Day 6; meeting the Governor

This morning our celebrity status in Minya was confirmed by a visit to the Governorate buildings and meeting the Governor. We sat in a conference room while the Governor explained what he perceived to be the similarities between Minya and the UK, the example being that we have similar literature because Shakespeare and Dickens wrote about the richest and poorest in society and Egyptian writers in the past have done the same. He also spoke of the way Muslims and Christians are able to live peacefully together in minya.
Today gave us a real sense of the purpose of our visit. the Governor spoke about all that we are giving back to the area by training some of the young women in useful skills.
I think the influence that we have in the UK was slightly overestimated when he talked about making one of the local areas a twin with the uk. if only we had that kind of power. He was very keen to try and build links with the uk encourage tourism and encourage us all to visit Minia again and at one point there was talk of us having to put on a show should we return! Maybe word has got round about our spontaneous bursting in to song!
During our visit we were filmed and Hayley gave an interview for the radio. we think we are going to be on tv here!
The governor was shocked to hear that we had not visited the Beni Hassan tombs so provided an air conditioned bus to drive us out to the tombs. It seemed that the aim was to show us all the tourist attractions that Minia can offer so we can publicise the area at home.
The tombs were fascinating and situated high on a mountain. accessed by over 200 steps in blistering heat. These tombs were from the 11th and 12th dynasties and featured much more intricate drawings and hieroglyphs.
We’ve worked out the reason for our 2 lunches. Lunch and dinner are the other way round so when we were told that lunch would not be provided they actually meant dinner!
Lunch today was at Horus accompanied again by Omar and no doubt provided by the Governor. We were then encouraged to take an hour to rest before training; unfortunately this wasn’t communicated to the girls who had to wait an hour and a half in the hot room for us to arrive.
Training, which was leadership, was very much off the cuff as everyone wanted to say goodbye and we were interrupted by much photograph taking. We were presented with some medals and a plaque by Dr Zein at the beginning and then did some singing including teaching Animal Fair. We managed to fit in leading from behind, the trading game, which went well but it was difficult encouraging the girls to trade their resources or even share them! We ended up confiscating all the paper or all the pens from some teams to help them get the idea. The last game, it’s a wrap was interrupted midway through by a demand for a group photograph outside the association, the price of fame! The week ended with Taps, another presentation and this time we handed out our badges to all the girls and presented neckers and a selection of badges to Amal, Heba, Wedad and Ibhissam.
After training we returned to Horus, some more confusion as we had prepared ourselves for more of the same food. Actually we were there to entertain some children from RAJAC school, so we resorted to old faithful, Eidelweiss!
Then the night got even more entertaining. Ibhissam helped us crash a wedding that was taking place at the hotel. Apparently we were all welcome but I’m not sure what they all thought when we were announced via microphone just before the bride and groom shared their first drink and first dance, which was accompanied by bubbles, silly string, and something rather like shaving foam. Despite our efforts to be inconspicuous in our GOLD shirts and international neckers everyone insisted that we danced, Kate and sarah even had to dance with the bride! The moment will be recorded on their wedding video forever!!
As if that wasn’t enough we were then invited by the head of RAJAC school to play on the dodgems with the children. We all have a few ‘fun wounds’ to remember it by, in particular being crashed in to the sides by the children!
Luckily only a snack tea at the hotel to use up our supplies.

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Day 5; 6 october, armed forces day

Breakfast provided by ibhissam consisted of falafel, corn bread and refried beans.
Visit to Fraser tombs, so named because they were discovered by Gary Frazer. The tombs date back to the 5th and 6th dynasties and are cut into the east bank cliffs which overlook the valley. We were able to enter 3 of the tombs, which were very simple, containing eroded images and hieroglyphs. Maybe they wouldn’t mean much to tourist who had visited Cairo and Luxor but to us they were our first hieroglyphs and will no doubt be remembered,if only for their simplicity.
We climbed back on the minibus and made our way to Deirdre al-Adhra, the monastery of the Virgin, which is situated 130m above the Nile and made for a spectacular view. Coptic tradition claims that the Holy Family rested here for 3 days on their journey through Egypt. There is a cave chapel built on the site in the 4th century AD and is ascribed to Helena, mother of Byzantine Emperor Constantine. A 19th century building encloses the cave, whose icon of the virgin is said to have miraculous powers.
Lunchtime consisted of KFC number 2 (and I’d like to point out that this is not by choice, we’ve clearly sung the pizza hut song too many times) and saw us locked in our room for the second time, this time because we left the key in the outside and need it to open the door from the inside. Fortunately calling reception eventually produced a cleaner to assist us and saved Gemma from having to climb through the bathroom window of the other room from our balcony.
Training was time management. The teacups game gave us a chance to talk to the girls more with having to talk for 30 seconds on a given subject such as Egypt, what we did at the weekend, animals etc. The girls seem to be getting used to us and our training style and the feedback from them through the end of training evaluations has been positive.

