Thursday, February 3, 2011

When I met the Cairo revolutionaries..

I have been, sort of, addicted to the news channels over the last couple of days, repeatedly switching between Al-Jazeera and Indian news channels watching the Cairo protests live. I am a regular news-watcher and yet I carry a lot of hatred for the news channels, especially the Indian ones that have loud-mouthed women dominating the screen. After shamelessly watching the 26/11 Mumbai attacks continuously live on news channels for four days, I vowed never to get obsessive about live coverage of such events.

Despite this hatred, I couldn't resist going back to these channels, wanting to watch what was happening in Tahrir Square or Liberation Square, now a household name across the world. Why was I so interested, to the point of obsession, about the situation in Cairo? Surely, just a 10-day visit to Egypt about a month back cannot be the sole reason. Come on, there have been millions of tourists who have visited Cairo,and yet they are not this interested. I mean, it's just another revolution in the Arab world. What could be the reason?

My B&B Inn was actually on Tahrir Square. I could have seen the protests from my room. Was it because the place I 'lived', (although only for four days, nevertheless I lived) in Cairo was being repeatedly shown on TV that I felt compelled to watch the protests?

Maybe. But I think the deeper reason is different. In my short stay in Cairo, I did my best to experience of the local culture. Starting from my B&B Inn, I made sure I did nothing too touristy. (Of course, there is no escaping from being an outsider. Egypt is a tourist country and no matter how Arabic you look, it is in their DNA to spot a tourist). I took only public transport, buses, trains, meter taxis, avoiding cabs and tourists packages at all costs. I ate in little road-side restaurants, never had a guide map in my hand.

People on the street would immediately recognise me as an Indian, coming up to me, asking about Amitabh Bachan and Aishwarya Rai. On more than one occasion, I have stood idly at Metro Sadat corner, part of Tahrir Square, watching the crowd. Young men and women would hang out there, couples holding hands, eating their KFC wraps and drinking Coke from cans. People would randomly come up to me, ask me to show my pics, take pics and NEVER failing to say the words "Welcome to Egypt!" as they left. These were ordinary college youth, enjoying their best years of their lives.

Though I was never taken in by the western media's portrayal of the Arab world, I did find the broad-mindedness of the people surprising. I could immediately relate to them, standing there at the square. I could have been the same guy in Chennai. I could have easily taken pictures with tourists, helping them with directions, hi-five'ing with my friends. Young and net-savvy, twitter-following-fun-loving youth.

It is this crowd that is leading the revolution that the whole world is watching today. They say on TV that the average age of the protester is under 30 - they were not even born when Mubarak came to power. These young people whom I could relate to instantly were raised in a regime, left to fend for themselves, without taking care of them. They seem to have had enough and somewhere beneath all the outward display of fun, there has been suffering.

What else can explain the obstinate young girl, covered up to her face, telling the news channel that she would even die, but she would not leave the Tahrir square until Mubarak steps down?

The people who lead this revolution could be the very guys I met at Metro Sadat corner, the guys I chatted up with in the trains, laughed with in those little road-side restaurants, who showed me directions in Tahrir Square. It is perhaps because of this reason, I am not able to take my attention off the news updates.

It is times like these I also wonder, there are people younger than me, who have gone through enormous sufferings, seen the world and inspire a generation. There are people who rise above the ordinary and stand up for what is right and don't stop till they get what they want. I always thought such people were in a different world - Che Guevera, Gandhi and the likes. But I just realized that it could even be you or me - the ordinary citizen who just has to stand up to be heard.

I am thankful I met these revolutionaries before they became revolutionaries. But, should I be more thankful for having been born in peaceful times in a peaceful country?

Saturday, January 29, 2011

My Egyptian Adventures - Egyptian Museum

I woke up the next day and decided to spend the day in Cairo. (One of the best things about my holiday was that I planned each day as it came. I would wake up and decide where I wanted to go. No fixed itinerary.) I had to go to the local visa office to get a re-entry visa. I wanted to come back to Cairo from Israel because my flight back to India was from Cairo. I went to the Mugamma Building which was very close to my hotel. It was a HUGE building that immediately had the stamp of a government building on it. (Incidentally, it is outside this very building where there are massive protests happening as I write this.) I expected an orderly office where I could get my visa processed smoothly, but inside the building, it was complete chaos.

As you would expect in any govt office, they asked for lots of papers and proof and after half an hour of arguing that I just wanted a transit visa for half day(!!), I decided to give up. Heck, I was on a holiday and didn't want to waste time running to government offices.

