoying having it all to myself.  No crowds, no guys hassling me, and no need to use the underground tunnel to cross the busy street since there were no cars!  It was crazy.  I have never seen the streets so empty!  A few times, though, I forgot and found myself out away from home close to sundown.  Then I would hurry to get home before the call sounded.  One time my roommate and I were racing the sunset trying to get a taxi home before it was too late.  We caught one and had barely gotten in when the call sounded...WHEW!  He wouldn't take us all the way home, but he got us close enough....we were very thankful!

Three times I was on the tram when the sundown call went off.  The tram didn't care where it was...when the call sounded, it just stopped.  Whether it was at a station or not.  DOH!  Two of the times it stopped within walking distance to my house, so I just walked.  Once it was farther away, but still doable, so I started walking, but happened to find a taxi driver willing to take me the rest of the way.  Thank you Lord!

As far as people's attitudes went...when Ramadan began, it was festive because there were decorations everywhere and everyone was in good spirits.  The decorations stayed (in fact some of them just stay up all year), but the good spirits faded.  Imagine an entire nation of people not eating all day and operating on little to no sleep, but still having to go about their lives.  Also imagine that 90% of the men in that nation are addicted to smoking and are not allowed to smoke all day for a whole month. got a little hairy! =)

But towards the end, spirits started to pick up a bit more as the three-day feast approached.  And then schools were out and businesses were closed and everyone was in party mode.  If I had ever stopped to wonder what it would be like if everyone in Alexandria decided to go out at the same time, I would've had my answer.  EVERYONE was out.  The malls were jam-packed, people were literally hanging out of the trams, and the streets were crowded.

Also, when the fasting ended and it was time for the first day of the three-day feast, the mosques marked it by doing some kind of service ALL NIGHT LONG.  I still have the catchy little feast song in my head, since they sang it OVER AND OVER FIVE THOUSAND TIMES.  I'll put a link to it with the pictures, if you think you can handle it.  =)

Ramadan    Click here for some pics of Ramadan decorations and a link to the Ramadan feast "jingle."


I made the mistake of going to the Egyptian Museum during Ramadan.  Not that it's a bad time for the museum itself, but it's just a bad time to travel or be outside for extended periods.  During the train ride on the way down to Cairo, I usually have a bottle of water and a little snack of some kind.  Not this time!  I did have a bottle of water in my bag, but I didn't dare drink it on the train for fear of the unofficial reprimand.  Once I got to the museum, it wasn't so bad, as my friend and I snuck hits from my water bottle by hiding behind random statues and displays.  =)  And of course, water wasn't the only thing I snuck in know I took my trusty spycam in there too, even though cameras weren't allowed (again, this policy never seems to apply to cell phone cameras, as people were using those right and left)!

The museum was pretty cool and definitely worth the price of admission.  But you had to pay extra to go to the mummy room, which of course we wanted to see, so we paid the extra $10 or so and went on in.  There were like 10 mummies in there and only three of them were labeled!  My friend had her Lonely Planet with its guide to the Egyptian Museum, but even that didn't help us identify ALL of the mummies.  AND they don't allow any tour guides in that room, so we couldn't even eavesdrop on a tour!  On the way out of the museum, we saw a book for sale in the museum gift shop that identified the mummies.  It figures...always looking to make that extra buck!  ("You wanna see the mummies?  It'll cost.  Oh, you wanna know who they ARE?  That'll cost more.")

The King Tut display was one of the coolest things--they had his gold mask there, the one that you see so many pictures of.  But I'm telling you--the pictures come nowhere NEAR doing that thing justice.  It is INCREDIBLY absolutely gleams under the lights.  There is a room where the mask and a couple of other King Tut things are kept, and the hallway outside the room has more Tut memorabilia.  In the room, the mask was in a glass case in the center of the room, and everyone crowded around it.  So it was really hard to get a shot, much less a GOOD one, but I managed to snap a couple of pics!  (I would liken it to the crowds around the Mona Lisa at the Louvre, except that room is MUCH bigger than the room where Tut's mask is, and Mona is hanging on a wall, not sitting in the center of the room.)

The animal mummy room was pretty interesting too....I think those ancient Egyptians would've mummified anything if the price was right!  (Hmmm...maybe that's where some of their descendants get their "anything for a buck" mentality!)

Entrance    Click here to see (illegal) pics from the Egyptian Museum, but remember no ice cream, hamburgers, or hands allowed!  =)


Right after Ramadan, I took a trip to Jordan for a seminar on safety.  It was specifically for Westerners working in the Middle East.  Well, guess what happened while we were there?  You got it, the bombings in Amman (oh, the irony)!  Thankfully, I was not in Amman on the night of the bombings, but I was there the next day.  Talk about a quiet  The streets downtown were pretty empty, and military humvees were driving around patrolling.

