Monday, 31 January 2011

Pharaonic Fables

Old Map of Egypt

Khan el  Khalilli Market

Cairo shop and horses

Giza splendour

Nigel with the compressor team - Hurghada harbour

Roman Treasure at Cairo Museum

I'm transfixed by King Tut's Sarcophagus

Again we can't get enough of more Roman treasure

Egyptian desert

Another desert view

And again...

View of Cairo

A friend with her own dive site drawing for the debriefing
It's hard to know where to start. Are we surprised by what is happening in Egypt?

I've recounted before that Mr.H. (Nigel) left his job at the Barbican and decided to follow his passion for scuba diving in the Red Sea. So as I entered the City and all that entailed he left those shores...we joke that our paths crossed (highly unlikely) when I was 16. My parents had borrowed a flat in the Barbican for a short holiday in London. He was House Manager at that time. At any event we did not meet. So off he went scuba diving in the early 1990's in Hurghada in the Red Sea...

He never meant to stay there. He started just by taking groups out to Hurghada. He was then asked to help work with a dive centre. Then another and another. He stayed. He dived. He became owner/manager of Easy Divers dive centre with a Dutch partner. The years rolled by. He enjoyed the lifestyle. He was/is an extremely good BSAC (British Sub-Aqua Club) scuba diving instructor. He became "embedded". Everyone knew him as "Mr. Nigel". He learned dockside Arabic. He was a good employer. He treated locals and non-locals alike. He paid well. Egypt liked him and he liked Egypt.

I cropped up in 2000 when I learned to dive. I've already documented how it all came about. (See over at our Adventures in Diving Red Sea - side bar.)

I came on holiday. Liked it. Loved it. Left the City (didn't really need much persuasion. I had never meant to stay that long there anyway. I'd always thought I'd go and live in Spain and teach English. Besides they were making too much money in the City in 2000...but let's not go there.....).

Nigel had always preferred Hurghada to Sharm el Sheikh. Sharm is across the water on the Sinai peninsula. As far as I know it is a completely fabricated tourist resort. It was probably a simple fishing village at one time. Hurghada started out as a fishing village and has grown and grown and grown. It was more like the real Egypt. Nigel preferred that. I preferred that...

He lived in a fairly run down area of Hurghada. He preferred to shop in local shops. Nigel was genuinely well known and liked. There will be some who will still remember him. For years afterwards he could roll into a taxi at the airport and every taxi driver would turn around and say "Ayyy! Mr. Nigel! Akeed!" ("Mr. Nigel...For sure!")

Nigel organised a staff house (a block of flats owned by Mr. Lotfy) where all his staff could rent a flat if they wanted to. From memory we paid for that. I don't think we charged the staff for their lodging...Mr. Lotfy and his family would often invite us in for tea.

Everyone would also treat us with respect and courtesy. the downtown market...there would usually be hawkers and so on but if they called out...all you'd have to say back would be "La shukran!" "No thank you!" They wouldn't hassle. Yes there would be two fares for locals and non-locals. Fair enough. Nigel knew his way around and showed me the way as well. If he talked in Arabic he usually got the local taxis, shops, buses et cetera.

We went to see Cairo with some very good friends. We travelled the country with them. It reminds me of the times when there used to be the armed escort for bus convoys...following the Luxor terrorist atrocity in 1998. The buses (filled with foreign tourists) would be escorted by the police so that no harm could come to them. After a few years they stopped doing this. The threat was perceived to have gone. Nigel was one of the few dive centre owners to keep his doors open after the Luxor attack. He remained optimistic about the tourist industry. He knew things would recover.

Yes...there is massive poverty in Egypt. What I saw in Cairo didn't shock me but it made me think hard about the privileged life I have always led. We may be a few pounds short in the old bank account at times but we can still feed, heat and clothe ourselves. Cairo resembles a Dickensian London to this day. Slums abound.

Nigel also used to say that he was amazed by the compressor boys/men. He said that they had had to get used to being time travellers...they saw foreigners cavorting on beaches, flashing money around...then they would go back to their families in the cities and out in the desert...who would have nothing. Their wages fed the entire family. They were a lifeline.

Corruption exists. For sure. Nigel got arrested by the police for not having a work permit for eight years prior to the time he was arrested (he was on holiday in Egypt at the time of his arrest and not working!) and was locked up for 36 hours. Luckily he had a good lawyer and was released. Most dive centres don't bother with getting their staff work permits as they are time consuming and costly to get. Nigel always did. Nigel always played by the book or at least tried to....although (perversely) that could get him in more trouble at times!

