28 May 2009


It is official. I have been up for 24 hours and counting. We missed our flight in Chicago because United Airlines does not live up to their time schedules and if you make it to the gate at 9:10, they still can refuse to let you on the plane. My team made it there, but I did not because I was stuck in the customs office because I have a blemish on my passport. I know it sounds super sexy to sit in the waiting room with the foreiners that they question, but maybe not when you are struggling to make your next flight. I know the next question is what is the blemish? In 1995 my passport was stolen in London and a Ms. Barbara T. Wilson made me swear I was an American and I was returned my freedom. I was told by the passport agent today that I can expect that question and fun room everytime I travel outside the country.

We thought we would have to stay at the airport, but thankfully Lufthansa set us up in a hotel for a short nap before our 6:27 flight to Charlotte tomorrow. We were 25 minutes late landing the plane because the runway we were trying to land was too short and as we almost touched down we went right back up in the air.

I'll be home I think around 9am and it is now Bryant's job to get me to my door which I hope there is a key at because my key was stolen when I lost my wallet. This is an exciting day to come. Oh yeah...my precious cell phone usage was cut short when my phone insde screen will not show anything. I can recieve calls, but cannot dial out because I have become a lazy american who doesn't remember any of my phone numbers other than my mother's and sisters (and maybe work). Feel free to call. I've got to visit the Verizon store on whatever day tomorrow is.

23 May 2009

The VP rearranged my day

I completely forgot to mention that yesterday Joe biden was in Beirut. Talk about a crazy scene of blocked off roads. We ended up not doing some things because of the traffic and the Lebanese way of changing plans. Josh, Bill and Regina saw his motorcade twice. I was not that fortunate.

The people between rock and water

I need to seriously thank my parents for a fast metabolism because without it I would never make it in Lebanon. If one thought the food insistence was bad in Egypt, it is quite worse in Lebanon. Every meal is a full spead of appetizers and then a main course (usually two plates) and then desert (thankfully fruit). It has taken me a month, but I have successfully managed to not over eat. My only goal now is to feel a little hungry and do some yoga to get my stomach area back into shape. Lebanese food is very good and very hard to pass up.

I don't have my cable cord to post pictures, but Chris is bringing it tonight so I'll put some up soon. I have been to Tripoli (I wish Pappy were still alive so I could tell him about it). I stayed with George Najjar at his farm and we had all farm fresh and organic foods. I was in heaven. George makes his own olive oil and we ate this stuff that is a soft cheese with olive oil called "lebnah". I must learn how to make it because I don't know how I will live my life without it.

Tripoli is in North Lebanon and sits at the shore with the mountains in the back drop. ok that is how one might describe most of the cities in Lebanon. We finally got to do a little hiking at Ehden Preserve. We've also been to Byblos where the alphabet originated and slept at the mediterrean on these outside mattresses (tres chic). I've seen old Beirut and learned a lot about the rebuilding of this country that I cannot wait to share with the planning folks or anyone else that I can bore. We stayed in a town called Hammana and if given the choice I think Bill our team leader would have never left.

What is amazing to me is the Lebanese resillence. I've met people who never left Lebanon through the war and to hear them explain it, it was a difficult time but life always goes on even with the fighting. It really has put several things for me into persepective because we in America live such a sheltered life. Septemeber 11th was our first real dose of strife in several generations and the Lebanese dealt with 15 years of September 11ths. They know the areas to avoid and always hope for the best. They are very flexible to change plans because there entire lives can be rearranged in a instant, but it doesn't keep them from living them.

I would go on about the politics of the region, but I think that is best on a one-on-one basis. Needless to say, you'll be hearing "changes to our foreign policy" from a top my soapbox sometime soon. The trip to Lebanon has definitly enlighten me on the importance of foreign affairs as well as really brought to the forefront of how horrible our foreign coverage is. For those of you who watch news from the right you are not getting correct information and for those of you who watch news from the left you aren't getting the whole story. If there is anything that has stuck with me was a quote by a Rotarian president last night that went something like "the media can be worse than an atomic bomb" and from a top my lemon tree, there is a lot of truth to it.

I leave Beirut on Monday and have one night and one day with my Cairo friends (miss you) and then we leave for the states. Wags is going to pick Bryant and I up from the airport because we do not get in until midnight and I hope we will make all the flights. Some how I have to let go of my safety pillow called "the Mona pillow" who has been having adventures of his own.