I grabbed a quick bite from a road-side shop and crossed the road to step into the Egyptian Museum. Some four guides appraoched me one after the other, each with better sounding English than the previous. "Sir there are more than 1,00,000 items on display inside. I can show you exactly what is important and what you don't want to miss", the last one said. I refused politely and went inside. "If you change your mind, I will be right here sir", the last one shouted after me.

In your dreams.

If there was ever something called Musuem of museums, it had to be the Cairo Egyptian Museum. The museum is an antiquity in itself and about 100 years old! I went inside and immediately got lost. I had no clue if I had to start from the left or from the right! There were huge statues with long stories beside each of them. I started reading them and I could hear the guide's words in my mind "There are more than 100,000 items sir".

Was I going to read all of them?

I swallowed my ego and asked a guard to help me find a guide. And you guessed it right. It was the same guide who said be would be waiting for me. "I told you you will change your mind", he said, offering his hand. "Mahmud". "Balajee", I offered my hand, smiling weakly.

"The charge is 100 pounds per hour sir." He looked at his watch and said "We still have 2 hours before closure and I can show you a lot of stuff before that. Would you like to go for a one hour tour or full two hours? I would suggest you go for the full tour."

Of course, you would suggest that.

My mind was in a confusion. I was just in my third day of my holiday and I had already spent quite a bit of money. But I was also in a world famous museum with someone who could probably give me inputs that could help me understand everything that I would see in the next two weeks.

I made up my mind. "Ok, show me around for two hours", I said.

"Excellent", he said. "You will not regret this. This way, please. Would you like some gum?" he offered and led me to the left side of the museum. (I was about to begin from the right side on my own).

"This is a statue from 2700 BC..."

And yes sir, I did not regret my decision. For the next two hours, the guide took through a fantastic ride back into history. He started with the old kingdom, explained the meanings of different types of crowns, beards, Upper and Lower Egypt (which meant southern and northern Egypt respectively because the Nile flows from south (Up) to north (Down), the meanings of Papyrus and Lotus, how Ramses II became close to God, why King Tut was so famous, what each position of statue meant (walking, standing, sitting, in the sphinx position). Phew!

It was worth every single pound spent. This info helped a lot when I went to Abu Simbel and Aswan to understand the Egyptians obsession with the Nile and the mummification process. Speaking of mummies, the museum was the only place outside of the Valley of Kings and Queens that had mummies.

There is a whole section of the museum dedicated to King Tutankhamon and it is nothing short of spectacular. In 1922, archaeologist Howard Carter stumpled upon one of the most brilliant discoveries ever made in the history of mankind. Everything that King Tut used in his life is displayed in this section. Pots, jugs, jewelery, weapons, was nothing I had experienced before. In the middle of the room is King Tut's mask made of pure gold staring at you with its blue eyes. I cannot find enough adjectives to describe that look.

The Egyptians loved this king so much that they wanted him to live after he was dead. So they made an exquisite mask that looked exactly like him, so that the gods of afterlife would recognize him immediately and bring him back to life without wasting any time (All this for a king who ruled from the age of 9 to 19!). I could not take my eyes of the arresting blue eyes of the mask. Reluctantly I stepped out of the room where my guide was waiting. He asked "Did you enjoy it?" I nodded, somewhat still in a daze. "Are you ready for the mummies?"


"Yes sir. In there", he said pointing to a different room. "There are 11 mummies in there, including Ramses II. But you have to buy a separate ticket for that 100 pounds. Or I can give you a CD that has all the pictures of the mummies plus a lot more about this museum."

By this time, I had suspended my thoughts on my budget. I was still in a daze.

How could the Egyptians have been so advanced 3000 years back? I have been boasting India is an ancient land, but I could not recollect anything parallel in Indian history (India supporters, including myself, please hold your defense for sometime.)

I wanted to see the mummies. "Ok sir, you have to buy the ticket here. The mummies are on your left. I tell you sir, you will not be ready for it when you see it", he said. The warning sounded funny because I thought I was primed to see the mummies after seeing King Tut's mask. I was ready.

I went inside a room dimly lit with orange light. I deliberately avoided looking inside the glass cages until I was close enough to see clearly. I turned a corner around a pillar and I looked down at the first glass cage.

I was not ready for what I saw. It was a scene out of a horror movie. The thing inside was lying with protruding teeth and sunken cheeks. Scrawny fingers were pointing upwards and it looked like a tightly clothed skeleton.

