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Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Flowers Are in Bloom

We are down to our final day in Egypt.  We have spent the past few days visiting friends to say good-bye.  Twice we headed south in the direction of Sakkara toward the "horse farms."  I have designated the road along the Mansoureya Canal in that area as "Bougainvillea Boulevard" for the flowers that drape many of the walls around the country villas.
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Bougainvillea are not the only exotic plants to be found here.  Bottle Brush and Bird of Paradise can be found lining the local driveways.
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We also spent some time at a friend's "retired" restaurant - no tourists, no business.  He has a delightful small garden there.
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There, a couple of birds joined us to enjoy the garden.
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Even a planting of white Osteospermum looks nice at this time of year.
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But it is time for us to leave Egypt and return to spring in the Minnesota-Wisconsin north-land.  The temperatures here are beginning to rise to the hot level.  Ninety degree days are coming.  Weather.com provides our forecast and our averages.


Average temperatures rise into the uncomfortable range during April - and don't return to comfort levels until well into the autumn.
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So we will begin the long trip home late tonight.
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I hope to complete a few more contemplated but not completed blog posts about our stay after we return.  You won't want to miss the Postal Museum!


 




Tuesday, March 29, 2016

This Year's Garlic Crop Is In

When you cross the street you are in danger of being hit by a load of garlic nowadays.  It comes by truck.
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It comes by donkey cart.
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And the price is reasonable - 2 EGP for a kilo.  Figure that at about ten cents per pound.  How many kilos would you like? Unfortunately, garlic is one of the items expressly forbidden to bring into the U.S. I don't think it would take those luggage sniffing beagles long to discover a suitcase full of garlic.
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How many pounds can you get into a donkey cart?  200?  That would give you $20 - not a bad day's income if you can sell it all.  



Saturday, March 26, 2016

Cairo Real Estate Roundup - Part II

The idea of moving to a different apartment that Ishmael put into my mind percolated for a few weeks.  Linda thought we should investigate the current real estate market.  One obvious candidate to explore was a new "luxury" building just down the block.  It is difficult to photograph because of numerous obstacles but this will give you an idea of what the front looks like.  This is a big building with big apartments.
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We took a tour of  a couple of unfinished units.  They range from 1750 to 3150 sq ft.   There are four elevators in the building.  Choose a large end unit and wall off the hallway and you have a private entry!  It is allowed.  The hallways are well lit and finished to a high level not seen outside of luxury hotels here.  Prices are quite high with the 1750 sq ft unit coming in at about $41,000 - and figure another $10,000 to finish it to your taste.

The building is already 70% sold out.  We asked if there were any "foreigners" among the owners and were told there were Saudis and some others from the Gulf States.  (Cairo is a favored "cool spot" for them in the summer.)

Take a look at the well-lit gleaming lobby under the watchful eye of the building's bawaab and you will see why we are intrigued by it.
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As a bonus, the unit we inspected on the rear has a view of Ishmael's golden building in the distance.  It is less than a hundred yards from our local center of commerce and public transportation hub.
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But, let's consider another alternative.  Less than a half mile to the west of Ragab Sons' supermarket and across the street from the Japanese School lies this block of buildings:
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We had the opportunity to take a look at some of the units in the center building with the scaffolding in front.  There are three units on each floor and the total square footage of each floor is about 4000.  There as no elevator operating yet but sunset was approaching so I climbed to the twelfth floor in anticipation of a nice view.  Once on 12, there is a conveniently nailed together ladder leading onto the rooftop.
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The view is, indeed, spectacular.  Even on a hazy day.
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The view looking back toward our apartment and the other two buildings described here was also very attractive.
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Naturally, the owner, who was showing me around, was interested in selling me the entire 12th floor or at least half of it.  All 4000 sq ft can be had for 520,000 EGP ($52,000) or half of that for $26,000.  Plus finishing cost of 5-10 thousand, of course.  For one of the smaller units on the lower floors, the base cost will run you about $17,500 - plus finishing.

Owner Mohammed promised me that he could have a unit finished in two months from the day we sign the contract and put the money in the bank.  There were no promises mentioned about the elevator.

Linda and I inspected the finishing work in progress in a unit on one of the lower floors.  The colors may not be to every American's taste but the workmanship seems adequate - although we noted a good bit of hammering taking place in the dark in one room.  A little tile cleanup and these rooms will all sparkle.
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Features to note are ceramic tile floors throughout, complete ceramic in both the kitchen and bath and tray ceilings with recessed lighting in the living room - now a standard mark of quality construction here.