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Day 4 – the church of saint aba hor

This morning started at 8 am. We were greeted outside the hotel by a bus carrying 6 school children who attend a school in Cairo. They were all in the scout movement and in minya to visit their sister school with us.
The bus journey to the church became a songathon between us and the children. They taught us their school cheer and some of their songs and we reciprocated when we could get a word in edgeways with ging gang goolie, everywhere we go, animal fair and pizza hut.
The church itself was built in to a cave so the Christians could hide from the Romans.
The rajac language school provided whole new levels of entertainment. We had another singing session when we arrived, this time adellweis and we taught the claps that accompany the song, attended a disco with the kindergarten and mickey mouse, rode horses and ran races with the children.
Lunch was a local meal eaten by vilagers, fatia michaldet which I can best describe as a tortilla shaped croissant that weighed enough to make a stack quite hard to lift. This was dipped in bowls of honey, molasses, or with cheese and was provided for us as a ‘public meal’ which we shared with some of the girls, teachers and our guides and Ibhissam.
We were allowed to walk to the association today and the journey home was 2 trucks; sadly we weren’t allowed to sit in the back.
Training was problem solving and team building. The school children accompanied us, which made the training room even more cramped than usual. We managed to occupy the younger ones with balloons, a tried and tested method in my brownie unit!
Dinner on our own last night was accompanied by our first cockroach: Hayley’s jumping up on the bed was comical!

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Day 3 – the jesuit father’s school

We were taken to the Jesuit father’s school for a visit this morning. The school was founded by scouts and is now a progressive private school in minya. We were very privileged to be shown round the school, observe some lessons and talk to the children. It felt a bit like being famous when they all crowded round us and used the chance to practice their English by asking our names. We were also photographed constantly by the people from the school. I expect we’ll turn up in a copy of the school magazine next year. The school is particularly advanced in it’s provision for disabled children. The staff go out in to rural communities and find disabled children so they can be introduced to the school. They can go there for 2 years and are taught in Arabic and English, the aim being that they have better employment opportunities on leaving.
3 things to remember in Egypt: IBM= Inshallah (god willing), Bokram (tomorrow), Malesh (there’s a problem but it’s ok, no doubt the Achilles heel of the country!)
KFC for lunch, a more appropriate portion size than any other meal we’ve eaten. Egyptians love to provide and give.
Sarah, Gemma, Kate and I got locked in our room with the key just spinning in the lock. Luckily we can shout to the girls next door from the balcony so we weren’t stuck for long but the process did involved explaining the problem in sparabic and a full on lock change!
Today’s training was the self esteem session. The girls engaged really well and particularly enjoyed making up their cheers to advocate for their chosen causes. Trying to explain the concept of advocacy was harder and when we asked the girls for their own examples of situations where they have made a difference we had one story from a girl who took a chicken in to school and got told to keep it quiet, which she did by holding it’s mouth! The concept of advocacy was lost in translation by some of them; maybe something to adapt for next week.
After training we were taken to the supermarket, accompanied by some of the girls and the obligatory police escort. The boys in blue (or khaki) came in to their own when they carried our 12 bottles of water and our shopping in the police car while we were accompanied for a wander along the corniche beside the Nile.
The walk was something of an adventure in itself. There were the 6 of us in our centenary pink tshirts, Heba, mrs Wadet and Habal, Habal’s son, 2 of the girls from training and our policeman. We were also stopped by some local men who wanted to practice their English, which caused a stir with the policeman! Between us we must have been quite a sight for the locals!

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Day 2 continued – 2 lunches

Key moments from the day:
Supermarket shopping supervised by mrs wadet and accompanied by the police.
2 lunches and no dinner due to misunderstanding. Luckily we had supplies leftover from our first lunch!
Olives marinated in salt and lemon from the farm of a lady who spent the day with us.
Singing the world song beside the Nile on request of our guides whilst waiting for training to start.
Getting told off by the locals for shouting and making too much noise during shouty shouty game.
El Morshedat is Arabic for Guiding.
Inta haroof = you’re a sheep, learned whilst playing the herding sheep game.
Sparabic; kate’s Arabic version of pigeon english.
Discussion about female emancipation for the millennium development goals infront of the mosque and interrupted by the call to prayer; somewhat of a surreal experience but we didn’t seem to cause any offence.
Police escort not arriving to collect us after training so the girls with us organised a mini bus. Unfortunately we didn’t have our police escort so after trying to flag down police on the street and failing we headed back to the hotel. Fine for us but our guides got in to trouble with the policeman outside the hotel.

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Day 2 – the morning

Police escort to the supermarket, we thought we were going to a bazaar. It seems to be the way of the trip that we follow Heba without really knowing where we’re going until we arrive. It makes leaving the hotel something of an adventure.
Kate and Hayley’s trip to the federation to collect our resources for the day (communication not self esteem due to number of resources required for outdoor training) and came back with large bags of fruit: fresh dates, guava and pears.

