A Vegetarian New Year

imagesThe following article was originally written for the website of Identity magazine and was scheduled for publication in December 2016. 

For a variety of reasons, that never happened, so rather than waste it, I am posting it here, though it is a bit late in the day to be making New Year’s resolutions perhaps! Still..the advice in the article still holds!

It’s that time of year again, and like the last one, I’ll be making a list of New Year’s resolutions to eat better, exercise more, and generally improve my life. I might even keep some of them, but usually, by the end of January, most are forgotten. And I don’t think I’m unusual in that. Good intentions are easy. We start with strong motivations, and then it comes to an end. Life gets in the way, or maybe our intentions weren’t realistic in the first place.

So, here’s a resolution, that’s easy and fits in around your normal routine. Becoming a vegetarian is the perfect, healthy, energy boost that will make you feel good all year long.

Abstaining from eating meat and fish, might seem a daunting option. And it’s often the case that those around you will find your decision a bit odd, or even dangerous.  So, let’s arm you with some facts to allay those fears.

The scientific evidence against eating meat is stacking up.

A study by the National Centre for Biotechnology showed that there is something called Neu5Gc (an acid-sugar molecule) that is always found in meat. This molecule is almost always found in cancer tumours and can harden your arteries. You don’t produce these molecules yourself, they always come from meat. There is a significant amount of evidence now that meat consumption is linked to the development of various forms of cancer. Even the World Health Organisation has confirmed that there is strong evidence that processed meats cause cancer. Arthritis and the development of various allergies are also linked to eating meat.

But it’s important to recognise, that just cutting meat from your diet, doesn’t automatically make your food choices healthy. You need to consider carefully what you eat. So here is some guidance on a healthier you.

Switching to a vegetarian diet will help you lose weight. There are overweight vegetarians of course, just as there are skinny meat-eaters, but on average vegetarians are about a tenth less likely to be overweight as their meat-eating counterparts. Replace all those high-fat meat products with healthy fruit and vegetables and grains, and your waistline will thank you.

You could even consider going vegan. The difference between a vegan and a vegetarian is that vegans also abstain from milk and milk-based products, eggs and honey, whereas a vegetarian would be fine with consuming these, but there are health consequences if you do so!

Cutting milk from your diet, for instance, would give your arteries and bones a chance. According to the ‘Save Our Bones’ campaign, along with almost every other scientific study in the world, drinking cow’s milk, gives the lie to the old wives tail that drinking milk is good for you. Cow’s milk leaches calcium away from your bones and makes them weaker.  The pasteurisation process makes the calcium in cow’s milk almost completely non-absorbable. Non-dairy milks such as rice milk, almond milk, and soya milk are great sources of calcium. Non-dairy milks are easily made in your own kitchen with a little effort if you can’t find them in your local supermarket. And guess what? Milk too is implicated in the development of cancer. According to T Colin Campbell; Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, in 2000:

“cows’ milk protein may be the single most significant chemical carcinogen to which humans are exposed”.

And eggs? They will shorten your lifespan, according to The Harvard Physician’s Health Study. Honey? According to an article in The Journal of Nutrition, it’s no better for you than refined sugar. Veganism is definitely better for you!

If you’ve ever seen the cartoon character, Popeye, you will know that he eats a lot of spinach. It’s no coincidence that Popeye’s gigantic biceps are due to his mono-vegetable lifestyle. Spinach, along with many other leafy greens can give you all the vitamins, minerals and nutrients your body needs. Vegetables are a prime source of iron, calcium, vitamin C and beta-carotene (which helps with your immune system). Meat sources, on the other hand, are always of a much poorer quality. And don’t forget, vegetables are low in calories, which is great for keeping your weight down.

Apart from the benefits that your body will feel from switching to a vegetarian diet, the planet will also thank you. The meat and dairy industries are the number one cause of environmental destruction around the world. You may think you live on a planet, but you actually live on a gigantic farm. According to an article in ‘Time’ magazine, over 40% of the world’s land mass is used for keeping us 7 billion humans fed, and most of that (30% of the world’s ice-free land mass) is used to raise animals of various kinds for human consumption. That’s a lot of land, and we’re running out of it.

All that meat production is having a devastating impact on the climate and the state of the environment. An article from the Smithsonian Institute pointed out that:

“Livestock species contribute direction and indirectly to deforestation, water pollution, air pollution, greenhouse gasses, global warming, desertification, erosion and human obesity… Dry and scrubby Greece, once a nation of woodlands, has gone to the goats. In Brazil, forests are falling before the advance of soybean fields, cultivated largely as beef fodder.”

So, if you are going to make any resolutions this year, then switching to a vegetarian diet would be a great one to commit too. It doesn’t take a lot of effort, but it does need you to be conscious about what you eat. You will do yourself and the environment a big favour. And if the idea of switching to a meat-free diet forever scares you, why not commit for just one month and see it goes? Or if you can’t do that, what about cutting meat for one or two days a week as a starter. You don’t need to do it all at once, but every little helps.

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The Rise of the Vegans (Arabic version)

feat-712x445The Following is an Arabic translation of my article on the rise of veganism in Egypt, ‘The Rise of the Vegans’, and originally appeared in The Community Times for December 2016. You can find the original English language version here.

Not being able to read Arabic myself, I am not aware of where the paragraph breaks should go in this translation, so have left the text as originally posted on the ‘Plant Based Diet (Egypt)’ page where it first appeared. Translation by Dahlia Ali.

