The EGYPT Album
Tuesday, July 19, 2011
The morning I arrived in Cairo, I was already making my round at the duty free shop at the airport using my passport to buy 4 bottles of alcohol as a favour for my friend, Peter and his mates. Then I was randomly hanging out with them on a chilly rooftop in the city’s wealthiest neighbourhood until dawn, listening to reggae tunes, in between humming to Fly Me To The Moon, and weaving in and out of Dreamland, my eyes wide open.
The sun is up at 4.30 in the morning in Cairo.
By the time Hassan finally arrived to pick us up, I hadn’t slept for 24 hours.
Just coming out of Nairobi’s winter, perhaps I wasn’t quite ready for Cairo’s searing heat, even if I lived in Malaysia my whole life.
I totally wasn’t ready for the Egyptian diet.
In Kenya, it’s all about the meat (accompanied by ugali, chapati, mukimo or githeri). In Egypt, rule No. 1: Dinner is ‘breakfast’ – ‘Breakfast’, at 7 p.m. (because that’s when you’re just waking up), consists of aish (bread), ful (fava bean paste) – nicknamed ‘cement’ for good reasons, cheese dip and falafel. I didn’t dare ask what would await us for dinner. Then I was told that aish and ful are also common for dinner, but they’re just part of a bigger meal. Right.
Other than that, the weekend has been quite a blur, I was in bed most of it, trying to recover from the long journey and adjusting myself to the heartbeat of Cairo city; at all times being muffled by the sounds of the honking and shouting on the streets. Sitting on the balcony watching Cairo alive amidst a dull dusty tangerine-tinged of a backdrop, my heart felt heavy as I realized I was nearing the end of my journey, and yet, I was looking forward to being home again. Days when I don’t have to worry about comparing flight costs, cramped buses, lugging my gear around, constant new names I try so hard to remember, random diets, navigating ways in new locations and making sure my bag is never missing the toilet paper.
The simple fact is, my African days are numbered.
So if you’ll excuse me, I have a date with Mr. Sphinx.
Looking out the kitchen window.
Sunday, July 17, 2011
Friday, July 8, 2011
We just had to experience the much hyped 15-hour train ride to Mombasa – the dreamy images right out of the movie Out Of Africa lingering in my head.
I became more excited when we finally checked in on a Monday evening. The dark, old musky station packed with commuters eagerly returning home from a whole day’s work. They precariously perched themselves on platform edges, sat on the tracks, oblivious to any oncoming danger – but little surprises me nowadays. It’s part of everyday life.
Close to 7 p.m., after a bit of anticipation, the train slowly rolled in. We didn’t walk far to find our cabin - 1215E. Upon inspection, my dreams of being welcomed by silky soft linen and polished china displayed exquisitely on pristine countertops were shattered. Well, perhaps I didn’t actually expect THAT much, but I did at least expect the lights to be working! We had nothing but one yellow light flickering hard to illuminate our little space. Maintenance came over to assure us that the lights would come on properly when the train started moving – but 2 hours later, that one flickering bulb was our only source of light. Neither of us had any plans of staying up so we brushed if off. That’s when we discovered the toilet. Let me just say, I refused to fill up on fluid that night, and when I couldn’t hold it in, I opted for the squat – a brave effort on my part. Remember, the train was MOVING. But not everything was dim (pun intended). The bunk beds were solid for a good night sleep and the food was palatable (Oh, we had plastic plates and cups that mimicked china by the way). We made friends with newlyweds Haiko and Melanie from Germany.
The train ride from Nairobi to Mombasa. Rizwan removing the bed linen from the military inspired bag they gave us. Turned out there were people coming to the cabins to sort that out for us. We were too ambitious!
At 7 a.m. the next morning, we rose to the loud ringing of a handbell - an early breakfast call. It took the attendant a few rounds before everybody actually decided to make a bee-line for the cafeteria (and make him stop the racket). Half an hour later we tucked into a hearty full English breakfast.
We arrived in Mombasa at quarter to 10.
For the next week, we had an amazing time in Mombasa’s northern coast, staying with Adam and Lynne Tuller, in a very nice flat by the creek. They’re simply the sweetest couple. When we were home in the evening Lynne and I would each have a glass of white wine while the boys enjoyed their rum and coke, and we'd sit on the balcony, chatting away. Every day as the sun came up and again as night fell, without fail, we'd listen to the nuns at the convent next door sing soft choral hymns to mark the beginning and the end of the day.
