June 2009


Egypt and by extension, Cairo, never ceases to amaze me.

For all that this place is well-known for, its reputation is also trapped by perceptions that it is a place only good for sand, camels, pyramids, religiousity and conservatism.  The reality is that if you scratch the surface, you will find a differentiated and somewhat fragmented society like any other country.  Liberals and conservatives, Muslims and Coptic Christians, the poor and rich, all co-exist together here, for better or worse.  Practices, behavioural norms, attitudes and worldview also vary from region to region within the country.  My experience here really affirm the fact that the TV is a poor teaching medium and that one has to exit the expat bubble to really feel the vibes and heartbeat of the society.

Here is a good comic strip that highlights how ‘contradictory’ a place Egypt can be.  You surely won’t find such an occurence in good ‘ol “liberal” Singapore!  [Note: the incident illustrated is a true portrayal of what happens on the street.  I should know.  I actually experienced something similar to the scenario below!] 

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Copyright:“Al Khan” by Tarek Shahin

The next comic strip depicts the very rampant (female) sexual harassment problem in the streets of Cairo (and other cities as well).  For a very religious country, this may come as a surprise.  However, sexual frustration (due to many young men’s inability to marry as wages are low and the cost of married life is inching skywards) and living by the law and not by the spirit of the law are some of the root causes of this problem.  The biggest irony is that even the ‘ninjas’ (i.e. females wearing the fully-veiled clothing known as  burkhas – see comic strip below) are being harassed!  So much for irresponsible and bigoted views that a woman’s dressing are the main cause for the uncontrollable lust of men.  

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Copyright: “Al Khan” by Tarek Shahin

As in many things in life, nothing is really black and white.  So it is always important to keep an open and enquiring mind to what is around us.

So do spend some time thinking today.  It could give you a whole lot different perspective of life so that you can live it even more meaningfully.

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i have been stricken down with a very mysterious ailment since Wednesday night.  Fever, headaches, very inflamed tonsils and small reddish spots all over my body came at me without warning over the space of a few hours.  To compound matters, the spots itch like mad.  Funny thing was that my fellow colleague, who occupy the same room as me, had the exact same ailment and was diagnosed as such by the doc.  “Tonsillitis” was the official diagnosis.  What do i think?  A likely attempt on the lives of two simple, hardworking, small-time diplomats appear to be the case. 

You see, in doing some detective work, we have narrowed down the cause to one of the following:

(a) the pizza that both of us partake for lunch – while it was our usual favourite pizza joint, someone could have paid the delivery chap a couple of Egyptian pounds to look the other way while the pizza get extra “liao” (Hokkien for ingredients);

(b) the airconditioning system – its summer and knowing how aircons are at full blast in all offices, a little fungi and mold placed into our aircon ducts/pipes, plus a bit of moisture and warmth from the searing heat and voila!  self-replicating “silent assassins” that two unsuspecting chappies would inhale throughout the day;

(c) the pesticides – the pest controller came to our room a few days back to fumigate and spray God-knows-what stuff to kill the bugs, but they could have gotten the proportion “wrong” purposely, and left residues of the pesticides that had a dosage still strong enough to kill two elephants.

anyway, i survived and am on the mend … while i still look as pink as a lobster in a pot of boiling water, and am scratching everywhere even as i typed this entry, im just glad the worse is over, at least for now

im sure this episode was a warning to me.  i will have to tread carefully henceforth. 

the plot thickens …