عودة الڤيجان

ممكن ماتكونش عارف إن فيه ناس ڤيجان حواليك. أعدادهم صغيرة آه، وشكلهم عادي يعني ماتفرقهمش عننا في حاجة، لكنهم بينشروا رسالتهم الصحية في كل مكان.
ورسالتهم بتنتشر بسرعة مش في مصر بس بل في العالم كله. أتباع المذهب الڤيجان في بريطانيا زادوا ٣٩٠٪‏ في السنوات الأخيرة طبقاً لجمعية النباتيين بالمملكة المتحدة. عددهم في انجلترا يقدر بحوالي نص مليون ڤيجان. يقدر عددهم في أمريكا بأكتر من مليون. العدد في مصر أقل بكتير. مفيش مؤشر واضح لانتشار ‘الڤيجانزم’ في مصر لكنه يقدر بالمئات، لكن العدد في ازدياد سريع.
بس يعني إيه شخص ڤيجان؟ المفروض تتصرف إزاي لو قابلت واحد ڤيجان؟
أول من استحدث كلمة ‘ڤيجان’ كان دونالد واطسون في بريطانيا سنة ١٩٤٤، اللي ألزم نفسه بنظام حياة خالي من استغلال الحيوان. الموضوع أشبه بال vegetarian بس متقدم عنه. الvegans مش بس بيمتنعوا عن أكل اللحوم والأسماك بل كمان بيبعدوا عن البيض واللبن والجبنة والعسل ومش بس علشان بيعتبروها غير صحية بس كمان علشان بتتسبب في معاناة للكائنات الحية الأخرى.
لسنين طويلة فضلت الڤيجانزم معزولة بتكافح وتقدم أدلة لمجتمع علمي عدواني ولصناعة أغذية شرسة، ولرأي عام كان رد فعله دايماً بالسخرية والتجاهل. الڤيجان كانوا أضحوكة التجمعات. بس الوضع اتغير. وبالنسبة لسؤال ‘تتصرف إزاي لما تقابل حد فيهم’ الإجابة هي: إسمع. رسالتهم اللي دلوقتي مدعمة بشدة من المجتمع العلمي ممكن تغير حياتك. الڤيجان بدأوا يظهروا وينتشروا. حتى الأمم المتحدة بتتجه نحو حركة عالمية من أجل نظام غذائي خالي من اللحوم ومنتجات الألبان.
من أهم أسباب التحول للنباتية هو الصحة. الأدلة العلمية اللي بتدعم التحول من استهلاك اللحوم إلى نظام غذائي نباتي مبهرة.
طبقاً لأكاديمية التغذية وأطباء التغذية الأمريكية، آكلي اللحوم أكثر عرضة لأمراض القلب والسرطان والسكر والبدانة أكتر من الڤيجان. الڤيجان بيتمتعوا بضغط دم منخفض وصحتهم أفضل عموماً. النتايج دي بتتكرر بشكل مستمر حول العالم من خلال كل المجتمعات العلمية. حسب تقرير اتحاد أطباء التغذية الأمريكي سنة ٢٠٠٩:
“الأنظمة النباتية المُعدّة جيداً صحية، كافية غذائياً ومن الممكن أن تساهم في تفادي وعلاج أمراض معينة، وهي مناسبة للأفراد من جميع المراحل العمرية بما فيهم مرحلة الحمل والرضاعة والطفولة والمراهقة وللرياضيين.
لكن الجدل النباتي مش بيدور بس حوالين تحصيل كل العناصر الغذائية اللازمة للجسم، بل كمان حوالين أضرار استهلاك اللحوم مراض القلب ومشتقات الحيوانات الأخرى.
في دراسة لمستشفى ماساشوستس العام على مدى ٣٠ سنة على أكتر من ١٣٠ ألف متطوع، ظهر إن زيادة حصة البروتين الحيواني في الأكل ب١٠٪‏ فقط أدى إلى ارتفاع نسبة الوفاة عموماً ب٢٪‏. وفي حالة أمراض القلب ارتفعت النسبة إلى ٨٪‏. استبعاد البيض من الطعام أدى لانخفاض بنسبة ١٩٪‏ بينما أدى استبعاد اللحوم الحمراء إلى انخفاض بنسبة ١٢٪‏
مشكلة اللحوم هي إنها غالباً بتكون ملوثة بالفضلات والدم والأدرينالين وسوائل أخرى، بالإضافة إلى مركبات كيميائية زي الهرمونات الصناعية المصممة لزيادة نمو الحيوان بشكل أسرع. وكمان بتكون مليانة مضادات حيوية. لما بناكل اللحوم بنستهلك كل السوائل والكيماويات دي. في دراسة لمدرسة جون هوبكنز بلومبرج للصحة العامة اكتشفت إن ٩٦٪‏ من نوع معين من شركات الفراخ فيها نوع خطير جداً من البكتيريا اسمها كامبيلوباكتر. البكتيريا دي بتتسبب في ٢.٤ كليون حالة إصابة بالتسمم الغذائي سنوياً في أمريكا. منظمة الصحة العالمية وصلت لأنها أعلنت اللحوم رسمياً كمادة مسرطنة بإمكانها زيادة خطر الإصابة بسرطان القولون أو المستقيم ب١٨٪‏
طيب إيه البديل؟ أحسن مصادر البروتين والحديد وكل المعادن والڤيتامينات الأخرى اللي بيحتاجها الجسم موجودة في الأكل النباتي. الكلام ده بتأكده تقارير الاتحاد الطبي البريطاني وآخرون.
