Thursday, October 29, 2009

Today's Thoughts

An old schoolmate bbm's me every once in a while to chit-chat about life and how things are turning out for us. I've known him since we were 4 but we were never the closest of friends. However, he's been a part of life right from the beginning and, because of his metaphysical distance, is able to see things in a fresh light. Apparently, Musketeer likes to hear random thoughts from me when he's not in the brightest of places. Comic relief? I don't know but hey, I'll never say no to helping someone out.

Today's thoughts were twofold:

1. This is a thought I've had on more than one occasion (usually when Bloft flushes the toilet when she knows I want to use the bathroom as well). I thought I had it pretty much figured out until he provided me with his two cents:

Eureka: Do you know how much water people could save each day if they peed in the shower?

Musketeer: Let me think. Same if they peed in the toilet assuming the drainage systems are the same

Eureka: No you're saving the litres you'd have used if you flushed. When you pee in the shower you're using no more water than if you were showering without peeing. But when you pee in the toilet you flush it down, using what I'd estimate to be 3 litres of water. Now if everyone peed in the shower once a day you're saving millions of litres of water each day

So far so good, right? Then came the kicker:

Musketeer: But how are you saving if the water itself in drainage is not lost, simply re-treated and circulated within the system

Of course, I had to scrounge up a quick response or else face having my solution to the world's water problems shot down:

Eureka: You lose water in the drainage and treatment process. And in many systems the water is lost to drainage out to open ocean. Saving resources in general is the point of this exercise.

Liar, liar pants on fire, Eureka. You just can't bare not being completely right. But anyway, moral of the story is: when I'm empress everyone will pee in the shower.

The conversation soon moved on to the second thought of the day:

Eureka: I think we spend too much time looking at screens. This was today's thought in the car. I wake up to emails on my phone, which I read while making/eating breakfast.

I then read the news on my phone on my way to work = 40 mins of more screen time.

I spend 8+ hours working on a laptop at the office and read more news/bbm on my way home.

Then watch shows on my laptop for a couple of hours at home

That's just about all my waking hours looking at a screen

How bad is that for one's eyes?

Musketeer: What do you want to look at?

Eureka: Cost on eyesight

Musketeer: Good business idea

What do you all think? Are we all destined to be the first generation to be prematurely blind?

Sunday, October 18, 2009

Strangers in Our Homeland

Yesterday's topic of conversation during family lunch was surprising. It was a complaint I only expected my age group in our social circles to have. Funnily enough, my parents "feel like strangers in our own country". It saddens me to hear that they've come to share my discomfort in Egypt. I understand people like me when they claim to feel little for this country. We were born in an era where no allegiance was encouraged. We were born and continue to live under the same detached incumbent. We were born into bubbles of financial stability, air-conditioned cars, suburban neighbourhoods, hired help and private educations. We were born a caste unto ourselves, free from infiltration or mingling with the rest of our populace.

But our parents and grandparents were born at times of socioeconomic and political mobilizations. They grew up in times where patriotism was paramount, where you had reason to be proud to be Egyptian. They fought wars for their country. They elected their leaders. They mourned their leaders. Egypt had global status as the link between the East and West. Cairo was the Paris of the Orient. The Egyptian Pound held value. Even those who lived under Abdel Nasser had more love for this country than I ever could. They may have lived in hardship but they believed in a greater united Arab nation. There was an ideology to protect, even if it resulted in their own impecuniosity. Sadat brought Egypt prestige by standing up to the neighbourhood bully. He gave Sinai back to our people. He put Egypt back on the international affairs map. That made our parents proud to be Egyptian whether they agreed with his politics or not.

Egypt was a united nation where you did not know Muslim from Christian. Today, it is the first thing you want to know. More often than not, you don't even need to ask. Until our generation came of age, your country had a middle class that was comfortable without being ostentatiously wealthy. Today, you are either a prince or a pauper. There is no normal option. When our parents were in high school, they went through the public school system and lived productive, enriched lives. Today, there is no public school system. You either go to an expensive private school or receive no education, because what you are supposedly taught by the State does not even cover basic hygiene. Today, you can smell a person before they come into view. Today, you cannot cross a street in baggy clothes - or even in a veil - without being harassed. Today, if you do not speak a particular strain of Arabic, you are a foreigner. Today, if you are not one of the poor, the angry, the frustrated and the radical, you are not Egyptian.

