Saturday, October 29, 2011

Running of the Camels

I know--this is not Pamploma and I am certainly no Ernest Hemmingway. And truth be told, there was only a single camel. But for the past three nights in a row, I have been drawn to the window of my apartment to witness a throng of chanting, laughing, squealing, yelling children running through the streets of my neighborhood chasing...wait for it...a baby camel! (I can't make this stuff up, I promise). The first night I was dumbfounded but amused---where in heaven's name did they get a camel in the middle of the city? Was it for some child's birthday know, like renting a shetland pony to take kids around the park for the day? But then, the ugly truth dawned on me...this camel, like the sheep, cows and goats that are starting to appear in pens throughout the streets of Alexandria, is going to be part of the annual slaughter for Eid ul Adha (for a refresher on this Islamic holiday, you can read my blog post for November 8 last year).

I really didn't want to believe that this poor little defenseless (well, except for its spitting capabilities) camel was actually going to be on the chopping block in about a week's time. I mean, aren't camels a sacred animal to Egyptians or the national beast or something so protected that you are only allowed to sit on them to have your picture taken? I was so distressed by this I had to ask one of my Muslim colleages if camels were fair game for the Eid carnage. Sonia is a young, modern Islamic woman whose first reaction was "absolutely not..we use sheep and cows, but not camels." Whew, relief! But then, Teresa, who is older and has seen a few more Eids than Sonia, said that "yes, many people eat camel and it is sometimes (not often) an animal that is sacrificed for Eid." Bummer.

Now, I have no real love for camels any more than I have affection for shetland ponies (ask Steph for that story, as it is too humiliating for me to retell here.) Camels are mean, ornery, smelly creatures that are memorable only in their iconic presence in movies like Lawrence of Arabia, and the Mummy. Even Walt Disney studios chose a monkey, a parrot and a rug as the loveable sidekicks in Aladdin. It's the Arabian desert..hello? No camel? I guess even they couldn't make a camel cute. Too many people knew. Even Rudyard Kipling's camel was just a big, lazy beast. "Hrumph!" Yet, I can't help feeling sorry for this poor guy..he's just a baby, and he has those big brown eyes, lovely long eyelashes and those fat pouty lips. All animals are cuter when they are babies. Yet, these kids are just chasing him around with no apparent concern for his ultimate doom.
I understand the reason behind the Eid slaughter and the idea that one needs to witness the killing of the animal to understand the sacrifice (see details in my earlier posting). But there are some animal activists in Egypt (not many, but a few) who are raising concerns about the Eid animal butchering. According to Islamic law, there are rules for the slaughter that include isolating the animal so it cannot hear or see it's compatriots fall and the act is supposed to be done swiftly and mercifully or else it is "haram" --religiously forbidden. Yet many of the killings are done in small alleys packed with animals and without the talents of a trained butcher. The blood runs freely in the streets, children dip their hands in it and plaster walls with their bloody prints, and the smell of dead carcasses is overwhelming.

So I plan to leave Alexandria next week...maybe Steph and I will head out to the Black and White Desert--sleep in a Bedouin tent, take a dip in a hot spring fed oaisis, and look at every single star in the sky. Out there, they run with the camels...and the camels live.

Sunday, October 23, 2011

The Dark Side of the Moon

And if the band you're in starts playing different tunes

I'll see you on the dark side of the moon. about communications break-downs! I have been hemming and hawing over how to start this entry for months now. At first, I thought I would wait until I got back from my 30th college reunion (that, for you loyal followers, was back in the beginning of JUNE!). But when I got back, I went smack into the end of school (no time to write, I claimed) and then, a whirlwind trip with Steph to Greece (also something I should have written about, but didn't) and then, the doldrums of staying here in Alexandria for the summer (nothing really of note there) and then a trip to Scotland (lots of things to share there) and an end of the summer trip to Istanbul (worth writing about yet....) and then school began and then, and then, and then..... Can't explain it, but I just couldn't get my act together in order to fill in the gap. I equate it to being on the dark side of the moon...just waiting until my orbit brought me back around and out of radio silence. So, Houston, we have re-established contact with the mother ship!

And just as I am now reunited with my blog, the theme of the past few months has been reunions. Beginning with my college reunion and ending with the trip to Istanbul, I was able to reconnect with friends from my past, often in new locations and settings. I'll spare you the details and just go for the highlights...