من مصادر البروتين العدس والحمص والفاصوليا وزبدة الفول السوداني والسبانخ والرز والعيش المعمول بالقمح الكامل والبطاطس والبروكولي. الحديد ممكن نلاقيه في فول الصويا والعدس والفاصوليا الحمرا والحمص والطحينة والزبيب والبطيخ والشوفان. لزيادة حصتك اليومية من الكالسيوم جرب دبس السكر أو التوفو أو عصير البرتقال المعزز بالڤيتامينات أو الطحينة أو اللوز. بي١٢ والزنك وأوميجا٣ والدهون ومواد غذائية تانية كتير كلها ليها مصادر نباتية وغالباً بتكون جودتها أعلى من النظائر الحيوانية المصدر.
طب والحليب؟ مش كلنا محتاجين الكالسيوم لتقوية العظام والأسنان؟ الحقيقة إن شرب الحليب دي أكبر كدبة في حياتنا.
أظهرت حملة ‘انقذوا عظامنا’ البريطانية إنه بينما بيحتوي الحليب ععلى بعض الكالسيوم لكنه من النوع اللي مايقدرش جسمنا يمتصه خصوصاً المبستر. عملية البسترة بتخلي امتصاص الكالسيوم مستحيل. المذهل إن استهلاك الحليب أثبت إنه بيزود معدل فقد الكالسيوم، بسبب إن الجسم بيضطر يسحب من مخزون الكالسيوم في العضم علشان يعادل التأثير الحمضي للحليب في الجسم. تي كولن كامبل أستاذ الكيمياء الحيوية الغذائية فيجامعة كورنيل لاحظ في سنة ٢٠٠٠ فيما يخص استهلاك الحليب:
بروتين حليب الأبقار ممكن يكون المادة المسرطنة الأكبر اللي بيتعرض لها الإنسان.
ده اتهام خطير للحليب والدراسات عليه لايمكن تجاهلها. المجتمع العلمي كل يوم بيثبت عدم صحة الأكاذيب بخصوص فوائد الحليب.
في مصر بسبب نقص المعرفة بفوايد النظام الڤيجان وأضرار أكل المنتجات الحيوانية، اللي بيتحول للأسلوب ده بيواجهوا معارضة شديدة. ياسمين نظمي صاحبة مطعم The Vegan Kitchen في المعادي سابقاً، اللي اتحول إلى Earthly Delights، واللي بيقدم خدمة توصيل الأكل الڤيجان للمنازل واجهت معارضة عنيدة:
” الاعتراضات اللي قابلتها كانت أكتر من الدعم. زي أي مجتمع بياكل لحوم ونباتات، المجتمع المصري بيعتبر اللحوم ضرورة وإن النباتيين/الڤيجان دول ناس ضعيفة ‘ماشيين مع الموضة الجديدة وخلاص.’ معظم اللي بينتقدوا النظام الڤيجان بتنقصهم المعرفة العلمية، بالتالي طبيعي تتوقع رد فعلهم العدواني.”
تجربة ياسمين مش غريبة. بسبب المعرفة المتوارثة من الأجيال السابقة، معظم الناس بيلاقوا صعوبة في فهم إن فيه بديل صحي للواقع السائد.
هبة طالبة مصرية عايشة بره مصر حالياً، بتقول:
“صحابي كانوا متضايقين جداً من النظام ده، بس خلال المرحلة دي بعضهم اتأثر بيا وبدأوا تدريجياً يتحولوا إلى نباتيين أو ڤيجان.”
الدليل على إن النظام الڤيجان (وأخوه الصغير ‘النباتي’ الأقل تزمتاً) بينتشر في مصر بسرعة ممكن نلاقيه في صفحة المجتمع النباتي/الڤيجان في مصر على فيسبوكThe Vegetarian/Vegan Society in Egypt . حالياً الصفحة فيها حوالي ٣٥٠٠ عضو. كمان في صفحة Plant-Based Diet (Egypt) على فيسبوك. الجروب حالياً فيه أكتر من ٢٠٠ ألف عضو. أعضاء كتير من الجروب ممكن مايكونوش نباتيين أو ڤيجان بس الأرقام دي شهادة على حقيقة إن فيه اهتمام كبير ومتنامي بالنظام الغذائي ده. مصطفى حلمي، أحد المؤسسين لصفحة Plant-Based Diet بيقول:
“في رأيي النظامين النباتي والڤيجان هيستمروا في الانتشار في مصر وفي العالم. النظام المعتمد على النبات صحي أكتر، والنظام الغربي هو اللي بيقتلنا. مصنعي الأغذية هيحاربوا ده، زي مصنعي الدخان ما عملوا من سنين. هيغشوا وهيكدبوا في المحاكم، وهيمولوا أبحاث معيبة، هيعملوا كل اللي يقدروا عليه علشانيخبوا الحقيقة لأطول وقت ممكن. لكن في الآخر هيخسروا لأن الحقيقة واحدة بس، والنهارده مع وجود الإنترنت مش هيقدروا يخبوها.” كمان ممكن تزوروا www.kouhl.com أول مجلة أونلاين للطريقة الڤيجان مع التركيز على تمصير الأساليب الڤيجان.

