Tuesday, 28 December 2010


The Conversation has not stopped. It just followed a different path and went elsewhere.

It started out with Sara in London and me in Dubai. Now Sara is in Palestine and I am in Cairo.

Sara has been telling her Ussa from Nablus since August, and it's a story worth following. She has discovered, learned and achieved so much in the past few months, so follow her stories and you may learn a lot too.

I made the decision to try living in Cairo about a year ago. I was sitting right here on this beach in Noweiba, Egypt

And it was here that I got a phone call from Hill & Knowlton to join the Cairo office. Everything after that happened pretty fast. Within four months, I had a job in Cairo, bought a car, met Mr. Right and got engaged.

How all this falls into place is really quite an experience. The wedding was last month and a new life now begins.

So it is time to start a new conversation. In the manic city of Cairo, there is certainly no lack of content for stories and commentary. Here we go - to a new journey of saying things to whoever's listening. http://nileviews.blogspot.com/

Monday, 21 December 2009

1 world: 1 goal

In September of 2000, world leaders gathered at the UN headquarters in New York to discuss what the UN’s role should be in the new millennium.

The result of this meeting was the United Nations Millennium Declaration. From this declaration, the General Assembly derived eight goals aimed at raising the quality of life of people around the globe.

The following are the Millennium Development Goals:

• Eradicate extreme poverty and hunger
• Achieve universal primary education
• Promote gender equality and empower women
• Reduce child mortality
• Improve maternal health
• Combat HIV/AIDS, malaria and other diseases
• Ensure environmental sustainability
• Develop a Global Partnership for Development

Running a parallel course is another campaign. A campaign aimed at bolstering support for one particular goal; a goal that is believed to be the foundation stone to achieving many of the others.

Primary education for all. For free.

There are currently 75 million children around the world who are not in school. The positive effects of educating these children would reverberate through their communities, nations and the world. There would be a sharp and immediate drop in deaths from diseases like HIV and malaria, and the effect on domestic economies would be immense. It would alleviate the lives of millions who live in extreme poverty and open up a world of opportunity for so many for whom the future is a dark, hard place.

1 Goal is the brain child of the Global Campaign for Education in partnership with FIFA and championed by Queen Rania of Jordan. The aim is to amass 30 million signatures in support of the universal right to education by the close of the final game of the 2010 World Cup.

30 million signatures to demand world leaders fulfil the commitment they made when they signed up to the Millennium Development Goals.

The numbers are compelling. It would cost $11 billion to provide the world’s children with one year’s primary education. This roughly equals the amount of money spent on the Iraq and Afghanistan wars in one month. It is also what Americans spend on their pets in three months.

1 Goal is not asking for money, rather it is leveraging the solidarity of sport to create a platform for collective advocacy. As millions around the world tune in to watch their teams compete, FIFA and 1 Goal will be encouraging every football fan to sign up to the petition.

Queen Rania used her speech at this month’s LeWeb 2009 conference to issue a call to action to bloggers, tweeters and all users of social media to use the power of the net to spread the word about 1 Goal.

In September 2010, the General Assembly will convene to review the progress made towards achieving the Millennium Goals. 1 Goal will be there on behalf of its global ‘team’ to remind them of their promises.

Let’s all be a part of it.

Monday, 7 December 2009

More of the good times

Aptly, as this is the run up to Christmas and the season of manic consumerism, it’s time for another great ads post!

Below are some ads that have really stood out to me over the past few years. Some because behind them is an idea of true genius, some are quirky and others just make me smile.

So, in no particular order:

1. Sony Bravia

This ad is an absolute visual feast. The creators wanted to affiliate the brand with vibrant colour and movement but didn’t want to rely on CGI so instead they launched 250,000 bouncy multi coloured balls down a San Francisco street and created something truly beautiful to watch.

I especially love the bit with the frog. It takes an exquisite touch to create a moment that feels like so spontaneous.

If you’re interested, here’s a ‘making of’.

2.Honda Diesel

This ad about a quieter engine just makes me smile and bob my head in amiable cheerfulness.

3.Honda Civic

Madness. Absolute, sheer, painstaking, perfectly timed madness.

And another. Again clever, different and smart. Sticks in the head and makes you want to watch it again. It’s not being controversial or racy – just a brilliant idea brilliantly executed.

4.Sony Bravia

Another Sony colour one. Also without the use of CGI. Impressive.

