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apparently white guys can’t run either ☺

Long ago there was a forgettable film called (I think 😉 “White Men Can’t Jump”.  Based on the results of the 2012 Olympics, it would appear they also can’t run!  But how wonderful is that for the world.  How magnificent that Africa – and tiny countries like Jamaica – can kick the butt of world superpowers?

And a kid born in Somalia whose parents came to Great Britain for a better life can be one of the great heroes of London 2012… and Olympic history.

I guess I’m not the only one that thinks “Imagine” should be the theme song of the Olympics.  What a start to the music celebration.  But, seriously, a middle-aged George Michael getting so much air time?  “Imagine” one of the greatest pop songs ever written.  “Freedom” just a catchy riff.  But Madness, Kate Bush, the Kaiser Chiefs singing The Who… better than average.  But where IS Bowie?

And The Spice Girls???  Have you lost your mind???  Did Beckham pay for this???  Not a great song – and they were one of the low points of Britpop.  I thought only 10 year old girls coming of age in the early 90’s cared.  A LOW LOW point Team GB.  You are SO much better than the Spice Girls.  Have you all gone insane???  I feel slimed.

GB, you NEED the immigrants!  Now Oasis???  The blowhards of the same period… who are kinda butchering their own song (cause only ONE brother will play?).  I saw these dudes twice in concert.  The first and second album.  Pre fame.  The first time they were OK but had no stage presence.  The second time they marched off stage around song two and getting a refund proved traumatic.  They dissed each other in the press – even though they were FAMILY.  Wankers all the way.  This is the image you want the world to have of you???

Where the hell is Danny Boyle?

But Monty Python… saving the day 🙂  But where is John Cleese?

Good job with Annie Lenox on a slave ship.  British theatre and music co-mingling in a world class way.

Speaking of world class and African guys who can run… how wonderful the marathon runners get their medals at the closing ceremonies.  And two beaming guys from Kenya.  And an upset gold medal from Uganda!  I like the underdogs and the surprises so how exciting.  A country that doesn’t medal, an unexpected winner.  In the best spirit of the Olympics.  He will never be as famous as Usain Bolt.  But he got his at least three minutes of fame.  And if you come from Uganda, that has got to be a bit surreal…  Congratulations, Stephen Kiprotich, Uganda’s second gold medal ever!

The British music party is fun.  And as a long time fan of British music who recognizes all the tunes it is lovely but what I really hope for the world is not more great pop songs – but more real Olympic spirit.

The Olympics these days are so much about cash – and the security budget for less than three weeks of non-stop coverage by the lucky networks that have the rights could power some small countries for a year.

The spectacles are fun.  And I am watching along with likely a billion other people.  But what I will take away from the 2012 Olympics games are the wins by nations or athletes who are not white or from countries with lots of bucks (or at least ones who can sustain a huge debt!)

Let’s hope that the fact that apparently white men don’t run very fast on a world scale will encourage us to all join together, mix gene pools and unite the world in some shade of brown – be it beige, tan or chocolate – that will prove that multiculturalism works… and that John Lennon wasn’t delusional after all…

“just imagine”…

it is the starting point.  And not impossible at all.  But also not easy.  So we will need a lot more than flashy spectacle.  It won’t be Twitter that changes the world – but the hard thought and planning of 18th century philosophers…

Congratulations to Team GB, the city of London and all the international athletes who made it such a spectacular show!

p.s. I am due to depart for London mid-September so will be interesting to see the mood of post-Olympics London (I will be reporting in my non-official capacity 😉

p.p.s. thank god for Roger Daltrey!  The senior citizen makes sure it doesn’t end on a lame note.  “My Generation” speaks a little bit to the Olympics.  But not at all in the same way as “Imagine”.  And where are all the myriad multimillionaires of Britpop?  Obviously they are either too greedy – or don’t care about sport?  The divide is wide.  I am one of those rare weirdos who appreciates equally a great sporting performance and a great cultural performance.  But normally the twain do not meet.  So the spectacles of the Olympics that should be celebrating a country’s culture fall flat with the likes of me.  But The Who far surpass a lame Sir Paul… and likely one of the best closing moments of an Olympics.  Brazil – whattayagot?  It might be spectacular 😉