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The Rise of the Vegans

the-rise-of-the-vegans-community-times-december-2016The Following article appeared in The Community Times, December 2016.

You may not know it, but there are vegans in your midst. Few in number, and indistinguishable from other folks, vegans are spreading their agenda of health, compassion, and well-being to all who will listen.

It’s a growing movement, not just here in Egypt, but around the world. In the UK, adherents of veganism have multiplied by over 390% in recent years, according to the UK Vegan Society. There are now estimated to be around half a million vegans in the UK. In the United States, it’s estimated that there are over a million. In Egypt, that number is substantially lower. There are no good indicators for the spread of veganism in Egypt, but it’s possibly in the hundreds. A number that is, however, growing rapidly.

But what is a vegan and what should you do if you meet one?

Veganism is a term first coined in the UK back in 1944 by Donald Watson, who adhered to a lifestyle free from all animal exploitation. It’s something like being a vegetarian, but more so. Vegans not only do not eat meat and fish, they also avoid such products as eggs, milk, cheese and honey, seeing all of these things as not only unhealthy for human consumption, but also contributing to the suffering of other living beings.

For many years, veganism has been on the back-foot, fighting its corner, presenting its evidence to a hostile scientific community and food industry, and a public whose main response has been dismissive ridicule. Vegans were the fringe crazies at the party. But no more. And to answer the second question; if you meet one, listen. Their message, now backed overwhelmingly by the scientific community, will change your life. Vegans are moving into the mainstream. Even the United Nations is pushing for a global move to a meat and dairy free diet.

One of the main reasons for vegans to adopt the lifestyle is concern over their own health. The scientific evidence for moving away from meat, towards a plant-based diet, is staggering.

According to the Academy of Nutrition and Dietetics in the United States, meat eaters are much more likely to develop heart disease, cancer, diabetes and suffer from obesity, than their vegan counterparts. Vegans have much lower blood pressure and are generally much healthier. These findings have been replicated consistently around the world, by all scientific communities. According to the American Dietetic Association in a 2009 report:

“Properly planned vegan diets are healthful, nutritionally adequate, and may provide health benefits in the prevention and treatment of certain diseases…are appropriate for individuals, during all stages of the life cycle, including pregnancy, lactation, infancy, childhood, and adolescence, and for athletes.”

The vegan argument, however, is not simply that it is possible to get all of the body’s requirements from plant-based foods, but that the consumption of meat and other animal-derived products, is actively harmful.

In a study carried out at the Massachusetts General Hospital over a thirty-year period, with more than 130,000 participants, it was shown that raising the share of animal protein in one’s diet by only 10% led to a two percent higher risk of death from all causes. In the case of heart disease, this figure rose to eight percent. Eliminating eggs from the diet, led to a 19% reduction in death risk, whilst eliminating red meat, led to a drop of 12%.

The problem with meat is that it is often contaminated with faeces, blood, adrenaline and other bodily fluids, as well as chemical compounds such as artificial hormones, designed to make the animal grow more quickly. It’s also stuffed full of antibiotics. When you eat meat, you consume these fluids and chemicals.  A study at the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health reported that 96% of a particular brand of chicken contained a highly dangerous bacterium called campylobacter. Campylobacter causes 2.4 million cases of food poisoning in the United States every year. The World Health Organisation has gone so far as to officially declare meat a carcinogen, that can increase the risk of colon or rectum cancer by as much as 18%.

So what’s the alternative? The very best sources of protein, iron, and all the other minerals and vitamins a body needs, come from a plant-based diet. This is backed up by reports from The British Medical Association as well as The Vegan Society and others.

Rich sources of protein are lentils, chickpeas, peas, peanut butter, spinach, rice whole wheat bread, potatoes, and broccoli. Iron can be found in soybeans, lentils, kidney beans, chickpeas, tahini, raisins, watermelon, millet, and molasses. For your daily intake of calcium try molasses, tofu, fortified orange juice, tahini, and almonds. B12, zinc, omega-3 fatty acids, fats and other nutrients, all have plant-based sources, and often of a higher quality that their animal-product derived counterparts.

But surely drinking milk is okay? Don’t we need all that calcium to strengthen our bones and teeth? No, actually, it isn’t okay. Milk is the great lie of our age.

The ‘Save Our Bones’ campaign in the UK has shown that whilst milk does contain an abundance of calcium, it is of a kind that the human body simply cannot absorb. Even more so when pasteurised. Pasteurisation makes the calcium impossible to absorb. Ironically, milk consumption has been shown to actually increase calcium loss, due to the body drawing on stores of bone calcium to neutralise the acidifying effects of milk on the body.

T Colin Campbell; Professor of Nutritional Biochemistry at Cornell University, made this damning observation in 2000 in relation to milk consumption:

“cows’ milk protein may be the single most significant chemical carcinogen to which humans are exposed”.

That’s a pretty damning indictment of milk. And the studies are overwhelming. Time and again, the scientific community around the world, is revealing the old-wives’ tale about the benefits of milk, to be the nonsense that it is.

