Sunday, 30 November 2008

Obituary: Sabina Sehgal Saikia

Sabina Sehgal Saikia was a food writer who had been with the Times of India group for over 17 years who at the time of her untimely demise had risen to Consulting Editor at the publication. She died in the Terror attacks in Mumbai where she was staying on the 6th floor. She was in Mumbai for the wedding of Bachi Karkaria's son next week.

Sabina could make or break a Delhi restaurant based on her reviews. She initially wrote an extremely popular column called "Main Course" for the Saturday Times, which later moved to the Delhi Times.

I was first introduced to her, when I picked up the Times of India Restaurant Guide for Delhi, 8 years ago. My next 2 years in Delhi were made tolerable by this handy book. I tried out restaurants based on her recommendations and agreed with her judgment over 80% of the time. She was honest and direct.

The Times of India Restaurant Guides to Hyderabad and Bombay could never match up to the standard that Sabina had set. She had spoiled me against other guides with her perfection and accuracy.

I subscribed to the Times of India in Delhi, just to read her column, although the Hindustan Times gave much better news coverage in Delhi.

An excellent cook herself, she soon visited me in my living room on NDTV cooks demonstrating an especially fiery looking Green Chilli Pickle.

I never met her face-to-face, but I felt like I knew a part of her. The part of her that loved good food and in Saif Ali Khan's words "acha khaana khane ke liye, hum kahin pe bhi chalenge" (to eat good food, we will travel anywhere) and in a wierd way, I identified with this part of her.

Sabina will be sorely missed in the food writers world. Our sympathies go out to her husband Shantanu and her two young children who will feel her absence much more than her millions of devoted readers.

Sabina you brought joy into the lives of food lovers: May your Soul, Rest in Peace.

Also published on

Friday, 28 November 2008

Disjointed Questions on the Bombay Blasts and its aftermath

Being in a distant country while Bombay is under siege, is nerve wracking at best.

My first long stay in Bombay was for my first job, with MBA degree in hand. The first weekend trip we took together as Management trainees was a local train ride from Andheri to South Bombay. We caught up with other batchmates in town for a movie at Metro Cinema and headed over to Cafe Mondegar for a drink and later carried onto Cafe Leopold because we had heard so much about these Bombay favourites. We then walked over to the Gateway of India and gazed at the iconic Taj Palace and towers. Gathering courage we felt we could project enough confidence to walk in and use their washrooms, which we managed.

Since this was the late 90's, B-School salaries weren't as astronomical as they were at the turn of the millennium and we obviously couldn't afford to eat in there, so we headed over to Bademiyan's for more affordable fare.

All these locations were under the media spotlight for the last 48 hours, for reasons one would never have dreamed about.

Personally, this attack was very hard hitting because of the sheer numbers of family and friends who live in the area, who were working late in the area, or were eating in the area after work. As is usual after every such attack in India, we started calling and smsing, then emailing and scrapping (when the phone lines were jammed and over loaded) and everyone we knew in the location to check on their status. This time it was a much, much longer list of people we were checking on.

Some were barricaded inside their houses and offices in the area while their lifts were shut down and they were advised not to leave the premises. Many spent that first night in the office while the rest of us helplessly spent the night hoping and praying for their safety and that the violence wouldn't spread to the surrounding buildings.

We stayed glued to the television and kept refreshing news sites on our computer screen and anxiously followed the sequence of events. Coherent thought was not easy and plenty of questions and inconsistencies kept popping up in my mind.

First of all: kudos to our NSG, army, hotel staff and police for their heroic efforts.

Why/How did this happen:
Intelligence failure is something the foreign media has been harping about in relation to these attacks, but as someone else mentioned: weren't 9/11 and the London Subway attacks, intelligence failures too.

Could we have done anything more to secure the locations?
How many locations will you secure? We have a country of a billion+ citizens, so I don't think it is about securing locations. Terrorists target any and every location. The only way every place can be secured is if citizens take responsibility of being aware of their surroundings and people around them.
We need to stop cribbing about and finding innovative ways to avoid security measures at malls, cinema halls etc. They are there for our security.

Our government should focus on stemming the problem at its roots: training camps, poverty, education, unemployment.

The terrorists were armed with AK47's while a lot of the police and railway police were equipped with nothing more than a lathi. Do they even stand a chance?

Why were 3 top cops traveling in the same vehicle?

Rescue efforts:
The staff at the hotels responded admirably and heroically. Some even lost their own lives while saving the guests. I am not sure if they receive training drills for terrorist situations, but they did their best.

Politicians have no business being anywhere in the area when such situations are ongoing. Having them around, means that security and armed forces are forced to divert their attention to the "security of the politician"
What business did Gopinath Munde have to be at the Nariman House today?
Same problem when they visit hospitals were the wounded are taken. Doctors and nurses are forced to stop tending to their patients and clear the area so the politician and their entourage of news crews and security personnel royally stroll through the area and promise tax payer funds (other peoples money) as remuneration.

While NDTV was the most restrained of the lot, our media still behaved as irresponsibly as always.

People whose family members were stuck inside, is it fair to thrust microphones at their faces and ask them how they are feeling?

Rescued people being brought out of the hotel after a horrifying ordeal, is it fair to thrust microphones at their faces and ask them how they are feeling?

While Right to Information is a wonderful act, some lines should be drawn when it comes to National Security. Broadcasting the immediate moves of the security forces, dissecting their rescue maneuvers, having ex army personnel describe helicopter rescue operations in detail - this only gives more intelligence to the terrorists holed up inside who could be in contact with anyone with a cable connection outside the location, even if cable connection at the hotels had been cut off.

Broadcasting false reports of the operation being over when it isn't because they see a thumbs-up being exchanged between two NSG personnel.

We need an appointed official spokesperson who is the only authority allowed to speak to the media when an operation is ongoing. This person needs to receive reports from all relevant sources and be advised on what news can be released and what cannot. Press should only be allowed at this location and not crawling around the affected area causing more security hazards or getting caught in the cross fire. This should give controlled information and hopefully control the rumour-mongering too.

If the press are controlled in one location, it will also prevent the crowds who were at the locations today not to show solidarity or out of concern but were there for the sole reason of getting their face on camera. (This is a reality in India)

Role of Politicians:
They haven't done anything to prevent the situation, they should stay away from the situation as mentioned above.

Where has the champion of Bombay, Mr Raj Thackeray disappeared to? Which safe location is he hiding in?

Our Home Minister was ineffectual as always. Surprisingly, our Prime Ministers speech didn't induce confidence either.

Politicians need to rise above their petty politics of deciding whether to hold a bundh on December 1st or not.
They should instead be visiting the homes of the brave security personnel who lost their lives and appreciating the efforts of their husbands, sons and fathers (not to be sexist, but no female personnel casualty has been reported yet in this case) who lost their lives in the service of the country. This is one of the few useful things that they can do at this point of time.

I also pray that they do not use this attack to further communalize our country for their own vote bank politics.

Future Action:
It may seem insensitive to say this at this point, but as a country we should take advantage of the terrorists targeting Americans, British and Israeli citizens.
The US previously tried to restrain India when they spoke about retaliation after the parliament attacks.
This is the right opportunity to use this joint sentiment against these terrorists to take a stand and launch a forceful offensive against terrorist camps targeting India.
Use the Israeli intelligence and their expertise to stem the flow of terrorists into India and destroy their their training camps.
We need a single security network that is pan-country, not disjointed co-ordination between multiple agencies.