Jordan was very different from Egypt.  It was much cleaner, and there was much more greenery.  Also, the standard of living there is higher, so it had some Western chains that Egypt doesn't have.  It even had Starbucks!  I hit one Starbucks in the Mecca Mall there in Amman, and another one in the Amman airport on the way out.  That makes only two Starbucks drinks I've had in a year.  :-(  I'll have lots of catching up to do when I get home!  (Oh, and when I told the Starbucks employee at Mecca Mall that we were supposed to be getting Starbucks in Egypt soon, he just started laughing.  I don't know if that's a good sign.)

Also, the streets were much more orderly and quiet than in Egypt.  People stayed in actual lanes for the most part, and there wasn't nearly as much horn honking.  When we were walking around in a bazaar area, the shopkeepers were NOT yelling out at us to come into their shops.  Strange.  And get this--the Jordanian guys could have cared less that there were foreign women walking around!  There was no, "How are you?  What's your name?  Where you from?"  Amazing.

We didn't get to do many tourist things while we were was pretty much just the bazaar and the mall.  But we could see a crusader-era castle from our conference center.  And we drove by the town where the Biblical prophet Elijah was from...that's gotta count for something!

Just look at how green it is! 
If you look closely (or open the picture in a separate window), you can make out the crusader castle/fortress on top of the hill there

You can see one of the tan military humvees driving around downtown Amman the day after the bombings.  Also, note how empty the streets are (and how clean!).  And note the presence of a traffic light--there were many of them in Amman which actually functioned, and people even OBEYED them!  Be still my heart...Alexandria should be so blessed.


Thanksgiving here was interesting.  Of course, it is only celebrated by the Americans, and maybe a few other people that the Americans invite over.  The supermarkets that carry imports had small corners in their stores dedicated to pumpkin pie filling, cranberry sauce, and turkeys.  My roommate and I ate with some friends of ours--a young married couple and their daughter, and two of our Egyptian friends (a brother and sister).  It was the first Thanksgiving for the Egyptians, and they thought all the food was so strange!   Guess they got a small "taste" of how we foreigners feel sometimes!  =)  Anyway, it was a great meal, and we even got to help decorate the couple's (artificial) Christmas tree after the meal!

The dining room table          The tree
A view of the dining room where we ate                   The Christmas tree with our two Egyptian friends and the American couple's daughter


Well, this is something that my landlady had been promising us for some time, and the opportunity finally came to actually do it.  Our bathroom (which actually consists of two rooms) is going to get a face lift!  Nothing was wrong with the bathroom, it was just old and kind of run-down looking.  And it was nowhere near the kind of bathroom we should have had for what we were paying for the apartment.  Also, the landlady wanted to upgrade it to make this flat more marketable after we leave.

The renovation work began when I got back from Jordan in mid-November, and it is still not quite finished.  When it is done, the toilet room (which previously was just a toilet) will have all new wall and floor tile, as well as a small sink.  The shower room (which was previously just a big room with a sink and a shower head on the wall) will have all new wall and floor tile, a bathtub, a sink, and another toilet.  We are so excited to get a bathtub...movin' on up in the world!  =)

With the beginning of the work, we also gained five new "roommates."  We call the five workmen "roommates" because they are in our flat pretty much all day every day.  They drink their tea here, smoke their cigarrettes here, keep changes of clothes here, and just generally dirty up the place as they see fit.  I even saw a pair of men's underwear hanging on my clothesline when I came home one day!  (I don't DARE ask what happened to the underwear that it needed to be removed and washed at my flat...some things are just better left a mystery.)

When the men are here, we just leave the apartment door open so they can come in and out as needed.  Sometimes we're here while they're here, sometimes we're not.  These men are known by our landlady, and do all the bathroom and kitchen remodeling (and plumbing) work for our building, so there's no danger of them stealing anything.  Besides that, the landlady had warned us in advance about the excessive amount of dust that would result from this work, so we moved everything out of the front room into our bedrooms or the den--all of which have doors.  So we close all of those doors and, if we are here while the men are here, we stay in one of those rooms.

Anyway, the men started by tearing apart all of the old stuff.  They took all of our old wall tile off of the walls and carried it down to the foyer in bags--lots and LOTS of bags--most of which are still sitting in the foyer.  They put our toilet in the hall, along with the shower head, the gas water heater, and the pipes.  Then they put our sink on the balcony and our bathroom doors in the hallway.  (At one point we also had a bathtub in the living room for a few days!) 