I very much enjoyed my time there. It was fun being around the dive centres. Meeting people - all nationalities and Egyptians alike. Popping in and out of restaurants, cafes, bars, hotels. Going swimming at the Hilton Plaza every day. I knew I was lucky, lucky, lucky.

Ultimately I knew that as a woman I could not stay there. Despite the openness of society..the male way of life still rules there. Maybe it is different for a well educated Egyptian woman. I started to learn, speak and write Arabic. I knew I could never speak it fluently without living with a family. Resort life would not teach me Cairean Arabic. For a while I toyed with the idea of living in Cairo. There are some fascinating second hand book markets. It truly is an amazing place. We lived a good life in Hurghada. Even when I met Nigel I could tell that he was missing England. He dreamed of English pubs, the greenness, the countryside...we knew we would not be staying for ever. I do treasure my time there though. It taught me a good many things. It opened my eyes. Even though I had travelled extensively in Europe - the smells, the ambience, the people, the pace of life completely swept me away. It taught me that the Egyptians are just like us. Quite often we are told differently. Rubbish. People are the same everywhere.

Nearby back at the Hurghada flat there were half finished buildings everywhere. People would build extra floors when they had the money. A group of Egyptians lived in the foundations of one of blocks of apartments amongst the dirt, packaging, discarded discards, the detritus of life. I always said hello when I passed them...when I was on my way to catching the bus or walking the dogs. There was one tall Egyptian man who was always happy, always looked dignified in his flowing galabeya and turban. I now wish that I'd taken a photograph of him. He seems representative to me of how happy Egypt was and can be.

We always suspected that the system might crash and now we are sadly seeing this happen. We left in 2003 when I was pregnant with our eldest.  I was very sorry to leave Egypt. We both were. Had we stayed I could easily have become immersed in Pharaonic Fables and become not Hadriana but Hatshetsup. Nigel could have stayed looking after the dive centre and carried on with his HEPCA (Hurghada Environmental Protection Conservation Association) work. Nevertheless all things do pass and come to pass.

I/we hope to every God that the situation in Egypt resolves itself happily and peacefully for all concerned!

Good Luck!

Egypt - Keefak?

Egypt - Keefak? How are you?

I'll write a post later about Egypt.

In the meantime: We are sending you our best wishes and very much hoping all our friends and their families are all OK. Egypt is such a friendly place. Our thoughts, hearts, hugs go to you. May all of this be settled peacefully and happily!

Quick Arabic lesson:

Keef haluk? -How are you?

Sometimes shortened to Keefak

To which the reply is:

Al hamdu lillah (bi khair) - praise be to Allah (well)

This should be the usual reply.

You could use:

Ana bikhayr, shukran - I am fine, thank you

Weyn inta - Literally, where are you?, but probably equivalent to Long time no see

Occasionally you will hear:

Shu-ukhbaarak -what's your news? - which you would reply to in the normal way

Wednesday, 12 January 2011

Minimus Mouse Courses on Hadrian's Wall

My Big Plan for 2011 is to start to offer Minimus Mouse Courses on Hadrian's Wall - both at local schools and from our B&B. (Yes...I know our website is not finished yet...but completing it is part of the big plan!)

I'm a qualified Minimus Mouse Teacher (my blog post about going to Dulwich in 2008 to meet with Barbara Bell, the Minimus' author, and her colleagues is here). I'm starting to go to local primary schools to introduce the children to Minimus mouse.

It's a passion of mine and I wholeheartedly believe in the courses - Minimus and Minimus Secundus.

For those of you perpetually scarred by your schoolboy and schoolgirl Latin lessons please take note...this course is all about FUN!!!!! Here are a few facts about the course:

• Comic Strip Cartoon and Stories of Latin Mouse and Family. The story is based on a real Roman family who lived at Vindolanda, a Roman Fort in the area near Hadrian’s Wall, at the beginning of second century AD.

• Main Characters are: Flavius Cerialis (Dad and Fort Commander), Lepidina (Mum), Flavia (aged 16), Iulius (aged 13), Rufus (aged 3), Minimus (Mini Mouse) the mouse and Vibrissa (Whiskers) the cat. Also featuring Corinthus, Candidus and Pandora.

• The story is based on real archaeological finds found at Vindolanda (where archaeologists have been digging since the 1930’s and full time from 1970’s onwards).

• The Vindolanda Writing Tablets are Britain’s Top Treasure as voted by experts at the British Museum, have been found at Vindolanda - 1973 and onwards. The course draws upon the history and stories yielded by the writing tablets.