We need to make our country safe again. Where people do not flinch at a loud sound, where people do not have to think twice before leaving their houses to catch a train, shop for groceries or watch a movie. We need to feel safe. It is our right as citizens.

Published on

Monday, 24 November 2008

Sunday, 9 November 2008

DIVA - My First Issue as Editor

This month saw the publishing of my first magazine issue as Editor. Cover Page and Credit pictures follow.

Wednesday, 5 November 2008

Wednesday, 15 October 2008

Tuesday, 14 October 2008

Oasis - What's on in Cairo - Staying Informed

This article appeared in the October Issue of the Oasis

Text of the article is on my Egypt Blog

Oasis - Are you financially Confident?

This article appeared in the Oasis Magazine for the month of October:

Text of the Article:
Are you Financially Confident?

Money is an important criterion that one considers even before moving to a new country. Is the move finically viable? Will we be able to make ends meet? Will we be able to enjoy the same or a better lifestyle if we move? These are some of the questions that one considers before moving.

Making a budget when moving to a new country, is as important as having a budget when back home. If you really want to start right from Day 1, then have a simple budget for the first month. What is the total income going to be for the month? How much of this do we want to save? How much of this are we saving for something specific - like a trip to Hurghada at the end of the month? How much of our income can we spend?

In the first month, the outflow will be higher. There will be some beautification to be done of the house. Little knick knacks, paintings on the wall, a piece of furniture you know will be perfect in your foyer. Perhaps your landlord refused to replace the shabby curtains and you just can’t bear to look at them, so you have to buy new drapes yourself. The kitchen will need to be stocked with basic spices and condiments from scratch.

If your sponsor company provides a relocation reimbursement, then it would be wise to check what will or will not be reimbursable. If they provide a flat sum, then that makes life a lot easier.

By the second month, you will have a better idea of the Cost of Living and your basic expenses. Make a note of all the monthly essentials. Rent, salaries for the household help, cell phone bills, electricity, club fees, insurance premiums (here and at home) all the recurring expenses that are almost fixed. This could even include your gym membership or art classes that you feel are essential for your child. Include all the expenses for things that you just can’t do without (except groceries and eating out.) The sum of this is your fixed expense for the month.

Now set aside a budget for groceries, eating out and entertainment. Allocate a certain amount for this monthly and try to stick to the budget. If you spent money on imported exotic vegetables that were out of season, then compensate by ordering one dessert less when eating out or rent a DVD instead of going to the theatre. Although the amount itself is fixed, you have the discretion on how you want to spend it.

The rest of the money is your savings. What you are saving for is something you need to decide. Is it very long term like college education for your children or down payment on a house when you return to your home country? Is it long term like an annual foreign holiday/summer break? Is it something shorter term, like an expensive gold necklace, an Egyptian carpet or a piece of Mashrabiya furniture?

Once you have decided what you want to spend your savings on, now you can take a decision on how to save that money. If your savings are short term (but longer than a month) and you intend to spend the money in Egypt, then check with your local bank what rates they offer for Fixed deposits. The interest rate is normally higher than what it would be for Savings Accounts. The Egyptian stock market is quite volatile and meant only for the serious risk takers.

If your savings are long term and meant to be spent back in your home country, then it may make sense to send the money home via wire transfer. The best rates for this can normally be got by having a bank account with the same bank in Egypt and in your home country. This will help save a lot on transfer fees.

Do note, that unless your account in Egypt and in your home country is in the same currency, you will lose a small amount in currency conversion. Check around with the banks to see who gives you the best rates of conversion and interest both here and at home. Try and transfer money whenever your home currency is at a strong rate. With the dollar fluctuation, it is quite easy to increase your savings, just by following the currency exchange rates daily. It barely takes 10 seconds on the internet.

With inflation rising at a higher rate than interest rates on Savings accounts, you are better off investing your long term savings in options like mutual funds, stocks, shares and bonds. Blindly investing in these markets is not advisable at all. Try and check on past performance. The markets across the world have being going through a downturn, so do go back at least a year to check on performance.

If you invest in SIPs (Systematic Investment Plans) of mutual funds, it will help you balance out the irregularities of the market. How this works is that every month on a pre-assigned date, a fixed amount is deducted from your account towards a particular mutual fund. Mutual funds and SIPs are advisable if you are looking at holding the investment for at least 3 years. The risk is minimized if you consider this time horizon.

Try and ensure that you activate the Online banking options on all your accounts and credit cards. This is a huge time saver if you regularly move across geographic locations.

Each country has different Tax Regulations. Ensure that you follow the regulations of your home and host country regarding filing of returns and paying of taxes. You do not need anything catching up with you at a later date.

These are just general guidelines to help you stay in control of your finances. Each country also has different laws for non-residents, pertaining to investments. Educate yourself about them and try to adhere to the rules and regulations of your home country.

Karishma Pais (Kim) is an expat trailing wife in Cairo. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources and Behavior. She consults on HR projects, delivers intercultural training at the CSA, counsels new and experienced expats, writes for several magazines – online and offline, she runs and among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at

Wednesday, 17 September 2008

Book Review : Everyone Worth Knowing

Picked this one up because I found the "Devil Wears Prada" good for a light read when traveling.

The cover of Everyone Worth Knowing touted the fact that is was written by the same author in almost the same font size as the title.

That should have warned me : Be wary when someone is trying too hard.

The theme here is vaguely similar to the original bestseller, Bette the main protagonist is sick of her job in banking, her boss and his daily inspirational emails with quotations. One day she quits her job in disgust and then spends the next couple of weeks vegetating in her house.

Her well known columnist uncle, Will uses his connections to get her a job at an up and coming boutique PR firm where partying hard is part of her job.

The rest of the book is a constant whine of how terrible Bette's life is and how she isn't happy with what she is doing but still keeps doing it anyway.

This book has none of the humor of the first, or something enlightening like a window into the fashion magazine industry that the first book provided.

This book just talks about the parties the PR folks attend where they drink, do drugs and have random hookups with barely any insight into the inner workings of the PR industry.

This book is a combination of gossip pages, Harlequin romances (which Bette incidentally favours and even has monthly book club meetings to discuss them) and poor me whining.

The book is barely passable as chicklit. Guys don't even bother starting to read it.

Also published on

Tuesday, 16 September 2008

Movie Review : Trade & Human Trafficking

By coincidence, I happened to watch 2 movies dealing with the same subject in 2 days. One a video rental, the other a Lifetime miniseries on Hallmark.

Both deal with the subject of women and young children being kidnapped and sold in a modern day form of slavery.

Trade is a movie seen from the eyes of a Mexican teenager following the trail of his 13 year old sister and her kidnappers across the border. Human Trafficking mostly follows from the point of view of an NYPD agent working with the Immigration and Customs Enforcement.

In both movies, the women are brought from all over the world into Mexico and then into the US by walking across the Mexican border.

Both show Mexican cops hand in glove with the traders. In both movies there is a scene where the Mexican cops get to "sample the merchandise" when it is being en route.