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Day 1

We met our guides Heba and mrs wedad and Amal at 10 am after a noisy night’s sleep. The driving here is a whole new experience which involves lots of horn tooting the noise of which seems to increase when the sun goes down. To add to the fun we couldn’t work out how to use our air conditioning so experienced something similar to sleeping in an oven.
After a breakfast of pitta bread, falafel and boiled egg we headed to the guide federation. Luckily Hayley thought to ask whether we were doing any training today. When we arrived we were greeted by 32 eager smiling faces, lots of clapping, which seems to be their way of welcoming us, and a room much too small and too hot to run around in. Sarah and Kate stepped up to the mark in true guiding style with their intro to English session. The girls seemed a little surprised to be playing games but engaged really well. Luckily many of them speak very good English so with lots of smiles and general bounciness we seemed to make a good first impression. Many of them said that a key thing for them this week was to learn english and many want to visit London, so they were keen to take part.
The girls range in age from 14 to 44 but the majority are mid twenties and seem to be students. Many want to study for doctorate degrees and have similar ambitions to us.
We’ve already demonstrated our adaptability and spent some time teaching our guide songs. I’m not sure whether they understood ‘every where we are’, thunderation and edelweiss but they all tried to join in. They all commented on how smiley we all are so we must be masking the sleep deprivation well!
After training we were taken for lunch by our guides and a gentleman who may be the governor of minya and if not is someway connected to the governate. The restaurant was in the Horus hotel complex which seemed fitting given our team logo!
Lunch started with a hearty soup, followed by a mixed grill with chips.
After lunch our programme became a little confusing but we’ve all adopted a ‘go with it approach’, which is much simpler than asking what the plans are as they seem to change frequently.
We found ourselves at a presidential headquarters that appears to have just been built and something they were very proud to show us. We were shown into the conference hall first and allowed to play with the microphones, which showed us on the tv link when we spoke. The rest of the complex was very grand with guilted furniture, sauna, pool and gym. The men with us were particularly keen to show off the gym so we spent most time in there. Helen and Sarah even tested the running machines.
We were dropped off back at the hotel and discovered that we are expected to have a police escort even to buy water, a police car and a man on foot! It’s a bit like having a bodyguard and seems to involve much planning to make sure they are where we are, or we are where they are.
After a power nap we met for dinner, and ended up back at Horus,and presented with the same meal, this time with the addition of spaghetti, as if we needed any more food.
We’re now back in the hotel, the air con works and the cars are hootling away outside. Time for bed, tomorrow we have afternoon training by the Nile…

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iPhone application

Our iPhone application is now available! You can use it to keep up to date with trip.


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A few french obstacles…

As part of my journey to Egypt I first needed to get from Brussels to London. Easy I thought …. after setting off on the 8.30 train and due to get in at 9.30 I settled into my book and watched Belgium and france flash by. Only on arrival into Calais the landscape wasn’t flashing by as quickly as I would have likes it too! After waiting at the station for 20 mins and seeing two other trains zip past we knew something was up… Announcements started coming over the tannoy and we pieced together the story – it appears that a French protester jumped onto the train with a package and whilst he was arrested they weren’t sure where he had put the suspect package…. So they had to take everyone out of the last 10 carriages and rescan all if their luggage. Which wasn’t quick. In fact it took them 3 hours. In which I was sitting there seriously wondering if I was getting to London let alone Cairo! However we were finally on our way and arrived at 12.40. You would have thought that in 3 hours they could have organised a taxi for us…. But only after an hour more queuing did I find myself on the way home for 3 hours sleep before setting out again to meet the team. All in all a pretty knackering start to the trip but just so glad that I made it ( and massive thanks to my boyfriend for helping and putting up with me arriving at 2am!) now onto Cairo, surely that journey has to be less eventful?

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We’re on a train to minya

We’ve arrived! Flying over cairo was an experience in itself looking down on the pyramids of giza. It was also possible to get a feel of the way the cities have expanded round the nile, the main source of water for egyptians. For us of course it’s nothing but bottled water and lots of it!
The plane landed spot on time in Cairo and we were met straight away by the lovely and extremely helpful Samah and Marwa.
First thoughts were that we had stepped in to a fan oven. It was 40′ when we landed. Luckily there were fans on the minibus that took us to the federation.
After spending an hour or so in the unique Egyptian Guide Federation, we went out for our first Egyptian meal. This was kushiri, a mix of pasta, chick peas, tomato sauce and all sorts of yummy spicy flavours! The restaurant looked more like somewhere you’d pick up a kebab at 3 am on a Friday night but the food was very tasty, particularly after a days travelling.
After dinner was back to the Federation to kill time before heading to Cairo train station. A little more time than we expected as it turned out! It wasn’t until we asked to leave for the train that we realised we’d landed an hour earlier than the pilot told us. Samah and Marwa found the whole thing rather amusing, having thought we’d changed our minds about when we wanted to eat; ‘those silly english girls’! Apparently the clocks changed last night so we’ll forgive the airline for causing much confusion.
After playing chicken to cross the road, forcing our way through the hustle and bustle of the railway station, trying to follow the conversation when Samah bought our water (she was asking why it’s more expensive in the station – we’re already learning that the trick is to haggle) and realising that it’s going to be fun trying to buy tickets for onward travel without the help of a translator, we are now revelling in first class luxury on the train to Minya. We’re due to arrive at 1am and if all goes to plan will be met at the station and taken to the place that will be our accommodation for the week. It’s still about 30′ outside but for now, we have air conditioning…

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