a person of interest…

Yesterday I was buying groceries and had one of those memorable random experiences.  Some kid was more or less in my way in the produce section and his mom apologized but I said, “hey, a kid that gets that excited about fruits and vegetables, that is a wonderful thing.”  He was doing a bit of a dance and singing about the quality of the rhubarb.  His mom said he got that excited about everything in the produce section so I asked him if he was planning to be a chef.  He said he hoped so.

It made me a little jealous 🙂  At that age I had no capacity to talk to strangers, let alone a vision of my future self.  He seemed ready to grow up to be the next Gordon Ramsay 😉

I may have been a boring child and god knows I try not to reveal my proper job when I am talking to strangers in a bar but somewhere along the line I seem to have become kind of interesting.

It’s come as a shock to me.  And I still worry that maybe I am not as interesting as I may have decided I am… but at least a few random strangers seem to find me entertaining.  When I was in Amsterdam at citizenM I had to keep sneaking off to my room when the other party had gone to the bathroom or out to smoke cause the bar was open 24/7 and there was always someone wanting to talk to me no matter the hour…

Of course one doesn’t want to confuse willingness to talk to drunken strangers at 3am with actually being interesting 🙂  But people often want to talk to me even when it is the middle of the day.  I think a lot of it can be attributed to something my friend Yvonne said years ago when she was introducing me to a friend of hers who was moving to my city.  “He is interesting – and interested.”

The key to being interesting is to be interested.  When you are open to other people and cultures and really listen when people talk you learn all kinds of strange and random things about the world.  And then when you meet the next random person, you have a wild database of miscellaneous information on which to draw.

I feel really lucky to have experienced life in all types of channels.  I feel equally comfortable swatting tsetse flies in Africa, sipping champagne in Paris and biting a kernel of wheat to see if it is ready to harvest.  Living your life all over the map – literally and figuratively – opens up the world – both the physical world and your emotional map – because you can relate to everyone that you meet and bond with strangers in strange lands.

And then you become the person who has just returned from five weeks of travel out of the last eight and people ask you “where are you going next?”  I thought I might stay home for a couple of weeks 🙂  But you have become a person of interest.  Someone who inspires others.  And has something to say.  Life doesn’t get much better than that…

And the answer… Croatia I think… 🙂

I think the kid will be cooler way faster than I ever was.  But I like to think I am more aspirational.  Some of us know what we want early in life and follow our dreams and realize them by the time we have barely reached adulthood.  For some of the rest of us, it’s a practical journey, filled with lots of boring bits… but eventually we make enough interesting choices to piece together a life of some interest…

tying up loose ends…

I am writing this from Amsterdam sitting on the Prinsengracht on a perfect sunny day.  Life doesn’t get much better than this.  An incredible ending to a wonderfully memorable trip.

I haven’t done anything really noteworthy in the past couple of days.  Just trolling around the city without a map, acting like a Europhile.  Amsterdam offers all the elements of a perfect marriage – security, a sense of humour, mutual attraction and just enough of a naughty streak to keep things fresh and exciting.  I may end up spending so much time here I will be coerced into learning Dutch 😉

Apparently I also need to learn how to make Dutch pancakes.  This is the first time I’ve had them.  Have now had three different versions of varying quality and Peter taught me how to eat them like a local rather than a tourist 🙂  At least I can ride a bike, know how to dance at some passable level, drink beer, am learning to appreciate football and have a sense of humour – so I am partly on my way to becoming Dutch.  I will draw the line at wearing orange however.  My least favourite colour of them all.

The point of this posting though is mostly to pull together the missing pieces from Egypt…

I realized that I had missed Abu Simbel in my temple list.  Built by Ramses II (the longest reigning pharaoh) and moved from its original location and reconstructed as part of a UNESCO project to protect it from water damage after the Aswan Dam was constructed, it is one of the most iconic sites in Egypt.

