Monday, 24 September 2007

Twenty20 - Reactions From a Non-cricket Watching Indian in Egypt

Nothing personal against cricket, but I don't watch sports ! (This is my first post where I've chosen "Sports" as the Section) Except gymnastics, ice skating and synchronized swimming.

Equally crazily, I am married to the ultimate cricket fanatic, who watches matches, repeats, highlights and replays on the news (that's all of them - not an either/or choice). Who remembers statistics from games I never knew were played. For eg. He just said "We have never lost to Pakistan in a world cup" OK, not a great example, but it needed repeating :)

Another of his gems just before the last ball "For a moment, I thought about the last time a Haryana bowler named Sharma had the last over against Pakistan in a final. New Sharma, New ending"

Now these nuances are lost on me, but I'm sure there is a large group out there who can appreciate them. (Like the employees of various MNCs in India who officially closed office at 4 P.M. today.)

Being away from India for the first time on a long posting, he quickly ensured that we got all the right technology installed at home for regular access to cricket matches.

There's a small population of desis in Cairo (about 500) and an even smaller subset of cricket "fan"atics. The previous matches in the last year went by without much community feeling and viewing in this country. But this 20/20 brought a large portion of the Indian community together.

A couple of rational reasons for this would be the shortened timings in offices due to Ramadan (offices close by 3, the matches started at 2 - Egypt time) and the BCA showing the matches on a big screen where desis could get together and watch the matches in a group with alcohol available to drown sorrows or celebrate victories.

The group did avoid meeting at the club on the day of the India-England match because of the larger number of British supporters. But they regretted doing that by the end of the match.

Many of the Indians met up at the BCA for the days the Indians were playing. The non cricket watching wives would sit around and watch each others husbands bemusedly, wondering which of them would make a bigger scene at a missed catch or a wide ball.

We were of course happy that the matches were shortened, it meant less time sitting around. But it also meant shorter, almost non existent ad breaks (except 2 very irritating Horlicks & Sensodyne ads on Ten Sports) to try and communicate with your cricket lover.

Some of them would sit in the same crazy position that they were in when the last 6 was hit or wear the same clothes/shoes to every match. All kinds of crazy stuff that only fans can indulge in.

This was a good opportunity for us to get together and celebrate being Indian outside of India. Yuvraj's 6 sixes was obviously the biggest highlight till today's match. He does deserve the quarter-million and its good to see the BCCI giving something back to the players.($2 million for the team)

We watched today's match at home, but the phone calls kept coming and going throughout the match from across the world. Reactions & moods of the husband were oscillating from wild elation to extreme dejection at each ball. The little bits of the match that I did watch, I found it difficult to keep track since I couldn't recognise more than half the players (I had completely lost track of cricket from the time the slide started, plus this team had tons of newcomers to the international field)

But it was good to see a young team selected and though they had their health problems, they kept at it. Their confidence and perseverance are to be commended & rewarded. The cup and the 40 lakhs each are just a beginning.

Dhoni from all the conversations I caught, more than proved himself as being an able captain willing to take risks (who else would play a complete newcomer as opening batsman in a world cup final?)

He also showed more class in taking his shirt off and giving it to that little kid (I didn't catch who the kid was) rather than waving it around :)

From the strange tie breaker at the last India Pakistan match to the 6 sixes, to the final world cup win, it was an amazing journey even to the part time spectator.

The final run around the field with the Indian flags was a "rungte kadhe hone wala" scene that would warm the cockles of any Indians heart.

Way to go Indian team. This is a victory to savor for a long time and I hope it paves the way for more new comers into the playing Indian team.

By the way, we did this without a coach !

Photo Credit :

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Sunday, 23 September 2007

The "Animal" Attraction - Why Do We Love Pets?

My personal love affair with pets began before the moment I was even conceived.

