Wednesday, September 30, 2015

Cassie's story - Letters To Myself

It’s Tuesday, and where is Cassie you’re saying – I hope you’re saying anyway. Yesterday I was struggling with a sinus infection and just couldn’t get my mind to produce a single creative thought. Today, thanks to the miracle of antibiotics I’m a much healthier creature and can think again. So, here is Cassie. Last week we left her in a black world after she was knocked out, so I’d better go rescue her from that.

“Cassie, Cassie. Are you with us?”

I groaned and tried to open my eyes. For some reason they were uncooperative, preferring to watch instead the back of my eyelids.

“Cassie, come on, open your eyes.”

Was that Matt’s voice? Wasn’t I out with Saffron? Why was Matt here? Even as I wondered the events of the evening came back and I remembered that thudding sound inside my head, followed by nothing. Where was I now? Curiosity stirring I sent a stern message to my eyes which reluctantly obeyed and opened.

Matt’s face took up most of my vision, concerned brown eyes staring down at me. Behind him was Saffron and what looked like a horde of people, including the handsome man who had unintentionally started this. I put my hand to the side of my head, panicking slightly when I felt moisture. Was I bleeding?

“It’s not blood Cassie, it’s the drink that was in the glass. That girl tried to hit someone with it and missed, hitting you instead. You were knocked out for a few minutes.”

I stared at Matt, not understanding. “A glass knocked me out? What did it have in it, a brick?”

“She’s got a good arm, but you lost your balance and fell, hitting the corner of the table, that’s what knocked you out. Well that or the floor.”

I thought back, the last I remembered was what I now realized was the glass hitting me. I didn’t remember falling. I looked around, realizing that I was lying on the floor with my head in Matt’s lap. Feeling self-conscious I tried to sit up, grateful to grab onto the hand of the handsome stranger when it appeared in front of me.

Once upright the world swirled uncomfortably, making me dizzy. Matt grabbed me from behind just before my knees buckled. Wrapping his arm around me he helped (carried) me to the nearest seat and got me settled before turning his attention to the blonde woman, who I now realized was being restrained by his partner.

“Assault is a serious charge miss. You’re lucky this lady didn’t suffer worse injuries. As it is she will have to go to hospital to check for a concussion.”

Hospital? Concussion? I tried to get Matt’s attention to tell him that I didn’t need to go to hospital, but he was in police officer mode and was staring sternly at the blonde who was staring defiantly back. I looked around the tableau. With my apparent recovery most of the crowd had melted away, leaving the blonde, Matt and his partner, the owner or manager of the restaurant (being unconscious for the previous part of the proceedings I was a bit hazy about which), the very tall woman who still seemed upset about her drink which I supposed was now mostly in my hair, the handsome stranger, Saffron and what I thought must be the barman. And the cute waiter I realized, standing next to Saffron and looking unsure – probably about whether it was ok for him to go I supposed.

Saffron came over to me. “Cassie, are you ok? I’m so sorry about all of this. We should have gone home hours ago.”

“What, and miss all this excitement? Nah, how often do you get to be abused by a random woman about a stranger she believes is her boyfriend?”

“He’s a stranger? You mean she doesn’t even know him?” Saffron stared over at the handsome stranger, who had struck up a conversation with the tall woman.

“Oh they know each other, he said they went out for a while but he broke it off because she was so possessive.”

“Good call.”

I looked across to where Matt and his partner were in the process of arresting the woman. The owner/manager/whatever was looking on in satisfaction.

“Yes, I feel sorry for his next girlfriend.”

Saffron was still staring at the handsome stranger. “I think he’s found her.”

I followed her gaze, noticing for the first time how animatedly they were chatting, and how close they were standing to each other. “Oh yes, well then the evening was not totally wasted.” I looked to where the waiter was still standing irresolutely. “You seem to have an admirer as well.”

Saffron sighed. “He’s cute isn’t he? And he was great fun to dance with.”

“I’m sure, and he is very cute.”

She sighed again. “But I’m married so he’s out of bounds.”

Her tone was doleful, causing me to give her my full attention. I noted with alarm the tears about to spill from her eyes and searched the table in vain for a paper napkin to offer. Saffron could be a morose drunk once the manic dancing had worn off. The current events had probably sped up the process. As I searched I noted absently that parts of the table were kind of doubling up in my vision. While weird this was not unusual when I drank too much. Did I say I have very little tolerance to alcohol?

The handsome stranger came over, very tall woman at his side. “Sorry about that, I should have done something about her sooner.”

I shrugged. “Nothing you can do with an obsessed person, she probably needed something like this to bring her to her senses.”

He smiled, a slightly sad smile. “I hope so, for her sake.”