I thought our parents still managed to feel at one with a rapidly deteriorating country because they lived through an important milestone in Egypt's modern history. They connected with the country on more than one level. They knew what it meant to be Egyptian. Unfortunately, it is this very knowledge that depresses them most today. They know what it meant to be Egyptian. They no longer identify with what it means to be Egyptian today. This saddens them beyond measure, because they must mourn their lost sense of self. My identity revolves around my Western education, my personal beliefs, my family, my goals and my accomplishments. I have no sense of self within my country. I never had and never will, so I have lost nothing.

Any emotion I feel towards Egypt is rooted in pity. I feel sorry for a fallen giant but I see no means to help it back up. And this, while is a sad state, does not move me in any meaningful way. This is not my land to worry about. It has never included me, never welcomed me, never nurtured me and never will. But it has abandoned my parents and their generation to the point of depression. To the point where they are actively considering emigration or at least a pied-à-terre elsewhere so that they can detox on a regular basis.

Imagine having to detox from your own homeland. What kind of life is that? What kind of country is that? As doleful as the status quo is, this is Egypt. And by the looks of things, this is Egypt for many generations to come.

Monday, October 12, 2009

If It's Worth Having It's Worth Fighting For

With my major girl-crush on all things related to Girls Aloud, please indulge my posting of Cheryl Cole's first solo effort. In her defence, she was never the group's strongest singer, and the song is pretty infectious after a couple of listens. Plus, she's looking mighty fashionable in the fat man pants and MJ-tribute shoulder pads. Rock on, Cheryl!

Now in relation to my previous post and my need to self-analyze my every half-baked attempt at emotion, should I follow her advice? He's definitely worth having, but is he worth fighting for?

Wedding Tick-Tocking

This weekend one of my cousins (a zillion times removed but a cousin nonetheless) got married. It was the whole 9 yards and then some: huge rambunctious wedding, beautiful bride (naturally seeing as we share genes), ecstatic couple, relieved and proud family, drunk and dancing friends, etc...

Attendees clocked in around the 1,500 mark (which by Egyptian standards is large but not out of the ordinary). More importantly, many of the invitees were Christian seeing as it was a Christian wedding. This gathering of possible eligible bachelors does not happen very often, so of course every other person I know and their great-aunt made sure to tell me to be extra hot, keep my eyes peeled for crucifix-bearing young men and accidently bump into the one that caught my fancy.

Usually, I would do my best to ignore the aforementioned and would just have a good time celebrating my friend and distant relative's blissful union. But recently (as you've been noticing in my increasingly depressing and monotone posts) I've begun to feel the pressure, so I dutifully cleaned up in my evening best, kept my eyes peeled for bachelors that fit the bill, and did more than my fair share of roaming around the room to make sure I hadn't missed anyone worth checking out. In a ballroom full of family friends, there were many spies making sure I did my bit. Hell, some were even pointing people out to me.

That night two very important things were made clear to me:
  1. Even in a room full of Christians, there are no eligible bachelors remaining. They are either taken, or are ugly / fat / short / smelly / missing a liver or six / with an IQ of -3.2 / unable to keep their eyes off Dixie & Daisy (WHO WERE NOT EVEN IN FULL ATTENDANCE I MIGHT ADD) / or any combination of the above. I had always suspected this and it was finally confirmed: There are no men in Egypt. And the taken ones lead me to revelation number 2:
  2. A year later, all I wanted to do was find and "accidentally" bump into last year's runaway guy. This is particularly disturbing since I haven't seen or spoken to him in 5 months and haven't exchanged more than a hello, how are you, lovely weather we're having since October 2008. I can't even claim a broken heart because I hadn't even fallen for him. All I can lay claim to is a mind-full of what ifs and whys. And that isn't reason enough to result in such one-track-mindedness.
Today's lesson is that eventually, everyone will have to face rejection. You need to know how to deal with it and move on. I just never thought I'd take it so poorly.

Saturday, October 3, 2009

Take a Popular Harvard Course for FREE

Being the geek that I am, this is probably the best thing I've ever discovered on the internet!

Harvard University (yes, that Harvard) have launched a website allowing anyone in the world free access to one of their most popular courses, Justice with Professor Michael Sandel. Classes, along with required reading and discussion notes for both beginner and advanced students, are posted every week for 12 weeks. Three classes have been posted so far.

