Sunday, August 24, 2014

Did someone say Home Delivery??

Home delivery, what a convenient thing it is. In Australia, on nights I just didn't want to cook and also didn't want to go out again to buy food I would order pizza to be delivered. What could be easier than ordering, paying and even tracking the delivery progress through the internet? No need even to talk to a real person and in a reasonable amount of time comes a knock on the door and there is dinner!

I don't know what else can be home delivered in Australia, apart from groceries from the big stores such as Coles and Woolworths. I think even in Mackay it is possible to have groceries home delivered and if you can't get to the shops for whatever reason that's another very convenient thing. I never tried it but if I had broken my leg or some such I'm sure I would have given it serious thought.

However in Australia, no, wait - I'm generalising which I shouldn't do. So, in Mackay, there is very little apart from pizza that can be home delivered. Not even milk.

But in Egypt? EVERYTHING is home delivered! All the fast food places - the pizza shops, McDonalds, KFC - they home deliver. Restaurants home deliver. Pet shops home deliver (not sure about actual pets, but food and litter definitely). The Metro grocery chain home delivers, and no I haven't used the facility but it's available on the web. If you need it, they will deliver it.

But in Hurghada this comes with a few problems. The first, and obvious one, is the language. Obviously, not speaking arabic when talking to someone whose English is a bit limited can cause misunderstandings. The other problem is that there are no actual addresses. It's like rural - really really rural - Australia. I remember my mother and step-father living waaaaaaaaaay out in the middle of nowhere and driving (a very long way) to visit them. My directions included things like turn at the third large tree on the left past the big termite mound. (Before you point out that directions were not quite that vague mum, I know but I can't remember the exact ones you gave. But they were very similar!)

So, back to Hurghada. Without an actual address directions given must include things like turn right at the sign and the first left and it's past the laundry or something like that. This can cause confusion for the delivery man and usually there is a phone call from him as almost every delivery person gets lost.

There is a restaurant here called Summerland. I quite like this place, the food is good and the prices are very cheap. I get vegetable soup, stuffed cabbage leaves, grilled chicken, various rice dishes including one called fattah, and molokheyyah which is the leaves of the jute plant made into a soup. It is packed full of nutrition and I have developed a fondness for it, despite it sometimes having a rather explosive effect on the digestive system. They also make spaghetti bolognaise which gamer son - suspicious of unfamiliar food since birth - eats with enjoyment. There are many other items available on the menu and I eat from there regularly. 

The delivery man always, always gets lost. Then the last time they delivered I found out another problem with home delivery here. Someone waylaid my delivery man downstairs and took my food (paid for it but still stole my food!). Delivery man apparently didn't feel the need to check this was the correct customer - I am on the fifth floor not the ground floor! - but happily took the money and went back to the restaurant. A phone call asking where is my food later, a half hearted apology (Oh someone else got your food! He was hungry.) and I had to wait for the order to be cooked again and finally delivered. 

But the time I was most grateful for home delivery was when I became very sick with Pharaohs Revenge. Well I think it was that, but I was much sicker than I have been before. There is a medication here called Antinal, which is a local medication for the stomach upsets experienced mostly by foreigners. The box says it is an antiseptic, the web says it is an antibiotic. I don't know what it is but I know that it works like magic. Local medication for local bugs. Anyway I had very little Antinal left when I got sick. I didn't just have the diarrhoea people experience, I also had nausea and vomiting. This was my problem, I couldn't keep the medication down long enough to have any effect on the bug.

I was so weak that I couldn't even walk the distance from the bedroom to the lounge room without:

a) feeling sick
b) needing to throw up
c) needing to use the toilet
d) feeling light headed and faint
e) needing to sit down with heart pounding
f) all of the above

Mostly it was option f). So I was in no condition to go to the pharmacy for medication. But never fear, the pharmacy DELIVERS! The delivery man came with Antinal and some sort of pills to stop the nausea and instructions for taking them. I was never more pleased to see a delivery man at the door. The medication worked and I was vastly improved by the next day. It took a week to recover from that one though.

It's surprising, to me at any rate, how quickly you get used to home delivery of whatever you need. I don't even think about it any more. It made me think about celebrities (and I'm talking about people who have become wealthy and well known but are not necessarily anything to actually celebrate) and their lifestyles. You're not following me? Well, when a normal person becomes a celebrity there must at first be amazement and excitement experienced at having all these people who are there simply to fulfil whatever the celebrity requires. 