I am still working on getting all the gods straight – and following their path through the Pharaohs, the Greeks, the Romans, the Ottoman Empire and everybody else that wanted their piece of the famous country on the Nile.  I think Abu Simbel is in honour of the falcon god along with another one or two others… the cow goddess maybe?  What is really impressive are the statues of Ramses II at different ages (he lived into his nineties, a really impressive feat at that time).

We did a few other things that did not involve sand, sun, temples or tombs.  One of the most relaxing activities was a felucca ride on the Nile.  This is how most Egyptians tour the Nile.  We were all a bit concerned we had to wear life jackets for the ride but it was very calm and peaceful so we decided they were more for show.

Our other cultural adventures were less relaxing for me.  On the second night on the boat they organized a belly dancer and a whirling dervish.  Taking photos of both of them definitely a challenge but watching them highly entertaining.  We were particularly wowed by the whirling dervish.  Obviously he doesn’t get dizzy very easily!

I must look too friendly because I was perfectly happy just taking photos of the belly dancer – but, no, I had to be dragged up with her immediately.  I was really impressed by her ability to shake her booty but I was more the comedy act part of the show 🙂

Apparently my lousy belly dancing was easily overlooked because the next night was “Egypt night”and we all dressed up in gallabeyahs and were supposed to be entertained by Egyptian music after dinner.  The tour info DID say everyone would be dancing.  What I hadn’t appreciated was that I would be dancing EVERY song!

I just wanted to get some good photos but that made me obvious so Khalid had me on the dance floor by the second song.  I kept trying to leave but if I managed to sit out an entire song I would be dragged back up.

Luckily for me the guys were great dancers so I just had to try and not step on their toes.  A few times they got a whole crowd on the floor and tried to teach us complicated dance moves.  I imagine it looked pretty funny if you were lucky enough to be sitting on the sidelines.

I had taken advantage of our relaxed schedule that day and actually got more than four hours of sleep.  What I hadn’t realized is that all the gallabeyahs left would be size L and up.  Tito tried to convince me if I had woken earlier I could have purchased something in my size.  I’m not sure… He was very gracious and tried to see if he could make my size 4 garment (I was a size 1 according to him) seem less like a sack… apparently it didn’t stop people from asking me to dance…

The highlight of the night for me was when they played YMCA.  The guys knew ALL the moves – I had forgotten there were so many.  Since I couldn’t get anyone on the dance floor at my party, I finally got to dance to one of the songs on my birthday soundtrack!  And I can still twist!  Almost to the floor… and back up again – without breaking a hip.  The Egyptian guys were impressed!

Tomorrow Egyptians go to the polls for their historic elections.  Let’s keep our fingers crossed they will get a decent government that can steer them down the path that will rid them of that pesky “developing economy” label.  There are definitely parts of Egypt that feel like a developed western economy.  But lots of Egyptians are still struggling economically.

The Egyptians I met were easy to fall for and to use their lingo – it will break my heart if they don’t get the kind of government they so richly deserve and valiantly fought for.

We end on a personal note – a huge thank you to Riccardo, Sonia, Sameh, Tito and Mohammed for taking such amazing care of me in Egypt – my mom really didn’t need to worry – but they all know about her 😉

Will post some more photos over the next couple of days to provide some visual cues for the text.

human scarabs

We started our tour on Friday and arrived back to Cairo from Aswan the following Friday.  As those of you following recent Egyptian history carefully will know, Friday is protest day.  Apparently the pattern was established as part of the Arab Spring.  People  would go to mosque and then spill into Tahrir Square to protest the regime.

We met Sonia for the first time on Saturday afternoon – and she told us we had brought luck as Friday had been very quiet (unlike the previous week when I was already en route checking the BBC on a regular basis trying to understand precisely what was happening in Cairo.

The scarab is a good luck symbol in Egypt.  There are scarabs everywhere!  There are all kinds of symbols in Egyptian culture.  It adds extra meaning to some of the jewelry I purchased.