In Egypt, as a consequence of the lack of knowledge about the benefits of veganism and the harmful effects of eating animal products, those that are turning to the lifestyle, are facing stiff opposition. Yasmine Nazmy, the former owner of ‘The Vegan Kitchen’ restaurant in Maadi, which has metamorphosed into ‘Earthly Delights’, a vegan home-delivery service, ran into some stiff opposition:

“I have…had more objections than support. Just like in many other omnivorous societies, the Egyptian society regards meat as a necessity and vegetarians/vegans as weak people who are ‘just going through a weird phase’. Most people who criticise a vegan diet often lack a lot of scientific knowledge, so it’s normal to expect an aggressive reaction…”

Yasmin’s experience isn’t unusual. With nothing more than the hearsay wisdom of previous generations, most people find it difficult to understand or acknowledge that there is a different and healthier alternative to the prevailing norm. Heba, an Egyptian student currently living overseas, also said,

“My friends were so upset from that lifestyle. (But) …through that hard process, some friends were influenced by me and they started gradually to be vegetarian (or) vegan.”

The evidence that veganism (and its less draconian little brother, vegetarianism) is growing in Egypt can be found by visiting the Vegetarian/Vegan Society in Egypt Facebook Page. Currently, it has nearly three and a half thousand members. Alternatively, you could check out the Plant-Based Diet (Egypt) page, again on Facebook. This group has over two hundred thousand members. Many members of these groups may not be vegetarian or vegan, but their numbers are testament to the fact that there is a huge and growing interest in this dietary regime. Mostafa Helmy, one of the founders of the Plant-Based Diet page, said,

“I think vegetarianism and veganism will continue to expand in Egypt and all over the world. A Plant Based Diet is a much healthier diet, and the western diet is what is killing us, food industries will fight this, like the tobacco industry did years ago, they will cheat, they will lie in court, they will fund flawed research, they will do whatever they can to hide it for longer, but in the end, they will lose, because the truth is the truth, and in this day and age with the internet and all, they can’t hide it.”

And you could also check out http://www.kouhl.com, Egypt’s first online vegan lifestyle magazine “…with a focus on Egyptianizing the vegan and raw lifestyles.”

Ed Note: There is an Arabic translation of this article, originally presented on the ‘Plant Based Diet (Egypt)’ page on Facebook. You can find a copy of it here.

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Review: Look Who’s Back

Look Who's Back
Look Who’s Back by Timur Vermes

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

In the end, I had to grit my teeth and force myself to finish this. It took me two months. Look, it’s a great concept: Hitler waking up in the modern world and then having to orientate himself, whilst plotting his rise to power and reboot of the Third Reich.

The satire, on the whole, didn’t work for me. There were a couple of genuinely funny moments in Hitler’s dialogue and some minor smiles from cleverly worked misunderstandings between Hitler and his colleagues at the ‘Flashlight’ production company. ‘Flashlight’ has taken Hitler on as a political satirist and given him his own TV and YouTube show.

The problem with this book is that it is really hard to feel any sympathy or connection with the main character. He’s Hitler after all. And he’s pronouncements on Jews, Russians, Poles, Turks, Asians, foreigners of all kinds, violence, gas chambers, concentration camps, the SS, ad infinitum is genuinely distasteful and at times horrific.

I wanted to like this book a lot more. It’s well written. It’s a great concept, but it is incredibly difficult to get past a distaste for the protagonist. And I guess what makes it also quite an unsettling read, in the end, is the sheer blind stupidity of everyone else in the book. Their inability to grasp the real agenda of Hitler and constantly misconstrue every single thing he says cannot be very far off the reality of what happened back in the 1920’s and 30’s that lead to his rise to power. People will see what they want to see, and not what is actually in front of them.

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Reiki in a Nutshell

reiki-in-a-nutshell-bca-chronicle-december-2016The following article originally appeared in the BCA Chronicle December 2016

From 6th October to New Cairo, from Mohandiseen to Maadi, and everywhere in-between, people are signing up for classes to learn the art of Reiki. Just as it has done in much of the rest of the world, Reiki is surging in Cairo. 15 years ago, there were one or two Reiki teachers in the country, now they seem to be hiding around every corner. But what exactly is Reiki, and why is it so popular?

Reiki is the fastest growing complementary therapy in the world today. It’s a healing method that is having a profound impact on the lives of significant numbers of people and can instill a deep sense of peace. But it’s main claim is as a method for healing physical and psychological problems. There are no conditions, illnesses or disorders, that Reiki can’t help alleviate. In some instances, it can affect a complete cure, even if the problem is very deep-seated or life-threatening.

According to the International Association of Reiki Professionals, Reiki is “…a spiritual healing art… It is not massage nor is it based on belief or suggestion. It is a subtle and effective form of energy work using spiritually guided life force energy.” That’s right, Reiki has nothing to do with belief. Much the same as when you turn the key in your car’s ignition, the engine starts without you having to recite mantras, do yogic breathing, or pray to many Gods for the wellbeing of your vehicle etc. Reiki’s like that. It works, even if you don’t believe in it.

The system was developed by a Japanese Tendai Buddhist called Mikao Usui, a little over a hundred years ago, but it has its origins in a much older practice called ‘Buddho’ that dates to the historical Buddha, some 2,500 years ago. According to the International Centre for Reiki Training, there are now estimated to be more than four million people worldwide, who have taken some form of Reiki training.

Reiki works by bringing the body and mind, to a state of deep relaxation, enabling the body’s healing mechanisms to work at optimum capacity. The practitioner channels subtle energy through their hands to the recipient, and it is this energy, flooding the body and mind, that creates the circumstances for deep healing to begin. There are no special aids or devices involved, no prayers or mantras, no meditative alpha or theta state needed for it to work, and anyone can learn it.

