Monday, October 21, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Abdo Goes to School

It’s been almost a month since I first wrote about Abdo, our nine-year old office boy that was missing school to work.

My office faced various problems with getting Abdo in school. First, his mother needed his office salary to help supply basic needs for the family. The salary is LE 300 a month (around $42) which includes him running basic errands for the staff, making tea/coffee and helping clean. We collectively decided that we would still pay the salary under the stipulation that he attended school and after, would come and work a couple of hours at the office.

Some whom I verbally told this story began asking why he had never attended school and wondered about his mother. I assume that his mother, being from a village, probably never attended school a day in her own life. She does not understand the importance of an education because she’s probably been working ever since she was able to walk. She was probably also married off very early (the legal age for Egyptian females to get married was pushed up to 16; however, villages abide by their own set of laws sometimes which mean an even younger marital age).

The next problem came with school enrollment. Finding out that the nine-year old had never attended even one day of school led to many schools in the area turning down his admission. Instead, we were told to find a tutor. Finally we found a school that would accept him as a first grader, but another hiccup came shortly thereafter.

Transportation. Since none of the schools within walking distance allowed Abdo, we had to resort to a school that requires transportation. He is too young to take a microbus alone and despite all of my searches, I was unable to find a reliable, affordable driver. It was disheartening considering that while I understand some people not having the contacts to help, I can’t understand explaining this story to a driver and yet he still not want to look past a foreign face to make a deal helping one of this own. We were finally able to pay LE 150 a month (around $21) to one of the school’s microbuses to pick him up each morning and drop him back to the office.

So after a few hiccups, this sweet boy finally started his first day ever of school yesterday (Oct. 20). He has two friends in his class: Karim and Mohammed. His teacher is named Gameela (beautiful in Arabic) and the female attendant on the microbus ensuring the safety of the children is Mona, as told to me by Abdo when I inquired as to how he liked going to school.

I want to thank everyone who did reach out in support. I especially want to give Esther a big thank you for the backpack and clothes. I will go this week to look for a jacket. If any of you have any clothes for little boys (he has long arms), please let me know.

His sizes are:
Shirt: 8 (I would assume a jacket should be one size larger)
Pants and Belt: 30
Shoes and Socks: 35

Again, thank you to everyone who did help, tried to help and those thinking of helping.

Monday, October 14, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Sacrificial Lamb

If you thought you were imagining the sound of a lamb coming from your neighbor’s flat, chances are you weren’t. Muslims across the world make a sacrifice for Eid al Adha with some estimates claiming the slaughtering of around 100 million animals worldwide. With approximately 1.6 billion Muslims in the world, if that figure is correct it would mean one animal per 16 Muslims. And yes, you will even find the animal being held inside a flat in some cases.

I remember my first Eid al Adha and a friend told me, “Whatever you do, don’t leave your house that day.” That piece of advice is something that I often regurgitate to newcomers. So here’s your 2013 Eid al Adha warning: Do not leave your house from Tuesday 6 am until early afternoon, unless of course you don’t mind the scene.

Last year I watched as a microbus pulled up to my building and unloaded a sheep which my boaba (door woman) promptly took control. Not even 10 minutes later, my bowab (doorman) slaughtered the animal leaving behind a nice trail of blood for all the tenants to walk through. Not ideal, but that can be easily cleaned with a water hose.

The slaughter of an animal is divided among the purchaser and his family, his other friends and extended family and finally a portion goes to the poor. There are specifications to carry out the ritual in a halal manner, but sometimes I have to wonder if the majority of Egypt adheres to the criteria. My bowab did not wash away the blood nor did he dispose of the unwanted innards. Instead, he set off to his own village while the innards remained out and about in public viewing for a couple of days.

Something else that happens in full force, even more than usual, is harassment. Why do holidays in Egypt mean a significant increase in harassment? I’ve been asking everyone because in particular, this celebration appears to be more problematic than the big feast (Eid el Fitr) signaling the end of Ramadan. In years past, hotlines cropped up to help establish a network of reporting harassment during Eid al Adha. Unfortunately, there are no such reports for this year’s feast.

The Daily News Egypt featured an article in mid-August discussing new, worrisome trends in Egypt’s battle against harassment: lower ages and a lack of remorse. The perpetrators are getting younger every year, but the biggest problem is that when caught committing sexual harassment, they will instead stand up giving reasons as to why it was okay to grab a woman.

I know I’ve discussed harassment numerous times on this blog, but for some of you newbies, it needs to be ingrained: stay aware of your surroundings. It doesn’t matter what you wear, despite what others may say. It doesn’t matter if you are in a group or even with another man. So if you’re still in town, be on guard. Try not to walk late at night and in Maadi, particularly avoid the Shell Shop area in Degla (including around CAC). Other places to avoid a leisurely walk include Burger Joint and Port Said St.

And again, unless you want to see a bunch of animals being killed STAY IN YOUR HOME TOMORROW.

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Video of RPG Attack, at Least Four Responsible

One person has been detained while a video released shows at least three others involved in the rocket propelled grenade (RPG) attack on Nile TV satellites that occurred on October 7 around 4:30 am.

