Tuesday, 1 November 2011

Living With Strangers

I've lived with my fair share of strangers over my 20 years, especially considering that I didn't move out of my parents house until I was 17. I've lived with Egyptians, Italians, Chinese, Spanish, Turks, French, Sierra Leonese, Latvians and Irish.

I grew up in a tiny village on the West Coast of Scotland, where there is only 1 grocery store, 1 butchers shop (the butcher is also the farmer), 1 odds and ends shop and 1 hotel. There is no place to eat out or get gas for your car, and everything is crazily overpriced because they know it's your only option. If you do anything, your family will know about it before you even get home. A dog dies and there are numerous rumours about what happened. You might wake up with a cow in your back garden if the farmer was unlucky enough to lose his herd again. However, the place itself is beautiful. There are gorgeous old churches, some are so old that the walls of their cemeteries are rounded - they were built at a time people were afraid of demons hiding in dark corners. Every year, we have Highland Games where the strong men get kitted out in their sporrans and kilts (bodybuilders have got nothing on a Scotsman) get together and toss cabers (tree trunks) and compete in other games. Boys and girls get to march through the village to show off their skills at traditional music - most kids there join a pipe band, mainly because there's nothing else to do! I played snare drum. I love the drums, but a lot of kids want to go straight for the bagpipes. Here in Edinburgh, men play pipes on the streets but that's for the tourists benefit. I think songs are far more complete with the tribal drumming, though a lone piper can sound quite melancholy. Not in an airport or tourist trap though ;). Below is a picture of the place, these mountains have a proper name but when viewed from a distance they look like a human lying down so we tell the kids it's a sleeping giant.

I've lived in London, when I graduate I really want to go back. However, it's so expensive I'll probably end up living in a box.

I lived in Cairo and Alexandria in Egypt, too. Cairo was my favourite. Everytime I think about it, my heart aches a little bit. I had a flat in a very 'balady' (local) neighbourhood, right on the Nile with a view of both the 3 great pyramids of Giza and also of Saqqara. Cairo is crazy, busy, and one of the largest cities in the world but where else on Earth can you see skyscrapers, be bombarded wth billboards, Louis Vuitton, donkeys, British and European colonial architecture, Medieval arabian markets, grand mosques built less than 10 years after the death of the Prophet Mohammed, and pyramids silhoutted on the outskirts of the city from the first civilisation on earth? Cairo is the newest and oldest of human life. I haven't seen what it's like after the revolution. Below are pictures I took from my window of the various pyramids in the distance.

What was the point of this post? I've been reminiscing and got carried away.

Living with Strangers.

So, currently I live in Edinburgh (my 3rd capital city), one of the most beautiful cities in the world in my opinion and most certainly in the top 5 of Europe. I've lived here for a year and a half in 3 different flats. I lived on my own for a while in a studio flat. The rent was extortionate for what it was - one room with a fold down bed, a tiny bathroom and a small kitchen. So as soon as my year's lease was up, I left. It took me 1 day to find a new flat (it always does!). This time I decided to take a room in a shared apartment advertised as a student flat, sharing with students. My flatmates were from Shanghai, married with a baby and were illegally subletting me the room from their University. But, they were students so I couldn't really complain. And I had only given myself 1 day to find somewhere new to live so that was my only choice. They turned out to be great! It was just me and the husband for a while, as the wife was away in China giving her baby to her parents to look after while she finished her dissertation. They rented the other room to an Italian man who was here solely to improve his English. We ended up becoming good friends before Ying started finishing up her studies and I decided to find somewhere else to live. I gave myself one day again. It was a failure, every place I looked at was either too expensive, the flatmates were crazy, the neighbourhood was the type of place pitbulls guarded unleashed, or the flat was shabby. I had almost given up. Before calling it a day, and ending up having to go to back to my hometown to stay with my parents for a few months, I checked at an internet cafe one more time. I saw a flat which looked suspiciously cheap, but I called up anyway. It was almost time for the last train and I wouldn't be able to travel to the city again for a while if I went home. I managed to get the first viewing for 10 minutes later and put a deposit down for the place.