I would assume that the average person who finds him or herself a celebrity for whatever reason would at first be surprised by how easy it is to get things done. To have a person available to do it for him or her, whatever it is. To ask for something and have it brought. But then he or she would get used to it, take it for granted and perhaps without even noticing become a Beyonce or J-Lo and start making outrageous demands. Perhaps start walking around with a lackey holding an umbrella over their precious head. Maybe that is how it goes for a lot of people. Sadly, there are people with a massive sense of entitlement who will always take advantage of others and expect preferential or even fawning treatment. But maybe a lot of people just have it grow on them and don't even really notice how much they are taking for granted.

Just a thought, but I wonder, how difficult is it to retain joy at being alive, or to be thrilled to finally get something you've worked for, for so long, if everything is just given to you when you ask. How long does it take to become jaded? And if you are in that position of having everything you want, whenever you want it, how do you stop yourself from becoming empty and jaded?

Dominos Pizza Mackay:

 Hurghada Delivery vehicle:


And don't forget:

Wednesday, August 20, 2014

Let's go shopping!

Do you ever go to the shops just to do some window shopping? Or maybe meet a friend for coffee and then browse the shops as a way to relax and pass the time? When you go to the shops, is it a shopping centre, the high street or a mall? Maybe a combination of all three. For me, back in Australia, I would go to a shopping centre most often because it was closest. I would go to do my groceries and check the windows of the shops around as I pushed my trolley back to the car. Sometimes I would meet a friend for coffee at the same shopping centre.

In Australia, in my town, I had the choice of two shopping centres or the town centre when I went shopping. I usually chose either of the two shopping centres because it was convenient. The town centre has issues with parking, making it a frustrating trip most times. Visiting my sister in the UK I would go to either a shopping centre or the town centre on foot. Excursions to do the groceries required a drive with my sister as those shops are a bit further away from her home.

Grocery shopping in Australia was done entirely unbothered by a staff member, I even used the self serve checkouts (not to avoid people, but because it was so much quicker that way). Any other sort of shopping was a similarly solitary experience. Sales assistants in Australia, or at least in Mackay, prefer not to interact with potential customers. They prefer instead to pretend the customer has on an invisibility cloak or some such. Getting the attention of a sales assistant (who is usually found behind the counter - perhaps having a manicure crisis - or has disappeared into the back of the shop) is a challenge to the customer, even sometimes when the customer is standing at the counter, item next to the register, purse in hand. If a sales assistant actually approached me offering assistance I would be startled - although there exists some sort of special sales assistant radar so that I would only be approached when I didn't actually need any help.

So to Hurghada. Here there is one shopping centre, located about 20 minutes out of Hurghada. There, in the time honoured way of sales assistants you will be left alone for your shopping experience. However Hurghada itself is a different story. I live a short distance away from Sheraton Street. This is the main shopping street in Hurghada, it's a tourist street. It's lined with hotels and many little shops selling souvenirs. It also has other businesses such as the Metro closest to me where I do some of my grocery shopping.

Walking along Sheraton Street you will be more popular than you have ever been! The shopkeepers or their assistants sit on a chair outside the shop, and call out to the unwary shopper, asking 'Where are you from? What is your name?' or anything else they think will get your attention. If you stop to answer you are in trouble, and if you allow yourself to be led into their shop you are in more trouble. If mint tea is offered and accepted you may as well resign yourself to spending far more than you anticipated on something you probably don't even want, just because you want to do something since the shop keeper was so nice and friendly and gave you mint tea and it was so welcome to drink it on a hot day. Then you leave the shop carrying a bag easily identifiable as a souvenir shopping bag and so you become even more popular as you walk down the street.

Perhaps you have made friends with one of your hotel staff, or your tour guide. Perhaps he has offered to go shopping with you to protect you from these sharks. Well you still need to beware because he will most likely take you to a shop where he knows the shopkeeper. He will quote a price to you that seems very reasonable once you convert it into your currency. You are thrilled to have saved all this money and trouble so you buy most of your souvenirs from this shop. Alas for you, the price you have been quoted is actually the (inflated) price of the item plus the commission your 'friend' will be paid later from the shopkeeper.

