Wandering the palm gardens of Siwa Oasis

Palm garden in Siwa OasisWhen you read guidebooks or travel websites describing activities around Siwa Oasis, it’s easy to overlook that this area is largely agricultural.  Most Siwa residents spend their days caring for crops – olive trees, date palms, vegetables, guava, nehbak and pomegranate trees, a bit of emmer wheat and forage crops for the animals. People here also keep domestic animals for their meat, milk or labor – sheep, goats, chickens, turkeys, rabbits, pigeons, cows, donkeys and horses – and the animals, too, require care.

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More fossils: a bike-and-hike trip to the north edge of Siwa Oasis

 

Dramatic shapes in the fossil-rich hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis
Dramatic shapes in the fossil-rich hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis

On the way out to Taghagheen Island to watch the sunset with our friends Amal and Ahmed one evening, Alan noticed that there were tombs and interesting formations along the line of hills at the north edge of Siwa Oasis. “It’s not really all that far from town,” he said to me. “We could bike out here and hike around these hills.”

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Six weeks in Sudan

 

Artist showing his work outside the national museum, Khartoum, Sudan.
Artist showing his work outside the national museum, Khartoum, Sudan.

We lived in Khartoum for six weeks. It was supposed to be six months, but as they say, life happens.

When we signed up last year for the Sudan Volunteer Programme, it seemed like an ideal choice as part of our three-year plan to live and volunteer in cultures unfamiliar to us. We’d been reading for a while about SVP, a nonprofit organization that’s been placing volunteer English teachers in Sudanese universities for more than 20 years. We liked the idea of staying in Sudan for months, not just weeks. Alan had wanted to live in an Arabic-speaking country for some time; I wanted the chance to get to know people in a culture wholly different from any I’d known before; and we both wanted to do something purposeful and helpful. We figured that being part of an organized program, and part of a university community, would give us the chance to do all of that.

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Seeing beyond the veil

Illustration of niqab, hijab and burqa courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-02/what-are-the-differences-between-the-burka,-niqab-and-hijab/5785816
Illustration of niqab, hijab and burqa courtesy of the Australian Broadcasting Corp. http://www.abc.net.au/news/2014-10-02/what-are-the-differences-between-the-burka,-niqab-and-hijab/5785816

Hijab, niqab, burqa: The issue of women’s bodies, and how much it’s okay to show – or not – resonates with almost everyone I know, no matter what their religion, nationality or gender.

As for me, I have always felt it’s important to respect every woman’s choice, even if I’m not sure just how much choice she actually has. And personally, I have never wanted to show much skin, even growing up in sunny beach-culture Southern California.

The one thing I have always cared about is connecting with other people. That happens with a smile, a greeting, and especially with the meeting of the eyes.

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Tour of Siwa, walking edition

 

Traditional pigeon houses in Siwa Oasis
Traditional pigeon houses with their own distinctive Siwan design.

Today, our third full day in Siwa Oasis, we decided to take it easy and walk a short loop through date groves to the temple of the oracle, located in Aghurmi village, then on to Cleopatra’s Pool and back to town. It is indeed a short loop – just 7 kilometers – but with all the stopping to look at ruins and springs, to take photos and enjoy a cup of tea along the way, we were out walking and looking around for almost five hours.

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Catching up in Cairo

After our abrupt departure from Sudan, we were glad to land in Cairo, a city we’ve enjoyed since our first visit in 2013. We’ve been walking around some of our favorite places, remarking on what’s changed and what hasn’t. A big highlight of this visit was the chance to see our friends Tom and Linda, who spend three months of every year here in Cairo.

Tom's photo of Linda, me and Alan
Lemon-mint, Nescafe, Arabic coffee and good conversation. Photo by Tom: https://www.flickr.com/photos/tjsawyer/39680154655

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