Home of the Tullers in Mtwapa in the northern coast of Mombasa with the creek in the background. This balcony is where we spent many evenings.
Lynne and Adam Tuller, our beautiful hosts in Mombasa.
Adam and Rizwan working on a reforestation project at home.
A Maasai warrior singing while the dhow sails home in the creek. It was magical.
We also had a chance to go for a short trip to the southern coast of Mombasa where we all stayed with the Popes – in a stunningly majestic villa by the beach. Louis and his wife Chriss have opened their homes to many others.
The beach where the Popes live. The dogs love the water.
And that was it. Our week in Mombasa ended just like that. It’s also been a week now since we flew back to Nairobi; again, time went by in a blink. Rizwan has been working hard in a workshop in Lenana House. While in Kenya, Rizwan has developed a liking for 'nyama choma.' Local grilled meat. It could be game, goat or beef. The meat is cut into small pieces or on the bone and normally served with fresh chilli and salt with a selection of kachumbari, ugali (mashed maize), mukimo (version of ugali but with potatoes, beans and greens), chapati and a few types of local vegetables. The meat can be really sweet and tender but it can fill you up until the next day! Another favourite is the samosa - also with meat filling. As we were sitting at another nyama choma joint the other day, to my utmost delight I discovered that they were showing a Filipino TV soap. Out here in Nairobi!
Rizwan at an outdoor workshop in Lenana House in Milimani.
As for me, I think I found my favourite Kenyan snack.
Mombasa is far from sight right now, where wine nights were aplenty, and sadly so is Cambridge, but tonight, we’ll drink to our dear Chotu, on his birthday. Happy birthday, with love.
A Nyama Choma toast for Chotu
Tuesday, July 5, 2011
(image taken from trcwest.com)
Art Caffe, Westgate Mall, Westlands, Nairobi. Listening to Secret Garden, it dawned on me: -
I could be anywhere right now.
Anywhere around the world.
This would’ve easily been Kuala Lumpur. Twirls of pasta on oversized clean white plates, the lingering smell of fresh pastries from the oven, the ubiquitous timber flooring and yellow lights accentuating the rather lazy atmosphere. As the crowd grows, the music drowns.
Yesterday afternoon, Rizwan and I took a walk in the small, quaint garden in the Lenana compound, a carpet of bougainvilleas cushioning our tired soles, sunlight taking a peep through the treetops.
“You’d never imagine Nairobi to be like this.” I said.
As I turned around, what I had was the memory of old colonial houses on the cliffs of Tanjong Lobang in Miri, where we used to live, when Dad was serving in the government.
Always when you set foot on foreign soil, it’s what’s deemed as foreign that you seek. But a lot of times, you find a strong association with things you already know all along. The comfort of familiarity.
Because more often than not, they are the same.
More often than not, We are the same.
You've gone a million miles
How far'd you get
To that place where you can't remember
And you can't forget
- Bruce Springsteen
Monday, June 20, 2011
Thursday, June 16, 2011
Michael helps his mother Amina to set the table for dinner. He lays down the table mats, utensils and plates, every time when he’s not drawing water from the well outside or playing football in school. Michael is a striker. A good one. One day he wants to be an engineer.
Little sister Miriam’s favourite subjects in school are Civics and Geography. Now she knows where Malaysia is on the world map. She’s excited to learn that there’s actually a place called Miri. When she grows up she wants to be an accountant. ‘I must do well in Maths,’ she says, matter of fact. She’s determined. She never tires of making origami cranes.
Michael and Miriam say ‘Thank you, mother’ after each meal, without fail. Amina then says ‘You’re welcome’, and smiles proudly. She laughs approvingly that I finally reply ‘Poa’ when she greets me ‘Mambo’.
Baby Naomi giggles playfully in her makeshift play-pen that doubles up as her bathtub. She gives a delightful squeal as she swiftly puts the tiny piece of squishy avocado in her mouth.
We maximized our short stay in Arusha as much as we could, experiencing Arusha’s hospitality at its best. The overwhelming kindness offered, sometimes under less than convenient circumstances, was very humbling. Maggie hosted us and drove us from her house, 8km from town and back, even when she didn’t have to. Amina sat with me all evening until I was ready to go to bed (she probably gave up her bedroom for us but she wouldn’t say) and every morning she’d prepare a bucket of hot water for our baths. The safari trip with Alec and Naomi to Lake Manyara and the Ngorongoro Crater would probably be our last in this journey; starry nights in the wilderness now parked in our memories until the time comes to revisit the details again and share our tales.