So what do you do? If you have the time, don't do your shopping the first time you go to Sheraton Street (or Mamsha or the Marina). Get an idea of what is a reasonable price if you plan to buy a lot of items or you plan on buying some expensive items. This means shopping around, asking at different shops, haggling, and if necessary walking away. There are a lot of trashy souvenir items, but there are also some lovely things so take the time to look and don't buy everything from the first shop you enter. Brass ornaments and marble are plentiful and the prices vary tremendously so look before you buy!

Don't be pushed into buying, but if you really love something and you're never coming back then buy it! In the end it's only money. And expect to pay more than you need to. These people are on very low incomes, they need the extra the tourists pay for items. This does not mean that you should be completely ripped off, but paying a few pounds more is small change to you and may be a big help to the seller.

But what if you live here? Well I am a westerner, I'm a walking target when I go out. I have found what works best is to simply walk with purpose, ignore those who call out and don't stop to look in any shop windows. During the day there is much less of a problem. I can walk to the Metro or to the pet shop without anyone trying to cajole me into their shop. Sheraton Street by day is a bit dingy, the wear and tear shows, the desert dust coats everything. But at night it is lit up like a huge Christmas decoration. There are coloured lights, light up palm trees, all kinds of things to draw the eye and create a festive atmosphere. It's fun to walk along the street and people watch.

So what am I saying here? Shopkeepers will do their very best to part you from as much of your cash as possible. They will waylay you and be very nice and friendly even as they try to rip you off. It's part of the experience, and if you're careful you can get your items at a price reasonable to you, and that is all that really matters. In the end, if you feel it's a great price for what you bought, then you're happy and you've made the shopkeeper very happy! (If they throw in a small thing like a fridge magnet or a bracelet for free, well you just spent far too much!)

Shopping photo roll call:

In Mackay:

Canelands -

Mt Pleasant -

City Centre -

In Cambridge:

The Grafton - 

Cambridge city centre -

In Hurghada:

Senzo Shopping Mall -

Sheraton Street day -

Sheraton Street night -

Saturday, August 16, 2014


Today I'm not going to talk about me - was that a sigh of relief I heard?

Today I'll talk about another of the differences between here and Australia, the process of getting a taxi. For those American readers I believe it's 'hailing a cab'?

In Australia I have never lived where I have been able to walk out of my house and get the first taxi cruising past. The only way to take a taxi from home is to make a phone call to the taxi firm and book one. At the airport or in the town centre it's necessary to go to a taxi rank and wait patiently for one to appear, or phone the taxi firm and book one and also wait patiently for one to appear. This wait can sometimes be so long that the idea of walking home becomes more and more feasible, even if home is a 30 minute walk away. Once the taxi is secured it's simply a matter of giving the driver the address, fastening the seatbelt and sitting back in the air conditioned cab to watch the meter rack up the exorbitant fee. The driver will drive at a sedate rate, obeying the road rules and giving no cause for alarm (except the speed at which the amount on the meter is climbing). At the destination he will pull to the side of the road, take my money, give change if necessary and drive off. If the taxi driver is taciturn not a word needs to be spoken for this all to happen smoothly.

In Hurghada it's a little different. Here I walk to the bottom of the hill on which I live, and wait approximately 30 seconds for a taxi to appear. Sometimes, depending on the direction in which I am going I must wait a few minutes for an empty taxi to come and I have become quite impatient at that. It is necessary to tell the driver where I am going at which point he may decide it is not worth his while and drive off. It's generally a good idea to agree on the price before getting into the taxi. Fees are basically divided into the distance travelled, however a lot of drivers like to add another zero to the price when you're a foreigner and that's something to be aware of. It's also a good idea to not take a taxi that is covered in bumps and scrapes, for the reasons that will follow.

Once in the taxi it's hold onto your potatoes! Taxi drivers here (most, but not all) feel that the faster they deliver the fare the faster they can get the next fare and the more money they make. At least I think that's the philosophy behind the manic speed at which they drive. I have never seen a taxi driver wear a seatbelt and I have become accustomed to not wearing one. Once in a while the taxi will be air conditioned but the majority of the time not. Instead the windows will be wound down for natural air conditioning. Meters do exist in most taxis, some are even connected. However they are only for decoration, along with the various bits and pieces used to personalise the taxi (often including the entire roof of the interior). Of course taxi drivers are supposed to use the meter, and to wear seatbelts but it is very loosely enforced.