I share with 4 other people now, and they're all science students (like me, I'm a physical therapy undergrad). I live with 2 French guys, one of whom is as Blond and as French as you can get but wears a rasta hat, is growing dreads and says things like 'One Love, One Aim, One Destiny'. He plays us songs with lyrics like 'Black People Unite'. Which is a fair point, but it is a rather humorous one to see a European white boy make so adamantly. The other is your typical French man. I also live with an Irish postgrad student, who is never in the house. He doesn't use the kitchen and we never see him go in and out of his room.. but oddly, we do hear him on the phone in his room sometimes. Which is definitely odd because his car sits outside and disappears during working hours. I think he climbs in and out of the window. My favourite flatmate is a lovely woman from Sierra Leone. She's the only one I spend a lot of time with and she cooks for us all several times a week.   It's not an ideal living arrangement sometimes though, like when your food goes missing because someone helped themselves to it or when you're trying to get to sleep and you've got people knocking your door or talking loudly in the hall. Or when you're a complete mess and you don't want to be seen by anyone else? Fat chance! You share a kitchen! Luckily I have my own bathroom, so does my other female flatmate. But the 3 guys all share one, which I think would drive women insane.   I never thought I'd get used to living with strangers but this is a good bunch!

Thursday, 20 October 2011


I love Winter. Yes, it may be freezing and it's difficult to get out of bed in the morning. Here in Northern Europe, you run the risk of contracting pneumonia when you step out of the shower and the water on your body immediately turns icy cold. The heating bills are ridiculous. There's nothing worse than getting snow in your shoes. Hanging baskets of colorful flowers disappear from alleys, windows and doorways.

However, you also get to get all bundled up in your scarf, cute winter coat, gloves and boots. You get to snuggle up with your hot water bottle or some hot chocolate. I love the smell of cold in the air. I love it when it gets dark at 3pm. I love the sound of frosted grass scrunching up underneath your feet. You don't get a lot of grass in the city centre, like where I live in Edinburgh, but there are gorgeous gardens which are just as nice to walk through in the winter as they are in the summer. I wish I had a little dog (a pug or a chow) I could walk with! I live in the Old Town, where things haven't really changed since Medieval times, and even when the sky is grey the place has so much colour - it's so picturesque! The city centre is famous for it's Christmas and New Year celebrations, old buildings are illuminated different colours and there are lights everywhere. Little old pubs which line closes (narrow passageways between tenaments or old buildings. They've got a really interesting history, walking down them brings you back hundreds of years) light fires and you can pop in and get a hot toddy to keep away the cold, or if you don't drink they all do hot drinks like tea and coffee too. So many places around the world are so beautiful but this city really makes me appreciate European (particularly) Scottish style and architecture.

Some pictures of Edinburgh in the winter (Which I didn't take, I'd love to though - I need a camera!)

Photo Credits
1 2 3 4 5

Wednesday, 19 October 2011

Haifa Wehbe teams a Burka with a boob tube

Lebanese popstar Haifa Wehbe turned up to the opening of the Nawa3em website wearing this, saying:

Dress code is Khaliji tonight, but I'm not sure I'll follow the rules. I'll wear what I wear.

Haifa's face veil is a bling bling version of the Khaleeji burka. I love the look of these burkas from the Gulf (Khaleej), completely different from the long Afghan style full body burkas mostly talked about in the media. It's said that these beautiful pieces, which can be so glam and gorgeous like a lot of Khaleeji style, were made to imitate a falcon. Sunglasses, bracelets and other high fashion accessories have been made to imitate this style of burka in recent years. Any thoughts on how Haifa's done it?

Saturday, 15 October 2011

The Mosque Kitchen

Picture a Mosque, where, at the back when it's not prayer time, Muslims and non Muslims of all walks of life congregate daily to eat, chat and give charity. This is Edinburgh Central Mosque, Scotland. Started a number of years ago to raise money for Scottish and Afghan charities (all profits go to these causes - the kitchen is run by volunteers) the mosque has attracted many loyal customers - most of whom are non Muslim. It's great to go to University and hear people raving about the food at the Mosque - the food is cheap, plentiful and authentic. It serves authentic Indian and Pakistani food, and although the menu is not large, portions are so generous and tasty at half the price of neighbouring curry houses that it is definitely one of the most valued eateries in the city. However it is not like any other restaurant. Food is served canteen style and seating is expanded outdoors in this cold city, under cover of tarpaulin - it's a mosque after all. They've recently expanded further into a building near the mosque which serves food buffet and diner style.