Consider this one carefully!  You won't find 1400 square feet of winter getaway in Florida or Arizona for under $25,000.

And, keep in mind the ongoing cost of living in Cairo.  Tonight we ordered grilled chicken dinners for three with rice, bread and salads.  It was delivered in 22 minutes and cost $10 with tip.  We picked up two pounds of oranges and two pounds of bananas for one dollar earlier in the day.  A few days ago, Linda picked up six pounds of fresh strawberries for a dollar.

Of course, there are downsides to everything.  It turns out that Mohammed only has a permit to build seven floors of that twelve story building.  So buying the top floor with the view is risky.  So let's look at it as they would on House Hunters International on HGTV:

Description Sq Feet Price in $
Ishmael's place with the poorly designed kitchen 1100 22,000
The expensive building with the fancy lobby 1750 41,000
plus finishing
The great view on the unpermitted 12th floor 2000 26,000
plus finishing

Which one did they choose?

Friday, March 25, 2016

Cairo Real Estate Roundup - Part I

I'm sure that at least one of my regular blog readers is asking, "Did you ever return to Ishmael's home to meet his Belgian wife and have lunch on the 22nd of February?"

Of course!

I called a couple of days earlier than that to insure that Grace had arrived safely from Belgium.  Ishmael said that she had and confirmed that they were looking forward to seeing us for lunch.

We took a somewhat long and circuitous route to Ismael's apartment.  Ishmael and Grace live on the fifth floor of Ishmael's "other building" which is next to the high-rise that I featured in the earlier post.  There is no elevator in that building and they didn't want us to have to walk up.  A small doorway on the fifth floor of the high-rise connects the two buildings.  Unfortunately, the elevator in the high-rise was out of order and being repaired.

After waiting on the ground floor and having tea, we took the repaired elevator up and transferred to the second building.  Here, Grace helps Linda negotiate the passage via a steel plate above the five story gap.
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Ishmael had kofta and chicken roasting on the grill.
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The large fifth-floor terrace is nicely outfitted for entertaining and they have painted copies of the Belgian and Egyptian flags on the wall to celebrate their marriage.


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The dinner was delightful and we had very enjoyable conversation.
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The apartment in the high-rise is still available and is an excellent buy at 220,000 EGP for 1184 square feet.  If you figure a conservative ratio of 9 EGP to the dollar, the price is about $25,000 dollars.  You will have to finish the kitchen and bath but that can be done for another $5,000 or so.

This bargain prompted us to look at another couple of apartments - to be covered in the next post.


Another Blog Link

I added another blog link to the "Egypt Links" in the left-hand column.  Cairo/Giza Daily Photo is a blog posted by Maryanne Stroud Gabbani.  Maryanne is featured back in this 2015 post about her veterinary clinic. She posted to her Daily Photo blog regularly until she began spending more time on Facebook.

The blog features a large number of brief posts about life in Cairo, each with an accompanying picture.  Highly recommended!


Bonus Cairo Department Store Post

When I took pictures of the old Omar Effendi department store and started looking for information about it for my blog post, I had Googled old department store in downtown Cairo and looked at the resulting images.  Of course, I found Omar Effendi and, knowing the name, found lots of information.

But there were other images of a large building with a globe on top.  What was that?  I didn't spend much time on it.

A couple of days ago, however, we were downtown again.  This time we were across from the Ramses train station at the post office.  Linda looked across the square and spotted a large domed building.  Yes, it was that "other department store."
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I didn't get a chance to get close and do a good job of photographing it for you, so you will just have to settle for a couple of blow-ups from that image.
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Hmmmm.  Maybe it is best left photographed from afar.  This turns out to be the old "Tiring" department store which you discern from the name in the bottom right of the left photo.

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I will direct you to a series of much better pictures apparently taken by George Richards and posted by the Cairo Observer from about 2008 and earlier.  There is a nice article in the Observer that goes with the pictures.
The store was founded in 1910 by Victor Tiring, an Austrian merchant born in Istanbul who specialized in Turkish tailoring. The Tiring family had built its first store in Vienna in 1882. The building was designed by Oscar Horowitz, a Czech architect who studied in Vienna and who designed similar shopping destinations within the Austro-Hungarian sphere. The Tiring Store in Cairo was completed in 1912 and when it opened it was the city’s premier shopping destination for imported luxury goods.
The store didn't last long  (World War I problems) and apparently has been abandoned for a long time.