Speed is not the only issue causing alarm for the foreigner new to Egypt. It takes a while to adjust to the Egyptian style of driving. Here, line marking designating lanes is considered only a guide and there is no reason why two lanes should not become three. Indicators are also simply there for decoration, on the most part the horn is the communication device. Drivers sound the horn to let others know they are merging, to let the driver in front know that he is too slow and move over to make space for overtaking, and I'm not sure what else but constant beeping of horns is a background noise you get used to very quickly living here. In general, if you think about the driving style of a car chase on a movie you've got Egyptian driving. They weave in and out of the traffic, making new lanes as and when needed and pulling out to overtake at the last possible second. The first time you see your driver aiming at a gap between two vehicles which will necessitate him going in the middle of two lanes and will give the barest amount of space on either side is quite startling. There are no stop signs, and only one traffic light (I think) which is obeyed some of the time.

Egyptians drive on the right side of the road, Australians drive on the left. This has given me a few moments of confusion, but not as many as you would think since the correct side of the road on which to drive is also an optional rule. To be fair, the side roads are in a state of disarray so most drivers go on whichever side of the road has the least amount of obstacles. There are very few road signs advising of roadwork, sometimes there are traffic cones put around the giant hole being dug. There was one such hole in the road below my apartment building, a huge hole deep enough to bury several men. I thought it was permanent but one day some men came and did whatever they had to do to the pipe at the bottom and filled it in.

Roundabouts are the most confusing however. I had a lot of trouble figuring out where the lanes were, which I thought was because I am not used to being on what is to me the wrong side of the road. But then I was in a taxi where the driver actually used the correct lane to drive around the roundabout and onto the exit. That's when I finally understood that roundabouts are used more as intersections. The shortest route is used and that I guess is why the only traffic jam I have been in was at a roundabout, where there were vehicles pointing in all directions, none able to move. It was also at a roundabout where I was involved in the only bingle I have been a part of since coming here. Basically it was a miscalculation - the other car was trying to go beside my taxi which cut the corner, so he drove right into the back passenger door, which was where I was sitting. Fortunately both cars were driving slowly so it was only a scrape. That was when the other part of Egyptian driving took place. The driver of my taxi and the driver of the other vehicle got out and started shouting at each other, hands waving forcefully at each other. A group of people swiftly gathered, all adding their opinion (I assume) and it became a very loud disagreement. Then as suddenly as it started they all broke up, my driver got back in and off we drove. That he was still unhappy was evident in the way he continued to mutter and bang the steering wheel.

I saw another altercation on the hill below my apartment, when the giant hole was still taking up most of the road. A taxi tried to come up the hill and another one tried to go down the hill. They couldn't both fit and neither believed he should reverse. I didn't see the start of it and I don't know how it ended (although clearly it was resolved somehow) as I was walking past. All I saw was the two drivers shouting at each other, the drivers of the vehicles behind which also couldn't move getting involved in the argument and several presumably passers by adding their two cents worth.

I'm surprised there are not more accidents here, given the way everyone drives. There are a great number of accidents in Egypt however, in 2010 there were 183 deaths per 100 000 vehicles as compared to Australia which had 7 per 100 000 vehicles. Although you must take into consideration Australia's much sparser population, it is still a scary statistic.

There is another problem with taking a taxi if you are a woman and especially if you are a foreign woman. There have been reports recently of a taxi driver stealing a woman's bag, and another abusing a woman (unaware that she spoke arabic) for not paying what he wanted, which was well over twice the accepted fare. There is always, in every culture, going to be an element of criminals in a large and crowded environment. It is necessary I think to be careful and sensible. If you don't have a male friend to go with you, choose your taxi with care. What I did was to ask Monique at the shelter if she knew a trustworthy driver (after being stiffed by a driver I thought was trustworthy). Oh, that's another thing here, you get the personal number of a taxi driver you like and phone that driver whenever you need to go anywhere. She gave me the number of a very good, kind and trustworthy driver. Now I call him whenever I need to. If he can't come he sends his brother who is also a very nice person.