MUMMY OF RAMSES II said the little sign on top of the glass cage. I could not bear to see the mummy yet I could not take my eyes away from it. It was nothing like I had seen before. It looked like a corpse of an old man. All its features were clearly identifiable. Eyes, mouth, fingernails, toes. I could even see the white hair!

This was RAMSES the second! The greatest king to have ever ruled on earth! The king whom Moses treated as his brother as shown in The Prince of Egypt! The king whose statues are there all over Egypt!(See his mummy here).

There were 10 other mummies in the room but nothing was as arresting as Rameses'. Everything else that I saw after that was all hazy and I can barely recollect what I did after that, except that I paid the guide, thanked him profusely and left.

I was still in a daze... be continued (Pyramids!)

My Adventures in the Arabian Land 4

Egypt is undergoing massive protests for regime change. I feel lucky to have visited it just before things would change for ever and I think the Egyptians gods truly liked me :). Anyway, continuing my Arabian Adventures. (Read my adventures from the beginning here, here and here.)

The taxi driver next offered to take me to the Lighthouse of Alexandria, one of the original wonders of the world. But my thrill was short-lived because the road to the lighthouse was flooded. It looked exactly like T.Nagar with knee-deep water and people wading through, cars ploughing through. The driver instead drove me to the marine drive and said "You take pictures for sometime here". (He left hurriedly somewhere, promising to be back in a few minutes. I think he wanted to get inebriated again). The sea was stunningly beautiful and I slowly came to grip with the fact that I was staring at the Mediterranean Sea! That oval sea between Africa and Europe! I simply couldn't come to believe what I saw. The sky was an amazing blue with sunlight piercing through the dark clouds with palm trees lined alongside the shore.

Boats were bobbing on the water as far as the eye could see. There was steady chilly breeze blowing. I could hear the water crashing against the rocks and splashing up. It was out of this world. I spent a good amount of time taking pictures, just staring at the sea. Beyond the horizon was Turkey and Greece. I had goose pimples as I stood there trying to imagine the Greek and Roman soldiers sailing their way into history to these very shores.
I then went to the Biblotheca Alexandrina, one of the world's largest and the oldest libraries. I don't even want to start explaining what I saw inside. A mind-boggling collection of everything with a connection to Egypt, Roman or Greek. I will let you read about it here. But one thing worth mentioning is a section called "In the after-life". The section itself was sort of underground and was quite eerie. It had a coffin and next to it was displayed all the items that the Egyptians were buried with. I felt like I was standing in one of those voodoo-like scenes from horror flicks.

The ride back to Cairo was uneventful. I skipped dinner (the lamb was still alive inside me) and went straight to bed.

Friday, January 28, 2011

Government will kill and MFIs will provide

I came across an absurd piece of news which I think should have been ignored anyway, but I could not resist my anger. The news report said that the AP govt is mulling over a law where MFIs will have to provide $10,966.39 (even the exchange rates are frozen!) as compensation to families of people who have committed suicide because of "debt burden".

What the hell does this government eat for breakfast? Can't it open its eyes and see the bigger issue? It just handed over a massive incentive for people to consider committing suicide, a la Peepli Live. The Rural Development Minister says people are asking for compensation and since MFIs were the reason for suicides, they had to provide compensation.

Mr. Minister, 65 years after independence, the government failed to provide him the basic necessities of life in the first place, which is why he had to resort to borrowing. You think the MFIs are responsible for suicide, I think your government is responsible for failing to give him his needs. It's your word against mine.

I am no authority in such policy level issues but if a layman like me could see some fundamental flaw in what the minister is proposing, surely, he needs to rethink what he is trying to do. I cannot even understand how could the minister say something that sounds like an incentive scheme for prospective suicides?

"Are you caught in a debt-trap? If you commit suicide, the MFIs will give 5 lakhs!". Retrospective politics at its best!

The poor need better and reliable sources of income. The minister should visit his villages and see for himself if the NREGA payments are made properly on time. There have been blatant violations of the minimum payment for NREGA and villagers have complained that even after a month, they have not received their payments. If the government does not give him the promised income (despite a mandate from the Centre), don't blame him for borrowing.

They need better healthcare. One State Govt is handing over free televisions for entertainment while in the other state, the 104 medical service is erratic and even withdrawn in some places. There is nowhere they could go if they fall ill and don't blame them for borrowing.

