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Traffic in Cairo is horrible. Traffic lights are a rare sight. Lanes are non-existent. Getting cut off is routine. A trip can take 20 minutes or 2 hours depending on the day.  Horns fill your ears, exhaust in your lungs and the sun in your eyes. It’s paradise. Since I’m rich, I take a taxi …

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Here at Habibi.Habibi.Habibi headquarters, life is more than rainbows, unicorns, froyo and the first 3 seasons of the West Wing. Going forward, we will tackle stories that other poorly written blogs won’t touch. Our resounding confidence, often misplaced, will take investigative journalism to a new level. Now, allow me a moment to put on my Wendy Mesley slacks and a Strombo deep V (hard hitting yet edgy) and we can get started.

When I told people I was moving to Egypt, reactions varied. Danielle (a friend of mine) was on the “this is a good idea” end of the spectrum. While Egypt is Danielle’s motherland, it is a country she isn’t in a rush visit. Why you ask? Well, her family was already kicked out of the country once. Danielle is Jewish.

Danielle’s grandmother (her Nona) was born in Cairo in 1925. Renee Guetta was the third of six kids. When she was 14, she met her future husband Cesar Saul (Danielle’s Nono). Born in Aleppo Syria, Cesar was the youngest of nine children. He met Renee when he was 22 and they married 4 years later.  You’ll notice there are quite a few boy scouts in the wedding picture, that’s because Cesar was the head of the Maccabi Cairo boy scouts. I’ve been assured that heading up the Maccabi boy scouts was a bit of a big deal as they weren’t “just camping trips and stuff”.  No disrespect to the Maccabi boy scouts, but as a graduate of the Canadian boy scouts system, I can say with confidence our program is more than “just camping trips and stuff”. We learned how to tie knots, sell apples and build race cars out of blocks of wood.

Starting in 1948 with the creation of the State of Israel, relations between Egypt, Israel and its very own Jewish community began to strain. The Arab-Israeli War began soon after and the conflict didn’t end until February 1949 with the signing of the first Armistice Agreement with Egypt. With the Suez Crisis in 1956, Egyptian President Gamal Abdel Nasser brought in legislation that curbed civil liberties and created a hostile environment for Jewish, British and French communities. In November of 1956 it was clear Jewish Egyptians were being targeted and expelled. They were only allowed to take one suitcase, a small sum of cash, and forced to sign declarations “donating“ their property to the Egyptian government.

One night the Egyptian army came to collect Nono from his house in Cairo. At the time, Danielle’s mom was 7 and her aunt was 11. The army returned two days later and told Nona she had 48 hours to leave the country but wouldn’t say where they had taken Nono. She refused to leave without her husband and spent the next month looking for him. She broke curfews looking for her husband in Cairo while trying to arrange documentation for her family to leave. Nona had a French passport, but the French embassy had closed, so she got help from the Swiss to get the family out. She still didn’t know where Nono was, but arranged passports and visas as if he would be traveling with them. About a month after he was taken, Nono unexpectedly showed up at home and joined the family as they left for Paris on December 25th, 1956. A real Jewish Christmas miracle! After spending a few months in France, they joined Danielle’s great uncle Fred in Montreal. Nona’s brother Robbie and her sister Laly followed with their families soon after.

Nona is still buying bagels in Montreal but winters in Florida with a huge Egyptian senior citizen ex-pat crew. From what I’m told, she is a shark at shuffleboard, so pickup a paddle at your own risk. She has three grandchildren (two of which are doctors…but I’m sure she doesn’t love them more Danielle) and her third great-grandchild is on its way. Danielle’s Nono passed away about 15 years ago.

Since Danielle isn’t headed to Cairo anytime soon, she has enlisted me to visit and take pictures of her Nona’s favourite places in Egypt.

Next week, “A Gentile’s Egyptian Scavenger Hunt”

We’re at the tail end of Ramadan, it finishes on Saturday, and I can say Ive learned a thing or two these last couple weeks. I’ll be the first to admit my knowledge of Ramadan was quite limited before moving here, I knew the basics…month long fasting and then a big party for Eid. Ill start with the Coles Notes (from Wiki)… Ramadan is the ninth month of the Islamic calendar. The word Ramadan comes form the Arabic root ramida or ar-ramad which means scorching heat or dryness. While fasting from dawn until sunset Muslims refrain from consuming food, drinking liquids and sexual relations. Iftar is the meal that is eaten in the evening to break the fast. Its usually eaten in a group setting and traditionally starts with three dates, following the steps of the prophet Muhammad. Suhoor is the before dawn meal to kick off your day long fast.

Before Ramadan started, Susana gave me sage advice from her Moroccan experiences. She would keep snacks and water in her backpack at work and grab food when people weren’t looking. That way you aren’t overtly eating at work (remaining culturally sensitive) and you can stave off hunger until you get home. Secondly, the number of Iftar invites you get is directly related to your popularity. I felt ready for Ramadan in Cairo….how do you think I did? Did anyone invite me to Iftar? Was i able to eat at work without being caught? That’s the hook…keep reading to find out.

Working hours change during Ramadan, we start at 9am instead of 8:30am and finish at 3pm. The city is noticeably quieter during the day as many businesses close in the afternoon (if people are fasting, no reason to keep a restaurant open) and open later at night when people, full after Iftar spill into the streets.

Before heading to work, I would pack in a big breakfast to help get me through the morning and then fill my bag with bread and nutella, nuts, apricots and granola bars. I thought I did a good job of slyly eating at work, especially since my desk is in a high traffic area. No such luck, last week one of the guys in the office made me a cup of tea…I guess it was clear enough to him I wasn’t fasting (but very nice of him to make me tea!). So, I give myself a 7/10, he only made me tea once and that was three weeks in.

I’m not going to lie, the Iftar invite didn’t flood in once Ramadan started. Susana clarified that the first week is really for family, so it wasn’t strange that neither of us had any invitations (not counting expats inviting each other). Entering the last weekend of Ramadan, I can’t say people were clamoring to sign my dance card at the sock hop but I did get one invite! Well, everyone at work went for Iftar together so the invitation wasn’t exclusive but better than nothing. The Malhotra charm obviously needs a little polish in Egypt (because it’s normally deadly…come on, my dad married a white girl) but ill be ready for next year, box of dates in hand.

This gallery contains 11 photos.

Basically the only Arabic word I knew before arriving in Cairo was ‘habibi” (my beloved or darling) which has already served me well over the last month. When I listen to music in cabs, I recognize at least one word per song. After 3 weeks of language classes, my vocabulary has grown to over 10 …

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