In Trade, the group is caught by the border police in the US and placed in detention until they can be sent back to Mexico. And the American officials simply turn away when one of the women tries to explain that they have been kidnapped.

Both movies are very realistic without being sensational or titillating. The horrors the girls and children (little boys and girls) face are unimaginable.

In Human Trafficking an entire set of young children is sequestered in a container and sent on a ship bound for Saudi Arabia on a 10 day journey from Mexico when their pimp gets news that the cops are about to raid his den.

Trade introduces 2 new child actors who are absolutely brilliant in their roles. Kevin Kline is the only well known actor in that movie and is in more of a supporting role.

Human Trafficking has a star cast of Donald Sutherland, Mira Sorvino and Robert Carlyle (the Scottish guy from Full Monty) who turns out an amazingly chilly performance as a Eastern European Sex Trade boss.

The entire situation of Human Trafficking is summed up absolutely eloquently in Mira Sorvino's press statement at the end of that movie.

Worth a watch for the realistic view of a universal problem. As Sorvino said "It could be your daughter, your sister, your best friend next"

Also published on

Sunday, 14 September 2008

Attacks on Churches and Christians in India

Section 144 has just been clamped on Mangalore city.

Police resorted to lathi charge and throwing tear gas grenades at peaceful protesters where a number of nuns and women were injured and had to be taken to hospital.

What the hell is wrong with our country and its people? (I would not normally use such strong language in print, but it doesn't even begin to demonstrate how strongly I feel)

Today morning between 9am and 10am, Bajrang Dal activists attacked and destroyed 4 churches in Mangalore City.

Why? Because New Life members distributed pamphlets which said "Do not Worship Hindu Gods"
While I admit that this could be an incendiary statement, does this justify attacking people and churches who do not even agree with the methods used by the New Life preachers?
Does this justify attacking members of a church, who have not had anything to do with conversions or preaching and just listen?

Lets look at the issues here:
1. The Bajrang Dal resorts to violence because of something that is printed that they do not agree with.
2. When the Bajrang Dal says that conversions are illegal, (and all the other things they do with tis as their cause) aren't they infact enforcing that "you cannot worship any God other than a Hindu God"
3. The New Life Church is a relative newcomer, known to be more hardline than most other churches which distance themselves from them. Shouldn't the Bajrang Dal have at least distinguished that?
4. Even if they did not agree with what was printed by the New Life church in India, couldn't they try having a dialog with them first, before resorting to violence.
Looks like the hooligans behind these attacks are only interested in breaking bones and getting their adrenaline pumping rather than really trying to sort out any kinds of problems or misunderstandings.

The ruffians broke all the religious statues in the Sisters of Poor Clare's Adoration Monastery. They threw the Holy Eucharist on the ground and desecrated it.

Is this OK, just because it is being done against Catholics/Christians in India who have historically been as non-violent as the Jains and buddhists (other minorities) in India?

Concerned members of the churches gathered in the church grounds during and after evening mass in a peaceful way to seek assurance and guidance from the priests and other religious. Wasn't this a peaceful gahtering compared to mobs rampaging and torching buses because of some mud smeared on Meenatai's statue? or The countrywide riots following a desecration of an Ambedkar statue in Kanpur? The second incident was also of smeared mud. Both the desecrations happened on public roads. This does not make it right, but compare this to religious statues being broken on private property, the Holy Eucharist (which Christians believe is the body of Christ once it is blessed) thrown on the ground. Do not Christians have a right to congregate to discuss their fears following such incidents.

Remember the Christians were gathering in peace outside their place of worship (since the insides of the church were full) not going out and torching buses or hurting other innocent people.

To add fuel to the fire, the police arrived. No issues with their arriving where crowds had gathered, but they started lathi charging the gathered people and seriously injured nuns and women among the crowd and threw tear bombs inside the church where Sunday evening mass was being held. A religious ceremony, a peaceful ceremony, held everyday inside these churches.

Was this responsible on the part of the police to use force and violence against unarmed, peaceful members of the public?

People present at the scene said that the police themselves were pelting stones at the crowd and caning them, hurting both people and damaging property in the vicinity.

The news channels started to broadcast about this and then completely hushed up. I turned on my India feed of NDTV which promised for 15 minutes to show an update and news about Mangalore city and suddenly it stopped showing those banners without showing any news about what had happened. Looks like someone high in the political chain, got to them and yanked the news off the air.

Now take 2-3 other incidents into perspective.
On 29th August over 40,000 Christian Educational Institutions across India stayed closed to register a peaceful protest against the continuing violence against Christians in Orissa which has now spread to 13 out of 30 districts.

On the same day, the government of Karnataka announced its decision to take action against Christian schools in the state for closing without prior permission.

This same government has yet to take action against the Akhila Bharatiya Vidyarthi Parishat and RSS workers, who had launched violent protests when the JD (S) failed to hand over the state reins to the BJP last year.

Is it any surprise that both Karnataka and Orissa currently have the BJP in power?

The VHP held violent protests in Madhya Pradesh and other places asking why the Christians had killed Saraswati? (by shutting educational institutions for a day) What about all the occasions when the BJP/VHP/Bajrang Dal/Shiv Sena and other Hindu organisations force schools, colleges and business to shut shutter for their own bundhs which destroy all normalcy in the cities?

Why are these double standards in play? Why are Christians being given the short end of the stick? Religious Christian institutions have a large role to play in education, medicine, caring for the orphans, abandoned, old and dying in India. Christians have been one of the most tolerant minorities in India (imagine what would have happened by now if by chance the Bajrang Dal hooligans had desecrated a mosque this morning) who have contributed immensely to the growth of the country. Why this treatment? Do they deserve it?

Do they deserve a government that is apathetic to their religious sensibilities being trampled upon?

Christians have always believed in being peace loving, patient and tolerant. Will the Christian youth of today continue to be as tolerant when they see the atrocities being committed against their brethren in Orissa and the North East?

Why are these atrocities against Christians being downplayed in the media? (Try googling for the attack against Christians in India and see how many Indian media links pop up) Why aren't they being given coverage? Is it because the powers-that-be know that they aren't doing a thing to control, controllable situations and the miscreants in their party? Is it because the powers-that-be know that the Christians haven't ever retaliated with violence? How long will the Christians community be able to react with tolerance and peace? (2 values that a lot of Indians in the news seem to have completely forgotten about)

Final note of irony: Union minister of labour and employment Oscar Fernandes (a Christian) was in Mangalore today to inaugurate the opening of a (Hindu) temple.

And so we debate endlessly in the media about terrorism coming in from across the border while we burn our own own citizens in their homes and places of worship.

Also Published on

Wednesday, 10 September 2008

Book Review : The Appeal

The latest bestseller from John Grisham after - The Innocent Man.

Given that the Innocent Man was a work of non-fiction, makes this book all the more frightening. Grisham himself was very excited about his first real legal thriller in years.

In this book (I wouldn't call it a novel) Grisham exposes the nexus between big business, politics and the law. While these have always been recurring themes in his books, this time in "The Appeal" it is the sole focus of the book.

The book starts with a chemical and environmental pollution case in small town Bowmore, Mississippi, now nicknamed Cancer County, where Krane Chemical is the accused and Jeanette Baker the plaintiff.