Our Arusha days.
William and his family at his family home in Arusha. This is where we stayed for a few days before leaving for Nairobi.
Just before getting on the shuttle to Nairobi.
Lake Manyara is a massive plain with an eclectic mix of African wildlife roaming around freely.
Born free. The crater lions of Ngorongoro.
On our safari: Driver and guide Robert, with travellers Naomi and Alec. It’s always a good idea to come prepared with a face mask or hanky to cover your nose and mouth as it gets quite dusty with the number of vehicles around; and take binoculars!
Dinner with Carey and Maggie at AfriCafe. Carey volunteers at the St. Jude’s School while Maggie graciously hosted us for the first couple of days at her house. Every morning we woke up to Mt. Meru just outside our door.
Sunday, May 29, 2011
Words. I must’ve lost them in the maze.
The calling of the ocean.
The view above.
The enchanting labyrinth.
The pleasant oddities.
The hustle and bustle.
The treasure trove of beauty.
The story of the past.
The epitome of youth.
The greetings of the sun.
The kaleidoscope of life.
Tuesday, May 10, 2011
The now famous words supposedly uttered by H.M. Stanley when he finally found David Livingstone in Ujiji, Tanzania, after the latter had been out of contact with the Western world for many years. The year was 1871. David Livingstone was the first European to explore the Zambezi within the Livingstone vicinity. Now, Livingstone is a thriving tourist town in Zambia, where the Victoria Falls draw thousands of holidaymakers and dreamers from around the globe.
Livingstone was where we’d be staying for 2 weeks.
Crossing the border of Botswana into Zambia via Kazungula was a pleasant breeze. Holding a Malaysian passport, all I had to do was fill up a simple form which recorded the list of foreigners entering the country. It’s more like a guest list and the officers were polite throughout. I wonder now what would’ve been playing in their minds and I’m reminded again of that historical encounter between Mr. Stanley and Mr. Livingstone, the reply back to Mr. Stanley was, “Yes, and I feel thankful that I am here to welcome you.“ Wouldn’t that be a novelty.
The ferry should’ve cost us 2 Pulas each but nobody went around to ask for a fee. Kazungula is 60km from Livingstone and a group of cabbies wait outside the gate to take you to town. The normal rate is 150,000 Kwacha (USD30). We shared a taxi with Renee, whom we met and was coincidently staying at Jollyboys Camp that was earlier recommended by Lucky. Unfortunately it was full for the evening due to the Easter weekend so we stayed at the Comfort Inn in town. The owner was very friendly and the room was cheap but decent; a house converted into a guesthouse.
I have many good things to say about Jollyboys Camp. Although it’s a 15-minute walk from town compared to Jollyboys Hostel, it’s worth every penny you pay for the dorm rooms. At USD10/person/night, it’s very peaceful; it has clean ablution blocks, a kitchen, an amazing lounge area and restaurant where we caught a few minutes of the Royal Wedding, an internet cafe, a shop, a camp site, a swimming pool, a braai area, dorm blocks, individual rooms/cabins if you opt for that and best of all the surrounding greenery. Everybody’s friendly, from the front desk staff right to the maintenance staff. Highly, highly recommended. Our base in Livingstone established, we interacted and worked with the Kwenuha Women’s Centre, the Lubasi Home and the Youth Community Training Centre (YCTC).
The Jollyboys Camp in Livingstone, south of Zambia.
The good people at the Kwenuha Women’s Centre, one of the organizations we interacted with in Livingstone.
The one last splurge for us in Livingstone was to walk the cheetahs at the Mukuni Big 5 Safari. Cheesy as it sounds, I don’t think I’d ever relive the experience anytime soon and it was nothing short of extraordinary. The cheetah walks are USD85/person, you can get a good deal if you combine it with either the lion walk or elephant ride. I was thrilled just to have a chance to see a white lion cub.
Walking the cheetahs at the Mukuni Big 5 Safari.
