Thursday, April 30, 2015

Pyramids and One Benefit of Being Caught in Taffic

We were at the pyramids today with a visitor.  It was a lovely sunny day and is just starting to get warm - about 31C.  But with today's light breeze out in the open, it wasn't too bad.

If only we didn't have to cope with the 2 hours of traffic getting there plus 2 hours back, it would have been a lot better.

However, one of the benefits of being in traffic so long was that I could take this photo of cardboard ready to be recycled.  The reason this excites me is that we are working on a project in a recycling village which is getting funding from some Dutch Mennonites.  This coming Sunday we will be in Holland speaking with some of the church members about the project and so I am looking forward to showing them pictures related to their project.

People who live and work in recycling villages are generally quite poor and are at risk of many health hazards as a result of their work and environment.  Some people call the areas where these people live "Garbage Villages" but for us, we prefer "Recycling Villages."  We will write more about this project in future posts.

We are heading to Holland tomorrow for meetings and an area retreat.  We will post some greener pictures than the pyramids above because we hear the forecast is for rain - something we don't see much here.

Monday, April 27, 2015

Scene Inside A Taxi

What would you think if you were in a taxi where a plastic bag with some pale yellow liquid was hanging from the rear view mirror?  

That's what we thought too.  So I took a picture because I was grossed out. 

Our Sudanese friend must have thought the same thing because he asked the driver what it was. It turns out it is a type of liquid air freshener.  

After we sorted that out, we had a nice conversation with the driver. 

However, we think someone needs to work on the packaging for this product!

Friday, April 17, 2015

Photo Ops

Complete strangers come up to us all the time and want to have their picture taken with us. Then they post the picture on Facebook and boast to their friends that they know foreigners. This gets a bit old for the foreigners.
These guys wanted the same thing, but introduced themselves and asked us a bit about ourselves and had a great conversation first. We couldn't say no to photos with them, especially since they are both deaf and we had had a long conversation in sign language and writing using a cell phone app. And, they aren't strangers.

The Holy Virgin St. Mary Almuharraq

Between Easter services on Saturday we went to a monestary to see where Jesus and his parents stayed for six months and ten days while in Egypt. On the way, we saw how irrigation makes a huge difference to the desert.

The monestary dates back to the first century.

It was really lovely inside the walls.

This is one of the old gates.

Inside this building is the alter built on the location of Jesus's bed. He would have been about five years old. Egyptian Christians will all tell you that this is a Holy Land. 

Easter in Quossaya

The Orthodox Church knows how to be ceremonial. On Good Friday we were invited to join sister Barcenia at 8:30 am in the third row on the women's side of the sanctuary. The service lasted until 5:00 pm, but we were told to go have lunch at 12:30 pm. Everyone else was abstaining from eating or drinking. We returned at 3:00 pm for the sermon and then stayed till the end. During the service a cross was buried in a box to symbolize the burial of Christ. The congregation said 400 Kyrie eliesons, 100 facing each of the compass points. Many people went to their knees after each phrase. They got a lot of exercise in that way. The phrase is believed to be very powerful, as it is said to be the phrase used to literally move a mountain in Egypt many years ago.

At 7:00 pm we were invited to a parishioner's house where we were given a wonderful supper of fasting food. The Orthodox give up animal products for lent.

We decided to skip the prayers from 11:00 pm until 6:00 am opting to sleep off some jet lag instead.

On Saturday was the big celebration. The service was from 8:00 pm until midnight followed by a breaking of the fast supper at the Bishop's guesthouse. During the service the cross was resurrected and paraded around the church.

It was great to see how many young people were actively participating in the ceremony.
I was shocked to find that Sunday there was no service. The bishop received visitors all day at his guesthouse where we were staying. It sounded like hundreds of people trying to talk to each other over the noise of the other people trying to talk to each other. This went on from 8:00 am until 9:30 pm with a short lunch break at 1:00 pm. 

We were then invited to the same parishioner's home for a meat fest. Turkey, beef, schnitzel, chicken and koofta. Even the mashed potatoes had chicken in them. Everything was excellent.

We now think that sitting in church for two hours is nothing.

Monday was a national holiday called "Smell the Breezes". We spent the morning relaxing and took the train back to Cairo in the afternoon arriving at home by 11:30 pm.

Train to Quossaya

We had three tickets and five people, but that isn't a problem. We just took turns standing and the ticketless people paid an extra dollar for the privilege of standing. As it was a long weekend, tons of people didn't have seats. Phyllis and I were off to Quossaya to visit Ayman's village (only 400,000 people). We left after only one night in Cairo after our Asia trip.

Wednesday, April 08, 2015

Doha layover

We had a 13 hour layover in Doha. For the first few hours we tried sleeping in one of their quiet rooms. 
Then we signed up for a free bus tour of the city and had breakfast in the food court while we waited for the tour start time.
A competent young women guided the ten of us through immigration and out of the airport without us needing visas for Qatar ($55 USD each for Canadians otherwise).

Our guide was a man from Nepal who told us a few astonishing facts about Qatar. It is 160 kms long and 80 kms wide, with only 2.5 million people. 85% are foreigners who do all the manual and service labour. No one pays taxes.

Behind us is new Doha which didn't exist at all five years ago.