Jeanette has lost both her husband and son to cancer. This makes hers the strongest case to start with for her lawyers - Wes and Mary Payton. There are plenty of mass tort specialists and ambulance chasers waiting in the wings for the decision on this case, so they can all get themselves a piece of the pie (30% to the lawyers) while the Paytons themselves are over 400,000$ in debt by virtue of working and following up on this case (to the exclusion of all others).

The jury orders damages of 41 million dollars to be paid to Jeanette and here is where the plot actually takes off.

It is an intriguing ride that Grisham takes us on and is an excellent medium to learn how the Supreme Courts in the US work. Most states choose their Supreme Court justices by election, which leaves plenty of room for interested parties to skew the process. How that happens, is the meat of this book.

The ending may not please a lot of readers, but it is extremely realistic and I admire Grisham for leaving it there rather than neatly tying things up.

The book is extremely interesting and educating on the political and legal intrigue that takes place behind these elections. While this may be a work of fiction, it could very well become reality, any time in the near future and that is what is so scary about this book.

Also published on

Sunday, 7 September 2008

Book Review : A Prisoner of Birth

Lord Jeffrey Archer is back with a bang! Doing what he does best. Writing fiction with revenge and justice as the major themes of his novel.

I have not been as lucky as IdeaSmith as to meet this Lord in person. But I'm sure it would be an amazing experience just to hear him speak on any topic on this earth. He has an astounding insight on what seems to be almost everything.

Lord Archer has proved yet again why he is one of the leading best selling authors of this generation.

The similarities to Dumas's Count of Monte Cristo are clearly evident in this tale and even the main protagonist keeps referring to the book. But Archer gives this tale a modern twist and spices it up with intimate knowledge of the details that he gathered during his 2 year tryst in Her Majesty's prisons.

The tempo of the novel keeps building up and its quite un-put-down-able (not sure if that is a word, but it describes this story aptly) To use a real word, this is a page turner. Definitely not bed time reading unless you plan to stay up all night until you are done.

This is a book that every mystery/crime fan should buy and read and re-read (its a book that may need to be read twice as new angles are discovered which have a different significance on past conversations and situations)

I'm now waiting for Paths of Glory which he is due to release in March of next year.

Also published on

Saturday, 6 September 2008

Oasis - Grocery Shopping in Cairo

Grocery Shopping in Cairo
Karishma Pais (Kim)

If you are moving to Cairo as an Expat, then before you think of buying papyrus paintings or Egyptian Carpets, the first thing you need to know is where to buy daily groceries.

Here are some of the best locations to source your groceries. If you are fluent in Arabic then you may find that the local markets are more flavorful and interesting.

Personally, I love the local markets for fruits and vegetables, as the produce is much fresher than in stores and they can be washed clean. For meat and meat products, I prefer the bigger supermarkets, as the meat is cut and kept in hygienic conditions.

Metro Markets - a small supermarket - are dotted around the city. They have all the basics that you need for daily use. Some fresh fruits & vegetables. A small selection of raw meats, marinated meats, cold meats, cheeses & pickles. I have found them more expensive than the other local groceries or the bigger ones. They are convenient because they are normally a short distance away and most items are labeled in English, as are the prices.

In some neighborhoods, without a Metro Market, you may find Kheer Zaman supermarkets, run by the same people. They do not carry as many imported products as Metro does.

The El Hawary Supermarkets are similar to Metro, but with lower rates. The locals shop here. A word of warning: Most prices are written in Arabic, if they are written at all. The store personnel cannot speak much English & the stores are quite crowded. The aisles are small & have a lot of people jostling for space, for themselves and their trolleys. Once you know which brands you like & can speak a few words in Arabic then you can try shopping here.

For your major shopping, try Carrefour. It’s a Hyper Market where you can get everything you want -that’s available in Egypt- in quite a few varieties. You do get good discounts & they always have some offer on. Most of the service staff can speak basic English or can refer you to someone who does speak English. The aisles are wide, the air conditioning works, lots of choice, good rates. Drawback : It’s a long drive from most residential areas. There's one on the Cairo-Alex desert road at Dandy Mall & another at Maadi City Center (on the Ring Road) They are both located in pretty decent malls, so you can plan a day around the experience. The Dandy Mall Carrefour is cleaner and less chaotic than the one in Maadi.

Spinneys at City Stars mall in Nasr City, is similar to Carrefour. The Electronics and clothes sections here are much larger than the other Hypermarkets. It’s convenient to pick up groceries from here after spending a day at the City Stars Mall or watching a movie.

If you are more confident of yourself & know for sure which brands you want to purchase, then HyperOne in 6th of October City, is the best option among the hypermarkets. Their prices are much lower & they have a larger range. Most locals shop here. It’s completely worth the drive for monthly shopping. HyperOne is run by the same people who own the El Hawary chain of supermarkets.

Between Hyper1 & Carrefour, I would recommend Carrefour for cold meats (tastier) & unpacked spices in barrels (labeled in English and cleaner). For everything else, Hyper1 is a better bet.

Alfa Markets are spread out in some parts of the City. They carry a lot of products imported from the UK including English rose patterned ceramic cutlery. But, they are expensive. The Zamalek branch, is the best of the Alfa Markets that I have seen.

There are smaller stand alone stores like Miriams supermarket and Kimo supermarket in Maadi, that carry a lot of imported products and even fresh home baked cakes and cookies by Expat women.

The local markets are always good for fruits & vegetables. They are fresher than the produce sold in supermarkets. These are recommended, if you can speak Arabic and you can judge fresh produce by looking at it or smelling it.

You can buy lovely spices at the Khan El Khalili for much lower rate than at the supermarkets. But be ready to bargain. Most of these guys can speak enough English because of the sheer number of tourists that visit the market.

Your neighborhood grocer will have a lot of the stuff that you may suddenly run out of, but you may be overcharged. On comparison, over time, I know the grocer next to my house overcharges me, but the shop around the corner gives me a fair deal and delivers home even if it is just a loaf of bread.

If you are new to Cairo, then you may find that it’s easier to walk up to the closest Metro Market where prices are fixed & marked. At least there you know that you are paying the same as the other customers, even if t is a little more.

Most grocery stores will deliver home. The Hypermarkets deliver home for a fee or a certain minimum purchase. If you carry them home yourself, your bowab or his wife will carry your shopping bags to your apartment for a small tip (50p to 2LE depending on how much stuff they have to carry and if they use the stairs or an elevator)

Karishma Pais (Kim) is an expat trailing wife in Cairo. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources and Behaviour. She consults on HR projects, delivers intercultural training at the CSA, counsels new and experienced expats, writes for several magazines – online and offline, she runs and among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at

Oasis - Where should I live in Cairo?

Where Should I Live in Cairo?
Karishma Pais (Kim)

The question I get asked the most by newcomers to Egypt, often before they even arrive, is “Where should I live?”

Quick Orientation :
Cairo is the capital of Egypt & the business centre.
Alexandria is a lovely Mediterranean Seaside town 4 hours drive away from Cairo and has its own international airport too.
Port Said & Port Suez are along the Suez Canal. A lot of people who work in the shipping industry are posted in these towns.
Sharm el Sheikh & Hurghada are the party towns on the Red Sea Coast. But if you work with a hotel chain, you are likely to be posted here.
Luxor and Aswan are in Upper Egypt and are the ancient Pharonic towns.

