Fresh Milk and a New Calf.


Last Thursday our first calf was born. First time in twenty years that a calf has been born in the home. Needless to say, it was a huge deal. We all watched as the calf struggled to stand, landing on his head more often than not. Once on his feet he then searched for his mother, thinking that the pillar might be her. No. Maybe it’s this other large cow-shaped object over there? NO. Eventually, with a little help, he found his mother again and then searched for the teats. Mother wasn’t too impressed initially, kicking him out of the way, but he persisted and found the milk.


Happy as Larry!


That was that. No confusion anymore. Mother is the one with the milk. Sorted! We have called him Khameece, the Arabic word for Thursday, because he was born on…Thursday! I know – very imaginative. Although, to be fair, they never called the animals anything before I arrived! So I suppose that it is a step in the right direction!


The first milk. This is about as close as I can get to framing it!


This morning Omar went downstairs to see if he could get some milk from her. A little early, but he wanted Potatoes au gratin and he needed milk. And she has to be trained, after all. At least that was his excuse! So down he went and he came back not ten minutes later with around a litre of fresh milk. What a miracle! Not that it was a miracle that she allowed him to milk her in the first place but that after so many years we finally had a milking cow!

I felt immensely grateful to this cow for the gift of her milk. We have been working towards this for nearly five years, fighting through the morass of Egyptian thinking around how to raise cattle, how, and when, to take them to the bull, etc. Omar sold two ‘unsuccessful’ females before this one was successful. But it wasn’t their fault! The men here are impatient to get the females to reproduce, women as well as animals! And if she can’t then she is obviously ‘no good’ and they replace her. But in each case, it wasn’t the fault of the cow but of the men who didn’t time it right and then expected her to be fertilised with one trip to the bull. Cos, we all know that works, right? (Unless the cow is a Catholic!).


Ya-Khameece! Not yet one day old.

But when the sugar-cane harvest came in a couple of years ago, it was Omar’s turn to get the money from it and he bought a young bull calf. We reared it until it was mature and I bought a heifer. Bingo! Left to their own devices, she conceived. Another lesson for the house, and for the men! Don’t push the river! You’d think, that living beside a very large one, they would know that!

Ten months later, we have our calf, and the bull has been sold, to pay for a funeral. But, at least in a year, or so’s time, Khameece will be ready to do his job. There are now five young heifers in the home so he will be busy! All the men in Omar’s family followed our example. Jealousy is a motivating force here in Egypt, if you use it well!


Omar’s Tagine.


But back to the milk. There was something nearly sacred about the fact that we had milk from the cow. I felt incredibly grateful and honouring of her. I could see clearly why the ancestors thought of the cow as Mother and why earth Goddesses were symbolised by a cow. We had called this cow Hathor so that made perfect sense!  It felt exciting, the possibilities for cheese and butter, milk and yoghurt, all from one animal. It is so different from buying milk from a shop. There is no connection between the human and the animal, no recognition that we actually get this from a cow, who has had a calf in order to give us this milk. Omar milked her by hand, no machines to sever the connection between us and her. That was significant too, and it made a difference.

It felt like the cow was something to be honoured, as the gift-giver she is. Not only do we have the potential for more calves in the future, as a result of this one cow, and the calf’s father of course, but we also have food. And that is something to be immensely grateful for.

It felt like the cow was something to be honoured, as the gift-giver she is. Not a commodity, to be bought and sold. Not only do we have the potential for more calves in the future, as a result of this one cow, and the calf’s father of course, but we also have food, which will feed the entire house.  And that is something to be immensely grateful for. And with the changes that Egypt has been going through, and that she will continue to go through for some time to come, this cow, and her calf, might yet prove to be a life-saver!

Skokran yaHathor! (Thank you Hathor).

My Winchester Garden.

My daughter Hana, who is expecting her first child, is living in our house in Winchester along with my friend Chris who recently came to visit us here in Luxor. Before I moved here we had reclaimed our garden which my other daughter had left to overgrow during her pregnancy. It was too big for her to manage. Chris did most of the digging and clearing and I did the planting and growing.  We put in lots of plants and young trees and it was doing really well. Coming here to Egypt inspired him again and now he sends me lots of pictures of how things are going in my absence. I can honestly say that he is doing a grand job!!!