The luxurious Mazhandu buses from Livingstone to Lusaka run once daily, with tickets at 85,000 Kwacha/person (USD20) and leave at 9 a.m. They’re very comfortable and spacious but one tip is to try to secure a seat on the right side of the bus, anywhere along the row behind the driver. This is to avoid the scorching afternoon sun on the left. The music selection was pretty chaotic yet entertaining just for that fact – anything from Michael Jackson to Hong Kong ballads.
We stayed at the Kuomboka Backpackers, which turned out to be a good thing as it was less crowded compared to the Chachacha, the most famous hostel around, where we originally planned to spend the night. The Chachacha seemed to be full of western tourists who managed to arrive with or form their own cliques, and foreigners filling up the bar to its brim. The Kuomboka Backpackers was much more relaxed, frequented by both locals and foreigners alike and priced at 150,000 Kwacha/night (USD30) for a double room.
In Lusaka, we had the pleasure of being hosted by Topsy who showed us around town. We tucked into nshima served with a healthy variety of meat, fish and vegetables for lunch, leaving almost no room on our table. The evening before we feasted on grilled goat at the Kalahari Restaurant and were entertained by the local crowd, dancing the night away while the band played.
Nshima and various dishes with Topsy.
Thinking back, there are several things I love most about Zambia: -
1. It’s a super friendly country; in fact it’s the friendliest I’ve come across in this journey. Everyone in the street will say hello or smile at you, and even the seemingly grumpiest looking person will respond when you initiate the greeting.
2. All the lovely bright and multi-coloured print sarongs the women wear. It just feels festive everyday. They are not afraid of prettying themselves in fuchsia or sparkly maroon, with occasional splashes of lime or indigo on top of that. The colour mix is haphazard enough to make for an interesting conversation. It’s advisable to have your sunglasses in hand, especially for you faint-hearted ones.
3. Old style hand-painted advertisements adorning the street walls. It’s quite rare to find printed ones around. The practice is still very much alive and well. I can imagine how much more satisfying it is too, a finished piece of work displaying a dying skill. It’s far from being menial.
4. It’s the only country I know so far where the 24-hour system is used. Zambians get confused when you tell them you want to meet them at 2 o’clock in the afternoon. You’re supposed to say 14 hours. 9 in the morning is 9 hours.
5. The little unusual but mostly amusing things you encounter when you least expect it. Chinese ballads being played during bus rides when there’s remotely any Chinese. Then there were attendants coming around to announce which flight is boarding as the the boarding halls are not numbered – gives a whole new meaning to international airports.
All of Zambia’s openness, warmth and simplicities make me smile.
Monday, May 9, 2011
Tuesday, April 26, 2011
The first glimpse of the mighty Victoria Falls makes your head spin.
You feel genuine fear reaching from the deepest pit in your belly snaking its way through to the finest veins in your legs, your arms, the core of you until you climax in a burst of awe. Numbness follows. You cling to the handrails, you plant your feet firmly to the stone path, you grab anybody next to you; because you’re jelly.
Congratulations, you’ve just been hit by the giant. All 1,708m by 108m of it. But it hasn’t even touched you. Not physically. Not even close.
Until you gather the courage to cross the puny metal bridge because you HAVE to get a closer look, however unconvincing the structure feels. That’s when monsoon strikes. And yet, that’s not the full force of the giant’s power, just a tease.
Have you ever seen anybody more happy to be caught in torrential rain? Crossing the Knife Edge Bridge in Victoria Falls. A waterproof camera is essential.
Then you discover that the giant has a softer side. It plays with the sun and dances in the mist and lo and behold, the giant creates not one, but two rainbows, with glee.
Twin rainbows by the waterfall. We also saw a full semi-circle that goes UNDER the bridge. In moonlight, you’ll see ‘moonbows’.
The 1.3km Victoria Falls Bridge; the border of Zambia and Zimbabwe, and the bungee jumping station right smack in the middle.
The rainforest embraces the nurture of the giant, as the rocky dry land too far from reach, sits and watches, hopelessly forlorn, barren.
And the dry half of the land, within the same vicinity of the falls.
They call it Mosi-o-tunya, the Smoke That Thunders. And rightly so.
The annual flood season runs from February to May, peaking in April. The spray of the falls rises to a height of over 400m, creating an inverted rain at the Knife Edge Bridge.
It’s too dangerous to white water raft in the Zambezi River this season. I have to say, I was a bit disappointed as I was looking forward to it.
This is mother nature’s great wonder. The experience hard to fathom. The giant never forgotten.