Monday, January 21, 2008

In the kingdom of the blind

In the kingdom of the blind, the one eyed man is king.
One of the few quotes I've heard that are as true and meaningful as they are catchy.

Would you be happy being the one eyed king?

Sunday, January 13, 2008

Home Sweet Home

I went for a stroll in downtown Seattle today, the weather was very un-Seattle-like (read Sunny) and I'd frankly missed it coming back from a long vacation.

Coincidentally, I found a store that sells small antiques and other seeminly random but somehow interesting things imported from Namibia, Kenya, and a couple other countries according to the owner. A quick chat started by the owner asking me where I'm from, playing the guessing game, and failing, as has become the norm for me around here (you *have to* make them play the guessing game when it's a (cute) girl asking you where you're from, playing the game is optional when it's guys asking you).
Anyway, it turns out the guy is from Guinea and has been in Seattle for 12 years.
Interestingly, the guy voluntarily admits that he'd like to go home (not Seattle). I'm puzzled.
'But 12 years is a really long time, it (Seattle) must feel like home to you now, no?', I ask.
'No, I still want to go back, I go on vacations and it may be a worse place but I like it better, there is no place like home', the man replies.

The conversation ended pretty soon, and I felt exactly what his last statement would make most people feel. A mysterious admiration for the man's "loyalty" for his place of birth.
But I really don't know why we feel that way.

First of all, I'm hard pressed to find a definition for "home". We use the word everyday and one would think the definition is clear, but is it?
If a man is born and lives in country A for 20 years, and then relocates and moves in country B for 20 years. Which country is home now for him?
And it can't be defined as the country of birth, because a person who is born in country A but only lives there for a day, after which he moves to country B would never call country A home.

And the definition of 'home' is not the only problem...

Loyalty to one's home, however we choose to define that home, is usually perceived as a virtue, but again the reasons are unclear to me.
Most people will admit having a familiar warm fuzzy feeling and feeling mysterious admiration after hearing the phrase 'There is no place like home' or the seemingly-deep-but-actually-not-so-deep "Never forget where you're from".
A lot of people will say either phrases and countinue to live on somewhere else anyway, go figure.

Maybe I need to study ethics?

Tuesday, January 01, 2008


The french si, not the spanish one. The one you use to reply affirmatively to a negative question. A silly silly word, if you ask me, because it solves a problem that should have never existed in the first place.

Who on earth invented the idea of negative questions?

Negative questions do not add any meaning that normal questions don't have, it's actually pretty oxymoronic if you think about it, what does it mean for you to negate something you don't know (yet at least)?
Some languages, like formal Arabic and French, took it even further and made up words to denote an affirmative response to a negative question. After all, what does it really mean to reply 'Yes' to 'Are you not going to work today?'.

I hate very few things in life, and negative questions are so bad that they managed to make it very close to the top of a very short list.

The worst thing about negative questions, to me, is that they suggest some sort of expectancy of a negative answer on behalf of the asker. But why anyone feels compelled to communicate their anticipated answer to their question is beyond me, if you know the answer, just don't ask the question.

'Are you not going to eat?' sounds like "Are you going to eat? You really shouldn't" and 'Are you not coming?' sounds like 'why don't you spare us your company?' to me.

Just think of it, how many times have you had to reask a question in the proper (affirmative) form after not understanding the answer to your previous negative question?

Negative questions are evil.

Thursday, December 27, 2007

Smile! You're in a 3rd world country!

First of all, I really don't mean the title, or the post for that matter, to sound condescending (if you don't know what condescending means, we have nothing to worry about). If there's one thing I've learnt, it's that there rarely is genetically or categorically "bad" people. The system (or lack thereof) produces the people and their defining traits (as a people).

If you've been outside this (or any other) country for an extended period of time (anything more than six months will do), things get pretty interesting when you go back. You start seeing things as if they were completely new to you (unless you have extraordinary memory). You don't otherwise get a chance to see things in your city anew because you grow up in it.

One of the very first things I've noticed the first time I walked on the streets in Cairo is the people, more specifically the faces of the people.
No one is smiling! Absolutely no one!
I've wondered since then what makes people on the streets smile in Seattle when they cross paths with a stranger, after all, it should be lack of this thing, whatever it is, that makes people frowny on the streets of Cairo.
And I found out the hard way.

