Archive for the ‘CAIRO’ Category

I’m fascinated by old buildings. Since a few years I’ve been trying to capture the mysterious atmosphere present in these buildings. Shadow and light play an important role in this respect.
Five different houses and one veterinary clinic are presented below; three of the houses were located  in Upper Egypt, one in Cairo and one in France.

Large colonial building still inhabited in the governorate of Fayoum, Egypt.

Detail of large colonial building still inhabited in the governorate of Fayoum, Egypt.

Old abandoned house in Down Town Cairo, Egypt. Unfortunately this house was demolished in July 2010.

Solid wooden entrance gate to what used to be the village head's or 'El Omda's' house in a small village in the governorate of Menya, Egypt.

Detail of entrance gate to what used to be the village head's or 'El Omda's' house in a small village in the governorate of Menya, Egypt.

Entrance to the main room of an abandoned house that is owned by the village head in the governorate of Assuit, Egypt.

Reception room for guests

Antique chairs in the reception room



Detail of entrance door to abandoned room where mattresses are stored

Abandoned room where mattresses are stored

Veterinary clinic in the governorate of Fayoum, Egypt.

Detail of a door in a veterinary clinic in the governorate of Fayoum, Egypt.

Abandoned building in France

Abandoned building in France

Bathtub in abandoned building in France

Bathtub and chair in an abandoned building in France

'White'; detail of a bathroom in an abandoned building in France

'Jacob Delafon, Paris'; detail in bathroom in an abandoned building in France

Staircase in entrance hall of a abandoned building in France.

Entrance hall of an abandoned building in France.

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


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My friends are preparing a group artwork to honor the people that have died during the demonstrations in Egypt. Among those who have died was one of their friends; Ahmed Bassiouni, a video and sound artist, musician, assistant teacher at the faculty of arts education in Cairo and a father of two children. He was shot during the demonstrations on the 28th of January.

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Egypt, I don’t know where to start….I feel restless, can’t sleep and keep watching Al Jazeera, BBC world news, tweets about Egypt and everything that will give me news about Egypt.  I’m lucky as I returned back to the Netherlands just before chaos started. But I’m worried.  I left dear friends behind.

In the seven months that I spent in Egypt I got a sense of the dissatisfaction of people with the situation in Egypt and at the same time their fear of overly expressing their grievances. Poverty and high food prices were the main issues for people that I and my colleagues spoke to within the context of a study looking at the impact of bird flu and the rise of food prices on people’s livelihoods in Upper Egypt. Unemployment, lack of freedom of speech, financial insecurities are issues my personal friends had been struggling with.

A few of my friends, although lucky enough to have a job in the private or public sector, haven’t received their salary for months. Another does receive his salary; 140 Egyptian pounds per month but this salary, equivalent to about 17.50 euro, would not even be sufficient to buy a week’s basic food supplies, let alone other basic needs such as housing, electricity bills, clothes and transport. Another has big debts at several banks because he can’t find a job. The future doesn’t look particularly bright for people like them; people in their end 20s beginning 30s, who finished university or college and are eager to earn an income and maybe start a family. As a consequence these people accept any type of job, whether it is cleaning, serving tea or any other job far below their aspirations. No wonder these people become frustrated and disheartened. These protests give them an outlet for all the build up frustration and a sense of significance; of being part, and contributing to major changes in Egypt which are Insha’Allah for the best. I seriously think that most of these people are willing to stay put and fight if necessary regardless of the consequences for their safety. Egyptians are tremendously proud and fierce if tempted, this is something I learned quickly while in Egypt.

I’ve been able to communicate with my friends everyday for the past week, mainly through Skypecalls. They are all physically ok, although one of their friends has been arrested by the police for filming the demonstrations and haven’t heard from him so far. Some of my friends have been part of the demonstrations but most are now at home where they feel prisoners in their own house. Some of them have joined neighbourhood watch teams as armed gangs of idiots are abusing the current situation of lawlessness and chaos by robbing ordinary peoples’ homes and shops. Many are anxious and the situation seems to be worsening for them. Telephone cards are no longer sold so there is no way of communicating with the outside world and they are running out of cash to buy food as ATM machines are not operational and transportation is coming to a halt (no petrol is available and trains are no longer running).