Even more fascinating was trying to understand Egypt in 2012.  It’s not too often you see things on a holiday tour that have just been in the recent news headlines.  I think I already mentioned that we saw Mubarek’s former headquarters looking like something from World War II and the bedraggled remnants of the Arab Spring in Tahrir Square.  Apparently the scattered tents are homeless merchants who came to sell their wares to the crowds and now have nowhere else to go.  When we got back from Aswan, they drove us by the Defense Ministry, the site of all the protests I had been following on BBC the week before.  We also saw some live electioneering on the streets.

More fascinating was Riccardo’s account of how they got the A&K tourists out of Cairo the week one million tourists fled the city.  The staff set up camp for five days at three different hotels, including the Four Seasons I stayed at in downtown Cairo, one in Giza near the Pyramids and the Fairmont at the airport.  They shuttled people to the airport hotel as they found them seats on planes.

They ran the gauntlet of the airport staff and walked each tourist through the airport and safely on to his plane as other stranded tourists looked on enviously.  To get the final tourists back home, they chartered a plane and flew them to Jordan where they could secure them connecting flights back to their home cities. What was even more impressive was that Riccardo told us they had achieved all of this despite all communications in Cairo being shut down for 3 of the 5 days!

A&K definitely has your back and the level of service is exemplary even when you are not in the middle of a revolution.  Riccardo practically put me on the plane at the airport and I told him it was going to be tough having to take care of myself again when I landed.

So, really, the least we could do for them was act as human scarabs and help to keep Cairo safe so the staff could get some sleep 🙂  Most of the staff had barely worked since the revolution so the atmosphere during our trip was highly charged with hope and I don’t think any of us will ever forget the wonderful A&K staff who guided us through their home country as though we were on a royal tour and they had cleared away all the pesky tourists just for us 😉

I think we appreciated it best at Philae Temple.  Apparently at New Year’s there are normally about 375 tour buses.  The day we arrived, we were number 2 or 3…

I really hope good luck will continue and the historic elections in Egypt this week will yield a productive government.  If that happens, get there as fast as you can!  Before the other tourists catch on…

wishing we were camels…

I have been writing the posts,  just haven’t been able to get them on the internet…

Day 3 was also full of adventure and scheduled activities.  Our day began with a 6:30am transfer to the airport to catch our flight to Luxor.  There was an accident in Cairo so we were late arriving at the airport and got hustled onto the plane with a minimum of airport security and protocol.

When we arrived at Luxor airport we didn’t even waste time collecting our luggage (it arrived on the boat as if by magic).  We were transferred to an air-conditioned bus and taken to the Temple of Karnack.  I’ve already related my adventures there – but I did get to spend more time on the air-conditioned bus than anyone else!

Following Karnack, we had a delicious lunch on the boat.  That’s when I met Mohammed, who was my personal server for the entire cruise – and always made sure I had the best wine 🙂  It was a brief interval of happiness as we were quickly shuttled back onto the bus so that we could spend the hottest day of the trip wandering the desert looking at tombs.

By mid-afternoon it was so hot you just felt like you were being roasted in a large oven.  I seem to have managed to avoid sunburn despite the heat – the suggestion on the internet to drape yourself in a large shawl and wear a hat has proven to be great advice.

As already explained, my knowledge of Egyptian culture is a little more focused on the charming manners of the cute guys than on any proper understanding of Egyptian history.  I will buy a book – or more – and try to learn more to put all the incredible sites I have seen in context but for now you will just have to focus on the photos – once I post them.

Sonia organized our tour really well and made sure we saw both the Valley of the Kings and the Valley of the Queens. The Valley of the Kings has the tombs of a bunch of famous pharaohs, including Ramses II and King Tut, so is on the top of the tourist list for Luxor.

Because of this Sonia reversed the order and we did the Valley of the Queens at peak tourist time and then snuck into the Valley of the Kings just before closing.  Egyptian tombs are incredible.  The amount of effort and expense put into a coffin!  But if you are coming back again – and will need all your stuff – it makes perfect sense.  It is mind boggling the level of detail in the decorations in the tombs.  What is more astonishing is that originally it was all in technicolour.

