Tuesday, December 20, 2011

The Diappearing Hammams: Much Ado About Nothing?

(This story was published in Community Times magazine. You can also read it here)

Today in Cairo, the word ‘hammam’ may just mean the washroom in your house, but eleven centuries or so earlier and for a long time thereafter, a hammam meant a place where people went to luxuriate in steam baths, to get therapeutic massages for their aches and pains and to catch up on the local gossip.

Surprisingly, for a city that boasted one hammam for every single day of the year, there are only around six functioning hammams today and their decaying condition requires urgent action to save the ruins and restore the beauty of these monumental witnesses of Cairo’s glorious past
.

this is the slab of stone in Hammam El Arbaa, where you will be given a scrub down

Despite several attempts by friends to dissuade me, (ranging from dire warnings of being infected with a skin disease to outright expression of disgust), I was curious and determined enough to hazard a visit to a hammam to get a glimpse into the much-feted bathhouse culture of Egypt.

I traverse the narrow lanes behind the Boulaq market, dodging splatters of horse-dung, on my way to Hammam El Talat and Hammam El Arbaa.The neighborhood looks poor, neglected and nostalgic...much like the people who frequent the hammams of today. But the owners of El Arbaa-Um Azza and her husband Mohamed el Mesry, aka Okal- insist that their hammam is patronized by people from all walks of life, including people from “high levels’, ‘classy’ women and even actors, though curiously, they cannot remember any names.

Down a flight of steps and a winding corridor later, is the reception room or maslakh of Hammam El Arbaa, where groups of women lounge on the sofas covered with a flowered fabric, sipping on hot tea or smoking the hookah, while enjoying a Bollywood film on the huge television screen. A faux fish tank and a huge Turkish chandelier that hangs in the middle of the room, completes the kitschy decor. Though it still functions as a hammam, Okal has strategically transformed the place into a quirky cafe as well as a gymnasium for men in order to attract clientele, though nothing from the tenth century depictions of hammams with frescoed and embellished walls remain.

Um Azza shows me around the place; proudly pointing out that the place was a garbage dump when they first bought it in the year 1999. “It was a hammam in the morning and a motel at night.” A hammam since the time of the Mamluks, its recent owners had allowed the place to fall apart. “Through sheer hard work and perseverance, I made it what it is today,” says Okal proudly. “From rotten fish, I made juice,” he says citing a famous Egyptian proverb.

Ever the savvy businessman, Okal tells me “you are a little bit dark, come to the hammam, they will massage you and you will become fairer.” But is it enough to bring people to the hammams? What about the hygiene and the dilapidated condition of the building and the neighborhood?Hearing this, Um Azza instantly takes umbrage and it takes some pacifying to calm her down. She says that the place is scrubbed with disinfectants regularly and god willing, she will be able to renovate soon.

Entrance to Hammam El Arbaa...the owner is obviously not coy!

Just a few meters away is the less impressive establishment of Hammam El Talat. Um Mishmish and her son take care of this hammam, which has been in their family for close to two hundred years. The hammam is heavily crowded on Tuesdays, the day of the week after which it has been named, with more than 20 women coming in on that day. Um Mishmish loves what she is doing and has no complaints. She echoes the sangfroid of Um Azza that god willing she shall make repairs to the hammam and points to her masseuse as her biggest ‘challenge’ in jest.

The ritual of going to the hammam has disappeared with the transformation of old neighborhoods to touristic sites and with the withdrawal of the rich from the old districts of Cairo towards the new neighborhoods of Zamalek and Heliopolis. Government apathy has been cited as one of the prime reasons for the disastrous situations of the hammams in Cairo. But Okal is categorical that he does not want any government interference as this would result in them being converted into a ‘museum’ for tourists and cites the example of the Sinaniya hammam.

He does not feel threatened by the mushrooming of spas all over the city and says that a spa can never offer what a hammam does. “The hammam is not built randomly; we are two meters below the ground and the labyrinthine corridors of the hammam are built in such a way that the body cools gradually as one comes out of the hot steam bath.”