The video was posted by Egyptian blogger, Wael Abbas, who is accredited with helping to start the 2011 revolution. One of the perpetrators is filming the attack via his camera phone while at least three other individuals line up with one person carrying two RPGs and two other men standing as security with guns. Skip the video in its entirety because the only important part is between 1:13-2:07.

A security source gave me the information about one person being held for questioning. The video proves that “at least” four individuals are responsible (camera man, grenade launcher and two security) although there could have been more people involved (e.g. getaway driver).

Do NOT take a video committing a crime with your phone. I mean, have you never seen “World’s Dumbest Criminals”?

As a result of yesterday's attack coupled with attacks in Ismalia and Sinai, the Cairo airport has increased security declaring a State of Emergency.

Monday, October 7, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Confirmed GRENADE BLASTS in Maadi

A rocket propelled grenade went off at the satellite field in Maadi at 4:30 am this morning. At the same time, a quarry in Wadi Degla carried out two scheduled controlled detonations of a large surface area of rock.

So there I was in dreamland until 4:30 am when I was jolted awake and my dog literally fell off the bed. I immediately thought it was a bomb, but then I thought I was disoriented and only remembering the story I’d written earlier that day about two bombs being found in Egypt last Thursday (one blew up near a pipeline and the other was diffused in Mohandaseen). Then I heard another blast followed by morning prayer. That was joined in with the military personnel screaming from the satellite field. Sometimes you hear them call back and forth to one another, but this was more than one or two joining in.

No one in my building seemed to be awake, so I ventured outside but it still seemed the neighborhood was dead asleep – which makes me think Egyptians can sleep through anything. I passed by Telecom Egypt on my way into the office this morning and saw police driving across the field near Grand Mall and a few army/police outside the main office although it didn’t seem significant. When I arrived in my office, I’d heard of the blasts at Telecom Egypt with one of my colleagues who lives across from the satellite field confirming it.

Some of you are saying that it was just the quarry, but a security source told me that what this could mean is that the blasts were coordinated. As I’ve stated numerous times, do your due diligence (and preferably before you send out a mass email titled “Don't Panic‏”). I’ll be the first to admit that I try to think things are less than what they are until I can confirm as such, but what I heard this morning definitely had me up and at it.

The main thing here is that this is one of the first attacks in Maadi, a mostly expat Cairo suburb. The other main point is that bombs are becoming more frequent. And I dare say that if the Muslim Brotherhood’s past indiscretions are any indicator, there could be more – maybe not in Maadi, but Egypt is a long way off from stability.

Sunday, October 6, 2013

Letters from Egypt: Different Names, All the Same

Al Sisi/Morsi

The 6th of October is the time when Egypt showed those Jews, or so that’s the way they tell it. I get it. No one wants to admit they didn’t win. I certainly dislike admitting the US outcome in 1812, but a fact is a fact (Canadians, it is your only comeback - use it wisely).

So today is a holiday in Egypt, known as the Yom Kippur War, Ramadan War and/or 1973 Arab–Israeli War. It’s when Egypt and Syria coordinated attacks on Atonement Day with Egypt pushing out Israeli forces from the Sinai. They fail to discuss in Egyptian history how Israel came back, pushed the Syrians far back from pre-war advancements and at the same time also almost descended upon Cairo only to have the Camp David Peace Accord brokered – but who wants to discuss that? Definitely not the Egyptians. It's another one of those conversations that you need to avoid if you want to maintain friendships with your Egyptian pals.

So moving on – I found this article from one of my favorite publications, The New Yorker, from October 6, 2011. Reading Egypt: Remembering the 6th of October it sounded all too familiar except with a few key names changed. Wendell Steavenson said in the article, “Mubarak built a vast rotunda memorial to commemorate the 6th of October; it was empty of visitors when I visited it a few months ago.” Yep – same.

Instead of this: “Last night, I was out walking amid evening promenaders and Coptic Christians protesting yet another church burning and beating by the military police,” exchange Coptic Christians to pro-Morsi demonstrators.

“This October 6th, Egyptians were treated to a rare address by Field Marshal Tantawi, head of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces, who took over executive power from Mubarak in February, and who is now the de facto leader of Egypt.” We’re going to go ahead and change Tantawi to Al Sisi, Mubarak to Morsi and February 2011 to June 2013. So it should read like this:

This October 6th, Egyptians were treated to a warning to all pro-Morsi supporters by General Al Sisi, who took over executive power from Mohamed Morsi in June, and who is now the de facto leader of Egypt.

“A handover to civilian rule still seems some way off” and yes, we’ll just keep that as is two years later.

In all seriousness though, thankfully Egypt has released the two Canadians that were jailed without charges in mid-August.

For those of you expats that feel as though you are invincible, let this serve as a warning: You, yes you – American, British, French, etc. – can be detained for up to 15 days by Egyptian authorities without being charged. Even more discerning is that Egypt can renew that 15-day non-charge holding another 15 days and so on and so forth.

I’m glad John Greyson and Tarek Loubani will soon be reunited with their families and friends. Photo source: CTV News