These are the main cities that expats live in.

This article is about places to live in Cairo.
The best advice I can give you is: Stay as Close as Possible to your Area of Work or Study!

Traffic in Cairo means that it can take ages to reach from point A to point B. It's better to live as close as possible to your office or college/university so you can save a ton of time on traveling and use that time more productively.

If you are an Expat with kids then your child's school is another major consideration to keep in mind. Which school? How long will it take your child to travel from home to school? Is there a school bus facility? Is there a convenient pick-up location?
In a toss up between your own/spouses office location & child's school location, you need to take a call for yourself and your family that will best suit your needs.

If you are a student, then you may also like to stay in walking distance to a Metro station. The Metro service in Cairo is efficient & extremely beneficial to anyone who doesn't have their own means of transportation in this city or who doesn't want to drive here.

Areas to live in :
Maadi : The choice of a majority of expats. Close to many international schools. Maadi is a lot greener than a lot of other areas in Cairo. It boasts plenty of organizations catering specifically to or of interest to expats like the Community Service Association (CSA), Cairo Rugby Club, Studio 206, Ace Club - Association of Cairo Expatriates, Cairo Hash House Harriers, Cairo Petroleum Wives, Maadi Womens Guild, Serafis among others.

There are bungalows (stand alone houses) 2/3 floored buildings as well as a couple of high rises.

Rents are higher in this part of town. But it is worth it for the benefits of the greenery, community living and established conveniences for foreigners.

Zamalek : An Island on the Nile in the centre of the city. It is the location of choice for embassy employees (a lot of embassies are located in this area) and students. The old AUC hostels are located in this area. The constructions are older here but not necessarily in bad condition. The apartments are really huge and spacious with high ceilings and wooden floors.

Garden City: Similar to Zamalek. The rent rates would be slightly lower than Zamalek. It is just across the river towards Maadi and boasts wonderful views of the Nile from most apartments.

Mohandaseen: The business part of town. It started as a residential area for and is an extremely busy part of town. A lot of offices are based in this area. There are plenty of restaurants and cafes in this part of town.

Dokki: A residential area between Mohandaseen and downtown. Slightly secluded and not as chaotic as downtown for those who have to travel there for work or to study.

Most of the restaurants and clubs are clustered around these areas of town.

There are other areas of town that are comfortable to live in too. These include downtown Cairo, Heliopolis, Nasr City, 6th of October city and El Rehab City.

Excepting downtown (which is logically in the centre of the city and close to everything) the others are on the outskirts of the city and it takes some time to reach the city centre from these locations. But they are better planned with more greenery, parking spaces and less traffic.

Nasr City is also home to City Stars the largest mall in Cairo. A shopaholics delight with tons of stores, restaurants, food courts and cinema halls.

There are plenty of malls planned for 6th of October City, Rehab City, Kattameya, Ain Shams and other newer parts of town. A lot of the universities have been moving out of the congested heart of Cairo into these new and developing areas. In some places like Kattameya it may be difficult to find furnished apartments right now. So the choice would be between apartment fixtures and time taken to travel

This is just a quick primer on some residential areas in Cairo. Rates will depend on size of apartment/house and location. For example within Garden city itself similar apartments may rent for different rates based on quality of construction, amount the owner has spent on doing up the place etc.

So find yourself a good "semsar" - real estate agent - and happy hunting.

Karishma Pais (Kim) is an expat trailing wife in Cairo. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources and Behavior. She consults on HR projects, delivers intercultural training at the CSA, counsels new and experienced expats, writes for several magazines – online and offline, she runs and among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at

BCA Chronicle - Birqash

The text is very similar to this.

Tuesday, 26 August 2008

Won a Cookery Contest

Rushina from A perfect bite... had a Hot and Spicy Pakora contest! sometime ago.

I submitted a favorite recipe of mine for Prawn Pakodas

I was one of the 3 winners of the contest. So I guess Rushina and her judges (family) liked it :)

Here's the link to the announcement and links to the recipes of other winners and participants.

Tuesday, 12 August 2008

Sunday, 27 July 2008

Book Review : Diplomatic Baggage: The Adventures of a Trailing Spouse

As a Trailing Spouse to Egypt, this was a book recommended at an Inter-cultural training session that I attended.

I am glad I waited 2 years to read this book (I might have been terrified of the move) although I'm kicking myself for spending money on it, even though I got it at a discounted price on Amazon.

I got carried away by William Dalrymple's (an author I greatly admire) review of it: "Brigid Keenan, is a new comic genius.... very, very funny"

Later in the book, I figured out that he spent time at their house in Damascus, while researching his book From the Holy Mountain.

Why did I hate the book so much?
Except for the last chapter, the author was constantly whining and groaning about the hardships that life had tossed at her. This after choosing to marry her husband of her own free will, knowing the kind of job he did and loved would take him to obtuse corners of the world. It was a fully informed decision that she took. Even spending some days with him, in what she calls a "chicken shed" in Kathmandu before deciding to marry him.

She constantly whines about everything from the help, to the kids, to her husband, to location.... in short, she whines about Everything.

The life of a Diplomatic Trailing Spouse is much easier than that of other Trailing Spouses. Accommodation, household help, office help, everything is put in place before the diplomatic family even arrives at their new location. Brigid's grouse is that some of the other European embassies provide more services to the spouses than her husbands European Commission ambassadors office does.

She promotes herself as a glamorous, successful young London fashion journalist, but later in the book accepts and acknowledges that her children were the worst dressed in their school.

I do not know Brigid personally, but what I read in her this autobiography of hers, made me think of her as a spoiled, over indulged wife who can never find anything positive and good in life.

Granted she had a few scares like the maggots that got under the skin and had to mature and grow and eat their way out, but those kind of experiences were less than you could count on one hand. For the most part, she was preoccupied with how to find whit gloves for a 6 fingered servant in India and wondering why there was no association to put beggars to sleep the way Animal friends does it for animals! At the same time brushing aside her daughters experiences with pedophiles and exposers as casual asides.

Brigid has written about Kashmir's art and crafts and co authored a book on Damascus; which may be worth looking at, but Diplomatic Baggage is not a book you want to buy or gift a friend who is going to be a Trailing Spouse, not unless you want them to cancel all plans and send their spouse to live abroad on their own.

Published on

Camel Market at Birqash, Egypt

Egypt's Largest Camel Market - Birqash Camel Market is 35km away from Cairo. The best day to visit is supposed to be Friday, when the market is most lively in the earlier parts of the morning 7am-9am. The market is open till 1pm but most of the trading happens before 11am.

This market used to earlier take place in Imbaba, but as the city expanded, the camel market was moved to the suburb of Birqash which is at the edge of the Western Desert.

Hundreds of Camels are sold here everyday. But this is definitely not a market for the Animal lover. The animals aren't in pitiable condition, but they could be treated much, much better than they currently are.

Camels from Sudan are brought into Egypt on the 40 day road via Abu Simbel to the market in Daraw. The unsold camels are then loaded into trucks and brought to Birqash after a 24 hour drive. Camels also arrive from the rest of Egypt and sometimes from Somalia. These camels are traded for other livestock or cash and are mostly bought for farm work or consumption.