He held out his hand. “I’m Tyler anyway. Nice to meet you, unconventional, but nice.”

I shook his proffered hand. “Cassie, and this is Saffron.”

Tyler and Saffron shook hands and exchanged rueful smiles. The very tall woman meanwhile introduced herself to me as Alison, before exchanging contact details with Saffron. Tyler handed me a business card which prompted me to wonder where my bag was so that I could reciprocate. Looking vaguely around I spotted it lying on the bar. Seeing the direction of my eyes Tyler went to retrieve it for me and I thanked him before reaching into a pocket where I kept a supply of business cards. He studied it with interest before putting it into his wallet while I put his into my purse. I would look at it tomorrow, tonight my eyes did not want to focus.

Tyler and Alison left, I checked Saffron and saw that she seemed to be more cheerful. The cute waiter had gone too, and as I watched Matt’s partner took the blonde woman off, presumably to book her for disturbing the peace, or assault, or whatever. Suddenly, I didn’t care. I was feeling sick, really sick, run to the bathroom sick, but when I tried to stand my legs wouldn’t hold me.

“Cassie, are you ok?” Saffron came over, holding me up when I couldn’t stand on my own.

“I don’t feel so good Saffie, I think I need to throw up. I can’t do that here!” How embarrassing would that be, to barf all over the floor in front of Matt and the others.

“Come on, the bathroom’s just over here, hold it in for a bit longer.”

With no further words Saffron half carried, half dragged me to the bathroom where I was, as they say, thoroughly and comprehensively sick. She held my hair off my face, rubbed my back and murmured soothing words in my ear as I brought up everything I had consumed for the last two months it felt like. When I was finally done she got a damp paper towel and patted my face with it, before proffering a water bottle. I had no idea where that came from but I drank the water with gratitude. This is why she is my best friend.

“Can you walk?”

I pulled myself up from the floor, standing on shaky legs while I assessed the probability of walking unassisted.

“I don’t think so.”

Saffron wrapped her arm around me and helped me out of the bathroom. Matt must have been looking for us as he came straight over.

“Right, hospital for you.”

I waved a hand at him in denial. “No hospital, I just need to go home.”

Matt sighed. “You were knocked out, you can’t walk, you just threw up if I guess correctly, and I bet you have a killer headache. Probably you have double vision too. You’re concussed Cassie, you need hospital.”

I planted my feet as firmly as I could, which was about as firmly as if I was standing on a sliding sand hill. “I couldn’t really walk that well before I was knocked out, and I was having trouble seeing, and I probably would have thrown up. You know I can’t hold my alcohol.”

Matt narrowed his eyes at me. “Actually I didn’t know that, I’ve never seen you really drunk. Well, nonetheless, you need to be checked out. I think your symptoms are from concussion, not from drinking. Or maybe both, but anyway I’m taking you to the hospital.” He looked at Saffron. “Do you want to come with us, or go home?”

“Come with you of course! Let’s go.” Forgetting that she was holding me up Saffron moved away to collect her bag which was sitting on one of the tables. Without her stabilizing arm I slid to the floor before Matt could reach me. He tut tutted, scooped me up into his arms and carried me out. I turned my head to see if Saffron was following and she gave me a thumbs up, a grin and a wink. Clearly, she thought it was a romantic gesture. I rolled my eyes at her, which made my headache worse. Giving up on the whole thing I tucked my head onto Matt’s shoulder, just under his jaw, and focused on not throwing up on his uniform.

Friday, September 25, 2015

The meaning of life

What is the meaning of life? We've all asked that question of ourselves, eventually all of us wonder why we were put on this earth. I've wondered it many times over the years and never found an answer that resonated fully. Maybe the meaning of my life over those years was to find my way through the emotional turmoil and reach a point of healing where I could see past my own issues.

As those of you who have been reading my blog will know I struggle with depression, and I have had many issues to work through. I believe, in the past few months, that I have reached a point where I can look beyond the tangle in my mind and consider the meaning of my life with a better perspective.

I say the meaning of my life because it is not the same for everyone. The principles I have reached are the same, but the things that resonate within the principles are different for everyone. At least that is my understanding. There are three points that I feel give meaning to life.

The first one is to find something that you love, that makes you grow and gives you joy. For me that is writing and now drawing. When I do either I feel a grounding, a sense of fulfillment, and peace. Peace is something I have had little of and it is almost as important as joy. For me peace leads to joy. So find what you love and find time to do it as often as you can. It can be a hobby, or if you are lucky it can be your main source of income.

The second is to find something that enriches your spirituality. I'm not going to get into religion or anything controversial here. Spirituality is an essential part of humankind, whoever you are and however you connect to it. Find it, embrace it and let it lift you.