17 May 2009


On Tuesday I leave for Lebanon. It is the first time that a Rotary team has been to Lebanon since 2000. we've met several of the people that we will be staying with in Lebanon here at the distrist conference. I know that some of you may worry (I am speaking directly to my mother), but please do not. We are in great hands and what you read in the papers and see on the news (not pointing fingers but ESPECIALLY Fox News) is not like anything that we have found here. The political world and the people are two completely different entities. Thus far, my only fear has been when I am trying to communicate which is my own fault because I do not speak there language (ps I'm always with a Rotarian so that doesn't happen often)

The Rotary district 2450 conference is unlike anything I have ever seen. For instance, there is a large turn out for the closing session (I don't know that that has ever happened at a conference I have attended) and the Gala was a decadent affair attended by 2000 people dressed in black and white.

Like I just wrote (actually I wrote it by the pool a couple of days ago and just uploaded it), I got some rest and have put my "homesickness" behind me. I won't be here much longer and I don't want to miss any of this!

I'll be traveling when the decision for the Shops of Crossroads Village and Holly Crest come down God willing and no deferrals (hint...hint...someone send me an email).

I'll blog again when I can. Love to you all.

The Red Sea

Yesterday (5-14) we arrived at the Red Sea again. We passed by El Ein again (we were there yesterday and it is also by the red sea) on our way to Hurgada. Today is my first true day of complete relaxation. On this trip you can’t go a day without saying the word Rotary, but it has been really nice to not have a schedule and not have anywhere at any point in time. More importantly, I have spent the day in my bathing suit. For those that know me best, there is nothing I love more than being in my bathing suit all day long. My only regret is that I don’t have my bikini (someone throw out a Shag, the movie quote when Malana wanted to wear her bikini to the Miss Sunfun pageant). We are at a resort where bikinis are as common as the Russian language and some of the women only wore the bottom half. I got a pedicure and a facial. This was my first facial and it was awesome. It was nice to get the travel funk off my feet and out of my pores.

I saw all of my Alex friends last night and I loved it! Chris and I danced while listening to big band music. Ok let’s be honest, I danced and Chris held my hand while standing in place because where we were standing was a small platform step that we were sharing with other people. He was great to humor me.

I’ve come down with a cold that I believe was spread by a member of the Texas team. Perhaps it was because my Mona pillow was too close to him when Sabrina was using it, perhaps it is just a random cold germs travel on door handles; perhaps it is the air conditioning. Nonetheless, I have swallowed a cocktail of herbs and antibiotics (just in case).

Enough about germs, why would anyone read about germs. Let’s talk the Red Sea. It is beautiful…crystal clear and I would say superior to the Mediterranean Sea but not as near and dear to my heart as the waters of the Charleston Harbor (where the Ashley and the Cooper Rivers come together to form the Atlantic Ocean). The sea is cold right now, but awesome to look at and I have collected some amazing coral and rocks.

Tomorrow (5-16) we have a presentation to the district conference and a gala then we are off again to Cairo.

As always, my internet is spotty so I will write when I can. Thanks for the comments. I’ve loved hearing from everyone.

12 May 2009

6th of October City

As an American, one may find a date strange for a city, but this is a significant day in Egyptian history as it was the date of their victory over the Sinai with Israel. Thus far, I know it as a date, a bridge and a city. The city I was fortunate enough to tour on Sunday (the Muslem Monday). I'm not sure if it is the translation or the person I am asking, but I've asked several of the same questions and finally have pieced together some answers. I also got the presentaiton disc in English (i hope) for that lovely brown bag lunch that I'll make the planning department sit through. For the planners and interested folks in the house, one of the differences that I've found is that an elevator is not required by code until the 7th floor not like the 4th floor in the US. I haven't found out anything about if they have issues with the ability to provide water to their growing population as this is a question i just can't seem to get translated right or no one just wants to talk about.

Yesterday was a day of museums, old stuff and presentations. I say the treasures of King Tut (please insert Steve Martin song here), learned about the first feminist (name is arabic to me) and say all kinds of neat things. Then we went to the mosque at the citadel which in my opinion is one of the most beautiful buildings in the world. The view from the citadel is amazing. There I finally got a post card for Ms. Holbrooks so if anyone talks to Carolyn, please have her tell Ms. Holbrooks that I think of her often.

Yesterday was probably the first day I dealt with any type of homesickness. Our first two days in Cairo begin with getting up at 6:30 and returning home at midnight or later and let's just say that it is very tiring. Today, we got to sleep in....8:30 and the day is full of relaxing types of activities and no presentations. Yesterday, it took everything that I had to make my presentation peppy and the dark circles under my eyes were a very prevalent feature on my face. Even Marwa commented.

I'm staying with Regina at the family of Sego (nickname) and Youserif (spelled phonetically I think). they have two lovely daughters, Layla and Salma who are 4 and 4 months. It is a french speaking home. ok, Sego is learning french because Layla is going to a french school. This is where I want to thank my mother and the College of Charleston for my french education. It may be a language that is spoken less than spanish, but it really is a universal language. Unfortunately, I should have practiced more in the last ten years as I have lost a lot of vocabulary, but who knew it would come in this handy. Regina says my face is different when someone speaks french to me because my brain is working hard....this is very true.