Crops have failed severely because of excess rains and the government failed to warn the farmers or provide them alternate livelihood solutions in such times of loss. Farmers have been "tempted" (a term that the authorities love to use) to plant cash crops like sunflower. They had to invest heavily for these crops, and when the crops fail, they are left to fend for themselves. Heavy lobbying by MNCs have made the government turn a blind eye towards all this.

But you know what, none of this angers me as much as the response of Anurag Agarwal, VP, Intellecap does. Of all the things that could go wrong because of this law, he chose to worry about the difficultly MFIs would face in mobilising funds! "This kind of a perceived notion will make investors wary of investing in the sector and in the long run can affect fund capital raising plans of MFIs."

That's it? Mobilising funds is the ultimate objective? Satisfying investors is the final destination?

Agreed, money is primary to sustain in the business. But for God's sake look at the larger issue! This will deprive hundreds of people from accessing finance, which is a basic right that they are deprived of just because they were born in a small village. Millions will be condemned to poverty because MFIs will continue to worry if they will get their money back.

A little girl who wanted to go to school with her friends, a wife who wanted to set up a small idli shop so that she can support her husband, the young man who wanted a bicycle to ride to work - they will all be left with no choice but to live the life they have been living all this while - in poverty. They have no way out of it.

Oh wait, sorry I forgot. The government will have a solution for that. The poor do have an option. They can commit suicide because that will guarantee Rs. 5 lakhs from the MFIs.

I hate to sound jingoistic but it is silly incompetent acts like these that annoys me the most. If people like us who care for the country are sitting here simply writing away and reading such blogs, who the hell is running the country?

Monday, January 24, 2011

If you were born in the 80s..

What, oh what, is it about Doordarshan that takes you on a joy ride everytime it plays a program from the 80s? I was watching a one hour special on Pandit Bhimsen Joshi and by the time it ended, I was filled with a bucket of mixed feelings.

Folks of my generation would agree with me, I am in the fourth census-decade now but the first seems to be my most memorable of all. What makes the 80s so special? Is it because those were my formative years and so remain etched in my memory permanently? Or is it because we were all woven together by a same fabric called the Indian government that kept deciding for us what we should be doing?

From what I hear my folks at home, life in the 80s seemed to have had a simple lifestyle - where our choices were limited and so our complications were limited. There were only as many brands of cars to choose from (Fiat? or Ambassador?), as many places of work you could go to (Government? Or Private?) and most importantly, there was only one TV channel you could watch. And that was the fabric that stitched us all together.

Many of us may call Doordarshan to be crap today, but in the 80s, when it decided what we had to watch, they did a damn good job at choosing for us. They created stuff because those things had to be shown to people. People had to know what was going on in the world, so there was THE WORLD THIS WEEK. People around the world were watching their childhood heroes come alive and so there was HE-MAN and THE JUNGLE BOOK. News was news. Not a political vehicle.

When Pandit Bhimsen Joshi waved his hand and started singing "Mile sur mera tumhara" he did bring together the tunes of different people of the country. SHow me one person from the 80s who doesn't know this song and I would (as my mother would say) "chop my ears off".

For some strange reason, there is not much from the 90s that I could recollect and be fond about. At least not the later part of 90s. And not surprisingly, that was when choices began to take away what we enjoyed the most - the thing called common-interest that ties friends. Friends became rival gangs - I liked Mclaren and my best friend became a Ferrari fan. I liked Tamil channels and my friends were watching only Zee TV. I became confused about where I belonged.

When there is no choice, is life better? Or is it the lack of awareness of choices that makes our lives seemingly better? Sure my father was chasing a better lifestyle. He wanted professional education for his children. So that I could have a better lifestyle.

But what exactly is a better lifestyle? Is it about going to air-conditioned offices and driving a car to work instead of taking the 8:20 local to an Accountant's firm? Is it about wearing shoes to work and not Bata sandals? Just the other day, my colleague was telling me, "Dude are we any different from our parents? They went to work, earned, came back and did it again the whole week, the whole year, their whole life. Aren't we doing the same?"

I couldn't disagree with him. But then, this is life. Can this be changed at all? Then what is it that we want to break away from? Where would be the redemption point?

That still brings me back to the question that would continue to haunt me forever - what is it about the 80s?

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

My Adventures in the Arabian Land 3

The train ride to Alexandria was a classy affair. The seats were really comfortable and reminded of those cool coaches in the movie Murder in the Orient Express (OK I am stretching it a bit, but allow me to indulge!). But it was a very clean train and there were uniformed waiters serving breakfast and tea. It took about a couple of hours to reach.