The third is to find something that makes a positive difference in the world. This may be one thing, or it may be something different every day. It doesn't matter how big or small it is. If you have ended the day with having done something that has made a positive difference in some way for another living thing - even if that positive thing is only removing a snail out of harms way - you have added good energy to the world and that is in short supply these days.

So those are my three cornerstones of the meaning of life. Love, spirituality, and goodness. Nothing new there at all. But if you are stuck in a life of work, paying bills, stress and overwork, these three things can easily be overlooked. Or, you will say you just don't have time, you are too busy. So this is the other thing I figured out. You owe it to yourself to find your meaning of life. You are the result of a miraculous combination of chromosomes, there is not one human who is exactly like you. You have a purpose in life, a reason for being born. It's not to be miserable, there's more to life than merely existing until you die.

No matter what your circumstances you can find joy, if you allow yourself to be open to it. The three cornerstones of love, spirituality, and goodness are the building blocks to a better life. Some of us, and I include myself in this group, have spent too many years believing that we do not deserve to be happy or to have any sort of peace or joy in our lives. We struggle in our own personal dark cloud of despair, living like an automaton. Our feelings are suppressed, our emotions ignored, the beauty of our world overlooked. This is not the meaning of life.

It's all too easy to fall into despair, in some ways it's easier than looking for joy. But it's not what we are made for, not what we are here for. The world is a beautiful place, and it should be full of beauty and love and kindness. It's not, it's full of hatred, misery and despair. The minuscule percentage of the super rich that hoard the world's resources are not happy people. They hold onto everything they have as though that defines them. It doesn't of course, we all go out of this world the same way we came in - owning nothing.

I don't know how to bring balance back to the world, I don't know if it can be done. But I do know that we are all important, and we all have a purpose. The challenge of life is to find your purpose, and find your happy. My love is writing and drawing - both of which have given something to others which makes me happy. My spirituality is more difficult to define (and personal as it is to everyone), but it includes doing no harm, and helping wherever possible. Goodness for me is helping in any way I can. I am the person who will remove a snail from harms way, and trip over my own feet to avoid standing on a slug.

Sometimes the purpose and the spirituality and the goodness all apply to one thing. For me, that is the street cats. I love the street cats, I love to feed them and I love the companionship they choose to give me. They are wild cats, they could hide until I have put out the food and left, but they choose to greet me and wind around my legs in feline ownership. I have a strong sense of purpose that I am to help these cats have a better life, and when I go back I will be finding ways to do that. In spirituality and in goodness I also feel fulfilled as I am helping other creatures, and I am changing this one small part of the world. It's a tiny part, but it is as important as any other. All the small parts come together and make a bigger whole.

So I write, I draw, I feed the street cats (and in my absence have arranged for others to do it), I try to be kind and to stay positive. It may seem like a small meaning of life to you. I don't look for material things, they are temporary. I don't look for loads of money or power, they are not the source of true happiness or fulfillment. I look for what resonates within me and gives me true joy. Love, spirituality, goodness. Those are my meanings, the trick is to find what is yours, to believe that you deserve to have them and to apply them to your life. When you do watch how your life changes, your world grows brighter and has more focus and you wake up in the morning eager to begin your day.

Tuesday, September 22, 2015

Cassie's Story - Letters To Myself

Here it is Monday again. I didn’t get another blog post in last week after the food one, but I will this week, promise! I’ve been working on the pictures for the colouring book, trying to get as many done as I can. Because they are quite intricate they take several hours each to do, but I’m enjoying drawing them and I hope you will like the finished book.

For those of you who are Zora fans don’t worry, she is next on my list of things to do. I will be finishing off Zora 2, Zora’s Light, in the next few weeks. There will of course need to be editing and so on, but you won’t have too much of a wait for book 2.

Ok, so now back to Cassie and Saffron, by now both decidedly worse for wear. I sure don’t envy either of them the hangover they are going to have.

The world was spinning in an unpleasant way as I stumbled towards the ladies room. I desperately needed the loo, the navigational difficulty I was experiencing seeming to increase the need with each unsteady step. Mentally cursing my decision to forget common sense I breathed a sigh of relief as I finally reached the door, and another one on seeing an empty cubicle as I entered.

I continued to sit once I had experienced the blessed relief that only those foolish enough to allow their bladder to reach hot air balloon proportions could understand. If I stayed here for a while perhaps the spinning would stop. Maybe I should get some water from the bar. Or maybe I should just go home, except that I couldn’t leave Saffron in this state – she was sloshed, there was no other word for it. She would surely get into trouble if I left her.

