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.

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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"

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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.

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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

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