My Old School

At the time, it seemed a rash decision to travel from Alexandria, Egypt to Syracuse, NY for what was really going to be just a long weekend for me. The school year was not over and I had to take a couple of personal days off, not to mention the jetlag that would undoubtedly take its toll on my no longer college aged body. But when I heard that my friend Nancy (yes, the one for whom I went to the Pyramids of Giza to complete the Race for the Cure last October) was going, there really was no decision to be made. And am I glad I went! Not only was I able to spend time with my college girlfriends (and a boyfriend as well, if truth be told), but I managed to reunite with my cousins Pat, Pam, and their families in Skaneateles and my son, Alex, who came up for the weekend from Philadelphia. It meant shuttling back and forth between family and old friends, and explaining ad infinitum to the reunion crowd that I really lived in Alexandria, Egypt, not Virginia or Louisiana, but it was well worth the trip. Go Dolphins! (Yes, that is the mascot for a college located in the center of New York State...go figure.)

Mamma Mia (June)

It was really hard not to start humming Abba songs when Steph and I were toodling around Skiathos Island even if we were consigned to a very low powered scooter since neither of us had a proper motorcycle license. After all, it was the island where they filmed much of the movie Mamma Mia and it did have that light and beautifully relaxing feel to it. Hard not to be happy there, I must admit. It was the ideal place just to hang out, soak up the sun, swim in every available beach and to eat amazing food!

Skiathos was part two of our trip to Greece, the first being our stay in Athens where we were reunited with our friends Chuck, Kirsten, Maddy and Nick Piacentini. The Piacentinis were the first friends we made when we moved to Costa Rica in 2006, and Kirsten was working for LLBean 's only overseas office (yes, the famous Maine catalog company). Our trips were not coordinated in advance, and we only discovered our mutual destination via a chance Facebook posting!

You Take the High Road (July)

Bored with sitting in Alexandria all summer long, I decided that I ought to go and check out one of the places where we are investing our money these days...the University of Edinburgh. Adrie was staying in Scotland for the summer, working a couple of college student type jobs, one at the Edinburgh castle and the other at the Fringe Festival. Of the two, the latter was the most interesting and lucrative. If you ever get the chance, I highly recommend going to the Fringe...venue upon venue of stand-up comedy, theater, music, dance---some of it good, some of it passable and some of it...well, I know at least one comedienne who will not become tabloid fodder. And, if you are in Edinburgh, you simply must go to the Scottish National Museum, not to see the sarcophogus of Mary Queen of Scots or the Lewis Chessmen, but to gaze upon the taxadermically preserved Dolly the Cloned Sheep! No joke.

In keeping with my reunion theme, and again, as the result of a chance Facebook comment, I met up with a former colleague from my days teaching at FDR in Peru, Kathryn Freeburn, who was home in her native Scotland between jobs in China and Switzerland! Adrie and I also popped over to Dublin (you can do that when you live in Europe, you see) and stayed with our friends from our Virginia days, Lara Henry, Alistair Hodgett and daughter Albha.

Istanbul, Not Constantinople (August)

With another R&R trip on the schedule, Steph and I took the opportunity to end the summer with a trip to Istanbul. While some of you may remember that I went last December with a group of students, that hardly counted as seeing the city, nor was it a vacation. This time, we had a leisurely week where we could take our time and see the real sights of Istanbul...Hagia Sophia, the Blue Mosque, Topkopi Palace, and of course, all the wonderful restauants and shops. I will give a word of caution, however...if you are approached by anyone who wants to talk to you and find out where you are from, invariably they will want to sell you a carpet. It became a game to see how long we could keep them talking about politics, the weather or anything else before they made the carpet pitch..and no, they didn't break us! Istanbul is an amazing city and I would go back again in a heartbeat, if only to buy their amazing sour cherry jam! Once again, we were able to reconnect with old friends-- from our DC days, Jonathan and Pelin Rau, with son Jordan who live and work at Robert College and another former teacher from FDR in Peru, Terrie Mueller and her daughter, Kalani. Great fun in a wonderful city.

So that is what kept me busy and incommunicado for the past few months. I will try to be a bit more timely in my musings, especially as things may heat up here as our Arab Spring turns into an Arab Summer. Keep an eye on the Tunisian elections as a potential barometer for what Egypt might experience in November with elections. As I watch the news on the killing of Gaddafi, I am thankful that the events here in Egypt never rose to that level. Yet one never knows what to expect. I will try to stay in touch with this blog, but if I should go dark again, rest assured I will re-enter your orbit eventually.