At the sink I splashed some water on my face and studied my reflection as best as my unfocused eyes would allow. It wasn’t a good idea, I looked as drunk as I undoubtedly was. I groaned, tomorrow – well today – was not going to be a good day. Shrugging, it was done and I would just have to pay the penance in the hours to come, I checked that my clothing was adjusted properly and left the bathroom with as much dignity as I could muster.

Saffron was on the dance floor, gyrating wildly without much co-ordination with her partner, the cute waiter. I grinned, for as long as I had known her Saffron had been an uninhibited and graceless dancer. With the addition of I had lost count of how much wine and cocktails she was even more uninhibited. Sadly, the alcoholic greasing of her limbs had not resulted in more grace.

Seeing me she beckoned me over. I hesitated, not sure I should be dancing when I could barely walk. But then, perhaps the exercise would sweat the alcohol out of me and I might avoid the worst of what I was uneasily sure was going to be an epic hangover. I joined her, and the rest of the crowd on the small dance floor. There were a lot of people, useful for those who fell as they would be cushioned by those around them and avoid a bruising on the floor. This I know from experience. Just now.

“Whoops! Are you ok there?”

I smiled at my rescuer, a very handsome guy who was still holding my hand. “Thanks for catching me. Yes I’m fine, just tripped over my own feet.” That was what I meant to say, what came out sounded slurred and indistinct, but since it was so noisy he just smiled and nodded which meant he hadn’t heard a word anyway.

“Get your hands off my boyfriend, you bitch!”

I blinked, more than a little startled when a small blonde woman shoved her face into mine and glared at me.

“I’m not after your boyfriend, he just stopped me from falling.”

She sneered, her blue eyes unblinking and oddly fixed. “Sure, sure. Nice try bitch. Now get away from him before I punch you in the throat.”

A frisson of fear ran down my spine, she seemed to be a little deranged. I noticed her boyfriend had backed off and left the floor.

“I’m not after him, and anyway he’s gone. Shouldn’t you go with him?”

She spun around, her eyes searching the room until she located him over beside the bar, talking to a woman with shiny copper hair. Oh oh, that was Saffron. The blonde woman left abruptly, pushing her way through the people on the floor. I followed, I had a bad feeling about this. I wasn’t as good at forcing my way through crowds of people though, which slowed me down so that the blonde was already aggressively in Saffron’s face by the time I reached them.

“Who are you calling bitch?”

I groaned, the night had just taken a turn for the worse. Saffron didn’t back down from anyone.

“You, bitch. Stay away from my boyfriend.”

Saffron stared down at the small woman, then glanced at her boyfriend, who was now several feet away and chatting to another man as though he didn’t even know her.

“You mean that guy over there? He’s your boyfriend? Why isn’t he with you then?”

It was quite a reasonable question really. Why wasn’t the guy with his girlfriend, why did he keep on walking away? The blonde reacted with even more aggression, standing on her tiptoes and pushing her face up close to Saffron’s.

“Never you mind why, you just stay away from him or else.”

“Or else what?”

Oh dear, this was going to end badly. I edged closer, but my gaze kept going to the man. He really was acting like he didn’t know the blonde. I veered towards him, catching his eye. He smiled ruefully.

“Sorry about that. I’ve found it best to just get away from her.”

“She’s your girlfriend?”

“No! I went out with her for a while but we broke up because she’s so possessive. But she won’t accept it and keeps on doing this whenever she sees me out.”

I stared at him, this evening was becoming stranger by the minute.

“So why don’t you make her understand, or have her arrested or something? What is going to happen when you start going out with someone else?”

He shrugged. “She will have to accept it then.” He looked up. “Oh, I think I will have to intervene or your friend will be in trouble.”

I followed his gaze, shocked to see Saffron and the blonde nose to nose in a screaming match. As I watched the blonde picked up a glass and swung it at Saffron’s head. I called out a warning, useless since there was no way she would hear me in the general noise of the room. The ‘boyfriend’ had already started moving, putting on an impressive display of speed. I wondered distractedly if he played some kind of sports, then followed after him as fast as I could.

Before the glass could connect with Saffron’s head he reached out and grabbed it from the blonde’s hand. She swung around at him, and picked up another glass which she was clearly intending to use as a weapon against him. This glass wasn’t empty however, or abandoned, and its owner was none too happy to have it taken away from her.

“Hey, blondie! That’s my drink! Go get your own!”

The blonde turned her aggression onto the woman sitting at the round table beside us. I guessed she had been watching the action, it was probably entertaining if you weren’t part of it.

“Stay out of this bitch!” Bitch seemed to be her fall back word.