Agreeing with him, May Telmissany, co-author of the book “The Last Hammams of Cairo,” says that “the new spas do not provide the beautiful old environment of the hammams, where relaxation and meditation is still possible. The settings on one hand and the type of services offered on the other hand help the client reach this sort of beatitude and serenity that the spa rarely provides.”

But could the growing popularity of the spas be the reason for the decline of the hammams? Telmissany disagrees and says that the type of clients for each facility is completely different and “the transformation of the hammams into spas will ruin the beautiful and specific traditions of the hammams and once again will prevent the poor from the benefits of the establishment.” Okal compares a spa to a fancy restaurant where one has to eat with knives and forks and a hammam to a home where one eats with hands. “A hammam is ‘baladi’, where people are at ease,” says Okal.

the reception foyer of the Hammam

Unlike Morocco, Turkey or even Syria and Yemen, going to the hammams is not a recommendation that one finds in the guidebooks to the country. Telmissany describes her experience in a hammam in Morocco that still respects the old traditions of bathing and massage as “incomparable.” “The spa should copy the hammam, not the opposite! And this is what the Moroccans understood when they renewed the ritual of the hammams by introducing some standard elements from the spa, calling the new spas: hammams.”

Obviously, these countries have been successful in looking after their heritage. Egypt is indecisive about what it wants to do with its rich legacy of hammams; but the scales seem to be tilted towards its complete oblivion. Okal and Mishmish, with their business acumen have added features to their hammam, more suited to the current times but without preserving the aesthetic simplicity that once characterized the Egyptian baths. The government restores the old hammams- only to convert them into government offices and museums. An indifferent population considers the hammams as very unhygienic and debauched places.

So, is the restoration and preservation of the hammams a battle worth fighting for? Especially, in terms of the costs involved, relevance to the present times and impact on the environment? Telmissany has an emphatic ‘yes’ as answer to the question. “The relevance of the hammams is social and historical. They might not generate large income, but they certainly can in the future if they are renovated and re-opened to the public. Their renovation should take into account environmental issues such as pollution and waste disposal, which might be neglected at the time being because of the scarce income they generate.”

She might have a point; after all, Abu Sir, an early Arab historian once said "Your town is only a perfect town when there is a bath in it."

Hammam El Arbaa: 5 Ansary Street, Boulaq Abul Ela, Downtown
Telephone: 0105790760, 29860588
Open: 9AM-5PM for women; 6 PM to 6AM for men

Wednesday, December 14, 2011

The Best Places for the Water Pipe (hookah) in Cairo

If you have been in Cairo, and not smoked shisha, your experience in the capital city of Egypt is incomplete. Shisha is an intrinsic part of the Cairene culture. Also known as hubbly-bubbly, this traditional smoking device, is said to have originated in India and is also known as the 'hookah' in the Indian sub-continent.
set of water pipes

In Egypt, smoking shisha is intricately woven into the social and the cultural fabric. Politics, sports, domestic and economic woes, are all discussed, over puffs of the water pipe. Shisha joints are ubiquituous in Cairo and each of them provides a different shisha experience. Try these out!

Go for the ambience!

Al-Fishawi
One such cafe that I absolutely adore is the Al-Fishawi Cafe in Khan-el-Khalili. The Egypian Nobel Laureate for Literature Naguib Mahfouz spent time here writing. It is easy to imagine how inpsirational the cafe may have been for him. His books and characters all seem to come alive, when you spend time smoking the shisha here. Sanwiched in a narrow alley at the Khan, its walls are decorated with huge mirrors; giving the place a bigger look. For tables, there are the typical copper tops and the tea is still served in dainty ceramic tea-pots. Of course, the tea pots are chipped and the furniture creaky, but that is part of the charm. Great place for people watching while puffing away at the pipe.