What, you might ask, did we do for showers and a toilet in the meantime?  Well, we had to use the facilities in an empty flat two floors down.  That's right--anytime we needed to use the restroom, even in the middle of the night, it was two floors down, baby!  We got pretty comfortable wandering around the building in our houseclothes.  Hey, everyone else does it too, and it's a small building anyway--everyone knows everyone.  Our toilet was finally re-installed last week, so we were only without one for a month.  We still have to go downstairs for the shower, but at least we can go to the bathroom in our own flat now!  The new tiles are up on the walls and the floors, and the bathtub is in place, but there is no water being routed to the large bathroom, no sinks in any of the bathrooms, no second toilet, and no estimated time of completion.  (I hope it's done before my family comes to visit!)

Remodeling                 Remodeling
Page 1                                                              Page 2
Click on the above pictures to see the phases of The Great Bathroom Renovation!


At the end of November, I got to take another trip to the Bahariyya Oasis (for an account of my previous trip there, see the update for 2/26/05).  Well, you know what that means--that's right, lots and lots of tea!  But this time we (my roommate went with me) also got to take a trip out to the Black Desert, the White Desert, and Crystal Mountain...none of which we had seen before, but always wanted to see.  The trip was awesome, and the way it came about is its own interesting story which deserves telling.

The story started when we ended up with a free afternoon that we hadn't anticipated having.  So we went to the front desk of our hotel and asked if they could arrange a trip for us.  (Most hotels arrange desert safaris for their guests upon request.)  They said sure, we agreed on a price and a time to leave, and went back up to our room to get ready.  Well, when we counted our money, we realized we didn't actually have enough for the trip!  DOH!  We had only brought money enough for the hotel and food, since we hadn't planned on doing such a trip.  Well, it turns out there are no ATMs in Bahariyya, and no one in town takes a credit card.  For the loss!  So we walked back downstairs in shame and informed our tour organizer that we didn't actually have enough money for the trip, so we wouldn't be able to go.  To our surprise, he said, "Oh, that's no problem.  You can still go!"  In response to the puzzled looks on our faces, he said, "You're taking the bus back to Cairo, right?"  I said, "Yes.....," and he said, "Well, we have a representative up there.  He can meet you at the bus station, go with you to an ATM, and you can pay him there!"  WOW.  He was talking about financing our desert trip on trust alone, and that sucker cost about $85--no small amount, especially for Egypt!  Just WOW....that's how it's done here in Egypt!  (Come to think of it, my local stores have let me "finance" stuff before when I was short on I guess it's not too unusual after all!)  So of course we agreed to this sweet deal, and off we went on our trip!  It was just fantastic....I hope you enjoy the pics!

Before we checked out of the hotel two days later, the tour organizer and I exchanged cell phone numbers.  I told him the color I'd be wearing so his guy could recognize me when I got off the bus in Cairo.  "No problem," he said, "he will meet you there!"

When we got to Cairo, my roommate took off to another bus station to buy some other tickets she needed, and I waited for the guy.  My roommate and I planned to meet at the train station later to ride back to Alex.  After waiting for about 10 minutes, I called the cell phone number I had.  The tour organizer assured me the guy was on his way and asked me just to keep waiting.  After about 10 more minutes, the guy showed up.  I knew it was him because I didn't figure anyone else was gonna walk straight toward me and say, "Are you Megan?"  Then we had the fun task of finding an ATM.  We walked to a hotel nearby to see if they had one, but they didn't.  However, the guard there pointed the way to the nearest one.  It was a bit too far to walk, so my escort hailed a cab and we took that to the ATM.  Then I got the money out and paid him for the safari, plus a tip for his troubles and for carrying my suitcase the whole time!  He then asked where I was going next, and I told him I wanted the nearest Metro station and asked him if he knew how to get there.  He said it was within walking distance and proceeded to accompany me there, carrying my bag the whole time.  What service!  All in all, it was a pleasant experience, if somewhat bizarre.  =)

I guess if I had stopped to think about it, I would've thought it was a bit strange for a foreign girl to stand alone on a street corner in Cairo with a suitcase, waiting to pass money along to an unknown guy.  (But then again, at that time I also had a sink on my balcony, a bathtub in my living room, and a toilet in my my perception of "strange" had been somewhat altered.)

Bus    Click here to step off the bus and see some pics of the deserts around Bahariyya.

White Desert    Click here to see pics of the White Desert...some say it's white from limestone, and some say it's white from salt because the area used to be the bottom of a great sea.  Whatever the explanation for its white color and many strange formations, it is one of the most beautifully surreal places I have ever seen!

Well, that's it for this mega-update...I apologize again for the delay and thank you for reading!  I hope to get another update out before my family arrives in mid-January, but I'm not making any promises.  At least I'll get one out when the bathroom is hopefully sometime before I return to the States?

P.S.--December 15th will be the one-year anniversary of my arrival here...hard to believe, huh?

Previous updates Click the arrow for previous updates.

Guestbook***NEW*** Click here to view or sign my guestbook!

Click here to send me an email!