Some years ago, I gave an interview on BBC radio about Reiki. Following the broadcast, I received a phone call from a lady in her late 50’s wanting treatments for a severe case of rheumatoid and osteoarthritis. She’d been suffering with the condition in various stages of severity for the previous 30 years, and was only days away from being in a wheelchair. After several treatments that helped reduce the pain that she was feeling, she decided, along with her husband, to learn the method for herself. That decision was a critical moment in her life.

Three months later she contacted me to say that her last blood test had revealed not a trace of her crippling arthritis. The condition was eliminated and her stunned doctors had no explanation for it.

In another case, a young man was rushed to hospital with a perforated colon that was allowing bile to leak through his system. He was in a coma with a temperature of 109 degrees and a prognosis of imminent death. He was given Reiki continuously for 2-3 hours. At the end of that session, he came out of the coma, the bile purged from his system and he had a normal, restful night’s sleep. The following morning, he was back to his normal self.

‘Miracles’ such as these, are not common, but they do happen. There are dozens of stories from around the world, testifying to the fact of Reiki’s miraculous healing ability.

As well as such anecdotal evidence, there’s also hard scientific evidence to support the claims made by Reiki practitioners. Medical research has shown that the range of frequencies that promote healing in the body are precisely those that are found in the bio-magnetic fields that manifest around the hands of those using therapies such as Reiki. Specific frequencies being beneficial for different tissues.  Placing an electrical coil around a fracture is a well-known method of stimulating bone repair. Ultra-sound is used to break up kidney stones and to clear blocked arteries, and soft tissue is encouraged to re-generate with the aid of physiotherapy equipment that utilises the healing effects of specific frequencies.

Reiki is now available within hospital and other health-care settings around the world. According to The International Centre for Reiki training, by 2007, over 800 hospitals in the US were offering Reiki as a normal part of patient care. This is mirrored in the UK, Australia, New Zealand, Canada and elsewhere, where it is being used to treat sufferers of cancer, Alzheimer’s, Multiple Sclerosis and a multitude of other serious conditions. It is being used to help speed recovery from heart surgery and by Dr Sheldon Feldman, head of breast surgery at New York-Presbyterian Hospital/Columbia University Medical Centre, directly in the operating theatre.

But the beneficial effects of Reiki, don’t stop at the health needs of human beings. Dr Barnard Grad of McGill University in Montreal conducted an experiment in which he tested the effects healing energies have on plants. With elaborate double-blind procedures in place, a set of barley seeds were fed with water that had been held by a healer for 15 minutes in a sealed container. A second set of seeds were fed untreated water. The seeds fed with healer treated water grew faster, were healthier and produced 25% more weight and had a higher chlorophyll content.

It’s important to remember however, that regardless of other’s experiences, and regardless of what the scientific community may have to say, the only real proof worth giving credence too is one’s own direct experience. Reiki can manifest results in many seemingly mysterious ways. Some of these can be scientifically validated, whilst others cannot. Ultimately, if Reiki improves the quality of your life, as it has done for so many thousands around the world, then this is the only measure that matters.

Give Reiki a try. It will change your life.

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The Importance of Art Education in Academic and Career Success

The following article appeared in Cairo West December 2016 

As the academic year kicks into high gear and exams creep ever closer, parents all over the country are encouraging their children to get down to some serious study, work hard in school and do their homework. Many are investing in extra tuition to nail those the-importance-of-art-educationi-in-academic-and-career-success-cairo-west-december-2016-3important subjects, like maths and English and science. The pressure is on to grab those A*’s and then later, get a place at a good university. But what of the other subjects on the curriculum, like art and music, and in some places, drama, and dance, which help to develop a student’s imagination and creative abilities? Too often, these subjects tend to be given little importance, and are marginalised at the expense of those that will lead directly into a career. After all, why would a prospective engineer or doctor, need to know how to draw a vase of flowers?

Albert Einstein, the world’s greatest theoretical physicist said “The greatest scientists are artists as well,” He was stating a fact that all true educationalists understand as a given: that learning and practicing the principles of art is absolutely vital to the development of critical thinking. And critical thinking not only applies to scientists, it extends to all areas of academia, whether it be maths, information technology, history or geography. A*’s will get a child into university, and maybe one day they’ll be at the top of their particular profession. But will they stand out and be the Einstein of their field? Probably not. Thinking outside the box is vital, and that is a skill that art, more than any other subject, provides.

The ability to see the world in a different way, to think around a problem and view it from a different angle, takes imagination and is the cornerstone of success in all subjects. And the more advanced the level of study, the more important the skill becomes. It’s a skill that arts educationalists can rightly claim as their own. Nowhere else in the curriculum, is it taught so comprehensively and with such a powerful focus on the real world. Imagination is where all human success springs from. Imagination is, let’s be blunt about this; the womb of critical thinking.

Art lessons play an important role in nurturing young minds and developing their creative and imaginative abilities, and this spills over into non-art related subjects.  A comprehensive study by James Catterall, professor of education at the University of California in Los Angeles, reported that students who had more involvement in the arts scored better in standardised tests. Catterall said:

“While education in the arts is no magic bullet for what ails many schools, the arts warrant a place in the curriculum because of their intimate ties to most everything we want for our children and schools.”