The ‘making of’.

5. Citreon C4

Love love love this one.

6. Chevrolet

Great response to the Citroen carbot by Chevrolet.

7. Boots

I really like this series of Boots ads. I like the concept, I like the song and the general vibe.

Christmas 2007
Christmas 2008

8. Pepsi Max

This just made me laugh.

So there we have it. Good ads are a pleasure to watch over and over again so I hope you enjoy these.

And... happy holidays :)

Friday, 30 October 2009

/təˈmeɪtəʊ/ /təˈmɑtəʊ/

I give credit to non native English speakers. It's a lot harder to learn than it looks.

There's a bit of confusion about the origins of this poem. Some attribute it to George Bernard Shaw, another source said T.S.Watt. In any case it does a good job of highlighting how different the spelling of a word in English can be from its pronunciation:

I take it you already know
Of tough and bough and cough and dough.
Others may stumble but not you,
On hiccough, thorough, laugh and through.
Well done! And now you wish, perhaps,
To learn of less familiar traps.

Beware of heard, a dreadful word
That looks like beard and sounds like bird,
And dead--it's said like bed, not bead.
For goodness's sake, don't call it deed!
Watch out for meat and great and threat:
They rhyme with suite and straight and debt.

A moth is not a moth in mother,
Nor both in bother, broth in brother,
And here is not a match for there,
Nor dear and fear for bear and pear,
And then there's dose and rose and lose--
Just look them up--and goose and choose,
And cork and work and card and ward,
And font and front and word and sword,
And do and go and thwart and cart.
Come, come, I've hardly made a start.

A dreadful language? Man alive,
I'd mastered it when I was five.

Friday, 16 October 2009


Have we sunk to our lowest point? Has the need to use every possible bit of public space to hock our goods overcome our common sense? Do we not have enough spam flooding our inboxes? Are the billboards papering over our view of God’s beautiful green earth not enough?

Apparently not…

Ladies and gentlemen, please allow me to introduce to you:


Yes. You heard it. Flogos.

That’s right… flying logos.

Made to look like clouds, these advertisements glide surreptitiously in the sky masquerading as nature.

So that even if you found yourself with one of those rare moments where you raise your nose from the grindstone to ponder a clear blue sky - even then you wouldn’t be beyond the insidiously ubiquitous reach of product promotion.

Ah yes… Flogos boy and girls. Flogos.

Saturday, 26 September 2009

My voice rings out, this time, from Damascus

Syrian poet Nizar Qabbani wrote many poems about his beloved Damascus. I just spent 4 days there. And this poem, Damascus, what are you doint to me?, describes almost exactly what I experienced. Still, I will share my own words about it. This is going to be a long post.

We arrived the morning of Day 3 of Eid Al Fitr to extremley quiet, almost deserted streets. Syria has the entire week off and most shops will be closed, we're told. Inhabitants of Damascus travel to Latakia and other holiday destinations to get away from the city. Nice of them to clear out for us. Almost all 3 million of them. I wondered then about Cairo. What would Cairo look like if all of its 20 million inhabitants left for a week. I wondered about Cairo a lot on this trip.

So we checked into the Cham Palace and proceeded to the first tour. An interesting group of people traveling from Dubai on this Emirates packaged tour: Egyptians, Iraqis, Emiratis, one Australian, 2 Brits, one South African and a Morroccan. That's Dubai for you. Anyway, driving through the quiet streets in the direction of the Lebanese border, heading to Zabadani & Bloudan, we meet Nabil - our tour guide for the next 3 days. Nabil is quite a character. He's been a tour guide in Syria for 15 years, speaks fluent English, German and French. Neglected to get a photo of him, but I found that other people did, so here he is. It's not easy to communicate with and please every tourist in such a diverse group. He addressed everyone by name, was always pleasant and is an information mine.

First stop - Zabadani. The shrine of Abel. It is said that Cain slew Abel on Mt. Kassioun in Damascus. There is no explanation as to why, in that case, Abel's body was buried all the way in the Zabadani valley (at least 50 km away).

In the evening we walked through Old Damascus. The people appeared. It was jam packed and really difficult to walk without losing everyone. Got to see the Ummayyad Mosque by night, which was nice. But this wasn't the best impression I got of the old town. But... we were fortunate enough to spend another entire evening there on our last night. I'll save that part till the end.