Go for the flavours!
Sequoia
If you are the kind who is serious about the flavours of shisha, then Sequoia in Zamalek is the place to go to. Apart from the fact that the place has a Nile view that can takeyour breath away, you are definitely going to love the shisha flavours here like the Moroccon apple etc.  The waiter will present to you a wooden tray carrying samples of all the flavours-you can pick smell and decide the one you want. Be warned that Sequoia is not going to be easy on your wallet.

Pottery Cafe
The place, also in Zamalek has some of the most aromatic shisha flavours. I have had a very strange combination here-Lemon with Red Bull. But it is a noisy place and the wait for a table may be long. It is easier to get a table indoors, though it can get very smoky.

Arabesque
Some would call it as the best shisha place in town. I would agree with them. Why? Firstly, because  of the exotic shisha flavours that it has. Secondly, for its juice menu-it serves juices that are fresh and delicious and in such exciting combination of flavours. Thirdly, its location on the Kasr Al Aini street, which can get noisy but is a place where you can rub shouders with the old and the young, the hip and trendy, the locals and the foreigners.  
Go for the drinks, the food...and the shisha

Nile Zamalek Hotel
The rooftop of the hotel, overlooking the River Nile offers the perfect opportunity to enjoy a drink with your shisha. It can be chilly in evenings on the rooftop and the combination of a drink with shisha is sure to give you warmth.

Taboula
Located in Garden City, this place has excellent Lebanese food to complement the shisha. So also, the place serves wine, which can make the an outing to this resturant a complete shisha experience.



Go for the baladi experience!

Any of the ahwas on Bursa (stock echange) street will do well for this. Cairo's stock exchange is located here and the area has been cordoned off and made into a pedestrrian only zone. A place to enjoy your shisha without the constant honking and screeching noises.

Wednesday, December 7, 2011

Rango: Time for Action Replay

(This article , written by me, was published in the 'HORUS' magazine, the in-flight magazine of Egypt Air)

At the last crossing just before the Abdeen Palace, in a poor and unassuming neighborhood in downtown Cairo, is the Tanbura Hall that hosts the last-known exponent of Rango every Thursday evening.

