Siwa Soul readers I am sorry that I haven’t posted for a while. The government closed the internet down for five days due to the demonstrations here, and before that the blog break was due to a combination of time spent in Alexandria trying to get my freight from Customs, and illness. I will do two posts as soon as possible, as the internet may be closed again at any time. First I will update you on the weeks before the demonstrations, but that will seem trivial compared to what has happened in the last five days, so I will do a second post on the recent events (providing internet stays up long enough).
I am safe in Siwa and only worried about my friends in other places in Egypt. Phone and internet costs have gone up 50% in Siwa due to the troubles, but we have bread and all necessities so I will be fine here.
First, my general update due from before the demonstrations:
After two months of good health here, I guess it had to happen. I had a very bad reaction to a dog bite and my lower leg and foot become infected and swollen, and after the 20 hour round trip and day in Alexandria I developed a fever and could not stand. I have had three injections, a course of powerful antibiotics (so powerful that the skin surrounding the wound dried up and peeled off), and I am now in a routine of going to the hospital every second day to have the dressing changed. I am gradually improving, and the doctor says I should be bandage free in a few more days. I can’t wait, I have missed my daily swim so much and now I have my scooter here I want to get around the oasis a bit more than in the first two months.
The doctor ordered that I keep my leg raised “higher than your heart and liver” for the first week, which meant I could lie flat and read a bit, get up for a little while to go to the bathroom or to eat, but could not sit up with computer. This has meant an enforced holiday. At least I have now been introduced to the local hospital and how that works. While some of the hospital staff speak a little English (they would have done medical training in Cairo or Alexandria), I don’t know how I would have managed without the help of T who drove me there when I could not walk and had a fever, and went to the pharmacy to get the injections (the hospital does not keep stock, you have to buy them yourself at the pharmacy up the road) and medicine. He also arrived with more fruit than I would eat in a week, and a single flower and bud he had picked, because there is no florist to get flowers from here. The hospital is stark, rooms nearly empty with a few well worn benches, cabinets, and screens, basic supplies, and walls marked with what appears to be dried streaks of saffron colored disinfectant that missed its mark, and red marks that could be blood.
The mostly young staff range between sharp and no nonsense to friendly and chatty, with a few tired or bored looking doctors, but they all know their work. First time I went at night, and the nurse on duty was a huge and stern but also rather sensual / sexy young woman with laughing eyes, who allowed T to stay in the room with me while I had the first two injections – I needed someone to help me stand but also was a bit scared and needed someone who spoke Arabic and English to reassure me about what was happening. The injections had to be in the upper thigh, and usually they would not allow a man to stay in the room for this, but as I had a fever and was weeping, the nurse let him stay and he promised he would not look. Next morning we had to return for another injection, this time the nurse was in full hijab. The night nurse only wore a head scarf, but this one second one, who spoke some English, was completely covered except for her eyes, so I knew I would have to have the needle alone. First visit I was in tears as I was in so much pain, and it seems I will have to learn not to cry in public. While they all muttered concern when the doctor (who also spoke some English) pressed the pus and blood from the infected wound and they saw how nasty it was, they were rather amused at my crying. I now suspect even women giving birth here are not supposed to show pain. The doctors main concern seemed to be was I a diabetic, not sure if that was to do with the treatment and possible side effects, or his concern that healing the golf ball sized wound would be more problematic for a diabetic.
There was no worry of rabies as it was a domesticated dog and not his fault, as he is just a pup and chews everything at this. He had chewed me before with no problem, just this time I reacted badly. The problem here seems to be my reaction to the sand dust getting into any open skin or bites, mosquito or dog size, and then allergic reaction setting in, so I will just have to be vigilant re washing any wound immediately, and hitting it with the neem. Anyway, this has just slowed me down a bit, and sometimes that is a good thing for me.
The trip to Alexandria to get the freight was a good experience aside from the pain of my leg. The company which handed the clearance provided a driver and two assistants, and I could never have reached the port, let alone gone through all the form signing and processes, on my own. I had explained that I did not want to spend more than a day in Alexandria (as I needed to return to Siwa primarily to feed Habibi, having not yet organized someone to look after her if I am away for a few days). They were excellent, and after only four hours at port offices and supplying a few signatures, they said they could probably do the rest, maybe with me returning in a few days if needed. It turned out they did not need me to return, I left my passport with them and this was sufficient for them to complete the process, which took four days. Next thing I knew the driver was on his way to Siwa with my 18 boxes.