Anyway, so we had dinner in Beit El Jabri restaurant in the old town. I had the greasiest shawerma in the world, and needless to say, the next morning my stomach was very unhappy with me. I always thought having eaten street food in Cairo for years (and more recently in Jakarta), my stomach could take anything. But not this, apparently. And so I had to skip the next morning's trip the National Museum.

Eventually felt strong enough to move and joined the group at the Umayyad Mosque. A Roman temple, turned Christian church, turned mosque -- all clearly visible in the architecture of the place. Nabil emphasised a great deal that Syria is a secular society, free of any religious conflict or discrimination. "Religion is for God, Syria is for all", he repeated. I have to say, this came as a surprise to me, because, well, frankly all Arab societies have some level of religious intolerance. But then, throughout the 4 days I spent here, I didn't see any signs of extremity, intolerance, or anything. Not around this old part of town or even later in Sednaya and Maalula (location of the oldest Christian convent). Comparing with Egypt again: if you get into a Cairo taxi, you're bound to see an obvious sign of the driver's religion: either Quranic verses or a cross hanging from the mirror, or a Quran or a photo of the Virgin Mary on the dashboard. Didn't see any of this in Damascus...

Next it was time for some unavoidable must-do tacky tourism! The studios of Bab El Hara. I never watched any Syrian TV drama before this one, but I watched all 4 seasons religously :) Anyway, I won't dwell too much here, but needless to say one forgets how disillusioning seeing the real thing can be. It was the location where they filmed the street scenes and the exteriors. So it's a bunch of little roads that look like an old village, with some big wooden doors and a couple of shops. Hehe, sorry, but that's really all there is to it!

Then we went to 1001 Nights restaurant for lunch... Random. A gigantic genie's lamp stuck on a super high pole for lost drivers to find this place, which is on the airport road. Looks like something out of the tale of 1001 nights - and there's a replica of the leaning tower of Pisa there. Like I said, random.

Then up to Mt Kassioun for a view of Damascus from 1200m above sea level. All the green lights are the minarets from the mosques. There are 4,000 mosques in Syria, Nabil said. And 800 churches.

And of these 800 churches, are Mar Sarkis and Bakhos in Maaloula and the Convent of Our Lady of Saidnaya .

A handful of us opted to go on this tour. Nabil couldn't join us, so that morning we met not one, but two new guides. Omar and (I can't remember the other one's name, but let's call him Amjad because it sounded like that). So Omar and Amjad have just graduated from high school and are about to start their freshman year at college, to get a degree in tourism. They are both 18 years old and have been training with tour guides in Syria for 2 months. I wasn't cynical at all, you know. I thought, ok, cool, young, enthusiastic boys with a passion for history. We arrive at Mar Sakis, and Omar starts to mumble something about it being built in 325 A.D. and that there's s souvenir shop downstairs. Oh dear.

We walk down towards Mar Taqla, the shrine of St. Taqla, the daughter of a pagan ruler. She converted to Christianity and fled to escape her father's wrath. She prayed for help and God split the mountains for her to hide, and so we walked through that split.

At this point, we decided Omar and Amjad need to study harder. So we called Nabil. Although he had the morning off, and he works with a different company, within 40 minutes he drover up and came to the rescue! What a gent! We went back to Maaloula and started from the top, to learn that Mar Sarkis was a temple dedicated to Apollo, converted to a shrine for Saints Sarkis and Bachos, the last martyrs of Christianity. The cedar wood in the walls is said to date back 2000 years. Maaloula and Saidnaya are the only places in the world where Aramaic is still spoken and taught.

Thank you, Nabil.

We checked out of the Cham Palace and relocated to the old town for our last night, which we spent in Beit Zaman. As of this moment, the experience changed completely. Away from the schedules, the guided tours and the big bus, we spent the next 8 hours, not exaggerating, 8 hours, walking through old Damascus. Guided only by Salah, a friend and a real Damascene, this was simply beautiful. Starting from the Via Recta, through the spice souk and every alley in the area. It was a Friday evening, so although quite a few shops were closed, it was still relatively busy, but clear enough for a pleasant walk.

Again I wondered about Cairo. Could I possibly walk through Khan el Khalili for example without getting a single nasty comment or even grabbed. In Damascus, none of that. Nothing.

Salah took us around the area of the Ummayyad Mosque again, and to Al Nofra coffee shop. This place is 80 years old. And just our luck, the hakawati was there! We sat down for some tea and listened to the story - from which I barely understood a word, but loved it, and laughed all the way through it anyway.