If parents are worried about the academic success of their children, then more art is needed, not less. It has been widely reported that involvement in the arts can lead to gains in maths, reading, verbal skills, critical thinking, cognitive ability, motivation, concentration, confidence, and teamwork. According to ‘Americans for the Arts’ children are four times more likely to get noted for academic success, when they participate regularly in art activities.

In the area of language development, the practice of art for younger children provides opportunities for them to talk about their work, learning the words for different colours, shapes, and the motor skills employed. They learn to use descriptive words to discuss their work and talk about their feelings in relation to their work and the work of others.

The development of motor skills is also enhanced through an engagement with art. Holding a paintbrush, using scissors and scribbling with a crayon help with the growth of the finer motor skills that are needed at a later stage of development. Art engagement helps develop the dexterity needed for writing.

In a world filled with smartphones, tablets, laptops, televisions and other technological gadgets, visual literacy is more important than ever. Drawing, painting, making things from clay or sticking beads onto a collage contribute substantially to the development of visual literacy.

According to Dr Kerry Freedman, Head of Art and Design Education at Northern Illinois University: “Parents need to be aware that children learn a lot more from graphic sources now than in the past. Children need to know more about the world than just what they can learn through text and numbers. Art education teaches students how to interpret, criticize, and use visual information, and how to make choices based on it.”

The world that children are moving into, is one filled with visual stimuli of all kinds: marketing logos, advertising hoardings, and other graphic symbols, delivered through a variety of media, and at an ever-increasing pace. Having a developed sense of visual literacy helps children and young adults navigate this world, and become smart consumers and producers.

“The kind of people society needs to make it move forward are thinking, inventive people who seek new ways and improvements, not people who can only follow directions. Art is a way to encourage the process and the experience of thinking and making things better!” says MaryAnn Kohl, an arts educator and author of numerous books about art education. By encouraging children to express themselves and to make things that previously hadn’t existed in the world, they start to develop a sense of innovation and inventiveness that will be necessary skills in their adult lives.

Allied to the ability to understand the society that exists around us, is cultural awareness. We are constantly bombarded with images from around the world, and we read the world according to our understandings of it. That understanding is framed against our own culture, which we buy into based on social values and the influence of our parents, relatives, friends and colleagues, amongst other things. Through the study of art, we can start to contextualise other cultures and learn that what an artist or designer portrays is simply their interpretation of reality, which may be different, but equally valid, to our own. We develop an insight into other ways of being.

Art has a long and proud history in Egypt, perhaps more so than in any other country. The history of Egypt, and thus civilisation itself, going back several millennia, is told through the creative, visual expressions of generations of artists and craftsmen who highly prized their artistic abilities and creative skills. What would be left of ancient Egypt, were it not for the work of artists? Very little.

“When I examine myself and my methods of thought, I come close to the conclusion that the gift of imagination has meant more to me than any talent for absorbing absolute knowledge… Imagination is more important than knowledge. Knowledge is limited. Imagination encircles the world,” Einstein said, and in this, he sums up the cultural urgency there is for an educational refocusing on not only visual art but the other Arts of music, dance, and drama as well.

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Review: How To Write A Novel The Easy Way Using The Pulp Fiction Method To Write Better Novels: Writing Skills

How To Write A Novel The Easy Way Using The Pulp Fiction Method To Write Better Novels: Writing Skills
How To Write A Novel The Easy Way Using The Pulp Fiction Method To Write Better Novels: Writing Skills by Jim Driver

My rating: 3 of 5 stars

A basic guide, but all good I guess. More of a nuts-and-bolts guide to writing a novel in general, than anything specific about pulp fiction, which the author claims is the precursor to the modern practice of self-publishing. Which I don’t entirely accept. Pulp fiction writers still had to write to please an editor, who, if the work wasn’t up to scratch, would have rejected it. Not so with self-publishing, where the writer is the arbiter of what is, and what is not publishable.

I guess the thing that rankled a bit for me in this book, was the regular referencing of his other books, which if I wanted, I would go and buy, but given the all too frequent in-text advertising of them, I probably won’t now.

I’d have liked to have seen a little more about the pulp fiction method (is there such a thing?), rather than the need to simply churn out as much as possible because in the end, there will be something you can throw at a readership – quality or not, which is what the author pretty much advocates here.

Still, a useful reminder of some of the nuts-and-bolts of the author’s craft.

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My rating: 1 of 5 stars

I teach this meditation and am always interested in reading more and expanding my understanding. So I bought an ebook version of this some time ago, and finally read it on the plane today.

Unfortunately, the quality of the language is so bad that much of the book is incomprehensible and those bits that can be understood are shallow.

I started out thinking that the language problem was just sloppy editing. But I think it was a case of someone writing in a language that is not their first language. Either way, it doesn’t excuse how bad this book is.

if you’re going to sell a book to the public at least have the courtesy to make it readable. This should never have been released. At least not in English.

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Remember My Name

This is the first draft of my new short story. I’m working on a novel at the moment and struggling with it. Having written this, I am conscious of the fact that I write better in the first person. I guess so much of my youth reading Raymond Chandler and watching Bogart films, had an effect. I was pleased with this draft last night when I wrote it – it took me about an hour. Not so sure today, but I do think there is something worth working on here. It’s a true story by the way. Events happened exactly as described here. Comments gratefully accepted.

It was damn cold that night. It didn’t matter how tight I hunched into my coat and pulled it around me, I was still shaking with it. How the hell the old guy, who didn’t have a coat at all, wasn’t shaking like I was, I have no idea. I guess, like all alcoholics, he’d become immune to the temperature.