Photo opportunities abound, if you can get the angles right since the camels are almost monochromatic in color. The traders have wonderfully charactered faces and I would have loved to be able to take close up portraits and talk to them and listen to their stories. Unfortunately as a woman, taking close up pictures of men is not the sanest thing to do. And my Arabic is too limited to have had a proper conversation with them.

As an obvious foreigner, you will be charged entry to the market. (it has a gated entry) 20LE per person. Then they may try to charge you an additional 10LE per camera. Once you enter, you will not face any obvious resentment. The traders are pretty welcoming of foreigners and try to make a buck or so by posing for pictures with them. There were at least 10 other foreigners the day we visited.The only thing to be aware of is to not behave like an Animal Rights Activist and they will pretty much maintain their distance for the most part.

The market extends inside for a distance with sections cordoned off by walls for certain traders. Small single level constructions provide basic housing for traders. The roofs of which are covered with bales of hay. There are basic ramps built for loading and unloading camels from the trucks.

Obviously not all the camels are sold and some of them may not be worth carrying back. Some don't even survive the truck ride to Birqash. Their corpses are carelessly strewn about the desert as you approach the market. There are a few pictures of that at the bottom. Please don't scroll to the end, if you are squeamish.

Thanks to all my online friends who helped me find directions to the market. The best ones were provided by Karim who said Take Cairo/Alex highway to Abu Rawash road. You take a right onto Abu Rawash road which is right before the Carrefour/Dandy mall parking lot. You take this until you reach the end of the road where it intersects with the Mansouriyya Canal road. Take a left onto the Mansouriyya Canal road. Keep going for a ways and start looking for signs, either the suk il gamaal sign or Nimos Farm sign, on the left-hand side of the road. Take left onto small canal road and go until the end where you hit a midaan/circle. There will be a sign pointing towards the suk and it's only a little ways down the road from there. Leaving from downtown on an early Friday morning, this way can get you there in 45 minutes if you use the Mahwar.

Thomas also gave a good alternate route if you are closer to the pyramids
The road that leads there is accessed from right next to the Giza Pyramids, but I can't easily describe how to find it. (Kim's note : at the main circle take the road that goes to Kerdasa/ Mansoureyya) If you ask a couple people in the area, one should point you in the right direction.
Once on this road, you end up following it straight about 20-25 min and then you make a left at the camel market sign (in Arabic) and drive about 1-2 kilometers to the market.
Good luck.

Alex gave me a good tip. He said that the road would make the car smell and it would be better to take a Yellow Cab. While this is extremely true if you take the Imbaba canal route (the road was piled high with garbage on both sides for the most part and quite nauseating even with our windows up and the air conditioning on), the Pyramids, Kerdasa and Abu Rawash routes are more scenic and pleasant and can be done in a regular car.

The Drive through the Nile Delta makes you forget that you are surrounded by the largest desert in the world.
and is very reminiscent of the UP and Punjab fields. The River Nile in the background is of course, unique to Egypt

Some of the camels have one of their legs tied to prevent them from running away.

Walled Compound

Quality check of camels like horses is done by inspecting the teeth. This one showed us his teeth voluntarily.

Unloading of Camels

Sold camels being taken away in a pick-up

Some of the character filled faces

Warning: The pictures below are quite gory.
Please do not scroll down if you are easily upset.

Death is inevitable, but I wish, they could at least dispose the bodies in a less conspicuous and more humane fashion, rather than just leaving it out to the elements.

Some of the facts, come from the Lonely Planet guide for Egypt

Many of the pictures were taken by my husband

Published on

Monday, 30 June 2008

Book Review : Cherry Bomb

The entire title Reads - Cherry Bomb : The Ultimate Guide to becoming a Better Flirt, a Tougher Chick and a Hotter Girlfriend, And to Living Life like a Rockstar

I don't read "how-to" books, but the title for this one by Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna had me intrigued and itching to get my hands on it, to read more.

Carrie Borzillo-Vrenna has been a music and entertainment journalist since the last 20 years and is best known for her books on Nirvana and Kurt Cobain, her sex and relationship advice column “Dr. Love” for the Gene Simmons Tongue magazine and her music related articles in People, Billboard, Spin, and Alternative Press magazines.

The title "Cherry Bomb" comes from the song by Joan Jett of The Runaways. Carrie says "Joan Jett's attitude, style and music has always inspired me so I'm happy to reference the Runaways song (in the title) even if some younger people won't know what it means right away. That's ok because cherries are sweet and bombs are badass and the book is all about being a sweet badass! To me, those two words, sum up the book nicely and it's a killer song to boot!"

Cherry Bomb is an alphabetized reference from Absinthe (the new Drink of Choice for the Rock and roll set) to Zig Zags (The Cool Way to Roll a Joint) with Celebrity Pick-up tips, Fetishes, Infidelity Pacts, Orgasms, Piercings, Strip Tease and Tour Bus Etiquette in between .

The tips and techniques are invaluable to a rock chick. There are tips and detailed instructions on how to tie a cherry stem into a knot (using just your mouth- no hands), how to get backstage without being a whore, using bottle service to buy VIP status at the hottest nightclubs, how to perform a striptease (by Burlesque star - Ditta Von Teese) The tips are practical and easily doable, no matter who you are or what kind of budget you are on.

Being in the music industry as a writer and as a wife to a Grammy winning Rockstar - Chris Vrenna who plays keyboards with Marilyn Manson and drums with Gnarls Barkley- Carrie is more than qualified to write this guide. Most of the tips come from her own real life experiences. For the few areas that she did not have first hand experience with when she started writing, she enlisted the help of her celebrity friends including
Cherie Currie of THE RUNAWAYS (on "Cherry Bomb," the song that influenced the book)
Tori Amos (Life Advice)
Betsey Johnson (Breast Cancer Awareness and Personal Style)
Anna Sui (Fashion Inspiration)
Dancing with the Stars' Cheryl Burke (Dancing Tips)
Celeb hairstylist Dean Banowetz (Rockin' Up 'Dos)
Master Chef Dave Rubell (Black Vodka Recipes)
and Stylist Cynthia Freund (Rock Chick Style Tips) among others.

My favorite guest how-to chapter is the one by Peaches' drummer Samantha Maloney on how to play the Drums. It re-ignited an old flame and I just might be inspired enough to go out and get myself into classes and buy myself a drum set. My favorite chapters by Carrie are Jet Setting, Jobs, Money and Networking.

I always thought I had a more than fair knowledge about rock music and rock stars, but on reading Carrie's book, I know I have a lot more to learn and a lot more musicians that I need to listen to at least once. Her list of songs at the end of some chapters seems to be a good place to start. The lists are mood based - songs to Vacuum fast To (the Anger Stage), songs to Eat a Pint of Ice Cream to (the Depression Stage), Funk Fixers etc.

For the Relationship kinda quiz addicts, there are a couple of quizzes as well, to check if you are rockstar girlfriend material and which rock chick you are most like.

The illustrations by Liz Adams are apt and cute (not a word you would associate with rock, but thats truly what they are.)

There is something for everyone in this book. Men can find a lot of the chapters interesting and relevant too. The title hooked my husband and he browsed through the book and loved what he read.

You don't need to be in the rock industry or dating a rock star to use these tips. These tips are great for any independent, confident woman who is comfortable with herself and who she is. From a gangly pre-teen to a grandmother in her 60's, any woman with self assurance can find something of value in this guide and for someone who lacks self assurance, Cherry Bomb is a great place to start.

