Three Ladies in Cairo

Three Ladies in Cairo


WINCONFERENCE Me with my book













VOICES OF WOMEN WORLDWIDE & VOWW-TV’s “Successful Achievement Award 2014


for demonstrating the continued commitment required to achieve excellence and success in 2014 by publishing your book “Three Ladies in Cairo” and  now working on finding a reliable publisher for both the Arabic and English versions.  The most beautiful part is your message throughout Three ladies in Cairo … was the theme of “cultural differences and how to overcome and learn from each other” while  building bridges between different cultures but also between generations …”  You made the difference.

Signed : Vinanti & Sharon

Vinanti Sarkar, Founder /President

Sharon Mather, Co-Founder – Australia/New Zealand/Pacific Region                                               1 June 2015 


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Kindle version available on Amazon US and Europe.


“Three Ladies in Cairo” is the fictionalised true story of how three Swedish women – grandmother Hilda, mother Ingrid, and the author Anne Edelstam, herself, residing in Egypt for three generations … discover the land of the Nile throughout the twentieth century’s social changes, up to the Egypt’s first free elections in June 2012. Born and bred in Sweden, all three women share their first-hand experiences in coping with the colossal social and cultural differences during their timely stages of residence in this Middle Eastern country. The author reveals firsthand the ancient traditional lifestyles, covering more than a century. This book offers deep insights and extended perceptions on Egypt’s politics, economics, social and religious traditions, from the vantage points of the outsiders – strangers living within as insiders, among friends and fellow Egyptians. As a thoroughly researched social anthropologist, Islamic historian, and international journalist working in three languages – Swedish, French and English, author Anne weaves Egyptian history from the beginning of the century through the eyes of her grandmother to her own personal thought on modern day politics … Worldwide readers will identify, understand and enjoy following and learning about those living historical realities, as she captures, not just the broader verbal accounts behind Egypt’s social and cultural history with its political upheavals, but identifies the realities seen and eye-witnessed by three Swedish women during the most dramatic political and historical changes …” This is a MUST-read book, especially for the younger generation of readers who want to understand what was and is happening in Egypt today ! Vinanti Sarkar, Founder of VOICES OF WOMEN WORLDWIDE & VOWW-TV spreading across 85 countries


Three Ladies in Cairo in :


Book extracts


An extract from the time of the King with my grandmother Hilda and my grandfather Torsten:

“It was Farouk’s loss to rise to power at such a young age. As king, he could only receive advice – nobody was allowed to give him orders. His lack of assurance and his isolation made him revel in his own glorification. At the age of eighteen, he became engaged the sixteen-year-old Safina Zulficar. The new queen-to-be was given the name Farida, “the unique”. She became immensely popular among the Egyptian people, who loved the young couple.

“I know her father well,” Torsten told Hilda, reading the news of the engagement in his morning paper. “He’s the Mixed Courts vice-president in Alexandria.”

“I’ve seen her in the women’s magazines at the hairdresser’s, she looks absolutely stunning,” said Hilda.

“You certainly spend enough hours there, so I guess you have the time to do plenty of reading!”

“It takes a long time, you know, to put my hair on rollers,” she said defensively. “Then they stick my head under the machine for the permanent and I have to sit for at least three hours . . . but I do look smashing when I’m finished don’t you think?” She tilted her head, smiling mischievously.

Torsten was deep in thought, though. “Not everybody is so keen on them.” he finally said.

Two political men were close to the king: his political sergeant major, the very ambitious Ali Maher Pasha, and the British ambassador, Sir Miles Lampson. Sir Miles did not respect the young monarch and called him “the boy”. Farouk in turn called him “gamoussa pasha”, the water buffalo lord. Meanwhile the prime minister, Nahas Pasha, was worried about the king’s popularity and about Ali Maher’s intrigues, which contributed to excluding the Democratic Party, Wafd.

“The wedding may lead to a new, better start for Egypt,” Hilda reflected.

“Perhaps the young royals will be more sympathetic towards the poor and start modernising the countryside,” Torsten said. “People take such lowly jobs.”

“I know. And yet what would we do without their help in the household? I couldn’t cope on my own here.”

Hilda was a practical woman and knew that the rich could not do without the poor or vice versa. Her mother had struggled her way up the social ladder, so Hilda always had hope even for the most needy. To her, Egypt seemed on the verge of stepping into the industrial age, with one foot still in the agrarian system and the other in the modern era of her time.

“If those extremely rich would invest a bit more in the poor, this will become a fabulous country!” said Torsten optimistically.”

One of my favorite goddesses in Egypt is Isis – although I do like both Bastet and Hathor as well. Here is an extract from when my grandmother, Hilda, is going to meet Vivi Täckholm – her botanist friend – at the Egyptian Museum in Cairo:

She took along her camera, as always, put on comfortable walking leather shoes with small heels, and wore a light cream-coloured cotton dress that was not too long, but came just above the ankle, a short woollen jacket in dark blue that she was particularly fond of and, of course, her sunhat and walked out into the warming sun. It was December and pleasantly temperate, the sky clear, without a cloud in sight and the birds of prey circling around high above. I can’t remember when it last rained lately. Last winter, perhaps?

