Featured Blog, I: Tea, Hair, and...
This Is Not My Country / April 6, 2006
Those who have been reading this blog for a while will know that I drink tea. (I often choke on it as I read the more outrageous comments and posts around Blogland) You will also know that I am English, which explains why I drink so much tea. So put all that together with the title of the blog itself, the photo and some past writing and you get a fairly good picture of me. There is a reason for this post but you will have to read on to get to it.
From about the age of three I have drunk tea. On an ideal day I would have two cups before I did anything. Sadly, my early morning treks to school only allow for one, which is very disturbing, but I keep going knowing I can have a second cup when I get home. Now I don't know about anyone else but Lipton's dust does not do it for me. As my dad once put it "it looks like scared water". When I first came to live here I had no idea how difficult it would be to get a decent cuppa. It got so bad at one point I switched to coffee in the morning and believe me, that's radical and didn't last long. One day I ventured into Marks and Spencer (not a shop I frequent) and discovered that they sold extra strong English teabags. Yes, they ship it all over the world but who can afford to do that? Imagine my joy. It was a short bus trip to the centre and I would be tea-bagged up for the month. Mornings restored to normal and all is well with the world. After a couple of years of this great situation M and S, in all its infinite wisdom, decided to close all it's food-halls in Greece. I'm not exaggerating, I was devastated. Well, I was a bit miffed. For the next few years I relied on friends and family and infrequent trips to England to keep my addiction in check. This part of the story has a happy ending. Alpha Vita have finally got with the programme and now imports PG tips for a reasonable price. Yes, they ship their tea too but again, who can afford it? The fact of my tea-drinking obsession does not define who I am but living in country where I cannot easily indulge my fairly typical everyday habit, highlights an aspect of my "foreignness". I have been unwilling to give up this part of my life and indeed go to great lengths to ensure that I don't have to.
On a subject which does contribute to defining me. Hair. I am mixed race, as many of you already know. Something you may not know is that I don't get up in the morning with my hair looking fabulous as in the photograph. No. The lucky people who do see me in the morning are more likely to mistake me for someone who has been dragged through a hedge backwards. Several times. I have scary hair. My wonderful hair needs help and that means the right hair products. Living in multicultural London for so many years made buying hair necessities easy. A short trip to the local supermarket and you're done. For those who are uneducated in non-white hair, Timotei and Fructis just will not do. I used to use the children's shampoos and conditioners from African Pride as my hair is thick but very fine. The most essential ingredient for my particular gorgeous locks is the leave-in conditioner.
Aside: This is not a moan about Greece so please do not take it as such. Now read on.
When I first came here I had many issues to grapple with. Language being the big one (still is). Hair came fairly low on the list of priorities ( below tea in fact) I'm not a great fusser about hair but when you actually get the chance to go out and "let your hair down" you don't want to scare people, do you? There are only two or three shops in Athens that stock black hair products and the range is small and very expensive. I am lucky though. I can make a bottle of Luster's Pink Oil Moisturizer last a very long time so I'm not complaining.
My tea drinking and, more importantly, my hair are part of who I am.
Read the rest at This Is Not My Country...
Featured Blog, II: Rosetta Stoned
Impressions of Egypt
Walter Pantland/Red Star Coven, April 5, 2006
I am back in sunny Glasgow, back at work, and our recent trip to Egypt is fading from reality very quickly. Time to capture some impressions before it's gone forever. Firstly, there are pictures here.
I have really mixed feelings about Egypt. My first thought, when arriving at Cairo airport and climbing into a 30 year old taxi held together by wire, was "wow, it's great to be back in a third world country".
This is because it is so much more relaxed. Britain is such an uptight, controlled and monitored society. There's monitoring in Egypt too, but it's done by bored and corrupt humans who check papers unenthusiastically. In the UK, you are conscious of CCTV watching your every move, and it's enough to give you paranoid fantasies, or at the very least have you self-censoring your behaviour. It was great to disappear in to the anonymous chaos of Egypt.
And Egypt is living proof that there is a self-organising principle in nature, that letting go of the Eurocentric need to control every situation does not mean the world will fall apart. Egypt, to the casual observer, is pure chaos, yet it is friendlier, safer and more human than any Western country.
But sometimes I feel like the entire country is one massive scam designed to rip off foreigners, that the pyramids were built millenia ago to lure tourists from the ancient world and cheat them out of their money, and that everyone from the president down to the lowliest shoe shine boy is out to sell you some worthless tat as ancient art.
Take the Egyptian museum, which is controlled by the State. It is expensive, by Egyptian standards, to get in, and you have to go through three disorganised and uncoordinated security checks. At the last check point, they tell you you are not allowed to bring a camera into the museum (why not?), and you have to go back to the first check point to check it in. Once you are in the museum, you find that you will have to pay again - a fairly substantial amount - if you want to go into the section where the mummies are kept.
The Egyptian government does absolutely nothing to improve the museum - it is pretty much in the state it was in when it was created over a hundred years ago, with hand-written labels and so on. While this is charming enough, you will certainly not come out of the museum with any greater knowledge about ancient Egypt, since no attempt is made to enlighten you.
You can of course hire a guide, who will tell you "very big, very old", and then hold out his hand for baksheesh, something travellers to Egypt have been complaining about for around a thousand years. Or, having paid your entrance fee, you might find the lights are switched off, and you have to tip some one to switch them on.
If you feel the need for some refreshment during your frustrating trip around the museum, you can go to the museum cafe, where you will be overcharged by a factor of ten. You will be charged London prices in one of the cheapest countries in the world. Read the rest at Red Star Coven...