Tomorrow we are headed to the north coast and the red sea (another first) and Thursday we are bound for Hurgada and Sahl Hasish. It will be a 6-7 bus hour ride, but completely worth it. I am already planning my time at the spa and maybe even a pedi.

09 May 2009

Leaving the Med

My view today is bright and sunny and from a top the 11th-ish floor of the apartment I am staying in with the Zahrans. I'm saying good bye to my automatic shade and hot quesidillas brought to me on a tray to my room for breakfast and the black mercedes. My experience in Alex has been awesome and very different from my own life. I will miss Bahaa, my counterpart on the NC team, but will see him in Cairo. We are going to see the library and planetarium today and then we are headed back to Cairo by bus. At the end of the week, we are going to the Red Sea...I can't wait.

I don't know the population of Alex, but it is MUCH larger than Charlotte. Yesterday, Sabrina and I ran into two people that we know. It just goes to show how small the world is and how awesome this town is.

08 May 2009

Pictures from Germany, Part 2

Inside joke, but I thought the pic was funny.
Max, can we get these kind of trucks from waste management?
Bill and his kind of work.
Does this really need explanation
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Pictures from Germany, Part 1

Where we got off the metro
A plaza for my Planning folks
More urban open spaces
Bryant and his last beer before the Muslim culture.
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03 May 2009

Finally some Pictures

This is a random arrangement of photos. I don't know how to present them better. Mona sent me her photos so I thought I could at least get something up to have a visual of what I have been doing. I will get a camera cord soon!

The band is a traditional folk type band. The kittens are the Mona's new kittens (1 day old). Let me know if you have any questions.


As always in Egypt, I have been very busy. Let me first say that the family (Hamada and Zora Zahran) that I am staying with is very nice. As a family, they own several businesses in Alex, one of which is a chocolate factory (Swisza) and the other is a cookware company that makes the Tefal products and yes, that is Teflon for us americans.

I have been to see many things, one of which was the Gov. of Alex., Adel Labib. He was very nice to share his time and we talked about his visit to NC and our impressions of his countries. After that visit we went to Pharma which is a generic drug pharmaceutiacal company. I am facinated by large assembly machines and have been since my first visit to the Rainbow bread factory in kindergarden. Bryant got a sample of the cough syrup and foot spray that were being produced. The foot spray we though was clorseptic which could have been a horrible medical disaster if applied inappropriately.

Yesterday we toured Mr. Hamada's factories and sampled the chocolate. Today we went to the Arab Academy of Science and sat in a cargo ship simulator...pretty cool.

I cannot stress enough the amount of food that we consume after the hours of 4pm. I imagine that it has something to do with how they fast for Ramadan and the heat that is here. I mean, I don't really like to eat when it is hot outside and if you fasted during the daytime for a month each year, one could get used to the regiment. Monday's meal was an unbelievable amount of food from Ole, a restaurant owned by Zora (Mr. Hamada's wife and of the same family that I am staying with) sister. Sunday's meal was from Balba and it was the best fish I have ever had. Today we dined at the mediterrean in a former palace. The restaurant was called the Prince.

Today was the first day that I was able to walk in the streets. We are driven everywhere. I was the last off the bus (reminded me of my days on the school bus) and I asked Maghraby if I could walk home because it wasn't very far. I got my way and walked in the streets and it felt GREAT! We tour Alex tomorrow, but I imagine that it will be from a bus and just not the same for this city planner.

The ironic thing is that I haven't been given a map of anywhere we have been. I completely want a map and feel lost without one (insert funny puns and one-liners here). I've had one of my two vocational visits in Alex and Heba (who I met with) was so apologetic that she did not bring me a map as she is a planner herself. She did sketch me a quick map and that really helped establish my boundaries.

One last little thing about my stay here in Alex is that the Zahran world is very different from my own and I feel quite spoiled. I have been able to get a manicure and my eyebrows threaded here at the house and we've dined at the four seasons which is also a first for me. We ate at a restaurant called Fresca which is not named after the soda, but rather a waffer/waffle cookie sandwich with honey. It now ranks higher than fortune cookies in my favorite list.

02 May 2009

I had the ice

Unlike Mexico and south american countries, Egypt's water is clean. The tap water just has a different stand of bacteria than we are used to. I had ice last night with my water and boy did that one peice of cold goodness cost me. I was up before morning prayers with a cramping sensation that I have never had and I had cold chills. It got worse before getting better, but not to fear I had Mona and my Mama in Egypt at my side. I think the reluctantly sent me to Alex but I had to go.