This book is due for release on the 5th of August 2008 and can be pre-ordered on Amazon. For anyone who has ever been interested in the lives of Rock Stars and been envious of their lifestyle, this book is a definite must-buy as it shows you step by simple step how to lead their life with panache and confidence. Cherry Bomb delivers on all its promises and does impart relevant and easy to follow tips on how to become a better flirt, tougher chick and hotter girlfriend.

Published on

Thursday, 26 June 2008

BCA Chronicle - My 7 Favourite Magazines in Egypt

Appeared in June 2008 Issue.

There are tons of magazines that are printed in Egypt in Arabic & English. Many new printing companies start up a new publication every day & an equal number of them shut shop everyday.

Magazines that are printed in Egypt are frequently distributed free of charge at coffee shops and other "youth hangout" locations, feel free to pick up a copy at these places.

The ones that I love and personally recommend (in no particular order) are :

1. Egypt Today: A well written magazine to let you know what is going on in town. Lots of current events, well researched articles, profiles of locals who are great at their fields of interest but not very well known. You can expect all this and more from this magazine.
You can view the latest online copy & archives at
You can subscribe to the magazine online or pick them up individually from a variety of bookstores. It costs 15LE per copy or 135 LE for an annual subscription.

2. Business Today: A sister publication of Egypt Today. This covers the Business developments in Egypt. Reviews into existing businesses, interviews with the movers and shakers in the corporate world among others. They also have an Annual bt100 ranking of companies based in Egypt.
You can view the latest online copy & archives at
You can subscribe to the magazine online or pick them up individually from a variety of bookstores. It costs 15LE per copy or 135 LE for an annual subscription.

3. Business Monthly: A free magazine brought out by the American Chamber of Commerce in Egypt. The insight is American Oriented and the articles are extremely thoroughly researched. This is a more technical magazine than Business Today.
You can check the archives online at
You can also sign up for your free subscription at It will be delivered to you free of charge into the comfort of your home.

4. Community Times : A lovely fun magazine to read. Although they have been advertising their website for over a year, it still isn't functional :) But the magazine is very good. It covers a wide variety of subjects that anyone living in Cairo would be interested in. It has a huge event listing at the back along with a restaurant listing etc.
It used to be available on sale for 10LE at the big supermarkets, but now it seems to be restricted to some major bookshops (refer 7 Favorite bookshops in BCA Chronicle – April 2008, page 105) & some restaurants. It is available free of charge at some of the bigger cafes in town. But I would recommend that you subscribe to it to ensure you get your monthly dose.

5. The Croc: Available free of charge at multiple locations around the city including cafes & BCA. It gives you a brief on the events coming up in the month. A nice list of restaurants, cafes & bars with recommendations on what to eat there and little notes about the ambiance at times.
Its tiny- pocket size, so its worth carrying around in your purse for those moments when you are hungry in a different part of town and can't decide where to eat or suddenly find yourself with a free evening & longing for a dose of culture!

6. The Oasis: a free magazine published by the CSA (Community Services Association) in Maadi. The article content isn’t high but it has a lot of ads for services in Maadi that can be extremely helpful, especially to expats. Pick up your free copy at the CSA centre on Road 21.

7. The BCA Chronicle: An excellent resource for expats. Lots of relevant articles to life in Egypt and travel around the world. More articles than ads, unlike the Oasis. Pick up your free copy from the BCA clubhouses among other locations.

Karishma Pais (Kim) is an expat trailing wife in Cairo. She has a Masters Degree in Human Resources and Behaviour. She consults on HR projects, delivers intercultural training at the CSA, counsels new and experienced expats, writes for several magazines – online and offline, she runs and among other activities. Her Social Commentary and blog about life in Egypt can be read at

Oasis - Summer Coolers

Appeared in Summer 2008 Issue.

Summer Coolers

Karishma Pais (Kim)

Now that the temperatures are regularly crossing 40C, maybe most of you like me are more interested in consuming cooling liquids and eating light salads.

While the aerated beverages are easy and seem convenient, they are most definitely not the best thing for your family’s health. There are the easy options available like the fresh orange juice sold at Metro (clean & healthy) and the many bottled fruit juices from Isis. I find the Isis juices a little strong and like to dilute them a bit with water.

Options with a little work involved are milkshakes with Nesquick or Vitrac’s flavored syrups. The almond one is especially yum.

But if you don’t mind putting in a little effort, then there is a vast mouth watering and thirst quenching range of drinks that you can prepare by yourself at home, with ingredients easily available in Egypt. The advantage is that you know that you have prepared them from healthy ingredients without any additives, artificial colors or preservatives. You can easily substitute the sugar in any of these recipes with Stevia or Splenda. Please note that the quantities mentioned are indicative. You can adjust them to your own taste.

Fresh Lime Juice/Lemonade

Squeeze the juice of 5-8 lemons (depending on size) into a pitcher. Discard the seeds. Add sugar and salt to taste. Fill with water. This can be kept chilling in the fridge and consumed over a 24 hour period.

Fresh Orange Juice

Squeeze 2 oranges and strain the juice. Add sugar to taste. Cool in the refrigerator before serving. If you want to drink it really fresh – store the oranges in the refrigerator before squeezing.

Almond Sherbet

Blanch half a kilo of almonds and skin them. Make a thin puree of the nuts in a blender/liquidizer adding a little water if necessary. (You can do this in multiple lots depending on the capacity of your blender)

Make a syrup with quarter kilo sugar (1.25 cups) and one liter water, cooking till it reaches single thread consistency.

Pour the almond puree into the syrup and cook till thickened, taking care to keep stirring.

The syrup should be thick but of pouring consistency.

You can add a teaspoon of rose water at this stage if you like.

Cool and fill into bottles.

It can be refrigerated for 2 weeks.

Serve diluted with water or milk and crushed ice.

Tamarind Juice

Very refreshing in the summers.

Clean 1/4 kg of tamarind, cover it with water (about 1.5 liters) and boil for 5 minutes. Then let it soak in that water for at least 6 hours.

Strain the liquid of any solid pieces. Add 2 cups of sugar.

Bottle & refrigerate.

Dilute with chilled water when you want to drink it.

Home made Karkadih

Rinse ¼ kg dried karkadih. Add one liter water and boil for 5 minutes.

Let it soak in that water for at least 1 hour.

Strain and sweeten with 1 cup sugar.

Bottle and refrigerate.

Dilute with chilled water when you want to drink it.


This is a staple in most Indian households during the hot summer months. It cools down the body completely and can be had in sweet or salty versions. There are so many flavors that you can add to the basic lassi. Below are a few versions to get you started.

Whisk together 450ml yoghurt (plain) with 300ml cold water. The consistency should be that of full cream milk. This is your basic lassi.

Flavor with a pinch of ginger or 1 sliced green chilli or cumin powder or a teaspoon of shredded mint or a teaspoon of chopped cilantro. Stir well. You can add salt to taste.

For a sweet version, add sugar to taste (about 1 teaspoon) to the yoghurt and water blend. You can flavor it with a dash of rose essence or orange blossom water.

For a really fancy lassi, garnish the sweet version with a tablespoon of crushed almonds or pistachios.