It was raining as the train slowed down towards Alexandria. But by the time I stepped out of the train station, the rain stopped.

I have to admit it here– of all the places that I visited in the next two weeks; to me Alexandria was the most beautiful. The sun was playing with the clouds and the sky was a brilliant blue in patches between the steel grey - it was out of this world. I negotiated with a taxi driver to take me around some 6 places (he had a tourist map) for 150 Egyptian Pounds. (One thing I learned during this trip was that there is always a better deal elsewhere but we have to stop making comparisons at some point.)

The driver first took me to Catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa which is a necropolis accidentally discovered in the 1900s when a donkey fell through a shaft. I was the first to reach that day and it was nearly empty inside. There was a winding pathway that led to the burial chamber and it was along these walls I caught my first glimpse of original hieroglyphs. Falcons, jackals and images of men working were all over the place.

I walked through the underground chambers trying to imagine the ancient people in the same place burying the dead and sitting on those stone benches mourning for them. My imagination had life only for a few minutes when a bunch of Asian tourists came pouring down the stairway with a pretty Asian tour guide holding a white flag and explaining away with outstretched hands and the whole group literally looked everywhere her hands pointed. But what I did not understand was why were they wearing surgical masks? It looked funny :p

And oh, these Asian tourists were all over Egypt. Retired Chinese uncles and aunties were enjoying their retired life – they even were there for a belly dance show! (Nice job uncle!)

I then went to a Roman Theatre, right in the heart of Alexandria.

Here is a piece of advice to those planning to travel to Egypt. Plan your budget really well. It costs a LOT of money almost everywhere to get in, a minimum of 35 Egyptian Pounds a maximum of 100. Understand that Egypt runs on tourism and so you have to pay entrance fees at every damn place in the country. Even the loos cost you one pound (That’s about Rs 12 to take a leak. No thank you, would say the Chennaiite. I’d prefer the trees.) It does help a lot if you carry the student card (ISIC) because you would then have to pay only about half the price. If you are an Arab, you pay local price that is about 10 percent of the original.

The Roman Theatre was almost deserted except for a couple of ladies and their children. It was a small semi-circular amphitheatre. Performers used to dance and sing while the royalty would sit back and sip wine and enjoy. The sun was clear and lighting was brilliant. Of all the inventions made by Nikon, I think the “self-timer mode” is the best. I experimented with it a lot and took pictures of myself. (It was super fun).

The taxi driver then went past a compound wall and said, “This Pombisbilar. You see from outside, nothing inside”. I said ok and when I went closer, I realized it was Pompey’s Pillar, one of the world’s oldest monolithic structure, a HUGE pillar commemorating Romans’ victory over the local revolt. (Nothing inside eh, taxi driver? Damn you!)

I asked the driver to take me to a local restaurant. Immediately he went “You want Pizza or pasta and...” I interrupted “No no no , I want to go where YOU go with family on holidays”. He asked back “Which family? I have two.”

Any of them, damn it!

But then he understood what I meant and took me to a real local restaurant. It was nicely decorated and looked very middle-class’ish. I was convinced. The waited looked at me and asked “Indian?” “Yes”. “No cow?” Well that’s a new one. I shook my head.

“The kofta here is good”, said the driver, “You know kofta?”

Of course I knew kofta! I've had Malai Kofta so many times before!

Before the kofta came, I was served a whole bunch of quick eats that were free. Pita, salads, hummus – I was digging into all of them, licking my fingers deep. I began to wonder if I should cancel my order and just eat the free stuff :p

And then came the kofta on a plate of leaves. Well, this looks different, I thought. I cut a small piece and tried to bite. It was a bit rubbery. I chewed hard. The waiter bent down and asked “How’s the lamb?”

Lamb??!!!!! But I am a vegetarian! Damn!

The guilt stayed on my mind for precisely 3 seconds – the time the lamb took to melt in my mouth. And then I thought to myself, hell, I was on a holiday. And one must not get too fussy with food on a holiday, especially when travelling alone to enjoy the local culture :D .

I had a fabulous first non-vegetarian meal.

More of Alexandria

My Adventures in the Arabian Land 2

Outside, the night in Cairo was cold. I mean COLD. In less than two minutes, my palms were freezing. I was cursing myself for leaving my jacket in India. I swung my camera bag across my torso and walked with my hands inside my jeans pockets. I tell you I really looked comical.