I just received a message from one of them:

Dear Ellen i am OK
Don’t worry about us we are out calling for our freedom and we will not rest till we get it.
it is not easy but also we are not weak thousands of us has moved if not millions we will rest after we through [throw] moubarak away wish us luck and pray for us

I am proud, worried, excited and sad all at the same time but what can I do but pray and wish them luck…?

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Last week I went to a Tanoura performance with some of my Egyptian friends. I didn’t know what to expect as I didn’t know much about the meaning and origins of the Tanoura dance. The performance was amazing and touched me. Some of my Egyptian friends even had tears in their eyes…  I was eager to know more about the origins of this dance.  It turns out that Jalaluddin Rumi – a thirteenth century Persian Sufi and poet, whose poetry I love – is the founder of Tanoura dance.

These are some pictures I took of the performance, I love particularly the senior dancer who whirled for more than 30 minutes and truly seemed to be in a state of trance. I hope my pictures are able to transmit some of the beauty and mystical athmosphere of the evening.

'Tanoura dance is one of a variety of practices to induce mystical states of consciousness. The concept is built around the idea that the universe stems from the same point of rotation. Starting and ending at the same point, represented by the senior dancer, “Lafife” and symbolizes the Sun, while the junior dancers “Hanatia” are the constellation revolving around him.'

'The whirling motion itself reflects the importance of circles in Sufi philosophy and cosmology, within which revolution is the fundamental state of all beings. The aim during this ritual is to desert “the nafs” or ego (or personal desires) and listening to their master and Sufi music, thinking about God and whirling on a spiritual journey to reach the “Kemal” (the perfect).

The Alchemy of Love (by Jalâluddîn Rumi)

You come to us
from another world

From beyond the stars
and void of space.
Transcendent, Pure,
Of unimaginable beauty,
Bringing with you
the essence of love

You transform all
who are touched by you.
Mundane concerns,
troubles, and sorrows
dissolve in your presence,
Bringing joy
to ruler and ruled
To peasant and king

You bewilder us
with your grace.
All evils
transform into

You are the master alchemist.

You light the fire of love
in earth and sky
in heart and soul
of every being.

Through your love
existence and nonexistence merge.
All opposites unite.
All that is profane
becomes sacred again.

Sources I used for this blog:


The Love Poems of Rumi (edited by Deepak Chopra)

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

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Sunday 15 August 19.30h, I’m sitting on my bed studying Arabic; I look up and see this big brown rat staring at me. It looks at me for a few moments and then turns around and leaves via the balcony.

Today, Monday 16 August, same time, presumably the same rat walks in via the balcony sees me but walks right passed me into my house and seems to be checking out the place. I follow it into my bedroom and see it jump on my bed. I love animals but this is a bit too much. The very least I should have control over in this house is what or whom I share my bed with and it will definitely not be a rat. I raise my voice and start chasing after the rat; finally it leaves my house the way it came in.

I won’t be here tomorrow evening but can only imagine a whole rat family marching in and taking over my house.

Definitely time to go home…

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

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I have 2.5 weeks left before I go back to the Netherlands for a break.  Those last remaining weeks always make me restless and I’m looking forward to go home. My body feels a bit worn out and I’m tired of the floodings in my house, the many sleepless nights and the heat and pollution which make my eyes sting and my hands painful with eczema. I live in a very lively slightly rough area in the centre of town and this means constant sensory overload; dust, noise, heat and sometimes heartbreaking sights of poverty and neglect which had me rush home and crying on two occasions. The state of my clothes seems to reflect the state of my body; everything looks worn out and the colours seem less bright and what once was white is now greyish. I have only one pair of trousers left. I gave away one pair of trousers to a homeless man on the street along with a T-shirt flashing the lyrics ‘someone call the girl police’ from a song by Ani DiFranco (if he only knew what this song is about…).  My other pair of jeans is torn and has holes right in the bum area. I don’t think it would be very much appreciated me showing off my underwear here especially now during the holy month of Ramadan. I’ve started to feel quite embarrassed getting into work wearing the same trousers everyday but then again I wonder if people even notice these things.