The woman at the table decided to get involved, or perhaps just rescue her drink. She stood up and revealed herself to be impressively tall. She towered over the blonde, loomed over her in fact.

“Give me back my drink. It took me twenty minutes waiting to get that.”

“I know right? I’ve been waiting for ages and this blonde chick has made me lose my place in the queue.” Saffron sounded more aggrieved about that than about the blonde verbally abusing and attempting to physically assault her.

“Yeah, saw that. Once I’ve dealt with this I’ll help you get served, ok?”

My head was spinning, and not just from the alcohol. There was a crazy blonde woman trying to do physical harm to anyone in her sight, her boyfriend was her ex-boyfriend and was trying to distance himself from her but was now involved in a stand off over a full glass of something red and delicious looking, and Saffron and a strange woman seemed to be bonding over indifferent bar service. Could this night get any weirder?

Yes it could as I saw with unbelieving eyes Matt walk into the restaurant, dressed in uniform. As I watched a man hurried over to him, and his partner I now saw, and pointed in our direction. I cringed when he saw me and frowned, his frown deepening as he took in the bizarre situation behind me. Then I felt something wet on the side of my face, and a thud sounded inside my head. Inside my head? What…

Wednesday, September 16, 2015

Food, food, food

Today’s blog is a continuation on why I like living in Egypt. Before I get onto the food I forgot a couple of things that are so convenient I’m going to miss them. The first one is that you can have ANYTHING delivered. You’ve just got home and you’re starving but don’t want to cook – no problem, every restaurant delivers, including KFC and McDonalds if you want a Western fast food fix.

There are sometimes slight hiccups to the system, such as the difficulty delivery men encounter on a daily basis finding addresses when there are no addresses. Giving directions in Hurghada is a lot like giving directions in the Australian bush, except instead of ‘turn left at the third tree past the big stump’ it’s more like ‘behind Tez Tours and beside Ada Market’ or something like that. There is frequently a phone call from a delivery man who is hopelessly lost. One time I also had my meal given to a random person on the ground floor of my building because he said he wanted it and paid. It was a long wait for the restaurant to cook a replacement meal and deliver it!

You can also get your medications delivered from the pharmacy, very useful when you are suffering from Pharaoh’s Revenge and have run out of Antinal, or have a migraine and need headache pills. Pretty much, if you need it and don’t want to go out to get it, it will be delivered.

The laundry is great too, they wash and iron even the sheets, which is more than I ever did (iron the sheets that is). So if you hate washing and ironing, just drop your laundry off and pick it up the next day.

OK, now to the food. While there is a lot of food with heavy sauces, in general the food I ate was very healthy, mostly vegetables, pasta and bread, with the occasional grilled chicken. Here is a list of some of my favourite dishes, from savoury to sweet.

Koshary: I love koshary, even though at first it seems to be a strange mixture. Koshary is a blend of rice, pasta, spaghetti, lentils, chick peas, caramelized onions and a spiced tomato sauce. It sounds odd but it’s delicious, and is one of the most common street foods.

Lentil soup: exactly as it sounds, filling and satisfying.

Fattah: Fattah is basically stale bread mixed with rice and topped with a tomato sauce. It can have other things added such as meat, but the one I like doesn’t.

Mashi: Mashi is vegetables stuffed with rice, or cabbage leaves/vine leaves wrapped around a rice stuffing. A mixed mashi plate will have a bit of everything – vine leaves, cabbage leaves, capsicum (pepper for those non Australian readers), zucchini (courgette), and eggplant (aubergine). The rice stuffing has spices added and it’s divine.

Pickles: While these can be a bit of a stomach lottery, the pickled vegetables are also delicious, and the Egyptians pickle things I would never have thought of such as cauliflower and carrot.

Falafal: I haven’t had this often but I have enjoyed it when I did. Falafal is made from chick peas or fava beans, or both. I believe in Egypt it is most commonly made with fava beans. It is nutritious and tasty.

Grilled chicken: I do not know what they do to the chicken, but it is moist and delicious.

Tahini: If you order a meal from a restaurant you will most likely get tahini as well. It’s tasty and versatile, used as a vegetable dip, mixed with rice, smeared on chicken or used as a bread dip.

Baba Ganoush: Baba Ganoush is an eggplant (aubergine) and parsley dip that I adore and will eat with a spoon.

Bread: Bread is a staple, served with every meal. I like both the Egyptian and the Syrian bread. The Syrian bread is softer and whiter than the Egyptian.

 Kunafa: I cannot tell you how much I adore this sweet. The filling varies, but the one I prefer is a cream filling, and the top and bottom are shredded phyllo pastry drenched in rose water. You cannot eat just one piece.

Basboosa: Basboosa is a semolina cake soaked in rose water. I like it, but not as much as kunafa.