The bus ride was long but I had a pillow that Mona gave me of which I just realized is missing...not unusual for me. I am on the trail of getting it back. The pillow helped, but I was cold. It was cloudy and rainy IN THE DESERT. This is very unusual. We all wentto a party in a town outside of Alex. I was pale and trying to hang in there of which i did for about 3 hours. The first thing we were offered at the party was alcohol. Considering this is a predominately Muslem country, I was taken aback. Once exhaustion took over, I needed a nap. After the nap I was feeling much better and I ate a bit. I had the chicken as to not upset my stomach (They feed you constantly in Egypt). Somewhere in the middle of all of this I met two adorable little old men, one of greek origin and one who was born in St. Louis that had lots to share about our countries. "Meet me in St. Louis" man wanted to fix my illness with scotch. I politely accepted, but drank VERY little and downed a lot of 7-up. "Meet me in St. Louis"man also thought that dancing would help and we did the two-step to a french song. There were a group of Rotaracts that invited the GSE team out for kareoke that night, but I declined on account of the sickness.

After the party I was taken to Alex to meet my host family for the week. I am staying with the Zahrans. Hamada and Zora are the parents and one of their daughters is living at home again. I just realized that I have forgotten her name since my sleep so I hope they use it again soon so I won't be embarassed to ask again because believe me, it is not written in any language that I can read. (An aside...I am meeting so many people that it is hard for me to remember their names and on top of that I barely can pronounce them and feel extremely embarassed. I am pushing aside that part of my ego and sucking up my lack of memory skills).

Mr. Hamada owns a chocolate factory and home goods line of cooking utensils and products. Their house is amazing and is under a little renovation which I think is exhausting Zora. They have an internet phone and I was able to call Mom. I also watched television in English...very cool.

01 May 2009

The day of rest

The day of rest/holy day is not a true day of rest, but I had a great time today. It was a galabaya BBQ. A galabaya is a long robe worn by both men and women. The women's are very formal and the men's are plain.

The BBQ was at a farm on the outside of Cairo. We went through Giza and through a very poor section of town where people wore galabaya as their everyday wear. The only thing I can compare these areas to the farm is Costa Rica. The poverty is very extreme. they are bringing sewer to some of the areas, but the roads are dirt and it is still an area where some people get their water from the Nile.

The party was lavish. The BBQ was a lamb that they put into the ground to cook for four hours and it hangs in a way that all the fat drains off. I wouldn't say all, but a good portion. Next, there was a folk-type band that played traditional music with drums and wind instruments that look like clarinets. We all danced and needless to say even in Egypt I still dance like a white girl. Everyone dances like a belly dancer and by the end of the day I was doing better, so much so that my belly is sore and so is the hip that is always sore...more yoga for me tomorrow.

One big difference between Egyptians and Americans is the buffet line. I know what you are saying, how could this be true? Buffet lines are homogenous. In the US we file these orderly lines and we do not cut infront of one another. In Egypt everyone is pushing. If you do not push, you do not eat. They swarm in and swarm out and everything is gone (except of course their version of the jello salad...no one eats that). THis is done for both the main course and deserts. Bryant and Regina almost got knifed trying to get a peice of ice cream cake--no joke. Ok the knifing might have been on accident but there were knifes being forced at the icecream cake and they were in the way.

We played backgammon and dominoes and futbol (soccer) and frisbee and danced more in the afternoon. We left after Asserf (not the right spelling of his name) began to sing Sinatra..I did it my way and we all went to a cafe on the Nile. It was very pretty and very much like sitting on the Seine or the Rooftop without the alcohol. Asserf loves stand-up comedy and anytime he wanted to make me laugh he was say "my name is Ahck-med. I am a terrorist....I kill you" It is a routine from Jeff Dunham, I think. By the way it is Ah-med. There is no Ahck-med.

It is time for bed again. I don't know when I will have good internet again. Mona and her mother moved a bed into their family room so I would have a private room and this is where their internet is. I am very lucky and I don't think this lightening will strike twice.

By the way Brad....I am looking for a vile of sand. I picked up a rock at the pyramid to take (thought that would suffice) and was told that they may hold me in customs for bringing it in. I am trying to at least not get myself thrown in jail. On the way here, Bill, my team leader, brought a bag for one of the Egyptians in NC and they had packed butter knives and cake knives in his carry-on luggage. He was detained for about half an hour at the Charlotte Airport. He had a little trouble in Germany, but it wasn't as bad. I think they took the cake knife and TSA will call him when we get back to make sure he is not smuggling anything else.

Also, it may take me longer than I wanted to upload pictures. Someone, not naming names (me), forgot the cord for the camera to the computer and will have to buy another on in Alex. Regina may have something that might work. Again I apologize for the lack of pictures. There are some good ones....especially now when we are in the galabayas.