The architecture is quite eclectic, but all boasts of the great wealth of the country which is derived from gas. Fuel for your car is 25 cents per litre, drinking water is 3 dollars per litre.

A close up of some of the buildings.

There is a real Disney feel to what we were shown. Even this ATM is picturesque.

The office of the photography society.

A mosque in the new old quarter.

Foreigners are only allowed to buy land or real estate on a man made island. It has a harbour and is very upscale.

Two pictures of the harbour for foreigners.

We were also taken to the old market, which was rebuilt ten years ago.

It was spotless, even with the horseman patrol.

It is very quaint, but we didn't buy a thing.
We managed to get back into the airport again and are heading to Cairo in a few minutes.

Goodbye to Bangkok

Our dear friend took us out for our last meal in Thailand before heading to the airport. It was so good to be together again and to create new memories.

No more Pad Thai :(

Background to the photo:  I (Phyllis) try to order Pad Thai for my first meal every time I visit Thailand and this trip was no exception. In fact, we all three had Pad Thai at the Nong Khai train station as we were waiting for the train to depart.  This time I also had Pad Thai as my last meal in Thailand.  The photo is sadly symbolic: our long-awaited trip to Asia is done, the delicious Pad Thai is done but we are left with great memories of wonderful friends and experiences. 

We took a tuk tuk to the sky train so we wouldn't have to wear out the wheels on our suitcase by going down the long soi.
The sky train now takes you right into the airport, which relieves all the worry over traffic jams.

Not a great shot, but a last shot of Bangkok from the air on our way back to Doha.

Tuesday, April 07, 2015


Rita lives at the end of a long, quiet soi in a lovely apartment. There is very little traffic and no pack of dogs to scare us, as there was at one of her previous dwellings.

We love the sky train and got day passes to enjoy it to the max. 

They don't have the announcement anymore telling us to mind the gap between train and platform. They are still clean and cool though. 
Now there are walkways under the rails in the inner city and many buildings are connected with above ground corridors like they have in Winnipeg's downtown. It's great not to be out in the humid 38 C air during the day.

On to Thailand

Wendy was kind enough to drive us out to the new train station in Laos. It turns out that is is further out of town than the Friendship Bridge.  We were expecting it to be conveniently located in the city, but it is miles off the main road, far from anything. 

There was an unexpected exit fee which most tourists were surprised by. This caused a lot of commotion as people explained that they had no Lao currency. 
The train itself has only two cars and there was no need for a public address system. The conductor could invite us all individually to board the train.

The train is operated by the Thai railway authority, so really not very Lao. There were very few people joining us in this adventure. But for 75 cents it was worth the ticket. (Although the exit fee was double that).

We still enjoyed crossing the bridge on railway tracks that had been unused the entire time we lived in Laos.

On the other side we went through immigration easily and were then familiar with the Thai side. Phyllis is posing where she broke her foot. Part of the healing process.

The train was newly painted on the outside, but the same on the inside as seven years ago.

We had three upper berths in second class air. A real trip down memory lane. We slept pretty well. We arrived in Bangkok at 5:30 in the morning and informed our hostess that we had arrived and were heading to her apartment in a few minutes. 

Sunday, April 05, 2015

Around town.

Vientiane has seen a lot of building in the past seven years. Here is a hotel that makes Don Chan Palace look puny.

Vientiane International School now has a building on the road just in front of its two swimming pools. We were suitably impressed.

Easter service

We went to the Church of the Holy Spirit Vientiane, which is the church we were heavily involved in for six years. After being away for seven years there were only eight people who we still knew (of those 8, three were too young to remember us), but it was great to be back.

Erik counted over 80 people. We often had only a dozen those years ago. They still used the same format of service and once a month potluck lunch, so we had a chance to chat with the few people we  know.

It was so good to see friends from the past.


Saturday morning Soy and Kamhien took us to a favourite phô shop for breakfast. The owner recognized us!

They dropped us off at our old home which is now the home of the current rep. A lot has changed.

The most depressing change was the obliteration of all soil. The palm tree that I had planted in the front lawn is now gone, replaced with cement.

The office is still the same-ish. The mango trees in front are big now (not pictured) and most of the interior walls have been repainted.

A bigger change was to see a huge apartment building where Larry and Jane's house used to be.

In the morning we had a chance to see the Mittaphap group in action. It was great to see Soy's son as a leader of one of the groups.

We sat in on a number of classes and saw some really interactive learning going on. We started this group in 2006, and were very glad to see how it has taken off.

We were taken out for lunch at the Vietnamese Spring Roll shop. It turns out that Erik can't find this kind of Vietnamese food in Hanoi.

Walking back from the restaurant we saw T-shirts with an odd message.

We met with some of the Mittaphap trainers after lunch to share stories and learn from each other. We are grateful for the time these busy young people gave to satisfy our curiosity.

This used to be our office. 

Erik was pleased to be able to meet with another SALTer, and around our old dining room table no less.

This young family were service workers with us in Laos and have lived here for most of the years since we left. Their eldest was under two when we last saw them. It was great to reconnect with them.

Our evening was spent with Hien, whom we worked most closely with while we were in Laos. Her daughters and grand daughter are grown now. They took us out for East Indian food and treated us like royalty. 
Hien had fun talking with Erik in Vietnamese.