September 4, 2011

In my travels

I was lucky enough to travel to different parts of the world. During those journeys, I've seen wonders, strange inventions, heard the weirdest stories and learned of the most bewildering ideas. I bring you in this article (and hopefully many to come), some of those strange and weird things that I've seen or heard. Many of those, I would like to see in Egypt and some, I just tell you about to warn you from potential threats to our society.

Sidewalk: is an invention that was first introduced in the 19th century. It's part of a bigger concept called "urban design" and involves several characteristics that are definitely not indigenous to Egypt, such as: practicality, usability and safety. The concept is very simple and consists of dedicating a space on both sides of a street that is slightly higher than the street level; typically 2 Р5 meters wide and about 15 Р20 cm high. Wonder what this is for? I did when I first saw it. Then, I was told that it's basically for "pedestrians" (people who walk to go to places) to use when they are moving from one point to another. In some countries, the idea of cars and people mixing in the street is somewhat perceived negatively and that's why the "sidewalk" was invented. In the early 20th century, we imported quite a few of those, which are now considered antiquities and if you have an eye for fine architecture you might be able to spot some "sidewalks" in some of the old belle ̩poque neighborhoods in Cairo (Nasr City isn't one of them, in case you were wonderin). You just have to look hard as they are mostly covered with parked cars, kiosks or boxes of merchandise. We tried at some stage to produce our own "sidewalks" (instead of importing them); a team of Egyptian architects were responsible for the design and they figured that a country as grand as Egypt should not just copy the design from Europe. They therefore made a key modification to the original "sidewalk" by adding an extra 90 Р130 cm to the height. "Sidewalks" were banned in Egypt sometime in the mid 1960's and were never heard of again.

Focus: is a strange habit that I personally find fascinating. It is simply a - weird - ability to make a paragraph consisting of sentences that are (all) related to the same topic. It sounds boring and lacks color but in fact it helps in reaching something called "objectives" (which I can't explain as this product is not allowed in Egypt). Obviously without "objectives", "focus" loses a lot of its significance, but I still find it fascinating how some people can actually start a conversation and end it with the same exact subject.

I don't know. OK, this will be a difficult one to swallow, but just bare with me and remember that I'm only bringing you some of those concepts that I've seen abroad, I did not invent them myself: A very long time ago, some guy in a far away land came up with the weirdest idea. He was not a prophet. He was not a wizard. And he was not a taxi driver. He was just a man with too much time on his hands. That man, spent his days thinking, exploring his mind and those of others, he talked to people and visited places and after years of research, he came to the realization that no one person can know everything. I swear!!! That's what he figured out. He explained his concept to people and his circle of followers grew bigger by the day. More and more people started believing that nobody knows everything. Such a reckless theory eventually cost him his life. But it was too late. His religion had too many followers and his students went everywhere in the world spreading his word. One of his followers was designated for Egypt. As he was crossing our borders he had a five minute debate with the passport control officer and committed suicide at the checkpoint. And that's how those poisoned ideas never made it to our culture. Nevertheless, over the centuries our society has been infiltrated by some of those concepts that people bring back from Europe and other doomed countries. To identify those traitors it's very simple, often when asked a question a member of this underground infidel society will answer "I don't know". If I were you and I met one of those, I'd run as fast as I could; they are dangerous and armed with something called "logic". We are not used to "logic" and it could be fatal for us. If you think you can physically take them, please do. If anyone ever responds "I don't know" to your question, just smack this little infidel and deliver him to the nearest newspaper editor, they'll know where to shove this "logic" of his.

Sports: I don't really recommend this one because it is quite exhausting, nevertheless I will explain it... In order to understand it better, I have first to go over two other concepts called "health" and "being healthy"… On second thought, maybe I should just give an example: I saw many people in my travels whose brains give an order to one of their body parts to perform a certain act and – get this!! - their body part (and that part only) actually executes this order. So, for instance if someone is sitting and wants to get up, they just give an order to their legs to push them up and their legs do exactly that. I compare this to our routine for getting up: we send a request to stand-up, our legs squeeze tight, our hands clench on the sidearm, our lungs grasp for air, our head twitches left and right, then our whole body spasms twice before kicking us up on our feet. Then we take a couple of minutes to recover (in other countries they don't need to recover from standing up by the way). The ability to stand up in one move is only one example of being "healthy". Other examples would be to climb stairs, to carry a bag, to breathe without any whistling in the lungs, etc. To stay "healthy", people in those weird countries do something called "sports" or some might call it "exercise", which is simply to move their bodies even if they didn't have to such as running even if you are not being chased by Mabahes Amn El Dawla . As I said in the beginning it is quite exhausting and is against our deeply rooted believe in the "least effort possible" philosophy but it seems to work for some people.

In the next article I explore other strange inventions such as: Deodorant, Professionalism, Color matching, Respect and the concept of "Time".


  1. this is hillarious and sad at the same time! gotta share this! :Dthis is hillarious and sad at the same time! gotta share this! :D

  2. Clever post and funny ! I always wonder the same. However, you're off by 10 years regarding the sidewalks and, unfortunately, you can't blame this on Nasser or on socialism. The proper example for that would be el makel faisal, mohandessine/3agouza, ...etc. I think Nasr City of the sixties is a great project. Socialist..yes. But organized. It's like East Berlin. Big streets, tram+public transport, built on desert not agricultural land, each cluster of buildings has its own entertainment and services complex, playgrounds for kids,...etc. I am talking about the area behind the CAPMAS and Sonesta. I spent many happy childhood memories there at my aunt's Nasr city apartment :).

    The bastardization of public spaces started with infita7 IMHO and ran amok with gulf money in the eighties.