Zalabia: Basically pastry balls soaked in rose water or syrup.

Baklava: It’s similar to the Greek version, but a bit less sweet.

Rice Pudding: Yes, it’s rice pudding as you know it, only creamier.

So that’s some of the food I love, there is more but these are the main ones for me. I’m sure some of you reading this are miffed I haven’t included your favourite dish – forgive me, I may have eaten it and just didn’t think of it now! 

Monday, September 14, 2015

Cassie's story - Letters To Myself

Hi guys, here it is, Monday again. It’s been a busy week for me, with moving to a new apartment, and then travelling to the UK. Here it is around 20C cooler, but has been sunny at least. Today however is overcast with occasional showers, very different to the unchanging weather of Hughada. My allergies are kicking in with relish – all this grass and pollen is making the membranes in my sinus’ swell in protest. My eyes are itching, my nose is running and my throat is itchy. And that is with taking antihistamines. But in a couple of weeks it will settle down somewhat. Nothing is perfect is it? I love the grass and the flowers, but I’m highly allergic to grass, can’t walk on it in bare feet or sit on it, and the pollen is attacking my body with what feels like single minded determination.

Well, since it’s Monday it’s not about me, it’s about Cassie, and today, Saffron, who has been enjoying the alcoholic choices at the restaurant with reckless disregard for the next day.

I studied the flushed cheeks and glassy eyes of Saffron with concern. I had tried with the bread starters and a pasta main to help her soak up the alcohol but it did not seem to have had much of an effect. Saffron had knocked back her cocktail, insisted I finish mine and then proceeded to drink most of our bottle of wine. Now, despite the physical evidence of inebriation, she was studying the dessert menu with what seemed to be a steady hand and eyes that could still decipher the printed word – in fact she seemed to be steadier than I was. I had no head for alcohol, especially spirits, and drinking two cocktails plus the wine had caused a decided shift in my centre of gravity.

Leaning over the table Saffron pointed to something called Hot Chocolate Marshmallow Cake. “That looks amazing don’t you think?”

I read the description – hot chocolate mud cake drizzled with marshmallow and topped with cream, ice-cream and chocolate sauce. “It looks rich and sweet, and must have a bazillion calories. Do you think it’s a good idea?”

Her flushed cheeks became even more rosy as Saffron glared at me. “Yes I do. Who am I trying to look good for anyway? A husband who’s never home? Bah, I want chocolate and I shall have it. What about you Cassie, chocolate too?”

I shook my head, I was feeling light headed and was sure a rich dessert would curdle in my alcohol soaked stomach. “No, I like the look of the strawberry cheesecake.”

“That’s boring Cassie, you should try something different. If you want strawberries why don’t you have this? It’s a strawberry meringue cake.”

I looked at the menu. It did sound nice, and was probably lighter than cheesecake. “OK, I’ll get that.”

Saffron waved at the waiter and called out, “Yoohoo! Cute waiter guy! Yes you! Can we order dessert please?”

I cringed back in my chair as heads turned to look at us. Hoping that none of tonight’s patrons were customers at the coffee van I tried to disappear behind my menu as the waiter approached, a huge grin on his face. I watched as Saffron flirted with him, batting her eyes and pushing out her generous bust. He seemed to love the attention, I hoped he wasn’t going to try to get her phone number.

I groaned inwardly when she added another bottle of wine to the order but didn’t say anything until the waiter had hurried away. “Are you sure we should have another bottle Saffie? It would be nice to have coffee to finish off the night.”

Saffron narrowed her eyes at me, which given their glassy state gave her an expression akin to a serial murderer. “What gives Cassie? You’re being a spoil sport tonight. We don’t have to work tomorrow so it doesn’t matter if you have a bit of a hangover. How often do either of us have a blowout?”

“Well, not very often that’s true.”

“So come on Cassie, let’s relax and forget about everything, just for a few hours.”

I studied her for a long moment. How long had it been since I enjoyed a night out without worrying about consequences? Since I married Nathan, never – it didn’t pay to drink too much with him, I had always had to stay alert and aware. I hadn’t realized until this moment how much of a habit it had become. Dinner with Matt was probably the closest I had come to forgetting myself.

Perhaps it was the alcohol already consumed, but I heard myself saying, “You’re right Saffie, it will do us both good to relax and enjoy ourselves.”

Saffron beamed at me, then turned to the waiter who had chosen that moment to return with the fresh wine bottle. “Did you hear that cute waiter? We are going to have fun tonight!”

He smiled at her, his gaze lingering a little too long on her cleavage, which was displayed to advantage in her low cut top. However his response was proper waiter talk. “That’s good news madam, I hope you both have a good night.” He poured the wine into two fresh glasses and left to attend to some other people.

