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.

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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

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