Rango is a musical instrument and its music was brought to Egypt by the Sudanese people- first when they came in as conscripts into the Egyptian army in the 1820s and then later by those who were brought in to work on the cotton plantations in the 1860s. These reluctant exiles settled in the cities of Alexandria, Cairo and Ismailia, bringing their folk melodies and instruments with them, and sought solace from the loneliness and the harshness of their lives in music.
At the Tanbura Hall, we are treated to this repertoire of songs created in exile-songs of longing to return to their homelands, humorous marching refrain and the Sudanese wedding songs.
The Rango ensemble, fresh from their triumphant one-month long tour of UK in July this year, set the mood with their songs performed to simsimiyya and tanbura lyres, with percussion provided by shakers made of recycled aerosol cans.
Their performance has a new exuberance; they have just heard that their debut album, Rango:Bride of theZar, has been selected as one of the 10 best albums of 2010 in the respected London-based Songlines magazine.
But the piece de resistance of the performance is yet to come, when the 190-year-old Rango is unveiled-literally –to an appreciative audience. The instrument deserves the ceremonial unveiling-after all; it is one of the only two that can be found in Egypt.
Xylophone-like, with wooden keys and resonators fashioned out of Sudanese vegetable gourds, the Rango music had faded into oblivion after the death of the last of the old masters in the year 1975.
The Rango was traditionally played along with the tanbura at the soul cleansing and healing Zar rituals and gradually evolved to being performed at wedding celebrations and other social events. However, it could never quite shake off the stigma of being a trance-inducing and spirit-invoking music and was shunned by the Egyptian society.
Ibrahim Zacharias, founder and director of El Mastaba, the Center for Egyptian Folk Music was determined to bring back the Rango into the public realm and to rescue it from the brink of extinction.
“I first heard about the Rango in the year 1994 from my friend, the veteran Ismailia musician El Wazery,” recalls Zacharias. El Wazery had fond memories of the beautiful Rango nights in Ismailia before the war of 1967 and particularly remembered Hassan Bergamon. Hassan had moved to Cairo and taken up playing the more versatile Tanbura. Consequently, no-one knew that that Hassan could play the Rango.
Zacharias finally traced him in the year 1996. “When I met him, the first thing I asked him was whether he still could play the Rango and second whether he owned any,” says Zacharias.
Since Hassan did not own a Rango, the battle was only half won. Zacharias visited the homes of the old masters and over a period of time won the trust of their families who entrusted the last two Rangos xylophones to him.
21 years had elapsed since Hassan last played the Rango, but when he laid his hands on the instrument again, it was like “I had found myself again,”
The Rango instrument and its player secured, the next step was to organize the band. With veteran drummers, Zar singers and ritual dancers wearing mangor belts made from goat horns, Hassan’s rango ensemble made their stage debut in Egypt in 2001. Energetic and frenzied, alternately foot tapping and soulful, the Rango music is a cacophonous symphony.
The efforts of Zacharias and Hassan have revived the Rango in Egypt but the road ahead remains rocky. The gourds out of which the Rango is fashioned can be found only in the south of Sudan and with the passing away of the old masters; knowledge to assemble the Rango has also faded. The old Rangos are fragile and may not survive the relentless pounding for a long time.
However, there is a ray of hope-the El Mastaba has recently discovered an English musician, who is a specialist Rango maker and has commissioned a brand new Rango, likely to be brought to Cairo at the end of November.
But again, the bigger hiccup is manifesting the spirits of the old masters from the gourds of the old Rango into the new one. “The musicians and players of Rango believe that every player who plays the Rango leaves a part of himself inside the gourds and the invisible spirits are moving around the gourds hoping for a communion with the spirits of the old masters,” elaborates Zacharias. And the implications of this belief in an instrument that has been passed on from generation to generation, are huge. 
And what about the next generation of Rango players? Hassan, who is 62 years old today, is extremely passionate about music-he kept at it despite family opposition. In fact, as a child, he stole out of his house clandestinely on a number of occasions to play music.
But, surprisingly, none of his children play the Rango. Quiz him as to why did he not share his talent with his offsprings, he answers simply “I saw the Rango and I fell in love with it; I did not see the same love in my children.’

Sunday, December 4, 2011

The Cultural Scene in Cairo

Situated as it is in the Middle East and North Africa region, Cairo’s enviable location makes it a melting pot of diverse cultures. As a newcomer to Cairo, the best way to “take the plunge” is to take advantage of the numerous venues across the city that play host to cultural events. On any given day, you can attend a musical performance ranging from classical, jazz, or Arabic music, lose yourself in an enthralling ballet performance, visit a contemporary art exhibition, dance to live music or watch a new foreign film.
Some of the cultural hotpsots of Cairo are:
Al Sawy Cultural Centre in Zamalek is one of the more interesting venues in Cairo. This “happening” place is tucked away under the 26th of July Bridge and is the scene for everything from plays, movies, musical performances to yoga programs and even painting, photography and arabic classes. No better place than this to serve as the “introductory class” for the cultural scene in Cairo (http://culturewheel.com/)





Also in Zamalek is The Cairo Opera House, the premier performance venue in Cairo. It comprises of a Main Hall, a Small Hall and an Open Air Theatre. The Cairo Opera Company and the Cairo Symphony put up regular performances during the season. The hallowed halls are graced by a number of visiting ballet and contemporary dance troupes. The Main Hall of the Opera is the place to head to if you are in the mood for dressing up-a jacket and a tie are a must to attend performances here. (http://www.cairoopera.org/index.aspx).