I’d headed out to grab a pint. There was this cosy little nook of a pub right at the bottom of the Tor. I’d been in just once before, not long after moving to Glastonbury, and it was a place I fancied going back too. A big log fire, great beer and an ambience that made you feel like you’d walked into that bar scene in The Lord of the Rings. It was all just so, ‘olde England’. No idea what the place was called now.

I got to the top of the High Street and turned the corner. There was an orange glow from the pub’s windows and the sound of people laughing and having a good time, coming out into the street. The old guy was on the other side of the road. I saw him ask a couple of people for a smoke and they walked right past him. No acknowledgement, nothing. Then it happened again. I felt sorry for him, so went over and offered him a cigarette. He accepted eagerly and we both sat down on the wall opposite the pub.

I took out my tin and started to roll him a smoke. I don’t know what he said to me now. It was nothing of consequence I guess. I just wanted to give him the cigarette and get in the warm and have a pint. But the old guy kept talking and so I listened. I remember this though, and it had nothing to do with the rest of his conversation. He said to me “Only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name.” I nodded. What else could I do? I felt sorry for him.

In the glow from the pub, I could see that his clothes were old and filthy. I guess he hadn’t had a proper wash in days. Maybe weeks. And it wasn’t the time of year for anyone to be stuck out sleeping on the streets. But that was the way it was. I didn’t think about it much at the time. He was just a lonely old tramp who wanted a smoke, and someone to talk too. So I sat with him and listened. The pub wasn’t going anywhere.

I rolled myself a cigarette too, and light his for him. We sat and smoked, watching the smoke and then our breath forming thickly in front of our faces. It was damn cold. The old guy sat with me and we smoked in silence for a while. Then he talked some more and I listened some more. And then “Only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name,” he said again.

And it was like that for some time. I rolled us both another smoke and we carried on sitting on the wall at the foot of the Tor. People were coming and going from the orange glow across the road, but I sat, feeling even my bones freezing over, and listened to Nikolas.

I don’t supposed he’d had a decent meal in a long time. I don’t suppose he had any friends or a place to be. I guess the world didn’t give a shit about him. I coudn’t fix all that, but I could sit and listen and smoke. And right at that moment, that’s all he wanted. I gave up on the pint and offered him the tobacco tin. His hands were shaking and he couldn’t roll it for himself. So I took it back and rolled one for him.

“Only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name,” he said again. In fact he said it to me several times. I don’t know why all these years later, 22 to be exact, I still remember that. I guess it’s because I promised him. I don’t know why I promised it either really. Maybe to stop him repeating it over and over. But I promised it anyway.

After more than an hour of freezing on that wall and smoking way too much, the pub closed. It was back in the days when pubs had sensible hours. Not like now when you can go out and get pissed at any time of the day or night.

I didn’t want to leave Nikolas there, but what could I do? My wife would go nuts if I took him home with me. I knew that, because a few days before, a tramp had knocked on our front door and asked for some change. Instead, I took him in and gave him some food and a coffee and made him feel welcome. I couldn’t leave him out there in that weather for God’s sake. I think she’s forgotten about that now, but at the time, I knew I was in the doghouse. So I could n’t take Nikolas home with me.

I gave him my tobacco tin, whatever money I could spare and shook his hand. I needed to get back into the warm. As I headed back towards the High Street, he called after me. I turned and he said “Remember: only God is good. My name is Nikolas Lebadar. Remember my name.” I smiled and silently promised I would.

I never saw Nikolas again, and have often wondered what happened to him. Maybe he’s dead. Maybe, as a friend just told me, he sorted his life out and became a success. I don’t know. But I suspect that he died. The world didn’t care about him, and won’t be missing him. No one will. No one gave shit. But for a while, I shared a wall with him and listened, and smoked, and made his world sort of okay.

And down the years, 22 to be exact, as I said, I have remembered his name. It was Nikolas Lebadar. Sometimes, I have panicked and had to dive into the fading parts of my memory and drag his name out by the scruff. Almost. It almost went. But I got it back and I keep it as best I can in my memory. I made a promise. But he’s probably dead, and no one gives a shit. But I remember his name, and I remember that only God is good.

“Only God is good. My name is Steve Gooch. Remember my name.”

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Review: On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft

On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft
On Writing: A Memoir of the Craft by Stephen King

My rating: 5 of 5 stars

I had to read this. It’s Stephen King after all, and if anyone knows how to write a blockbuster, very saleable novel, you can’t get much better than King.

Although I was entertained and found many parts of this huge tome very funny (the bit about oysters getting a bit of grit in their shells, leading to the production of a pearl, rather than them attending pearl making workshops with other oysters as an analogy to would-writers attending writing workshops), on the whole I got very little out of it. Yes, there was some good advice (cut your use of adverbs), but really…this was less a practical manual for writers, less a guidebook on how to avoid the pitfalls and problems of starting out as a writer, and more a ramble through Stephen King’s own journey from A to B. Interesting as it is. Amazing as it is. Inspiring as it is. But maybe that’s the point: less of a ‘don’t do this, do that’ textbook, and more of a ‘here’s my life journey, with some lessons for you on the way’ sort of book.

I am glad I read it, but as an aspiring writer, I don’t think it told me very much. I am hacking adverbs everywhere, and it is definitely making a difference to my work. Lesson taught and learnt, so Stephen King, thankyou for that.

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