We stood for a minute taking photos, and along came the nuts seller from across the street offering us a taste. Salah then decided to buy some pistachios. So he crossed to other side. The next sequence of events was phenomenal. Along came another seller, so mum went with this other guy just to have a look and get an idea of prices. Oh. My God. Seller #1 lost it. "You thief! You stole my customer. You stole her from in front of MY SHOP" Seller #2 "No, I DID NOT. She wasn't even in your shop you @@#$^%^^^". And lots of "3#@%%@&^&*&&!!@$" , intense shouting, smashing and throwing of things. It was out of control. We barely escaped after seller #1 offered to sell us for half of whatever seller #2 offered! Turned out after that these two are actually cousins, who do this on a daily basis. I wanted to film this, but I was scared. You cannot imagine how aggressive they got, you'd think one of them set the other's shop on fire.

Through the alleys once again, and a few steps from here, I met Palestinian poet and writer Mahmoud Shahin. I walked in to browse through a couple of drawings that caught my attention, then saw a couple of books in German. So I asked him - "do you write in German"? He replied, in what was a very strong Palestinian accent, "no, these are translations of my work." "You're not from here...", I asked. No, Mahmoud is from Jeruslam. He's been in Syria since 1971 and in this shop for 6 months. Before that, he had another shop a few streets away, but he was evicted and his work thrown in the street, because he refused to pay double the rent. After a long chat, and a couple of purchases, Mahmoud smiled and humbly showed me his menion in the Lonely Planet guide to Syria.

Will I go back to Damascus? Maybe. But this is how I want to remember it. From that last 8-hour walk. So maybe not...

Monday, 21 September 2009

The Game

You may have already heard about ‘The Game’. You may have already played it or perhaps had it played on you.

A growing subculture of men have made it their life’s mission to formulate surefire strategies for picking up women. These include the use of ‘peacocking’ or wearing attention grabbing attire as a conversation starter, the art of ‘negging’ – using backhanded compliments to deflate a woman's self esteem or gaining the acceptance of her companions as a way to bypass any potential resistance on her part. There is also an abundance of theories on how a woman should be approached (never directly, always at an angle), how to calculate her level of interest and how to keep her desperately hanging on through a series of push/pull tactics.

Theories draw on established sociological concepts like neuro-linguistic programming or techniques such as hypnosis to gain an edge.

Neil Strauss, a freelance journalist, first came into contact with the Pick Up Artists (PUAs) in an attempt to overcome his lack of self confidence and inability to connect with women in social situations. According to his book, within two years he became a community guru and claims to have slept with thousands of women.

His book is interesting reading until about halfway through. Apart from featuring fairly one dimensional women, Neil's fellow PUAs seem to be suffering from an assortment of underlying issues and the book ends up being a chronicle of their various disillusionments and emotional breakdowns.

There is enough evidence in Neil’s story however to suggest that this type of social manipulation can be very successful in male/female dynamics. Using behavioral techniques to influence other people is nothing new; we see this all the time in negotiation, sales, therapy and magic.

Having said that, there is also lots of anecdotal evidence about guys taking these theories on as gospel and bulldozing through memorized passages or ‘openers’ on dates regardless of their appropriateness or the nature of the person they are with. Often unsuccessfully.

A friend of mine recently went on a date with a man who claimed to be an international jewel thief (PUAs recommend giving unlikely job descriptions as a way of being aloof yet charmingly sarcastic - a word of advice, not everyone can pull this off). He then interrupted her story about kittens to loudly state that he, by the way, did not kiss on the first date so she should not keep her hopes up - another PUA endorsed scheme.

She was unimpressed.

Another friend was told the following shortly before deciding she had better things to do with her precious free time than to be underhandedly insulted by someone she had just met.

“I love your sarcasm – do you have a problem making friends?”

I can’t say I have an issue with this in general. Approaching a stranger and trying to initiate conversation is difficult, let alone trying to make a connection. This is especially difficult when it comes to men approaching women.

Eventually however, the lines will run out and one's true self shines through. It would be a shame to realize that you have wasted not only your own, but someone else's time - a commodity that often feels like it is in short supply.

Unless if you really do just want to drift aimlessly from one purely physical, short term relationship to another. In which case, you would probably feel right at home.