Before bus back to Siwa I did a small walk along the Corniche, beautiful as always, but wasn’t well enough to go to see my friends at the Library or do anything else. I did splurge and buy some Italian coffee, which I had not tasted since my last latte in Melbourne. I just can’t drink the usual Western option here, Nescafe, and the Turkish coffee which I love is too strong to drink more than twice a day. Alexandria (as with Cairo) has many more options than Siwa in all things. I also found Purina dry cat food imported from Italy, different packaging but similar product to what Habibi had in Australia. I brought one pack over from Australia, couldn’t fit more in luggage, but this disappeared quickly while I got her used to local foods. It is great for me to be able to get the dry food here as I haven’t found an alternative she likes, because due to ants and the heat I can’t leave fresh meat out for her when I go away anywhere overnight. It is about $5 Australian a packet which is fine in Aus prices but expensive for here, more than feeding her canned fish or camel, so will just be a treat. I also got 100% German cocoa so I can make hot chocolate and for cooking, as the Egyptian cocoa is, like much of what we get in Australia sold as drinking chocolate, laced with sugar and other nasty fillers.
When my freight made it to Siwa, T was again invaluable as the truck drivers didn’t speak English, so T met them and directed them to the house. Great news is that while every box was opened and gone through by Customs, they seem to have allowed all my books ; I am still gradually unpacking and checking the list – more than half my freight was my precious books, and they seem to be all there so far. A few of the boxes were damp, possibly due to the recent storms in Alexandria, but thanks to the dozens of garbage bags I packed everything in, nothing was damaged by water. Only damage was a small cave in of the lid of my tool box. Miraculously, all of the few breakables I had packed survived, I had not packed many fragile things, as I thought they would be smashed by the time they got here and the freight companies only insure for loss, not damage, due to people lodging false claims. Now I have a few good eating bowls, glasses, and even the glass from the picture frames survived. I had packed all these in bubble wrap and then in large, tough plastic boxes which seem to have protected them.
Now I am getting used to how much sand and dust comes in daily, I am really glad of those boxes. While I hoped to use less plastic here, this is really the only way to keep clothes, paper, medical supplies and even hand cream and shampoo bottles clean. Everything gets a daily film of dust, at least with it in boxes I only have to dust the boxes, not every object. While I am slowly getting used to ignoring dust because it is a losing battle to fight it daily, I think I could never be a good Buddhist as I am useless at non attachment – I am really delighted to have my books around me and the few special things I freighted. I had padded the scooter with pillows and packed my pillow cases and a throw, which with a mattress I bought here makes a good lounge. The house was rented with a decorative but extremely uncomfortable cane work double bed, which also gathered dust and spiders underneath and had protruding bits that I constantly scratched my legs on. I removed this from my bedroom and am sleeping on a mattress on the floor as many Egyptians do – much more comfortable with no cane sticking into my hip every time I turned, and no more noises when I move or Habibi jumps on and off the bed during the night. I moved the cane bed into the second room and turned it on its side, where it serves as a decent bookshelf. Being open work, it will gather dust and eventually I would like to move it out altogether and get a plain wood bookshelf, but for now it gets the books off the floor away from more dust and in some order. Having my stainless steel saucepan and wok is a relief after using aluminium ones here that turn a strange colour after use and do heavens knows what to the food.
I have brought way too many clothes, enough for the rest of my life, as mostly here I wear only about a dozen items over and over. I know many of the others I packed will be needed when it gets hot, and my nice clothes will be needed for city visits, but dressing in Siwa is very simple. I have to smile at T, he is a real label boy, although most of the label merchandise here is either fake or produced on license at a very low cost. Typical daily outfit for him – Diesel or Lee jeans, Billabong tshirt and sweater, D+G or MD (yes our Aussie brand Mitch Dowd) boxers, etc, styled with a local scarf. By comparison, I feel very Target, Kmart and Savers, with a few Australian designer highlights.
I will take some photos to show you my now more settled abode. Unpacking is taking a while as I am not supposed to stay on the leg for long. But the few unread books I had included are really welcome now I am bed bound most of day.