Saffron’s gaze followed him across the room. “He’s very cute isn’t he? I wonder if he has a girlfriend.”

Oh dear. “Here comes dessert Saffie, we had better eat that before we drink any more or the wine is going to taste horrid after all that sugar.”

Fortunately she was distracted by dessert and seemed to lose interest in the waiter. We finished our delicious treat before starting our wine, and while it felt odd to be drinking wine instead of coffee or a liqueur after dessert, I decided to just go with it.  

 “You know you’re my besht friend ever don’t you Cassie.”

Saffron came around the table and enveloped me in a perfumed hug. She hugged me so hard I was in danger of asphyxiation by cleavage, but I was touched by the gesture.

“You too Saffie, I don’t know where I would be now without you.” Overwhelmed by this moment, surely a moment I would remember forever I felt emotional tears spring, and wiped my eyes on the edge of her top before extricating myself.

“We are invinshable together Cassie, invinshable!”

I nodded, I agreed completely. “We are invinsh, invinsha, invish – amazing together!” My tongue seemed to be having trouble forming certain words, probably because the wine in this new bottle was so icy cold.

Saffron beamed at me, her smile seeming to spread out across her entire face. I squinted, no, it was right where it normally was. That was reassuring. Her gaze switched to the side of the room. “Cassie, look! They have a DJ! We can dance!” She watched, entranced, as the preparations were made to change the restaurant to a night club. No, that couldn’t be right. Surely there would be people coming in wanting dinner. I studied my watch with more intensity than I usually needed because the numbers seemed to swirl around before settling into their accustomed positions.

“Saffie, it’s 2 am! How did it get so late? Didn’t we only have one bottle of wine after dessert?”

Saffron glanced at me and shrugged. “I don’t know, maybe more than one.” As the music started she jumped up, stumbled and sat down abruptly, stood up again and swung around to pull me to my feet. “Come on, let’s dance!”

I looked at the dance floor, the dim lights, the people already dancing, and threw what was left of my caution to the winds. Picking up my glass I drained it before following her onto the dance floor. I was having fun, who cared about tomorrow? 

Thursday, September 10, 2015

Living in Egypt, why I like it

Tomorrow I will be traveling, leaving Egypt for some months for a variety of reasons. It may seem odd to you, to choose to live in this country instead of my own. So, after almost a year and a half, I’m going to give you my impressions of life here. This is only my own view – every person who comes to this country (indeed any country) will have experienced a different Egypt. If I may digress just a tad, Australia is a huge country so the tourist who goes to the bottom end, to Sydney or Melbourne or even further south to Tasmania, is going to go home with stories so different to those of the ones who go instead to the top end, or the dry centre, that it would seem they all went to different countries. So it is with Egypt. The person who lives in Cairo, Alexandria or Luxor is going to tell tales of a different Egypt to my own experiences here in Hurghada. And here, the lifestyle differs depending on where you live and how much money you have – that’s common everywhere of course.

So, my life here and why I’m coming back. First of course is the cheaper cost of living for an expat. The exchange rate is favourable even now when the Australian dollar is reflecting its government and failing. So I can live relatively comfortably on far less than I could in Australia. This means more cash available for traveling and I am geographically closer to all the places I want to travel to. These are practical reasons why I will come back. Another practical reason is that my problems with allergies, caused mostly by pollen and moisture, are almost non-existent living in the desert.

While there is an active expat community (I believe), as an introvert I am happier to be mostly on my own, with only one or two friends. I can do that here without having family worrying that I am about to become a hermit (I always was). Because I am not stressed with trying to be more social, and I am no longer dealing with the fallout from my personal life collapse (this is somewhat of an understatement to cover the last few years, but those years are now firmly in the past) I have tapped into my creativity in a way that was impossible before. I have story ideas, novel ideas, drawing ideas, painting ideas that would never have found a fertile place to become anything more than a fleeting thought in my old life. I am fulfilled because I am doing the things that make me feel alive.

This country has many problems, and I have no idea how they can be resolved. I don’t know what the future will bring for Egypt, for the Middle East or the rest of the world. This blog is not about that. This is about what it is like to live here, in Hurghada, as an average person. Egypt has many faces, every country does. You cannot understand another country unless you live in it for several months, and even then you will have only a limited comprehension of its people, culture and way of life. This is especially true for a country that has a culture so very different to your own. So while I have been here for over a year, and I understand the culture more than I did when I came, I still have much to learn.