She was hesitant whether she should take a donkey-cart, but decided to walk to their meeting place. It was not far away and she found it pleasant to stroll under the shady trees through Garden City, towards the city centre and the museum. As Vivi had written so poetically,

The sycamore belongs to the Egyptian landscape, more than any other tree. Its trunk is thick, knotty, scarred, and its gigantic crown with its rounded leaves is as beautiful all year around. Something ancestral and respectful emanates from the sycamore, comparable to a solid rock. One gladly turns to that tree, a green oasis in the middle of a sun-drowned landscape.

Hathor, the love deity, understandably choose the sycamore as her habitat and, during ancestral times, she found refuge in its attractive foliage.

And it is understandable that it was under her protection that the lovers dated and promised themselves to one another. Ah! Respectful sycamore, what haven’t you seen as youth and follies during the past thousand years.

Vivi, nine years younger than Hilda, had arrived in Egypt in 1926, the same year as the Saléns, and married the famous botanist, Gunnar Täckholm. He was working on the Egyptian flora and fauna, following in the footsteps of another world-renowned Swedish botanist, Carl von Linné. However, Gunnar died only a few years later, leaving his widow to continue the work he had started. Vivi had to learn Arabic to make herself understood by the Egyptian workers helping her, although she found it difficult and always talked with a heavy Swedish accent:

An extract from my book during and just after Sadat’s assassination:

It seemed an ordinary day, though it was the annual military parade this 6 October 1981. My mother was in Sweden, so I was alone at home watching the local television station when I heard a terrifying noise and the screen turned black. I switched the TV set on and off and only got classical music. Perplexed, I decided to call my Swedish friend, Lars-Christer.

I slowly dialled six, three, five, eight and then I waited with my finger on the next number for a few seconds – it was a trick to get the phone to work – then continued with eight and five. No sound at all. “Damn phones that never work when you need them most!” I shouted and slammed the receiver down. I went back to the other room where the television set was on: still the same music. I tried the other channel. Nothing. I ran out onto the balcony and shouted down to Mohammed.

“What do you hear on the radio?”

“Nothing, just music,” he said, bewildered.

Across the river, at 14.05, that same day, the Swedish Ambassador, Olov Ternström, reported to the Swedish Foreign Ministry:

During a military parade today, the following events took place. When the parade was halfway, there was a slow-down, which in itself wasn’t that astonishing. Suddenly a car stopped in front of the honorary podium where President Sadat, the entire government, and the diplomatic corps were sitting. A person emerged from the car throwing a grenade towards the tribune. The shots went on for a minute or two followed by a silence that lasted for about two minutes. The ambassador then rose, having been hiding with the others. The situation was chaotic and President Sadat had already been removed. The ambassador noted that some people, on the government’s and the diplomats’ tribune, had been injured or killed. The Belgian ambassador, who was sitting behind the Swedish ambassador, looked seriously injured. The guards had answered the aggressors’ fire. The Swedish ambassador found his driver and left, followed by the Norwegian ambassador. The Swedish ambassador had not been hit. Driving back to the residence, he saw no signs of turbulence in the streets of Cairo.

The local media finally reported that “something” had happened and that the president was in hospital. The information was very limited and I couldn’t understand what was going on. I started to panic. Looking out of the window, I saw that the streets had emptied. A strange silence settled over the usually buzzing city. I have to go out and try to talk to somebody, I thought, grabbing my purse and rushing down the stairs, out in the streets and into my car. All kinds of thoughts were whirling around on in my mind.

If there’s been a coup and the fundamentalists have taken over, all the foreigners will be expelled – what I should I take? My grandparents’ antique carpets? The silver? Maybe I can hide the most precious things inside the carpets and roll them up? But who will help me to ship them out of the country? The Swedish Ambassador, perhaps?

Another extract of Three ladies in Cairo to illustrate the latest rapes and sexual harassments that occurred during the newly elected Presidential ceremony at Tahrir and that have been going on – in an apparently “organized” manner – since Mubarak’s time:

“The next day, I was to meet up with some of my old friends and took the metro to get there. It was crowded and I got into a mixed carriage – I did know that there was one exclusively for women, but couldn’t see it. I noticed some women in the mixed carriage, too, so I thought that I would be fine. That was until I felt a warm breath down my neck and something hard rubbing against my thigh. I panicked. I was unable to move and I didn’t dare scream. My eyes, welling with tears, met a young man’s.

“Do you need help?” he asked.

I nodded.

Pushing through everybody, he made his way over to me and did something to the man behind me that I didn’t see – I just heard his scream. Then the metro stopped and the young man took me by the arm and pulled me out of there.

“Are you OK?”

“Yes . . . thank you . . .” I said, tears spilling over.

“I’ll get you out of here into a taxi,” he said.

I followed him closely up into the streets. He hailed me a taxi and walked off. I didn’t even have the time to ask him for his name or thank him. The poor women who have to go through this every day, to and from work – no wonder they cover up to be as unattractive as possible! I thought as I walked, still shaky, to Eva’s. I stopped at the gate as two ferocious dogs were barking madly at me. Her guard came and pushed them to the side to let me in.

“I see that you have dogs to keep you safe!” I said as Eva came to greet me.

She’s a Scandinavian artist friend, living on a boat, surrounded by her paintings.

“This ‘frotti-frotta’ happens all the time in public places. I should’ve warned you, I’m sorry!” she said when I told her about my experience on the metro. “Come on in and we’ll get you to think of more cheerful things.”

Many pictures and additional thoughts are posted on Three ladies in Cairo Facebook page with the same name.

Anne Edelstam.