Saturday, November 24, 2007

Monks & Mountains

All photographs in this post copyright Yasir Khan 2007

Suf and I took a university trip out to the eastern desert this weekend. We hung out in Ain Sokhna, by the Red Sea, and checked out a couple of monasteries. Here's the evidence:

Saint Anthony: The monastery is at the foot of what I think is the world's tallest mountain - at least that's what it felt like while I was climbing it.

After visiting the monastery, a group of us dared the over-600-metre climb to Saint Anthony's cave. It's basically a slit in the rock face, that leads to a dark, damp womb. I was the last one out of all of us to make it up there. The reward - Tiffany's German chocolate. Benny, please make her a saint.

Saint Paul: He's the one on the left, raisin' the roof in the picture above. Paul is said to have been an absolute hermit, with a much more austere lifestyle than Anthony - he made his own clothes from palm leaves. If you ask me, he had the better cave. And when he died, he was buried by lions.
Now that's gangsta!

Saturday, November 10, 2007

Me Read Arabic Kwayyis

This photograph copyright Yasir Khan 2007

This sign says "manhole", even in arabic. I found it at the construction site of the university's new campus in the middle of the Egyptian desert.

I've been reading arabic quite fluently since I was a boy - result of a religious upbringing, wherein I was taught the Qur'an. It's the speaking part that I'm trying to get a handle on now.

This next picture is from my colleague Tiffany Vora. She found it while shopping for moisturizer. I hear this product is popular with those of us who are here without our significant others.

Tuesday, November 6, 2007

Bis-mil-lah no! This smoke has got to go!

A great day. Big Islam is finally weighing in on clean air.

Every year, from September to November, Cairo is plagued by something called the Black Cloud - a thick blanket of smoke that hangs over the city, and makes the sky, well a little more hazy than it normally is. The cause - farmers burning plant refuse on their rice farms to prepare the soil for next year's crop. The result - breathing in Cairo is no longer equivalent to smoking 20 cigarettes a day. You're now smoking 40.
So the beards and turbans at the so called House of Fatwa (I have dibs on that name for my band) - an outfit linked to Egypt's Chief Mufti - have issued a, well, fatwa: "The Koran forbids such acts that are considered a social nuisance."

Thank you, House of Fatwa. You've hit upon the one and only reason why Cairo's air is unbreathable - farmers burning hay for 2 months. The rest of the year, we're fine.

An aside: Ever get the sneaky suspicion that there are just too many fatwas flying around? You're not alone. Read more.

Sunday, November 4, 2007

Za Bollywood & Za Beoble

I have no idea how fast my taxi was moving this morning. The speedometer was stuck at 120 km/h even when we were still. But, at times, we were flying.
The driver glanced at me in all of his 8 rear view mirrors as we hurtled across the Qasr El Nil bridge, towards downtown Cairo, and asked the inevitable question:

CABBIE: Anta min-ein? (Where are you from?)
ME: Min al hind. (from India)

I've stopped telling random people that I'm from Canada, because ultimately I'll have to tell them that I'm originally Indian. So why bother?

CABBIE: Ah! Hindi! Naas kwayyis. (Indians are good people)
ME: Shukran. (Thanks)
CABBIE: Mitabbitshan? (????)
ME: Effendim? (excuse me?)
CABBIE: Mitabbitshan! Mitabbitshan! (WTF??????)
ME: Aasif. Ana mish-fahim. (sorry, I don't understand)

At 120 km/h (or whatever the real speed was) the man let go of the steering wheel and started to punch the air.

CABBIE: Mitabbitshan! HA! HA! HAAAAA!
His arms were flailing by now.

CABBIE: Aflam hindi! (Indian films!)

Of course! He was talking about "Amitabh Bachchan", the small "g" god of bollywood cinema! I'd heard that Egyptians love Indian films. They've even hired bollywood actress Celina Jaitley to be "the face of Egypt." When Bachchan visited Egypt in the '90s, it was pandemonium. Kids skipped school, people skipped work. Everyone lined the streets to get a glimpse of him.

ME: Aiwa... Amitabh Bachchan! Ta'arif hu? (do you know who he is?)
CABBIE: Tab'an! Ragl halwa 'awi! (Of course! Great man!)

Our brief Bachchan love-in ended as I paid, got out of the cab, and walked in to my office. There was a notice on my desk about the university's Desert Development Center (they research desert agriculture, among other things). They had fresh honey for sale at their kiosk, and I thought I'd check it out.

ME: Izzayak? (how are you?)
HONEY MAN: Alhamdulillah. Ayyi Khidmah? (Thanks to god. What can I do for you?)
ME: Endak 'asl taaza? (do you have fresh honey?)
Honey Man looks up at me as he's packing my jar of honey.
HONEY MAN: Hadratak min ein? (where are you from, sir?)

Oh brother...

ME: Min al Hind...
HONEY MAN (smiles): Min al Hind? Mitabbitshan?