So to sum up, driving in Egypt is easy if you drive like you stole your car and the police are right behind you! And always be cautious.

Pics today are of course taxis :) Mackay first, then Hurghada

Monday, August 4, 2014

Time for change

So I discovered I'm at war with myself, I took steps to change that and understand that it will take time and determination to overcome my old self destructive habits. On the road to success in my life right? Or not...

There I was again, lying awake with no knowledge as to why. My mind drifting, thoughts swirling, a vague panic growing from a small bubble to a cyclone inside me. People, we are so complicated. We don't have just one issue, we have a lot of different but inter-related ones. Yes I'm changing my behaviour, I'm doing an internal pep talk before I get up each morning to remind myself that I deserve success in all areas of my life. I tell myself that I can do this, it's just a matter of one step at a time. I'm aware that there will be days when I take a few steps back, and I'm aware that I need to forgive myself for those days. It's hard to rewire yourself, it takes time and patience. Got that.

So why am I panicking at 3am? My mind, of its own volition, starts scrolling through my memories of my childhood. They are few and far between, like screen shots in a life which mostly had the lens cap left on. There is a lot of darkness in my childhood memories. By that I mean nothingness. I don't remember most of my life before the age of 11, and between 11 and 15 only patches. 

Some of those screen shots are good, some not so good. I can remember as a small child walking up the hill behind the house with my sister. She was determined that I would appreciate nature - we were living on a dairy farm surrounded by nature with no real option for anything else so I'm not sure why she felt this was vital. I remember being terrified of the creek because my brother told me there were toe eating eels that would get me if I went into it. This was his way of carrying out our mother's instructions that I not be allowed to go into the creek. He also told me there were such things as corrugated iron snakes that would come up the corrugated iron window shade and into my bedroom to strangle me. I'm not sure which of our mother's instructions he used as an excuse for that one... 

I remember going to our new house in town, sitting in the car with the ginger cat Charlie, looking at the house and falling instantly in love with it. I remember at this home walking to the river with the family border collie, a dog long on pedigree and short on common sense, but a wonderful companion for a troubled little girl. I remember my other brother and our cousin getting so tired of my insistence on going everywhere with them that they took me to the river and abandoned me there. I found my way back of course and remember being pissed at them but not afraid since I knew the river really well.

I remember walking to school, long summers, cold winters. I remember a couple of birthdays and a couple of Christmas'. I remember reading a library book in a cool bath to escape the summer heat and panicking on dropping it into the water. I remember sitting on the verandah watching the sun come up, waiting for the exact moment the street lights switched off.

Later, I remember living with my grandmother, two great-uncles and a great-aunt. I remember a lot of this time as it was a good time for me. Mostly I remember sitting up with my grandmother and her galah after everyone else had gone to bed. We would drink cocoa and do crossword puzzles. It was quiet and peaceful and I felt that I was sharing something special - which of course I was. 

The dark memories I have are still fractured and hard to grasp. These screen shots are stills that flash into my mind and out of it just as quickly. I used to have none at all, just black gaps in my memories. I still have black gaps; there are events from my childhood that my sister has told me about that I have no memory of at all. They were so traumatic my mind has erased them as thoroughly as it can. These memories are from times endured by my parents which have to have been a nightmare for them. 

There other other memories, from events that happened to me and these are the ones that flash in and out of my mind. These are the ones that have caused me so much difficulty in my adult life, that have been the major contributor to my lack of self love. For many years I didn't have even these flashes because I had no memory of these events either. But there was a trigger that caused what I can only describe as a dam bursting in my mind and I had memories and pictures flooding me and overwhelming me for a period of months. These memories caused my breakdown and it is these ones that I am struggling still to overcome. 

If I may digress a little, I was never beaten, starved or homeless. I was fed and clothed and cared for my whole childhood. There are millions of children in the world whose lives are far, far worse than mine ever was. There are children who are in war zones who may not even survive the day, children suffering from extreme poverty and malnutrition. There are homeless children, victims of parental abuse, children suffering unimaginable lives and I can never compare my childhood to theirs. These children have never had a childhood, never will. They will struggle their whole (probably short) lives just to survive. I cannot even imagine what their lives are like.