It is worth taking a look at just for the four statues of Atlas holding up the globe.

There is an older article about the store in the Egyptian Gazette of January 22, 1997 by Samir Raafat.

The article opens with a movie reference:
In the recently released Arabic motion picture Al Tofaha (1997), Egyptian superstar Laila Elwi who plays the role of a voluptuous lustful newlywed is in awe of the four  statues of Atlas on whose shoulders rests the Tiring department store glass globe. Each morning, to the astonishment of her adoring husband and neighbors, Elwi addresses, implores and cajoles the statues from her slummy one-room shack atop a neighboring building on Ataba Square. Glaring back at her are six faded letters written in Latin script: TIRING.
The article goes on to provide more details on the Tiring family.  Interestingly, it attracted a comment from a Tiring descendant, Sam Raff, of Great Neck, NY:
My grandparents lived in Cairo and owned the Tiring department store (beginning WW-1) near Ataba Square. My grandfather had the title Raff "Bey" and he lost his business at the beginning of WW-1 because he was an Austrian citizen.

My parent's names were Max Hersch Raff and Anna Raff. My grandmother's maiden name was Stein whose family owned the Stein department store across the street from Tiring.
If we are lucky, the building will still be standing next year and I will gather better pictures.  (sharp-eyed readers should probably ponder the similarity of names between the author, Samir Raafat, and the commenter, Sam Raff!)
        

Tuesday, March 22, 2016

Watermelons

Spring is here.  Trees are blooming and........
Tree-yellow Tree-red

Watermelons are ripe and ready for eating.
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It tasted as good as it looks.  Too bad it's almost time to leave again. No more watermelon until September (in MN).
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Saturday, March 19, 2016

An Agricultural Tour - Part II

As we approached the farm, we noticed a field of Prickly Pears.
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I had never thought of these as a cash crop, but they are.  This field is in its fourth year.  We were here out of season but there are a few sprouts and fruit growing on the plants.
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The prickly pear is native to the Americas but has been spread around the world,  Web MD lists a few medicinal uses:
 Prickly pear cactus is used for type 2 diabetes, high cholesterol, obesity, alcohol hangover, colitis, diarrhea, and benign prostatic hypertrophy (BPH). It is also used to fight viral infections.
Who knew?

A new planting of prickly pears was planted in rows and other crops were growing nearby including cucumbers, green peppers and a number of fruit trees.
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Nearby farms feature wheat and the much favored fava beans that are eaten as the popular Foul Madamas.
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After our tour, our farmer host offered lunch which was a very enjoyable meal of stuffed cabbage leaves and assorted other stuffed.  You may recognize our host's father-in-law from the camel ride post of a few weeks ago.
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After tea, we continued the tour.  Water is the key to success in farming this land.  The canals that form the Nile's delta maintain a high water table.  This farm relies on a powerful electric pump and a very precise distribution system to water the plants.
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So how large is the typical Egyptian farm?  This may surprise you - 3 acres!  Can 3 acres support a family, Linda wondered?  Yes, it seems that it will support a family quite nicely.  Egypt has a unique small farm environment.

Columbia University's Timothy Mitchell is an expert on Egyptian economics, politics and culture.  He writes this in the Forward to David Sims' Egypt's Desert Dreams: (oh, the research I do for my blog readers!)


... unlike rural areas in the west, the compact geography of rural Egypt has enabled households to stay on the land. The small-scale farming that was wiped out in many parts of the world in the course of the twentieth century and that some countries are now attempting to revive has been far more resilient in Egypt. The country's household farms are among the most efficient and productive in the world, and provide low-cost food and a viable livelihood to a larger population than perhaps any comparable region.

... thanks in part to the viability of small-scale farming, Egypt has one of the lowest rates of rural—urban migration in the world, a rate that has fallen since the 1970s and 1980s. The country's migration ratio of 8 percent (measured as the ratio of the migrant population to the total working-age population) is about half the world average, and compares with a rate of about 35 percent in Morocco and more than 6o percent in India. The density means that everyone in rural Egypt lives close to a provincial town and administrative center. Transportation and marketing costs are low and households can support both those who farm and those who work in town. Due to this density and proximity, villages in turn can support doctors, lawyers, and schools.