Justice is a philosophy/ethics course aiming to challenge students with "with difficult moral dilemmas and asks our opinion about the right thing to do. He then asks us to examine our answers in the light of new scenarios... This course also addresses the hot topics of our day—affirmative action, same-sex marriage, patriotism and rights—and Sandel shows us that we can revisit familiar controversies with a fresh perspective."

I am totally going to "take" this course. If you're interested, I'll post class synopses here and my thoughts on the issues brought up. Better yet, take it with me!

Friday, October 2, 2009

Cairo BerryCam

Last night a little thought bubble popped up above my head filled with a big lightbulb. Living in Cairo means spending a lot of time stuck in traffic, which thereby gives the average passenger a lot of time to look out their window and observe (or choose to ignore) Cairo's bustling (and dirty) streets. Just about every street in Cairo is guaranteed to have two things: something interesting and something gross. Both are usually worth photographing.

So, I decided to test my little theory out in an extended art/photography project in a blog I am calling Cairo BerryCam. I will take pictures from my car rides around Cairo using my built-in Blackberry camera and post them on said blog. Sometimes they will be of something pretty, sometimes of something interesting, sometimes something disgusting. But always from a moving vehicle and always of/in the greater Cairo area. This includes Giza, New Cairo/Katameya and all the extended Cairo districts.

Anyone interested in participating is free to comment on or email me their photo, name/nickname and caption at

Getting to the Root of Things

I mentioned before that at the very core of my being is a tiny librarian trying to fight her way out of the distractions of life to live amongst the stacks. If I could live in any room in the world, it would be a strategically lit room filled to the brim with towering bookshelves stuffed with thousands of books. I can't think of a happier place.

You'd think someone who loves books the way I do would have recommended more than just the passing novel here and there, right? Well, my darling devotees, tonight is the night I get around to listing the books I think everyone should read before they die (all these are books I have actually read and am not merely recommending because other more glittering members of the literati have praised them. If I haven't read it, I won't recommend it). This is by no means an exhaustive list. I will be adding to it whenever something else pops into my head, or if I ever get around to reading the 1000000+ list of books I'd like to plow through. Enough babbling; let's begin:

  1. Mrs. Dalloway by Virginia Woolf. This is my all-time favourite book. It contains the most well written sentence-cum-paragraph ever concocted in the English language. I won't quote it here so that if you bother to read it you'll come back and guess in the comments. Wishful thinking on my part, but one can dream...
  2. We Were the Mulvaneys by Joyce Carol Oates. A rare moment in time where the power of writing just seeps into your subconscious. You don't realize what Oates is doing until you're already deeply entrenched in the novel and never want to get out.
  3. The Road by Cormac McCarthy. This one really hurt to read. I could only go a few pages at a time. Truly powerful stuff.
  4. East of Eden by John Steinbeck. Long but worth the effort purely for the descriptions of Salinas Valley.
  5. Anna Karenina by Leo Tolstoy. The fur coats alone should be temptation enough.
  6. The Bluest Eye by Toni Morrison. I lobbied hard to get this book onto a lit class reading list even though I hadn't had the chance to read it prior to that class. My gut just told me I'd love it. I'll be damned if it isn't the finest introduction to the world of Toni Morrison EVER. Many people will disagree with me, but if you have to read one of her books (and I hope you choose to go through them all), this is it.
  7. 100 Years of Solitude by Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Also my introduction to Marquez. You may have noticed that I like to tackle authors head on. Although I love him with intense blindness, this is his standout work.
  8. I Know This Much Is True by Wallie Lamb. If it makes my drought-ridden, dammed up eyes leak, then it is worth every penny you spend on it.
  9. Sophie's Choice by William Stryon. Beautiful, heartbreaking and also much better than the movie.
  10. Waiting for Godot by Samuel Beckett. If I liked it enough to voluntarily write a 15 page paper on a play where nothing happens, you will like it enough to finish it.
  11. The Year of Magical Thinking by Joan Didion. There are lots of great little sentences in this one. Plus, it's the only non-fiction book on this list.
  12. The Picture of Dorian Gray by Oscar Wilde. Great descriptions, observations, vanitisms and generally cool quotable sentences in this one.
That's the start of my book recommendations. If you're interested in an extended list of honourable mentions (which will probably be more diverse in genre/taste), feel free to ask and I'm happy to oblige. Conversely, tell me what sort of thing you're looking for/like and I'll come up with a list of recommendations suited to your specs. Happy reading!

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