I am grateful for my relatively uneventful childhood, for the freedom to walk to the river with the dog or to ride my bike around the area as I pleased (apart from certain bad tempered dogs chasing me). However I was a troubled child and I never had the security and trust in adults that every child should. I, like many children going through what I did, never told anyone about what happened. I'm not going to go into details here out of respect for others not involved. But I was damaged by it, and it has taken all of this time to even recognise how it has affected me and how to try to repair my damaged self. 

Decisions I have made in my life and the directions I have gone in would most likely have been very different if my childhood had been different. There is no use in looking back and trying to second guess. I get angry, not as much now as I used to do. I get angry because my childhood was tainted and I can't ever get it back. I get angry about a life I might have lived and didn't. But there's no use in that either, the past is gone and the future is yet to come and that's the only way to think. 

But last night I realised that I really, truly, hated one person. I don't know if that's wrong, I suppose it is - you're not supposed to hate anyone. Forgiveness is the way to heal yourself. Well I don't know if I forgave as much as accepted. I didn't know until last night that I hated. But the strange thing about it is that having acknowledged that hate it lifted from me. I could feel it, like a black weight lifting from my shoulders. I felt a lightness, lying there in bed. It was both a lightness of weight gone and a lightness of being. With the blackness gone light could come in. I felt peace like I've never felt and I slept.

So maybe, just maybe, now I can really move on with my life. I can truly forgive myself for the past and I can forgive myself for decisions made when I didn't know I was damaged. Maybe now I can truly stop being self destructive. I don't know. It's going to take a lot of work, I know that much. But I think maybe now I have turned an important corner.

Want to know more? Well I did write a book, and it needs more visibility, go buy it! (please) 

So not me and Hadje (the dog) but it reminds me of the way I used to feel when he and I went to the river - like for a while the rest of the world did not exist

Sunday, August 3, 2014

More navel gazing...

I'd like to say that previous crisis averted I've been writing up a storm, but I haven't. I've written, and I'm happy with what I've written. I've got the form and structure of the book on the shelter roughed out and I'm happy with that. But the last few days I've done nothing but editing. I thought I was stuck and I couldn't work out why. I've been sleeping poorly, lying awake at 3am but with no clue as to why. I didn't fall into the deep black hole, but I was skirting around the edges.

The night before last as I lay there worrying about the past - pointless - and worrying about the future - also pointless - I felt a small tug of a thought. This sometimes happens when I'm writing, a small tug on my train of thought that leads me to an unplanned and unexpected development. So when I felt that tug I followed it. It's hard to explain how it works. It's like my mind is full of thoughts hidden behind the spinning words so that I don't know I'm thinking them. I feel this tug of recognition and I focus on it and as I do a thought or an idea makes itself known. Sometimes I think there are two of me inside my mind and the smart, sane one sometimes has to sort out the crazy one. But I digress.

So this thought was more of an emotion and it was telling me that I don't deserve success in any part of my life. This has been a lifelong struggle for me, this feeling of unworthiness. I know I'm not alone in it, I know many people - probably many of you - also feel this lack of self love. This is not the same as feeling I am not good enough at my craft to succeed. This is saying I'm not a good enough person to succeed. I've listened to this insidious voice inside me for most of my life. I've sabotaged things in my life so that I fail - not consciously of course, but I've realised what I've done after the fact.

So what I realised was I am at war with myself. The me who has come to believe I do deserve success is fighting with the me who still believes I don't. And that is an absurd reason for lying awake at 3am. So the tired and grumpy me decided enough is enough. As you know, I have learned that positive thinking does work and negative thinking also works. What you send out you get back. So it's beyond time to stop thinking I don't deserve success or happiness. It's not so easy to convince myself of this of course. Those of us who have a poor self image usually have a reason for it, something that happened in the past that has convinced us that we are not worth anything. It's hard to overcome that, it seems to become part of our mental wiring and we have to try to rewire ourselves.

This takes time and patience - it took time for this deep seated belief to become so established and it's not going to be reversed quickly. I'm making progress or I would not be at war with myself (I think) but I'm tired of engineering my own failures. It's time instead to engineer success. So every day now I'm going to remind myself that I do deserve success and I am going to have success. I'm going to remind myself that I need to focus on changing how I think and how I act so that I am always working on success. Whenever I feel myself doing something to make sure I fail I have to stop myself. Enough is enough, it's time to shine :)