For a healthy lassi, whisk the mixture with 2 tablespoons of pureed fruit.

Amar al Din- Apricot juice

Get those pressed Apricot sheets from the grocery store (they are normally sold in yellow cellophane paper and are widely available during Ramadan, but even now you can find them)

Cut the Apricot sheets into thin strips and cover with cold water. Soak them until the strips dissolve.

Strain away the solid pieces and sweeten the juice to taste.

Bottle and refrigerate.

Dilute with chilled water when you want to drink it.

Watermelon Cocktail

Cut watermelon into small cubes and deseed.

Sprinkle some lemon juice and sugar on top.

Add a few shredded mint leaves.

Cover and chill.

Serve in cocktail glasses as is or after pureeing the mix.

Garnish with a sprig of mint.

Fresh Juices

There are a wide variety of fruits available in the market. You can prepare fresh juices by pureeing the flesh of these fruits, adding sugar to taste and diluting with water or milk.

Remember : Citrus fruits don’t go very well with milk.

Try out some combinations on your own and maybe next year, you could be writing your recipes for the Oasis J

Kim has a background in HR and freelances as an Intercultural Trainer, Writer and HR Consultant. Currently she is a trailing wife in Egypt and uses her training, counseling and empathy skills to help other expats adjust to the move. She blogs about Egypt at

Sunday, 15 June 2008

WhazzupEgypt Blog recognised by Culture Crossing

The good folks at have recognised the relevance of the posts on my WhazzupEgypt blog and included it in their list of blogs for travelers/expats to Egypt.

The link is here

Wednesday, 14 May 2008

Korba Street Festival - Heliopolis

Last Friday was the annual Korba Street festival in Heliopolis - a residential suburb in Cairo.

Baghdad street was closed off to traffic and stalls were put up along the sidewalks. There were stalls from the Asean countries selling native food and some handicrafts.

The Indian stall just had posters urging visitors to visit India. Nothing else. :(

There were tables along the sides for families to relax and grab a bite and the main road was left free for kids to express their creativity on the road with chalk and paints.

Marriott's Bakery, Swiss Inn, Sultana Ice Cream had tables on the road and were serving food there. The Swiss Inn even had a buffet set up on the road. But the more exciting stuff to eat were the street stalls which were selling things like cotton candy,the hummus drink and beans.

I attended in the morning half and left by 1:30pm, before the crowds really started to pour in. This meant I missed out on the musical performances (by Wust el Balad among others) and the puppet show, but what I managed to catch was great anyway.

My friends tell me, there was a short parade later in the noon with flower covered floats and giant coke bottles. More of advertising than Spring flowers was a comment I heard.

What I got to see, kind of reminded me a bit of the Kala Ghoda festival in Bombay, but just a little bit. The concept is similar, but there is so much further that the Korba festival can go. Its a good start though, just to have an open air event in a residential area of Cairo.

I would definitely catch it again next year.

Also published on

Friday, 9 May 2008

Oasis - Saying Goodbye to Egypt

Saying Goodbye to Egypt

Karishma Pais (Kim)

The time has come to leave this country where you have just spent a reasonable amount of your lifetime. How do you say goodbye?

You have just been informed by the company that its time for the next transfer. If you are among the lucky few, you are given at least one months notice about the move. If not, you may barely have a week.

Where do you start on closing things up? Do you have the time to finish it all before its time to leave? Will one parent need to stay back while the children finish their semester at school/college? All these questions are best settled ahead of time rather than trying to resolve them once the transfer orders are in.

Below is a little checklist to help you prepare for sudden and planned transfers out of Egypt.

Financial Matters:

Try and have a system with everyone’s financial details organized on a computer or in files to help speedily close things up.

Online banking is a remarkable tool and it is reasonably safe too. If you have activated online banking, you can transfer your funds from your Egyptian bank account to the new country, even after you are physically out of Egypt.

Try and pay all credit card and other debts before you leave the country, you never know when it will catch up with you and affect your credit rating.

Medical Matters:

Collect your medical files from all doctors and veterinarians concerned.

Take any preventive medicines and inoculations if necessary, for the country that you are moving to.

If you are transporting your pet, then check that it has received all necessary shots and its paperwork is in order for the country you are moving to. (If you have a pet and don’t plan to take it along with you- please try and find a loving home for it before you leave. It isn’t fair for a domesticated animal to be thrown out into the streets. It would be kinder to have them put down by the vet.)

Closing up the House:

If your rental apartment is on a personal lease, then you will need to contact your landlord/landlady and terminate the lease and get your deposit back.

If you share an apartment and the other flatmates are staying behind, do your bit to help them find another room-mate rather than leaving them in the lurch – its good karma.

When packing your belongings, you may want to separate them into different categories: carry along, sell at a discounted rate, donate to charity and throw away. Given the poverty levels in Egypt, unless something is absolutely useless and should have been thrown out long ago, don’t put it in the throw away pile. It is surprising how much more mileage your bowab or garbage collector can get out of it.

If the company isn’t footing your bill and baggage weight is a huge constraint you can consider selling some things and using the extra cash or look into alternative methods of transporting your things to your new location.

Souvenirs & Memories:

There are so many beautiful places to visit in Egypt and so many things to do in Cairo. Try and cover all the highlights as soon as you can. Places like Siwa Oasis, Nile Cruise and Petra, Jordan need advance planning and a couple of days off, which will be difficult to organize, once you have your marching orders.

Take plenty of pictures and frame some of them to remind you that there were good days too.

Troll the khan-el-khalili and elsewhere for souvenirs of the years in Egypt. There is such a large choice of papyrus paintings, mashrabiya furniture, brass, copper, silver work, carpets and rugs. If you plan this in advance, you can order items to your specification and not be too frustrated at “Inshallah, Bukhra”

Saying Goodbye to Friends:

This is the toughest part and no amount of preparation can dull the pain of separation. Most trailing spouses would have a solid network of friends whom they leaned on for support to get through those tough days in Cairo when nothing seemed to go right. These are the people it will be hardest to say Goodbye to.

Allocate enough time for a final meal/get-together with everyone and make plans for them to visit you at your next location.

Leave enough space in your baggage to accommodate the last minute gifts that will come your way. Egyptians especially are extremely sentimental and they will definitely press some gifts upon you and they will be offended if you refuse.


Younger kids will feel additional pain at leaving behind good friends. Help them prepare too.

Arrange for them to spend quality time with their friends.

Make sure they exchange email addresses and phone numbers, especially in case of little ones. You never know when your 7 year old is going to turn around and demand to talk to her best friend in Egypt when you are in Hong Kong or Mexico.

Get all their paper work from school or college so that admissions in the next country aren’t a problem.

Reverse Culture Shock:

Be prepared for changes in lifestyle in the new country.

McDonalds won’t deliver home.

You may not have a battalion of household help.

But you managed before and will be able to manage again.

These are the minor details. The best advice I can give is to “Be Prepared” As long as you are mentally prepared for the move, it won’t be hard. You moved to Egypt, you adjusted, you survived. You are a Graduate from the Egyptian School of Survival. You should now be able manage in any part of the World.

Kim has a background in HR and is an Intercultural Trainer, helping other expats adjust to the move. She blogs about Egypt at

Pictures are by her & her husband Brajesh.


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