Variegated Roses in the Magdalene Rose patch.

Because we had been doing energy-work in this house for years, (energetically it looks like a Maypole!) we wanted to create a garden which incorporated elements of this work. It felt like a little Garden of Eden and we wanted the feminine energy to be an ‘equal’ part of the energy so our little Magdalene patch was created. We put in a number of different roses and planted herbs all around them. We have one apple tree in this patch as well. We bought most of the roses from Mottisfont abbey where they have the most beautiful rose garden.

Blenheim Orange Apples.

We planted four apple trees in all. A little Cox’s Pippin, a Blenheim Orange and two others. The Blenheim has apples on it in the years when the others don’t!  I know they are different root stocks, and blossom at different times but no-one said anything about different years!

Red Currants.

These redcurrants are from plants we put in a couple of years ago. Didn’t know if they would produce anything but lo and behold…they did!!  Lovely colour! And sweet too by all accounts.

Rhubarb, wild strawberries and grapes.

All the rain has obviously had a good impact on the water-loving rhubarb. My favourite food in the garden and I’m not even there to enjoy it!!! My daughter, on the other hand, is and has been busy cooking rhubarb pie and custard! I am so jealous! My four-year-old granddaughter May usually eats all the strawberries so its a wonder there are any in this photo!  The grapevine has been going mad and so needed lots of trimming back. Stuffed vines leaves anyone?

Climbing rose.

Lots of blooms this year! Thank god for mushroom compost. Miraculous stuff!!! We usually buy it for £1.50 a bag, a BIG bag!! The entire garden gets loads and everything grows beautifully…including the weeds.  The only that doesn’t grow is mushrooms! Although with all of the wet weather I’m surprised there aren’t.

So a big slap on the back for Chris and his terrific gardening…and the lovely photos. I can’t enjoy my garden but I can live vicariously through the photos.

A Tale of Two Doves.

We have two balconies in our flat, one at one side of the building and one on the other side. We had plants on both balconies but it became too hot on the ‘back’ balcony so we moved all the plants to the ‘front’  one. We have our air-conditioning unit at the front and Omar discovered a Laughing Dove building her nest there! She only has a few twigs which she perches on and it is protected by the wall so no-one can really see her.

Air-conditioned Nest.

We keep our eyes on her though!

Then today, while Omar was on the back balcony, seeing if we could rescue a rose, he was startled by another Dove who had decided to make her nest on our basil plant.  We grow our plants in whatever we can find and in this case it was an old clarified butter can. The Dove had stayed dead quiet until the fear got the better of her , and Omar was too close for her comfort, so she flew away.

Sitting pretty.

Omar came and told me that he had a surprise for me but wouldn’t tell me what it was until I could see for myself. As I walked onto the balcony all I could see was the fact that it was covered in souk dust and badly needed sweeping? Was this the surprise!??  Or maybe the rose bush had decided to come back to life again? But no, it was neither. It was a perfect, newly laid pure white egg!

Pure Brilliance.

It was perfect. I couldn’t believe it. I was a little concerned though that, having flown away, she might not return and it was very hot for this little egg. But she returned a little while later and sat on it again.

Hopefully it will hatch and we can watch it grow. That would be so nice. Omar suggested putting a webcam in a hole in the wall so we could watch it. If she flies away for a time we might just do that!!!

Update: Omar’s mother told us tonight that there is another dove nesting on top of the air-conditioning unit!!!  So we have three nests. She believes it is a good sign and that something good will come of it!!! I sure hope so!

‘Bad Eyes’ and Onions…

We finally pulled the onions last night! We planted them in November and watched to see how well they would grow in this soil. They did pretty well! Surprised everybody. Everything we successfully grow seems to surprise everybody! Not sure why… Last year they planted onions which were not successful! But that was probably the ‘Bad eyes’ of a neighbour who gave them his onion-planting advice. This consisted of telling them that onions do not need a lot of water therefore they should only water them every two weeks!  Considering that it does not rain here and that the sun is always shining this seems like crazy advice but if you don’t know…When Omar told me this as we were planting them, with the help of his sister Nagat, I refuted it. Onions, like everything else need regular watering!!! Nagat concurred as she grows her own! So we watered them well and the result was big, juicy onions. The kind of onions you want someone else to chop because they are so strong!!!!