Yesterday, I went to take my car to run a few errands, only to find it with a flat rear left tire. It was obvious someone had done it, because the tire had not been leaking and both cars in front of and behind mine had the same rear left tire deflated.
While changing the tire, a passerby tipped me off.

I'd parked it by the school wall (there is a school across from my place) and apparently, the school bus drivers don't like it when someone does that (parks on the street around the school). So they deflate the tires to "teach them a lesson"...
That's not the sad part, the sad part is that there is nothing you can do about it...

Why would you smile walking around in a country where you have no rights, be it property, human, or otherwise?

At least I found my/an answer.

Wednesday, December 19, 2007

El Toktok

I went to visit my uncle and aunt today, one of my cousins was there too so I get to check a significant percentage of family visits that I have to do off the list (can you tell how small my family is?).
My aunt asks me if there is anything that I saw in my visit that was new to me (I'd been away for about 2 years) and the first thing that comes to mind is "El Toktok!".
If you're wondering what el toktok is, wonder no more, this is what we're talking about, in all its three wheeled flippable glory.

Apparently, Cairo currently has way more cars than it was designed for. Actually that's a misstatement, Cairo was not designed. The best way I can think of as to how its streets came to be is that people built their homes wherever they pleased and the remaining space (or lack thereof) was deemed streets.
Anyway, back on topic, for lack of space (and money), el toktok sprung as an alternative way of transportation (sometimes to the "afterlife").
But this being Egypt, there had to be an interesting twist.

Reportedly, the guy importing toktoks is well connected (he had to be) and made a lot of money on importing and selling them, which is fine. A lot of the "offline" (read not connected) poor folks saw it as a worthwhile investment and started saving up and taking loans to buy and operate toktoks and make a living.
Looks like a win-win so far.
But there is no such thing around here, not that I've seen.
Now the powers that be are disccussing banning el toktok, rumour has it. If/when the toktok is banned, hundreds and maybe thousands of people will have tin boxes for their life investments that they can neither use to make a living nor even sell to recoup their losses.

But life will go on fe om el donya...

Monday, December 17, 2007


It may be ironic that the factors responsible for my restarting blogging are the symmetric opposite of the reasons I started the blog in the first place. I started the blog mostly because I was relocating from Egypt to the US(which I did) and thought I'd have fun maintaining it (which I did not). I came back to Cairo two days ago (for a visit) and here I am restarting the blogging.
Evidently, change in one's geographical location is a big deal.

A lot of people (like three of them) have asked why I stopped blogging, my answer was (and still is) that I don't know exactly why I started blogging in the first place. But right now I feel like I have words to blurt so I will. This should not be taken as any sort of promise of continued e-blurting --blogging, as it came to be known in recent times.

So I'm back in Cairo, for about a month. I've been away for 27 months (2.25 years for the mathematically challenged) and I seriously couldn't have anticipated the shock. Ironically (I love irony), I was not in culture shock moving to the US, but I am now that I'm visiting Cairo.

Don't get me wrong, I am really excited about meeting all the people again. I love my family and friends and it's the one thing you miss when you leave a 3rd world country, but (you knew this one was coming, didn't you?) you definitely do not miss much else. The list (of things you don't miss when you leave Egypt) is so long I don't know where to start.
And it's very well that I don't too, because I'd probably be like that snobby, "westernized" relative of yours who left the country for a couple years only to come back with a fake accent and attitude complaining about everything he sees and some things he doesn't. Let's just say the complaints are mostly warranted, even though the fake accent is not.

As always, I managed to write more than I had intended, and thus I'll end it here.
To be continued...

(I just entered the letters in the word verification thing wrong twice three times, I feel like Nagia)

Thursday, April 26, 2007

May 0th

I just got this random thought.
5:00pm means 5 o'clock. The first minute in a given hour is 00 and the last is 59, that's called zero based indexing in CS world.
But the first day of a given month is, well, the 1st. So beginning of May is 05/01 not 05/00.

Why are we using zero based indexing for minutes, seconds, and hours (in the 24hr format) while using one based indexing for days and months?