Performances that cannot be accommodated at the Cairo Opera House find a platform at the Ghoumariya Theatre in downtown. Also managed by the Cairo Opera House, the Ghoumariya theatre plays host to foreign dance troupes and more recently was the venue for performances under the auspices of the India Culture Week.
Definitely, one of the better musical experiences of Cairo is listening to the Zar songs at Makan in Downtown. (http://www.egyptmusic.org/). Zar music is practiced in Upper Egypt and is distinctly African. The performance area is like a big living room-you can either lounge on the carpets in front of the performers or sit on the chairs to enjoy the sublime music.











The Al Genenina (garden) theatre is a 500- seat open air amphitheatre inside the Al Azhar Park on Salah Salem road. The ambience lends to the charm of the wide range of musical performances that are put up here. Go early before the performance starts to catch the sun setting over Cairo. Admission to the performances is usually free.
Manasterly Palace on Rhoda Island (also called Manial Island) is another inspiring venue and is also one of the finest buildings in Cairo. The International Music Centre holds its instrumental and Chamber music concerts here. If you are early for a performance, you have time to enjoy the pleasant wait on the balcony overlooking the Nile. (http://www.manasterly.com/).

Apart from this, many of the nightclubs like Cairo Jazz Club, After Eight etc also feature live performances, albeit their music is western-influenced. The Whirling Dervishes or the Tannura dancers at the Al Ghouri caravansaray, near the Al Azhar mosque, are mesmerizing to watch. The explosion of colours, the rhythmic music and the passion of the performers leaves you entranced as does the beautiful architecture of the venue Wilkalet al Ghouri is Cairo's best preserved example of a medieval hotel (Wikala in Arabic). At dusk, the lights come on; the lighting only enhances the performance. Entrance is free and the seats fill up fast. But it is worth going early to occupy front row seats.

Movie buffs have never had it so good. Many cultural centers regularly screen foreign films series. They are not always subtitled in English, though. The French Cultural Center (http://www.cfcc-eg.org/), the Cervantes Institute in Cairo (http://elcairo.cervantes.es/es/default.shtm), the Goethe Institute and the Italian Cultural Institute are the most prolific. The Indian Cultural Institute, screens enjoyable Bollywood movies, popular amongst the locals. Most of these screenings are free. Another reason for the movie goers to cheer is the Cairo Film Festival, which takes place around the end of every year. Several theaters participate in this weeklong festival that screens uncensored versions of the films.

Art aficionados are spoilt for choice with many venues spread out across the city. In Downtown is the Atelier du Caire-one of Cairo’s older galleries, bringing together writers and artists. The entrance to the Masrabiya gallery, also in downtown, is to be found in the alley of an ahwa and has some of the finest artworks on display.
The most popular cultural venue in downtown is the Townhouse Gallery located in a “working area” with car mechanics, sign painters, carpenters and coffee shops occupying the surrounding space. The main building is three-storeys high and houses exhibition halls, a library and studios. The adjoining building, the Townhouse Factory was an erstwhile paper factory. The Gallery promotes independent artists by providing an outlet for their work and also provides studios for the resident artists. It also hosts lectures, film screenings, workshops, music and theatre performances (http://www.thetownhousegallery.com/main7.html).

Another culturally wealthy area in Cairo is Zamalek, which has a high concentration of galleries tucked away in the narrow alleys, all within walking distance of each other. The Zamalek Art Gallery (http://www.zamalekartgallery.com/index.php), the Gezeira Art Centre and the Islamic Ceramic museum showcase some noteworthy stuff.

Darb 1718, a non-profit contemporary art gallery, located in the heart of Old Cairo has managed to carve a name for itself as one of the bastions of independent art. The venue is best known for hosting unique art exhibitions and art installations. (http://www.darb1718.com/Pages/ShowPage.aspx?pageid=1).
With its collection of nineteenth century European masterpieces, the Mr and Mrs Mahmoud Mukhtar museum is a must-visit, as much as for its impressive collection as for some stunning views across the River Nile. The huge stained glass window leading upto the second floor is beautiful; so are the antiques that are on display. Photography enthusiasts must check out the Contemporary Image Collective, occupying the second floor and rooftop of a charming villa in Mounira. It focuses on visual images and apart from exhibitions, film screenings and performances, it also provides photography workshops and lectures.
Keeping your “cultural quotient” high is never going to be a problem in Cairo with so many unique experiences to choose from!

