Love in a Hot Climate or How I Met Your Mother the Bedouin way


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ImageA is a young bedouin. 

He’s smart and quick and very generous. He taught himself English while working in an airport carrying luggage and glimpsing at a world of incomprehensible men and women in flip flops and sun hats.

A likes peach juice (and always shares it with whoever happens to be around), owns a little house and 10 sheep and wants to know about the world. Europe is particularly baffling.

‘Where do European men meet their women?’ he asks, looking in the side mirror and struggling to supress an embarrassed smile.

“Well, it depends. At work, at university maybe. Parties. How about you? How did you meet your wife?’

“Well, I didn’t. Not before the wedding.’

‘That’s a bit risky. What if you didn’t like her?”

‘Well, I knew everything about her. I’d talked to her brothers. And her father. Her whole village knew her. They told me about her.’

 “Ok. But you still didn’t know her personally. That’s brave.”

“No, it’s not. You trust a complete stranger. You know nothing about their family, taste, history, health or good name. You just see them. That’s a bit risky.’

Oh. I never thought of it this way. In retrospect, maybe I should have consulted a few villagers here and there:)
I finished the rest of my peach juice in silence.

A word a week: Worker


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Cairo Part 2 098

This picture comes in response to the word challenge on the blog below. I really like the idea of a random word and then pictures that tell its story in so many different ways:<
This picture tells the story of a Cairo family of merchants (sorry, can't resist using the word 'merchant', how often does one get to these days?)
The father is having tea and fishing for potential customers. From the comfort of his plastic chair, he eyes non-local looking pedestrians and gets the charming process started.
He approached me by saying I look exactly like his daughter and could I please go in and have a look at her picture, isn't it just extraordinary?
He then entrusted me to his son, a far less adept charmer but a figure of silent determination, who took me inside the "Cheaper than Walmart" Lovely Bazar, despite my polite confession that I was actually looking for a shawerma and could I please go and get it.
Unsurprisingly, there was no picture of the daughter inside. There was a picture of the Pyramids, some t-shirts that said 'I heart Cairo' and some unexpectedly lovely pieces of silver jewellery. Lovely and very possibly cheaper than Walmart, though I’m hardly in a position to comment as the last time I was in one is either never or one blurred afternoon last century.
We parted friends, despite my insufficient potential as a customer and hence 10 minutes of valuable merchant time wasted on me.
I suspect I was forgiven because I look so like the daughter:)

Let it rain, let it rain


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It’s been raining for 3 days.

Here, this is as unusual as an April sunny day in the north of Norway. And equally joyous.

Nobody uses umbrellas. What sort of fool would want protection from water?

I once saw a group of customers in a cafe asking for their table to be moved outside when it started to rain.

It took me one year to find an oversized umbrella in an obscure Chinese shop. Not sure why I wanted an umbrella, perhaps because I felt strangely under-equipped for life’s various challenges without one.  

When I first took it to work and parked it in a corner, its modest watery load evaporating quickly, people laughed. Not quite the smartest investment ever.

The other day a driver took me to a meeting somewhere in the countryside.

“Look now, it’s green!”, he cried filled with joy, as the brown hues of the desert on both sides were for once punctuated by small patches of green. .

I always lived in places that view rain as slight inconvenience.

‘Oh, shoot, it’s raining and I was going to wear my suede shoes today!’

I can wear my suede shoes almost every day here. Not today though. 

Today I’m going to wear waterproof shoes as I navigate the little rivers in the streets, try to pretend my huge umbrella is not with me and smile back at the other happy sailors.    


Money may not grow on trees but bread sometimes does


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Due to a planning error, I have a lot of bread this morning.

This doesn’t happen often.

Bread is a catch 22: if I eat it I feel guilty, if I don’t I feel guilty.

I can’t throw away bread. I reach for the bin and my hand freezes. I find it hard enough to throw any sort of food (and very rarely do) but bread is the ultimate no no.

So over the years I have developed various bread disposing strategies that assuage my conscience while also allowing me to exist in a space that is not entirely covered in bread.

I leave it out for hypothetical birds to eat. I take it to work and “forget” it in the kitchen.  

I dig it a dignified grave in the freezer under the solemn pretence that one day I will make crumbs. 

What complicates the matter further is that I really enjoy going to the baker’s.

He’s a young man perpetually glued to his phone, who smiles widely when I walk in and never fails to shout excitedly (at my beaming face as well as the puzzled ear at the other end of the line): “How are you? I’m better better now that I see you!” 

He then proceeds to give me a quick approximation of the price of my steaming cargo and I walk away thinking “this time I have just the perfect amount!”

The good news is that, even if I don’t, at the long last I have found the way. 

I learned that excess food here is placed in bags and left somewhere at eye-level in the street – a tree, a wall, a fence. The hungry traveller stops and helps himself to the contents of the bag. Nice and easy. 

I know an Australian guy who has spent years in the Middle East without any discernible source of income. Hugely impressed, I once asked him how he deals with the food issue.

“Are you blind?” he replied. “There’s food on every corner!”

As indeed there is.   

What time is it? It’s picnic time!


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Few things are more important In the Middle East than a picnic.

The picnic is the alpha and omega of social life. The number one entertainment option. The stuff of week-day dreams and Sunday memories.

People talk about a successful picnic in the same way you and I would describe a holiday to Tenerife.

A lot of care goes into packing the right supplies and identifying the correct spot. 

Transport is never straightforward. It involves long lines of cars crawling up the motorway like giant snails, crushed under the combined load of 4 adults and 7 children, three of whom stick out their upper bodies through the windows to keep the load piled on the roof from dispersing. 

In somebody’s garden, on a roof top, by the side of the road, in the centre of a junction, anywhere where a square meter can be found it will be covered in pots, pans and plastic chairs while a family establishes ownership for one delightful day. 

Groups of joyous picnickers descend upon the beach and set up camp.

The boys run around and kick balls, the girls comb each other’s long hair and the mothers carefully dispense tea and coffee for everybody. Particularly well organised picnickers will have music blasting out of the parked car, to the envy of the less musical crowds. 

The men grill meat and onions with an air of sacred duty. They inspect the results of their labour with care, shout assurances of success and then grin triumphantly at men with inferior grills.

The air fills with mouth-watering smells. The non picnicker advances through grill land at their peril. 

It’s that time of year. Grill or be grilled.