My nana (maternal grandmother, not grandpa in our part of the country) loves animals. In her younger days she nursed peacocks, deer and sundry other birds & animals back to health. The family household always comprised of a couple of cats, dogs, cows, goats, pigeons and various other species including a monkey at one point of time and a rat snake who would regularly appear to eat the pigeon or chicken eggs. All this was obviously long before the government started poking their noses into which species could or could not be allowed in family spaces.

Living a half day bullock-cart ride away from the nearest neighbours (while on the estates) made domesticating animals (for food and otherwise) a necessity.

By the time I came along, nana was pretty much restricting herself to dogs, cats, poultry and dairy animals. In most households, dogs were for guarding houses, cats were meant to keep the mice away. They were always fed a little below satiating point to keep them hungry enough to catch pests and scare away the people who had no business hovering around the gates.

Not in nana's house. Our cats & dogs were always overfed. So the dogs would sleep at the gate when they had to be guarding the compound and the cats would sleep in the attic when they were supposed to be catching mice ! All because she did not have the heart to leave them in the least bit hungry.

Nana's children - my mom, aunts and uncles - all absorbed this instant love for animals and most of her grandchildren were born to it. we were always surrounded by them and our dogs and cats were our friends too.

Even if the rest of the cousins ganged up against one, the dogs and cats would not take sides.

If you needed to cry away from anyone else's view, you could always take one of the dogs for a walk - who would silently lick your hands or cheeks (whichever was in closer proximity to their height)

If you wanted unconditional love - the dogs/cats provided that.

Non judgmental - bingo.

Non questioning - sure.

They know exactly when to come sit in your lap and when to give you an adoring look. As Dee elaborated about Zoey in Love, Grief, Pain, and a Kitten no matter how many times you push them away, they keep coming back to you.

They never judge you for anything - Feeding them late, not getting home in time, being pissed drunk, being lazy, being a few pounds overweight......

They will accompany you anywhere and everywhere where you let them and sometimes even if you don't. Our little munchkin (whom we adopted a couple of days ago) watches cricket with the husband. My husband is absolutely thrilled to have a cricket viewing partner in the same household.

They just keep coming back and give you more love. They insist on following you into the bathroom, but you don't mind since they aren't going to scrutinise your flabby thighs or beer belly. They just want to be around in your presence.

With a pet around you can never feel worthless. Because you are the world to them and they make it very evident to you.

How can you resist adoring eyes like these ?

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Wednesday, 19 September 2007

Buying and Sourcing Spices in Egypt

Since I obviously can't cover everything in one shot, I'll just do the best that I can.

The best place to buy whole spices in Egypt - cinnamon, cloves, cardamom etc is the Khan el Khalili near Al Azhar Mosque.

There are various shops, some have better quality of some spices than others. So you may need to mix and match a bit. If you are here for the long run, then I would recommend that you keep going back to the same spice seller to build up a relationship with him and his shop. He will then start keeping aside your favourite spices for you and also give you the better quality spices which aren't ever displayed to the transitory tourist shopper.

The Attaba (spice and herbs section) market is also a great place to shop for whole spices. But not recommended to any expat in Egypt who has still not got the hang of navigating Cairo's streets & traffic (human and vehicular) or brushed up on their negotiating (bargaining) skills. Even after a year here, I prefer to accompany an Egyptian friend who does all the talking (I give my shopping list to him/her before time and quietly point to anything I find interesting)

I still get most of my whole spices from home (imported from Kerala - the best & strongest potency) except for cinnamon which I find the quality available in Egypt to be many degrees higher, especially if you like the fancy versions (all rolled up in little curls - called quills)

You can get really long cinnamon quills (1-2 feet long) at the 2 spice markets mentioned above.

Chilli powder - not really found a really spicy brand like the "Everest - tikhalal" that I use from back home. What you get in Egypt as Chilli powder is normally paprika powder and has a slight sweet tinge to it, but its not in the least bit half as hot as "Everest-tikhalal"

Dried Chillies - I have seen the Sudanese dried chillies at some of the supermarkets - they are quite potent and worth buying.

