Archive for June, 2010

I know the title seems a bit silly but it will all make sense in the end…

Insomnia is something I’ve been suffering from for a very long time. Stress and work pressure definitely make things worse. In my case I experience a few nights of reasonable sleep alternated with weeks of very bad sleep. During those bad periods my mind is just racing with thoughts and I can’t seem to calm down. Shopping lists, who to write or call, what sentences to add to my literature review, things I should’ve said, things I should’ve done run through my head over and over again.  I’d typically go to bed around 23.00h lay awake until 03.00h sleep for a couple of hours and wake up very early in the morning again.

I’ve tried all sorts of non prescriptive drugs, relaxation exercises, earplugs, regular going to bed times, and no coffee after 14.00h etc. Nothing really helps. Prescription drugs do help and are great but there’s a limit to what your doctor will prescribe. Since I arrived in Cairo I have not had a decent night’s sleep apart from the few nights I’ve used drugs (thanks to my dad who has found a way of getting these without prescription).  However I don’t like taking these pills every night and I’m running out of stash, so soon I’ll have to find other ways to get to sleep. Coincidently today I learned from one of my fellow insomniacs here in Cairo that Cairo pharmacies are great and they are more than happy to supply you with pretty much any sort of prescription drugs.

Cairo does seem to take my sleeping problems to a whole new level and I’m not alone; ‘Cairo is home to some five million people who suffer from a sleeping disorder, a third of the population, according to international studies.’

Several reasons were cited, amongst others the necessity for a lot of people to work long hours or even have a day and a night job to earn a decent living. Also it’s just not part of Egyptian culture to sleep early. I found this quote in an article on insomnia: ‘The only reason to go to bed early is if you are going to get a pay cut for showing up late at work, otherwise, why sleep early?’ Children equally stay up very late and it is very common to see them on the streets of Cairo late at night. Although exercise is generally thought to be beneficial for sleep, Cairo doesn’t particularly motivate people to get off the couch and into their track suits because of the heat, crazy traffic and air pollution. Besides, exercise in these circumstances will probably do you more bad than good.

The last reason, one which I can attest to personally, is Cairo’s infamous noise levels which make it difficult to sleep. My apartment happens to be located right in front of my neighbours (well obviously…) but this neighbour, like me, doesn’t sleep. Instead she shouts and screams for nights on end. She’s an old mentally disturbed lady who lives alone but seems to be having arguments with an imaginary person at night. She seems to get so furious, it’s like she’s telling someone off all the time. Obviously there is no use whatsoever in getting angry with her. In fact it’s very sad that this lady seems to be suffering from so much anger and stress on top of her living conditions which are dreadful already (she lives in a ruin literally).

My neighbor enjoying a rare moment outside of her dwelling.

What strikes me most is the fact that  she doesn’t seem to have family and friends caring for her which to me is probably what makes her situation most heartbreaking.

However, a few days ago I did notice people getting some water for her and I assume people are giving her food too.  Since then I’ve started to pay attention to these little gestures of kindness and care, maybe because Cairo can feel a bit hostile and alien to foreigners at first instance, and I was eager to see some kindness. Since then I’ve noticed: people leaving out trays of water for stray cats and dogs; a pizza and a coke placed carefully next to a sleeping homeless boy outside of the Piza hut; and a father giving his son money to give to an old lady selling handkerchiefs, the money came with a big sweet smile and was received with a big smile from the old lady.  I should also mention here the kindness of my neighbour (one apartment below) who, in a gesture of welcoming me to the neighbourhood, brought me a BIG BOX FULL of CHOCOLATE pastry (did I mention I live alone?), the best welcome present ever! I know I’m pretty sentimental but these little gestures of kindness and love make my day.

I don’t know how I got from insomnia to getting all sentimental but there you go, its my blog and I can write whatever I want :p

The research I mentioned and the quotes I used come from an online article by the JakartaGlobe:



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The word bread in Egypt also means life; both are named Aish. Bread is the staple food of Egyptians. Aish Baladi is most popular. Baladi can be translated as ‘of the people’ or ‘local’. This bread is commonly eaten with every meal.

Why am I so interested in this?

Firstly, I’m here in Egypt to do research on the food security situation of rural households.

Secondly, my apartment happens to be located right in front of one of the subsidised bread distribution places. Every day people line up here 3 to 4 times a day to buy this subsidised bread.

Thirdly, because the men transporting the bread through Cairo traffic from the bakery to these distribution places must be the most courage’s people I have ever seen. They balance a large wooden pallet carrying hundreds of loafs of bread on one hand while cycling through Cairo’s crazy traffic and they put the Dutch (thus me) to shame with their cycling skills and fearlessness. I’ve seen many Dutch people all over the world cycling through traffic in mega cities but I’m still to see my first Dutch cyclist in Cairo.

All the photos posted on my blog are owned by me and they should not be used without my permission

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