I walked around the brightly lit streets to reach a square. It was an intersection of five roads. People were walking in a hurry. I assumed they wanted to get home. The square was brightly lit and almost all the shops were selling footwear for women(???!) The women of Cairo did seem to take their footwear seriously!

It was an impressive collection of different kinds of shoes; boots (are they still called boots?). I walked past them, giving myself away as a tourist taking the occasional picture. (Did I tell you that I did look like an Arab with my mush :-). I searched for a shop that sold jackets or warm clothing, my first purchase abroad (Of course, I will bore you death with a lot of "My first" stuff!).

I was in no mood to spend a lot of money. I went to a street that had clothes lined up on little hangers and stacked neatly on the pavement. There was a shop selling only jackets and a lot of people were buying from there. A little girl (she looked kinda Indian, I thought first) was asking the shopkeeper in English "Do you have Chelsea?". She was speaking football clubs. She definitely was not Indian.

The shopkeeper saw me and asked "Indian?"


"Amitabh Bachan!" he said, pumping his fist. I was happy he said that and I smiled back. (By the time I left Egypt, I heard people call out that name so many times that I wanted to kill Amitabh, Shahrukh and Aishwarya Rai, in that order)

I dug through the pile of clothes and picked up a nice looking "Nike" jacket. I asked "How much?" He said something in Arabic. I said "La Arabi", English?"

He mumbled something to someone standing next to him and he shrugged. The shopkeeper turned back towards me, took a calculator out of his pocket, typed something and showed it to me. It said 120.

I asked "Egyptian Pounds?". He nodded. I shook my head "La la la". I took the calculator from him and typed 60 (The Chennai bargain rule of starting from the 50% of the quoted price). He looked at it and laughed out loud. The other guy also started laughing. Deep inside my head I thought I was acting stupid but my ego was intact. I would not let them win. He then typed 100. I typed 70. 85. 75.

"75 " I declared and started walking away. It worked as it always does. He called back and took out a black plastic bag (man these black plastic bags are everywhere!) and packed it, all the time mumbling something (we call it "polambal" in Tamil). I wore the jacket and it seemed good on me. Not a bad purchase after all. It was getting late and I was hungry.

The hotel manager had suggested Abou Tarek as good place to eat. It was close to my hotel. I headed back and then I realised I had no clue where I was. I asked a small shop the way to Abou Tarek. He asked "Indian?"

"Yes", I nodded.

"Amitach Bachan!!" and a big smile. I smiled back, pumping my fist, “Yeah”.

He went "A la snlafjdidujdh (hand turns right) jkdfn nfjnakj (hand points straight)....Abou Tareka!)

I didn't catch a word of what he said but understood where he meant. I said "Shukran" and left. He seemed happy I knew Arabic and shouted back "Afwan!"

Abou Tarek is an unassuming little restaurant with neat little tables and stainless plates and water jugs. For all its popularity, it is quite a humble place. It reminded me of Adyar Ananda Bhavan in Adyar (obviously!), Chennai.

I didn’t know what to order. I tried to see if there was a menu of some sort. There was none. I asked the waiter in white and black uniform, “What do you have?”. The first thing he asked was “No Arabi?”




“Welcome to Egypt” (Obviously he didn’t care about Amitabh!). We have Koshary”



“Just Koshary?”


“Ok Koshary then” He asked if I wanted for 5 or 10 pounds. In Abou Tarek, you tell them how much you want to eat for and pay upfront. I ordered for 10 pounds (I was VERY hungry). He brought a medium sized bowl full of Pasta-looking stuff. Koshary is apparently a variety of Pasta with rice, brown lentils, chickpeas, macaroni, and a topping of Egyptian garlic and vinegar and spicy tomato sauce (salsa) (of course, courtesy Wikipedia that night).

I gulped it down greedily, much to the annoyance of the guy opposite to me who was trying to strike up a conversation. But what could I do? It was delicious! All I remember after that was I went back to the room and fell on the bed.

The next thing I remember was bright light in the room. It was about 7 am. I lazily stood up and opened the curtains. I looked out through the balcony and held my breath for a few seconds. This is what I saw.

I just stood there, forgetting to brush my teeth, forgetting time. I just enjoyed the view, taking pictures.

After what seemed like only a few minutes, I looked at the watch. It was 8 am. Damn, I was late. I had to leave for Alexandria.