So but anyway it is time to go back to the place that I have been calling home lately. One of the things that makes me very excited about going is the fact that my twin brother is one of the nominated actors for an important award and I’m going to attend the award ceremony in Amsterdam in September. I can only imagine all the pretty famous people in their fancy dresses sipping champagne and then there will be me being part of it… It feels very surreal thinking about it being here now not feeling very glamorous with my red puffy eyes wearing my pyjama trousers (washing my one pair of jeans!) and my Snoopy ‘wild 70s’ T-shirt.

It is amazing how most humans are able to adapt so quickly to new surroundings and blend in. Even after so many years of travelling I still get nervous and scared moving to a new place but inevitably end up surprising myself with my own capacity to find my own little niche, make friends with the neighbours, do sports and go to work like any normal person. After almost 20 years I decided a year ago to return back to the place where my parents live, where I’ve stored my stuff and where I grew up. Here too I had to find new friends, build up a routine of studying and find new routes to go running. Travelling and moving around has given me many wonderful things: a sense of freedom, it has made me see life through different eyes, it has given me goose bumps witnessing so much beauty, I’ve picked up a few new languages (not fluent but enough for street survival), but above all I have these wonderful people all over the world whom I can call friends.

But moving around so much has also left me with this one quite persistent feeling that my life hasn’t really started yet.  Rationally I know that life is what is happening right now right here but in the back of my mind there is always this little voice telling me that once I’ve settled down somewhere (preferably with this kind, cute, big hearted, funny person whom I haven’t  met yet  to share my life with) then my life will finally really start. That will be the moment I will feel ‘at home’ is what this little voice keeps telling me. But I also know that I always get restless staying in one place for a longer period of time, I get the urge to leave, to travel, to get away. I always had this and I wonder whether I will ever settle down.

I’ve started meditation a few months ago and this has made me realize how restless I actually am (also explaining the insomnia). Every morning before breakfast I sit down for 10 minutes and simply try and concentrate on my breathing. Sounds easy? It’s not! This is what goes through my mind during the average meditation session: ‘Ok El there’s nothing you have to do now except to focus on your breathing for only 10 minutes. Here I go: I’m breathing in, I’m breathing out. I’d love a coffee now, I wonder what my boss thinks of the report I handed in Thursday, oh and where did I put my key. HELLO! Back to breathing please! Ok breathing in breathing out, breathing in, breathing out, breathing in, my nose is itching, my goodness it’s so hot in here, oh that’s my neighbour screaming again, I wonder what she is actually saying, I’m really looking forward to my coffee now…HEY wait a minute! Back to breathing Ellen! Breathing in, what will I do with myself after I finish my PhD? Who did I need to write again? HELLO! Get back to breathing!! Breathing in, breathing out, breathing in etc. Amazing how something that appears so simple can be so painstakingly difficult. My mind is all over the place most of the time controlling me instead of ‘me’ controlling my thoughts.  But I keep trying and I’m very slowly beginning to feel the benefits of it. I feel slightly calmer and more in control of my life. Also by focussing consciously on the here and now I’ve had moments where I felt perfectly at home and at ease and happy without the need to be anywhere else or doing anything else. This has started me thinking that home is really a state of mind and perhaps not so much a place to go to. This probably sounds quite cliché for many but for me it is a whole new experience and it makes me hopeful; I might learn how to feel at home while doing what I love most which is exploring this strange, sometimes cruel but also very beautiful world.

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