There are frustrations and irritations involved with living here of course. Expats (and locals) complain every day. I do too – bukra (tomorrow) has become a word I hate to hear. Bukra never comes, especially, as one friend who has lived here many years reminded me, if it is followed by insha’Allah. Egyptians do not like to say no, so they say this morning, this afternoon, tomorrow. You have to read between the lines to understand whether they actually mean that or if they are saying no. Of course you also have to deal with Egypt time, so even when they mean tomorrow, it may not be the day after today tomorrow, but one day next week tomorrow – or tomorrow in a month’s time. Conversations are circular, nobody gets straight to the point, and that’s frustrating too when you’re used to being more direct.

You have to be careful to wash vegetables thoroughly, you can’t drink the water from the tap and you have to be careful which bottled water you buy (and you don’t know that when you’re a tourist, but some companies simply fill up the bottles from the tap). Road surfaces are dodgy at best, unpaved and pothole ridden at worst. Building projects spring up overnight and building supplies are dumped in the street. I have become so used to this that I no longer even comment when I am walking a road I have walked many times before, and am confronted with a huge pile of sand or stone. I just climb over it like everyone else does. There is no workplace health and safety, workers balance precariously on air conditioning units five stories up, or walk about on wooden beams wearing sandals. When you walk past a building under construction you must look up, as items ranging from hammers to metal poles are dropped with little regard for anyone underneath.

There is noise, dust, shouting in the streets, unscrupulous taxi drivers, thieves, conmen. A group of men will come together in an argument that sounds like someone is about to die, and then it all breaks up with no apparent hard feelings. There is constant beeping from the cars and trucks on the road, a kind of ongoing conversation. Shop keepers sit outside their souvenir stores and try to lure you in, the better to cheat you out of as much cash as they think they can. So the more you look like a wide eyed tourist, and the more expensive your clothes look, the more expensive will be the items they are keen to sell you. They will also be far more likely to offer you tea and a place to sit if they think you are both naive and wealthy. But take heart, those of you who are reading this and realizing that the friendly man who was so nice to you and gave you tea also took you for more than you needed to pay – if you considered it a reasonable price then it was, and he got a bit more desperately needed cash to live on. Also the man who befriended you in your resort and offered to take you shopping so you were not ripped off – he gets a commission from the stores he took you to, and you were still ripped off. But you helped not only the shop keeper but the friendly man, and you got a tour guide so in effect you paid him for his time. And he is also a poor man in need of money. In every country in the world the tourist is seen as a walking wallet, and Egypt is no different.

So why do I like it? The noise, the confusion, the chaos, it may be frustrating but it is also brilliantly alive. The people are poor yes, but they embrace life, they live in the present and leave the future to God. They find humour in the worst of situations, they find hope where you would think none exists. They can laugh at themselves as quickly as they can take offense with each other. Life here is never boring, never dull.

When I first came I missed things that I had taken for granted my whole life; living in a house as opposed to an apartment, having a back yard to go out into, having green spaces to walk in, having grass everywhere, rain, flowers, gardens, a lack of litter. It took time for my eyes to see what is here instead. Here there is the fiery sunrise over the Red Sea, every single morning is a painters palette of shades of orange and red, even the Red Sea lives up to its name at sunrise. The call to prayer that floats over the town, a sound that is still exotic to me as well as being a useful way to keep track of the time. I no longer need to worry about finding a parking space, I walk everywhere or take a taxi, and never have to wait longer than a minute or two for a taxi. Of course it can be a lottery as to whether the driver is going to try to take advantage of me being obviously foreign, and sometimes they seem to be hell bent on taking me to heaven earlier than I anticipated, but there are ways around that. If you are a woman alone it is best to use a reputable taxi service or call a driver recommended to you. But I digress.

The desert – at first I dismissed the desert, wondering why people from beautiful countries such as Austria, Switzerland and Germany, would prefer the arid sameness of the desert. But it grows on you. The desert is timeless, peaceful, beautiful. When I come back I will be choosing an apartment that faces the desert instead of the sea.

There is a freedom to living here, a lack of the restrictions of western society. Here, I can focus on what is important in life and forget about the rest. Who cares if I haven’t had a haircut in three years? Who cares if my skirt is three seasons old? Does it matter if my shoes are not that attractive so long as they keep out the sharp stones and the dust? What matters is that I am dressed, clean, and have a roof over my head and food in the fridge. Everything else is western programming intended to make you spend money on things that do not matter.

The food: there is so much food that I love and will miss. So much that the next blog post is going to be all about the food I like, since this one is already too long and I’m only hoping that you are still reading! So, the next blog will be about the food, and the one following about the street cats, another reason I will be coming back. I will try to get them done and up over the next week, not forgetting Cassie on Monday. So keep checking, or better yet subscribe to the blog!