Green chillies - the fresh chillies sold in most markets taste more like bell peppers (capsicum) than chillies to the Indian palate. A couple of shops sell Thai Birds eye chillies like Maadi Fruit paradise and Miriams Market in Maadi. (It seems Alfa in Zamalek used to stock this stuff before, but there's a lot of stuff that's gone AWOL on their inventories)

Turmeric Powder, Cumin (jeera) powder, corriander (dhaniya) powder, onion powder, garlic powder are easily available. I pick up the "Nour" - Small flat round plastic boxes with red tops or the "Spicy Trade" - Tall slim round glass bottles with purple tops.

Do remember that sometimes powder is spelled as "bowder" on the bottles. Its the same thing, not a new spice :)

Spicy trade also offers baking soda (soda bicarbonate / meetha soda) and mono sodium glutamate(ajinomoto) in its range. They also sell whole spices.

The National Brand of masalas from Pakistan has started retailing here, too. They sell spice blends but only in their ultra mild versions (in Egypt). I add My India brought chilli powder to the mix, but the rest of the balance and blend is fine. The blends are very similar to Indian blends. I've seen biryani (kabsa), kheema/queema (mince), Tandoori (barbequed chicken), Broast (roasting or frying chicken), kaleji (liver), kofta, and tikka mixes among others.

They come with recipes printed on their packs. Don't be worried if you only see instructions in arabic on the outside. There will be an English version on the inside of the pack. Else you can always get the recipes online by clicking the links above.

This is what I can think of for the moment. Let me know if you are looking for anything in particular, by writing a comment on this post. I should reply within 24 hours unless I'm out in the desert :)

These spices are available at most of the major supermarkets and the local grocery store too.

Also see Papads & Pickles for more details on Indian foods.

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Tuesday, 18 September 2007

Book Review : Cairo - The Family Guide

In a previous article, "Bookshops in Cairo " I heavily recommended this book, but I never mentioned why.

The current issue of the Cairo Family Guide is the 4th edition (the first edition was in 2001). It has been revised each time to update the data and make it more current & relevant.

It's written by Lesley Lababidi in collaboration with Dr Lisa Sabbahy and printed by the AUC Press. It's one book any person planning to check out the sights of Cairo on their own, or living here for more than a week should most certainly pick up.

The book is categorised location wise and then each place worth a visit in that area is listed out with complete details.

For eg. there are 3 different itineraries for the Egyptian museum depending on a person's interest. It also helps split the museum into manageable trips so as to be able to absorb maximum information.

Special attention has been given to understanding and recommending activities based on a child's age and interests. So the book is especially handy for those visiting with kids.

Maps to the areas, the closest Metro stop, the timings (including changed timings for Ramadan), Entrance fees (for foreigners, residents, students & Egyptians - yes there are multiple rates), Photography and video fees if any, (or whether they are allowed at all), the telephone numbers to that location, facilities available (bathrooms, gift shops, cafeterias) the best place to park (this is a major issue in Cairo), relevant websites if any, activities organised at that location if any, how much to tip and whom. These are just some of the gems of information that she shares about each and every location.

This is a goldmine of information especially given the monumental difficulty of gathering such data in Cairo. This is one of our few books where the book has completely lost its crispness (I don't even like the spine cracking in my books)

The only drawback is that since this is a 2006 edition some of the data has become obsolete especially with the recent adding of a digit to all land-line numbers at some of the telephone exchanges. Some sites have revised their charges (upwards of course) But the changes would hardly be in 5% of the data in this book.

So go ahead and pick up your own copy today. At 70LE it's a steal! Make sure it is a blue coloured bind with the picture of children sitting in a donkey cart. This is the latest edition. Many smaller bookshops still stock the older versions with the green colour binding. The information in those would be about 25-30% irrelevant and/or obsolete.

The details on the AUC Press page are available at here.

You can buy it at any major bookstore in Egypt. Its one of the most popular books. Or even buy it off Amazon.

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