My Cake...My Cupcake!

Cupcakes have a way of warming your heart. Their shape and colours pull at your heartstrings. Cairo has surely got onto the bandwagon of cupcakes and is today a cupcake lovers’ delight. With so many shops dedicated to cupcakes, one is spoilt for choice.
To begin with, there was Sugar and Spice, which used to cater lovely cupcakes for parties, even before they started their cafe in Zamalek, in a lane off Brazil Street. Soon, Nola’s cupcake opened on Brazil Street (again in Zamalek!) and was the first outlet in Cairo that was dedicated to cupcakes. Here, the feast starts with the eyes as you look at the rows of prettily decorated cupcakes, arranged in the glass shelf on one side of the shop. Nola sells cupcakes in two sizes and the most delicious ones are the peanut butter and the cupcake with the chocolate frosting. My personal favourite is the red velvet cupcake with the cream cheese frosting on the spongy cupcake.
You can’t have too much of a good thing. Even before it opened its doors next to the iShop in Zamalek, Crumbs had made quite a name for itself catering to baby showers and birthday parties. The signage at its door beckons you indoors. It says “Stay Calm and Have a Cupcake.” But your sangfroid is the first thing that goes out of its doors, the moment you step in and see the moth-watering cupcakes. The Oreo cupcake with the Oreo cookie center is delicious, so is the Crumbs birthday cake topped with M & Ms and filled with chocolate chips. In fact, recently, Crumbs has opened a second branch at Maadi on Road 9.







Dina Cantina does not have an outlet but its website (http://www.dinacantina.com/) offers the opportunity to create your own cupcake. Orders can be placed only through the internet, but the response is very fast, once you have placed the order. Dina Cantina’s cupcakes earn some serious brownie points on presentation; they almost look too good to eat. However, Dina Cantina does not sell cupcakes by the piece; an order of a dozen cupcakes has to be made and they also charge a steep delivery charge of LE 25.
The husband-wide duo of Rasha and Sherif also make cupcakes to order and they can do almost anything with it. “You just have to dream it and we can make it;” asserts Rasha. They can be found at https://www.facebook.com/groups/chocoravi/. I have found their prices to be the most reasonable and with high quality and personalised service too!So, this Christmas, go ahead and get your cup of cake!

Sunday, November 27, 2011

Mapping Egypt's Political Parties

This a beautiful diagram that explains the political parties of Egypt. Post the 25th January revolution, a number of political parties have beeb hastily clubbed together. The diagram at this link gives some idea of their ideologies and and affiliations. And the best part is that it is interactive. By clicking on the name of a party, it is possible to get more information on the background of the party. So go on, educate yourself!

http://www.guardian.co.uk/world/interactive/2011/nov/22/egypt-election-political-parties-interactive

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

The Anafora Retreat Center





In the middle of nowhere, two hours’ drive out of Cairo is the Anafora Retreat Center. Intended as a place of prayer and silent reflection, this Retreat on the Cairo-Alex Desert Highway offers the perfect sanctuary and haven from the hustle and bustle of life. Anafora is run by the Coptic Orthodox Church and welcomes people from all over the world within its tree dappled precincts.


As soon as you enter, there is the Anamnesis building at the entrance, which serves the day visitors to the Retreat. Some distance away is the main building called ‘Anafora’, which means ‘sacrifice’. Here you can enjoy a cup of tea before going onto the terrace for beautiful views across the Retreat.