We finally got to spend some time on the boat.  My room was palatial.  You only knew you were on a boat because the shower was so tiny you bruised your elbows trying to wash your hair.  And the boat was air conditioned!  A few of us thought about ditching the sites and just hiding on the boat after that day in the Egyptian sun.  One of the Americans had the temperature on his watch – it was 118 degrees farenheit!

what’s your name?

As you can tell, between being in Egypt just before the elections and being the sole Canadian in a sea of Americans experiencing Egypt – and likely Africa – for the first time, there is so much to think about besides the tomb and temples they keep dragging us to under the hot sun 🙂  So the proper travelogue keeps getting sidelined…

Let’s see if we can correct that.  Finally, some details about my travels.  The tour has been wonderful.  We’ve seen a lot. The A&K staff are excellent and Sonia is like a character from a film.  She knows a lot about Egypt and is very proud of her country and its history.  She tells us we are her children and she protects us like we are.

When she yells “pharaohs”, we all come running.  Apparently she started doing this on an A&K trip called “Pharoahs and Kings”.  She sings it out in a really loud voice and it’s far more entertaining and effective than shouting “A&K group”.

One of the first things she taught us was how to deal with merchants.  Apparently things were more civilized prior to the revolution and you didn’t have to deal with a gauntlet of people trying to drape a scarf around your neck, thrust something into your hand or get you to tell them your name.

It’s hard to not be friendly but at most locations it’s a bit like a mob and any signs of weakness will have you targeted as the easy prey.

It all began when we left the sanctuary of the Mena House to see the pyramids and the Sphinx.  That location not surprisingly is the biggest zoo.  I ignored the merchants but was fascinated by camels so caught the eye of a boy named Mohammed.  He wanted to take a picture of me with his camel and actually said “no money.”  Instead I got a photo of him – and a close up of Mickey Mouse (his camel) – and he got a dollar cause he hadn’t asked for it.

Our next stop was a different location where you could see all three pyramids at the same time for a photo.  There I met Abdullah and his camel Daisy and got more photos.  He asked for a pen for school in addition to his dollar.  It’s a bit challenging in Egypt right now to have friendly exchanges with the locals but Mohammed and Abdullah proved it is possible.

They opened the gate for Adriano in the afternoon when we toured Memphis and the step pyramid (the first pyramid ever).  I was still a newbie at the vendor game and made the mistake of saying maybe and telling him my name.  He then told me his name in a loud, singsong voice at least eight times before we went into the ruins.  He popped up again in the middle of the columns : “it’s Adriano!” 

And then he found me on the way out so I decided I would reward his efforts and buy some necklaces from him.  Sonia said I got a good price – and I even got a bonus necklace – a gift with purchase.  I also got a marriage proposal and a lot of entertainment for $30.  Cheaper than a ticket to the theatre 🙂

Here everyone introduces themselves and wants to know your name.  It’s just part of the culture.  I’ve noticed the same thing in Europe.  It’s a nice practice.  Manners are a wonderful thing.  And North Americans could learn a thing or two from Africans.  People in Egypt are happy and hopeful for the future.  I guess they can’t afford Prozac 🙂

Day 2 was jam-packed with activities.  It was cool to see the Pyramids.  I got eaten alive by bugs while watching a cheesy show where they lit up the Pyramids and a neon green Sphinx told us the history of Egypt in an imitation of James Earl Jones.  We went to the Solar Boat Museum, Memphis and a few other places as well but the highlight for me was using the telephoto lens I had lugged to Egypt to get some face shots of the Sphinx.