The mosque itself was fashioned with the traditional features of a mosque like a minaret, but in the style of traditional Scottish architecture. So much about it is a model for integration and acceptance which goes both ways. Not only is it refreshing to be in a city where people spend time at the mosque and think nothing of it, and are even fond of it - as though it is any another restaurant but also the other way round. By welcoming non muslims into the fold, in such a universal way like food and charity, those at the mosque are reaching out too. The mosque has taken advantage of Edinburgh's almost constant stream of world famous festivals by holding educational events where everyone is welcome to come along and learn a bit about Islam, including art, science and history.

And to bring the point home, some of the workers are white, Scottish 'reverts'. It's a fantastic place. In this city, I haven't come across so much discrimination or ignorance and I think this is one of the reasons why.

Some quotes from Edinburgh Residents:

Legendary. If you're expecting ambience, luxury or proper cutlery don't come here. But it's places like this that give this city it's character - and the food is tasty at frankly unbelievable prices - Gavin

The offer huge dishes for next to nothing! The food is delicious and the people there are beyond wonderful.

It feels like you're getting a cuddle every time you're in here, it's a total diamond in the rough! 
- Emily

This is the best. place. in. Edinburgh. ever. - Julia. 

Sunday, 14 August 2011

Skinny Fat!

In an attempt to motivate myself to change my eating habits and start exercising I took photographs of myself in my underwear. And what a motivation that was. I plan on taking similar snaps week by week and seeing if I have made any progress, which will hopefully spur me on.

I admit, I was momentarily shocked. I always thought I looked okay. And now I realise I need this.  My waist is too big, my arms too square (how do I fix that one?), my breasts too small, my butt is flat, not toned enough and may I say keeping in with the latest fashion, too small. I could probably put on a few lbs of muscle. And my posture is skewed to one side!

I'm short, with very long curly black hair and this along with an extra weight makes me look dumpy. It looks fine on some people, but for me I have to really be at the smaller side of healthy.

I need to eat better foods, perhaps more of it, but less sugar, fizzy drinks and bad fats. I need to exercise!

Easier said than done, on lazy days I feel like I'd rather enjoy my life and be slightly out of shape. It's not like I'm doing it for a living like all the models and celebs that make me feel so unfit. I know I'd be happier if I'm healthier and look better, so I'm giving it a shot.

I Choose Spanish

It's a bit of nerdy hobby of mine to learn languages but I never have the motivation to go very far with it. I get in so far as enjoying the music, learning little tidbits of culture that come along with language learning and then it gets harder and my motivation fizzles out. But this time, I'm choosing a language to continue and I feel ready.

I went to live in Egypt for a while and absolutely loved the country. I loved the language and picked it up quite well but have now forgotten so much. It's a shame because I'd like to return; and I also want to be able to sound like a fast talking Lebnaneyeh (Lebanese chick). However, I'm never going to sound like a native in Arabic and I don't think I'd have much of a future in an Arabic country - especially as I'm not interested in learning the written language and every country speaks a different dialect.

I also learned Spanish in school, graduating at the top of my year in it, and still retain some language, though mostly vocabulary. I'm at about an A2 level on the CEFR guidelines as of mid August 2011. It's probably a far more useful language than Arabic for a European in Europe however it might be of limited use outside of Spain, a country I probably won't spend much time in. It is easy however, it does look good on a CV and for city work within the UK. It's also more widely spoken by 'foreigners' than Arabic is.

Ideally, I'd speak French but I studied the language for more than 6 years (obligatory, high school) and just can't get it right. Although I love the language, love the country and it's particularly useful - a lingua franca not only here where most people have rudimentary skills, but in the rest of the world - I just don't have the head start I do with Spanish nor the talent. However, if I don't learn French my crazy dream of running away to Paris to train as a chef is impossible. Nothing to do with the fact I can't cook of course.