Christmas was different in Egypt, for all sorts of reasons. At the time we were there it was close to Ramadan on two consecutive years. Ramadan is celebrated on the ninth month of the Muslim year and their calendar is different from our Roman one. Muslims have to fast from sunrise to sunset. Each country celebrates this religious event in a different way but in Egypt it was party central. As soon as sun set everyone crowded restaurants, ate delicious meals at home and stayed up all hours. We all dreaded the festival because, quite naturally, everyone was a tad grumpy while fasting. They had also eaten too much and slept too little making the driving more chaotic than usual.
Most households light little blue glass Ramadan lanterns which were hung from balconies. As it was approaching Christmas it gave Cairo a festive feel. We lived on the edge of the city at that time, close to the desert, and on a cold winter night you could see the stars so brightly in the sky. It was endlessly fascinating because we were in a different position of the world, as was our view of the constellations. There is a large minority of Coptic Christians who are believed to be the original Christians. They have their own Pope who I had the privilege of seeing at the airport. They celebrate Christianity in a more Orthodox manner and Christmas Day is on January 7th. So we had three festivals one after the other – it was a wonder the country functioned…
One crisp cool night, I remember looking up at the stars and thinking how close we were to the place of Jesus’ birth. Did it look, smell and sound similar? It was as close as I was going to get to the Holy Land as your passport could not have both Israeli and Middle-Eastern stamps on it. My husband had two separate passports to travel on for work. The desert has a magical feel, especially in the winter. It can reach almost freezing but warms up dramatically during the day. You can easily image djinns or genies as the westerners say. Our Egyptian friend who was a strict Muslim still believed in djinns and thought to them with some fear. In general Egyptians were superstitious especially if they were Bedouin and many were.
One Christmas party I met an Algerian lady who was very pretty with brown eyes and blonde hair. Her brown eyes came from her French Algerian mother but her blonde hair came from her blonde, blue eyed Berber farther. Apparently it is quite common – Vikings, I assume? I would have loved to have visited Algeria and Berber villages but it was just too dangerous especially in the middle of the Gulf War. Most of the expats left Cairo desperately at Christmas time to have some normality at home but we had nowhere to go and the flights were expensive. It was really quite nice spending the holidays in such an exotic place.
One more opportunity to market my book –Letters from Cairo by Kerry Duncan.
Mrs. Stripe was the first cat we truly noticed in Cairo. We had left Britain with absolute certainty that we would never have pets again…freedom at last. Sigh. She was an exquisite cat, brown tabby with gorgeous titian highlights. We admired her beauty but left her to her own devices. After I had started volunteering at the cat shelter, I noticed that she was limping. I asked the Sudanese manager of the cat shelter to help my husband and I trap her so that we could take her to Dr. Farouk, the local veterinarian.
That sounds so easy, doesn’t it? Well, we trapped her in our bedroom and all three of us tried to catch her. It was Crouching Tiger, Hidden Dragon. She must have been walking on the ceiling because how else did she spray liquid poo all over it, the walls, the carpet, the bed and the furniture? Time stopped, a la Matrix, but still we couldn’t catch her. We were all so traumatized that I called time out, while sobbing, and we all left the bedroom, leaving the door open for her to escape.
I was beside myself with grief, worried about her injury and certain that she would never visit us again. Why should I care when we were never going to have pets again…? The next day I caught my breath when I saw her coming through the hedge followed by two 6 week old kittens. I started crying because it was obvious that she was telling me that she couldn’t allow us to trap her because she had kittens to feed. So then we had Mrs. Stripe, Toffee and Treacle. Miraculously, her chase around the bedroom had increased her adrenaline so much that the injury had healed overnight.
If you would like to read more about Mrs. Stripe and our other street animals in Cairo please check out my Kindle book about our 2 years in Cairo during the 2nd Gulf War.