We also toured some venture where rural children go to school and also learn how to weave carpets.  So I confirmed the information Nizam and gang had told me in Istanbul was accurate – and even got a demonstration of the process.  The sales process was really low key so quite a few of us bought carpets.  Mine is a weaving of King Tut!  It’s hard to resist charming Egyptian guys 😉  And the purchase led to a delightful conversation about the current state of affairs in Egypt.  He told me I could use it as a mouse pad.  And it will last forever.  The coolest mouse pad I have ever owned!

the chosen ones…

I will now attempt to do a bit of travelogue and catch you up on what I have seen!  What I have also seen is the influence of being a major power on your people.  I was shocked at lunch to hear Americans defend their dollar bill with such vehemence and complain that coins were too heavy.  For a country with such a gigantic fiscal debt, this seemed an irresponsible choice.  But of course the fact that every other country in the world uses coins for that denomination of currency because of economics is the same as the fact that every other country (except an obscure African one I believe) uses the metric system.  Somehow, as Americans, they are above logic and global practices.

There seems to be something of the same in the Egyptians.  Sonia emphasizes at least once a day the accomplishments of ancient Egypt and how Egypt is not a third world country.  Apparently she hasn’t got the memo that “developing economy” is the politically correct term 🙂  And Egypt is a developing economy.  I am mostly alone in spending a few dollars every day on stuff kids sell me.  Sure, they should be in school but I don’t think there is free public education in Egypt so you do what you can when you can’t change the system.  They have to engage me and work for it but I am spending less than the cost of a visit to Starbucks so how can it be a bad thing…

So here is the time to be arrogant about my own people 🙂  I am very happy to be Canadian every day.  But when I travel I am generally pretty proud of my people.  We don’t go around puffing out our chests or proclaiming our accomplishments.  We just troll around in the background, many of us trying to learn about the culture and meeting the local people with an open mind.  And we are starting to get noticed 🙂  CNN gets on my nerves pretty fast so I normally listen to BBC World News when I travel.  I haven’t managed to catch an episode yet but they are doing a series on CANADA this month.  Cause apparently we are happy and prosperous and the Brits are trying to figure out our secrets 🙂

The most fun I have had this trip chatting was with an Englishman I met in the bar at Mena House on my last night.  It was such an easy conversation.  I didn’t have to watch my tongue.  And he told me to exchange some money and carry around a handful of carefully folded five Egyptian pound notes (about $1).  He explained how poor the average Egyptian person is and how tipping is how the economy runs.  Maybe not the ideal system but I am not going to change it in 10 days.  So I am the Canadian girl who tips… but only if I like you and think you have worked for it.  So not everybody gets money…

I realize the travelogue has been diverted… you will get it!  But I am really fascinated by cultures – and how they interact.  Today we had to take a horse and carriage ride to Edfu Temple, a lot closer to the ground and the local culture than we normally get.  I thought it was brilliant.  But apparently it’s politics.  There used to be an air-conditioned A&K bus instead of the horses.  I am happy I am here now.

It’s definitely interesting trying to understand the political situation in Egypt in 2012.  Suzanne is a little obsessed in understanding the politics, which has endeared her to me.  But I think there is no obvious answer.  Despite how much the Egyptians seem to want to deny it, we are in Africa…  and in Africa nothing is simple or logical… but people are generally happy and really easy to crush on… kind of like Canadians… There is a lot to be said for not being the chosen people and using humility as your trump card…

Soon I will be back in Amsterdam.  One of the things that has endeared the Dutch to me so much (in addition of course to the fact that most of them are gorgeous :)) is that they are the only empire I know that managed to navigate the tricky path from world superpower to lesser power with grace and still maintain a vibrant economy and enviable culture.  Perhaps the 21st century belongs to the also-ran powers – the Netherlands, Norway, Canada… nice places to live – with happy, friendly people… 🙂

Here in Egypt we are “Canada… Canada Dry”… but they sing it… I think we have to thank the Italians for that 🙂  It really makes me feel proud to be a Canadian.  The Americans are important to Egyptian politics and to its economy and they get a lot of respect… but when I say Canadian, not American, the Egyptians seem to light up a little bit… and then I smile… and they tell me I will break their heart when I leave Egypt… it’s gonna be tough going back to reality 😉

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