Newly Harvested Onions.

When I was first told the story of the neighbour with the Bad eyes I couldn’t quite figure out how this worked but every time this particular neighbour appeared it was a case of ‘Don’t show him anything as he has bad eyes and nothing will grow if he looks at it’!

One day, in a shop behind our garden, men were working on a water pipe and this particular neighbour was standing beside the hole looking in. You can guess what happened can’t you? The water pipe burst, no-one had any water for an entire day and a wall fell in ruining a palm-furniture man’s produce! The whole area was flooded and part of our garden was submerged in three feet of water!  It was our neighbour’s bad eyes again!!!

I wanted to understand how this ‘bad eyes’ business actually worked, so I kept my own eyes open for every time he came by for a visit. Our onions were doing well with all our watering and care so his visits were not very welcome. But he appeared one day and of course the subject of the onions came up. I listened to the conversation and Omar translated what I didn’t understand. Again we were watering the onions too much, in his informed opinion, and we would be better off not watering them or they would be small and inedible!

As he spoke I became aware of the energy of his words and it was ‘envious resentment’. He was the kind of person who was envious of what his neighbours had and so took any opportunity to sabotage their endeavours. You know how it is. You have two children, one of whom is envious of the other’s relationship to the parent so they take any opportunity to ‘discourage’, with negative advice, anything which they feel envious of!  OK. Now I was getting a handle of what people meant by ‘Bad Eyes’. However, the eyes only see, it is the voice and actions of the envious person which causes the problem. If you listen to them. Most people know the ones who have Bad Eyes. They have a reputation for it!

One evening Omar and myself went to the shop and people were setting up the souk stalls for the following day. Omar bumped into a man he knew and introduced me to him. This man looked at me a little too long for my comfort and held my hand in a ‘lascivious’ handshake, pulling his hand away slowly. It gave that horrible feeling of being ‘leched’ at that makes me feel angry. I said nothing until, continuing our walk across the souk, Omar said that the man had a reputation for having ‘bad eyes’ but he didn’t think it was true. I disagreed instantly and responded that he wasn’t a woman so he wouldn’t know. In this  man’s case his bad eyes were bad thinking!!! I’m a ‘European’ woman, therefore sex is obviously what I am here for!! His belief about me was palpable and made me feel angry and disgusted but I had to smile and ‘be nice’ for the sake of decorum. Omar changed his mind about that man’s bad eyes!!!

Protection from Bad Eyes.

Often, when people become ill, it is seen as the actions of someone with Bad Eyes! I have a friend next door, a Spanish woman, who suffers from allergies. When she becomes ill it is seen as the action of someone’s bad eyes as they are envious of her. Even the most educated of Egyptians in Upper  Egypt will put problems down to Bad Eyes. They don’t realise that Bad Eyes only work if the person actually does something or says something to you which changes your actions!!!

Sometimes it makes a good excuse too! We bought some glass mugs around the corner in a little seed shop and all of them spontaneously shattered!!! It was weird. We would hear a sharp crack and a glass would just have shattered by itself! We told the man in the shop that all of the glasses had broken in this way and he put it down to’ bad eyes’ because someone who had seen us buy them must have had been jealous because Omar had a European wife!  Good grief!!! Needless to say we didn’t get our money back so we just decided not to buy glasses there again. Perhaps the whole batch were faulty and unstable.

Helping Dad!

And so, back to the onions. We completely ignored the neighbours Bad Eye’d advice and did things our way and had a lovely crop of red and white onions!  We harvested them late in the evening and all the kids and some of the family helped with the sorting of them. Omar’s mother then wanted to know why we had not planted more?! They said the same thing when we produced kilos of potatoes. Everyone was sceptical and reluctant to give us land to plant them and then when we lifted them they wanted to know why we didn’t plant more!!!! You can’t win.

But every success is a another battle won. Every little improvement, which makes life easier adds to the confidence they feel, that we do actually know what we are talking about!!! And that the Irish woman who helps her husband in the garden does actually know a thing or two about growing vegetables, even if it different to the way it has always been done!

Now, if only I could get them to understand organic soil improvement through the use of composting and mulching!!! That is my next goal, but it might take a little longer…