Bishop Thomas has designed all the buildings at the Retreat, using materials that people of Asyut use to build their houses. Bricks made of red mud and straw are used as the building blocks and afterwards the whole building is coated in mud and straw. The emphasis is on using natural materials. The thick walls and the natural materials ensure that the inside of the building remains cool, without the need for air-conditioning. In the distance, you can see the conference and training centre –it is called ‘Anastasia’ which means ‘lifting up’ in Coptic. At this training center, girls from the less developed region of Upper Egypt are trained in hairdressing, embroidery etc, thus equipping them to lead better lives. The Retreat welcomes day visitors as well as people who want to stay for a few days to enjoy the nature’s bounty. Individual huts for the accommodation of visitors have been arranged in the shape of a question mark. The dot at the end of the question mark is a chapel-indicating that all answers to the question of life can be found here. A few of the huts are white in colour, amidst the other earth-coloured ones, signifying that people of all nationalities and religion are welcome in the retreat-we may differ from the outside but we are all essentially the same.

The highlight of the Retreat is the meditation center. Beautiful architecture on the outside and aesthetically done up from the inside, it beckons visitors to enter and enjoy the solitude. There are no straight lines here, only curves and this makes for excellent acoustics, doing away with the need for a microphone. The floor is covered with woven multi-coloured rugs. There are benches and chairs along the sides for people who cannot sit on the floor. On the multi-coloured rugs are large pillows made of the same material as the rugs and are woven at the Retreat itself. To provide support while kneeling down, stools have been thoughtfully placed behind each pillow.


There is an opening cut into the ceiling in the shape of an eye through which light streams inside as also seven small plates of coloured glass set into the ceiling to let the light in. The back of the meditation center has brightly painted paintings that look like mosaics. The artist has made these designs using the ‘iota’ –which is the first letter in the name of Lord Jesus.


All visitors are offered free lunch, which is a simple fare of rice, beans, raw vegetables, freshly baked bread and a dip. The visitors have the run of the place and can either spend time in the mediation center or wander around the vast farm. A blue concrete moat runs around the Retreat and surrounds the chapel. Sometimes, the moat is filled with water from the underground springs, lending a charm and coolness to the place. This water is then pumped out and used to irrigate the vast rows of fruit trees and other crops, like the mango and date orchards and the geranium and the hibiscus trees.






Nature is revered at this Retreat and there is a small workshop on the premises where they make soaps and essential oils to cure a number of ailments, including for weight reduction and hypertension. All the products are made using the herbs that are grown on the grounds of the Retreat. The fruits are used to make jams and preserves and all these products are on sale at their shop on the premises. It is a marvel that amidst the aridity of the desert can be found such a flourishing farm. The proceeds from the sales of these products contribute to making the Anafora Retreat Center self-sustaining.



There is also a well-stocked library on the premises, where books in a number of languages can be found. In fact, the library is a nice place to spend time reading or just day dreaming. And if nothing seems to catch your fancy then enjoy the outdoors under the rough shade houses. Let your thoughts drift as you observe the myriad patterns made by the sunlight trickling in through the plam branches of the roof.


for a day visit call Sister Sara on 012 3812604

Monday, August 8, 2011

Banat Al Ghad:Girls of Tomorrow



A lot of my friends in Egypt often ask me whether I am aware of any NGOs that they can contribute their time to. There are a number of NGOs that are doing a lot of good work and are worthy of one's time and contribution. Here is the story of one such organisation -Banat al Ghad-that is working with street children, especially the street girls.



It was fascinating to talk to its Executive Director, Rania Fahmy, who took me through the starting up of the NGO and the expansions and developments that it has seen. Particularly interesting was to hear about the challenges that they face in convincing the parents of the street girls to let them live at the facility, rather than put them on the street.

You can read the whole story here.


Spa at the Four Seasons, Nile Plaza

Having a day out at the spa is the ultimate in relaxation. All the five star hotels in Cairo boast of spa services. I had the opportunity to review the spa at the Four Seasons at Nile Plaza for Community Times.


You can read the review here

Orchids in Egypt

When you think orchids, you think Holland. But a lone man grows orchids in Egypt and claims that they are even better in quality than those found in holland. He is a neurosurgeon by profession and took on growing orchids as a hobby.




For more information, check out my story in Community Times magazine.