We still have geriatric Mrs. Stripe who is almost 14 years old, her daughter Toffee and another weird one that we picked up along the way. This time we said absolutely no more pets until my husband just named the outside feral cat that has recently had kittens. I am trying to feed her up so I can neuter and release her. After some argument (he wanted to call her Tess – really?), she has been named Katniss which is much more appropriate to her feral and predatory nature. On a tangential note, Mrs. Stripe has bad muscle deterioration from her early gymnastic life and now has to take Gabapentin. We decided to use some of our stock – we have a small pharmacy at home – but that involved opening a 100 mg capsule and dividing into 10 for a cat dosage. I was flummoxed but looked in amazement as my husband started using a pen knife to divide it up like cocaine. Is he having a Breaking Bad experience or did we just watch too much of it?
This is what happens when your utterly feral 14 year old Egyptian cat does not want to have her Fentanyl patch taken off. It had been a hard week for her – a very expensive operation ($1300), one tooth left, ingrown toenail, antibiotics for a sinus infection. She just went in to have her claws trimmed…
The patch had to stay on for 5 days and then be taken off a furry leg. The nurse wisely suggested I take her in but instead decided that she was so old now and had so few teeth it would be okay. We traumatized her but got the patch off and flushed away safely. She stayed under the bed for two days, backing away from evil mom, making mom cry and generally feeling miserable. She finally came out after endless organic chicken, tuna and treats.
She is really adorable but it’s still like living with three raccoons. Look at this precious wee face.
Well, I slept well last night and am almost back to my usual self. Above are our beloved Baladi dogs, Poochy and Puppy, that we looked after in Egypt. The word Baladi means local in Arabic and usually it is used to refer to the ubiquitous yet delicious flat breads sold on every corner. The expats, most of whom had never come across feral street dogs, referred to them as Baladi dogs. They all look much the same – skinny, sandy, short coated dogs about the size of a labrador. Normally, they are naturally cautious of humans and behave like a coyote would, especially when it comes to howling at night. Poochy, the mother dog, had been looked after by a Western expat from puppyhood until he left, so she didn’t know whether to behave like a pet or a coyote. She used to run to me for cuddles and I remember she put her paws on the shoulders of my clean white dress which was then covered in camel poop and goodness knows what else. “Poochy!!!”, I yelled, to no avail…
Just before a trip back to the UK we decided to take them to a Westernized animal boarding kennel where Poochy could recover from being neutered and they would be safe together for a couple of weeks. As soon as she was neutered by Dr. Farouk and safe to move we took her and the puppy across the Nile to the pyramid side of Cairo where the boarding kennel was. There was a new bridge but we got hopelessly lost so I made my husband stop the Jeep at a snack shack just before the flyover and ask for directions. Despite the impression you may get in my book, most Egyptians, especially Bedouins, are incredibly hospitable and the owner insisted that his son go in the car with us, onto the bridge and then he would get out (on an interstate) and walk back. Nothing we could do could persuade him otherwise.
The son jumped in the front with my husband and then glanced back to the back where Poochy and Puppy were whining inconsolably, throwing up and generally smelling awful. He looked at us in horror and incredulity – who would have Baladi dogs in their car? After he got out (and was paid handsomely) we knew that he would have ran back to his Dad and said, “They have Baladi dogs in the Jeep!” We just knew that his Dad would have said, “Don’t be ridiculous – they must have been Pharaoh Hounds! Rich people like that don’t keep street dogs”. It was a terrible journey but we all survived it and yet again had something to laugh about in Cairo.
Just another teaser to tempt you to buy the book – flagrant advertising!
This is the link to the book on Amazon US – http://www.amazon.com/Letters-Cairo-This-memoir-travelogue-ebook/dp/B015JFY1F0
If you read it (some may be able to borrow it) please give me a review.
I had the great privilege of guest blogging on Jumbled Writer’s blog. It is entitled ‘The day the war started in Cairo’ and is a memoir from living in Cairo during the second Gulf War. One day I will complete the final version of my book, ‘Letters from Cairo’… Click on the link to read more and find out about the puppies.