• Subjects covered include: the famous Birthday Party Writing Tablet, archaeological finds, music, design, drawing, geography, history, drama and acting, recipes, travel, roads, maps, Hadrian’s Wall information re – Vindolanda and other historical sites, Roman York, Greek myths, English poetry, chemical symbols, medicine, games, writing, jewellery making, weaving, shopping, learning about British tribes, the Roman army, bath times, Greek and Roman gods (to name but a few things!).

• Interactive learning: pronunciation of Latin words, Latin derivatives forming English words, syllabus supports learning of modern European languages and Key Stage 2 History (for children) and general background history for adults, helps with English vocabulary and grammar. Helps to refresh the Latin of children and adults who have already studied Latin.

• Guided visits by me (Hadriana) to the site and the museum to see where the family actually lived; what they did and what they used. (Vindolanda's Chesterholm Museum and The Roman Army Museum will be re-opened to great fanfare after their complete renovation this March 2011.)

• Written by Barbara Bell, MBE, and illustrated by Helen Forte

• Over 100,000 books sold: at least 10% of British Primary Schools are using this course.

• Internationally popular: Minimus is taught in Europe, USA, Australia, Canada and New Zealand

• Two stage course (Minimus and Minimus Secundus) with full colour cartoon stories, grammar and Greek myths published by Cambridge University Press Student books, teacher resource books, CDs and audiocassettes, DVD of Minimus the musical, further mini books as extension readers. Interactive website:

• Accessible to learners of all ages and abilities:

• “Minimus has introduced thousands of children to one of the great treasures of the British Museum. The delicate Vindolanda letters paint a vivid picture of everyday life in Roman Britain describing everything from birthday parties to knitted socks. Minimus takes this enthralling material and uses it well, bringing Latin and Roman Britain to life for its readers.” Neil McGregor, Director of the British Museum

• “Minimus flies off the Vindolanda Museum bookshelves as devotees indulge in the joyous adventures of this endearing Latin mouse. This is a wonderful way to introduce the Latin language to young people and it remains a firm favourite with children and parents alike.” Patricia Birley, MBE, Director of the Vindolanda Trust

• “When you finish the lesson Minimus makes you want to stay there forever.” Enthralled Minimus pupil

It's designed for 7-13 year olds but I know that people of all ages will get a lot of enjoyment out of studying it. (I'm teaching it to some adults as well who agree with me!) I'm also combining it with my guiding at Vindolanda (the fort) and The Roman Army Museum both of which are just down the road from here.

Ta da! That's what I am up to. Will keep you posted as I go along.....I'll also explain a few Latin bits and bobs as I go along too....

vale! valete! - Goodbye! (singular and plural forms of goodbye!) for now........Hadriana  :)

Sunday, 9 January 2011

Cheers to a Peaceful and Prosperous New Year!

Snow here again today. Just as things were getting back to normal.

I can't get my head together at the moment. Too much is going on.

We've decided to rent out out Haltwhistle house. We've now got to decide where we are going to live (the children and I).

We're OK. We're fine. Enjoying being together at the B&B for a while.

Things in boxes and bags again.

Organising courses. Sorting out other stuff.

Too much to tell. Too little time. Sorry.

All the very best to all of us this 2011!

(Above is a photo of Nigel (Mr.H.) at our son's christening party and all our friends.)

Cin Cin! Salud! Slange Var! Cheers! H xx

P.S.: Re: Bonkers Financial System - Listen to this if you can (it's available until 3pm next Friday - Radio 4 i-player):

The Great Hargeisa Goat Bubble was the first short story to be published in The Financial Times. Written by the Irish comic writer and blogger on economics, Julian Gough, winner of the BBC National Short Story Prize in 2007, it is that rare thing - fiction which delves into the world of derivatives, arbitrage and futures. Set in Somaliland, at a moment unspecified, when markets were fully de-regulated, it follows the fortunes of one Dr Ibrahim Bihi, a leading economist and the man who woke up the sleepy goat market of Hargeisa with his 'glorious notion'. Now marooned on a snowy station platform in England, Dr Bihi relates his tale of triumph and tragedy to a young Irish orphan named Jude, and along the way illuminates ideas of profit and loss, boom and bust, securitisation and futures. With the help of the BBC's Economics Editor, Stephanie Flanders, Dr Bihi interprets the mysteries of modern economics and follows the follies of the market to their logical conclusion!

Hugh Quarshie, star of the RSC and famously Ric Griffen in Holby City, plays Dr Bihi and Sam O'Mahony-Adams plays Jude. With Stephanie Flanders as herself.

Adapted by Julian Gough from his story of the same name. The director is Di Speirs.

[I need to listen to it again myself. It's definitely a parable for our times. 99.9% of bankers would agree with the contents of this. Believe you me. That's why it was published in The Financial Times.]