Now for Egypt! Impressions of Cairo: packed (17 million), noisy, chaotic, dusty (air pollution and some unleaded gas), traffic clogged, hi rise, vast. In 1965, the population was 1/4 the size it is today. After Mexico City, it’s the world’s biggest city. Luxor, about an hour’s flight south, is quiet, calm, green, sunny, beautiful, with views of the mountains behind the blue Nile and waving palm trees. (Once it was Thebes, capitol of the Middle Kingdom.) Everyone is taught from the cradle to say “welcome to Egypt” but I think most of its 70 million people meant it.
One of the great surprises of Africa was the enormous number of new birds. We’ve seen photos of hornbills, but rollers, European bee eaters, bright aqua kingfishers, eagles, various hawks, tiny wrens and other species amazed us. We’d never seen these birds nor heard their names.
The lodge had a gym, outdoors with some exercise equipment, but no guests were to walk there alone, for safety. We flew back to Joburg from a small red dirt airstrip on which we’d earlier seen wildebeests and changed planes for a change of pace in wine country, where we rented a car and drove on the left. Our cottage nestled in 160 acres at Constantia Uitsig, Constantia View in Dutch. The area, still heavily Dutch and beautiful, green and manicured, has tidy vineyards climbing up the hillsides only minutes from downtown. We were coddled in our Victorian room with huge bed, happy to indulge in the two fine restaurants and gorgeous gardens. It was nice to have TV for news, and the place even had a cricket pitch. Whenever we drove in, erect gate guards in snow white pith helmets snapped to attention and saluted us English style, palm out, which Mike loved!
Capetown sits at the base of Table Mountain, which is much much bigger than I’d imagined, taller and broader. Repeatedly, driving through neighborhoods of beautiful homes, walls overflowing with bougainvillea, hibiscus, plumeria, oleander, Norfolk pines, palms, and thousands of round blue agapanthus lilies in bloom, I thought surely I’d migrated to La Jolla! The beautiful blue Victoria and Albert waterfront, sandy beaches, and vineyards set against mountains make an average city look like ugly stepsisters at the ball.
The harbor is commercial yet tourist friendly in the extreme, with shops and restaurants. It’s impeccably clean; seals swim lazily between business and pleasure boats near beautiful flowers and plants. Out of town, shantytowns were an opposite, hell as opposed to heaven, packed with higgely piggely shacks, corrugated iron patchy roofs, cardboard windows, laundry flying, and litter. Pity the child born there. A tall pole with an electric connection emanated countless interwoven tangled wires.
We had a foggy first day at Hoyt’s Bay, but nearby was an outdoor craft show and charming little mall where we ate Italian food as it rained. I shopped at a charming French woman’s boutique. The next day, after a “Topless Tour,”passing through older parts of the city and surrounding beach areas on our topless open air bus, we noted sunbathers avoiding the cold ocean. Our open bus eventually climbed to the top of a vast mountain overlooking city and sea. Mike took the cable car upward to the very peak, partly obscured by clouds, splashed with colorful parachutes of hang gliders. In the blue sea far below sits flat Robbin Island, a name meaning seal. Nelson Mandela spent 18 of his 27 years there in prison; now it’s a tourist reminder of ugly racism. I somehow lost a new shirt and walking stick while I enjoyed a high altitude icecream and awaited Mike on this mountain spectacle.
We drove south to Cape Peninsula National Park at the Cape of Good Hope, marked by a lighthouse on a mountaintop. The light, strongest in the nation, was built only after many ships wrecked 600 feet below. A weather station welcomes school tours and visiting scientists. As part of a world meteorological organization global watch, it monitors methane, ozone, and greenhouse gases. A funicular carries tourists up the steep incline far above blue seas edged in pure white foam. The next stop south of here is Antarctica. I thought of explorers like Capt. Cook leaving warm climes and donning furs as they sailed south to the pole. Signs warned against feeding baboons, and several bold creatures leapt onto cars as we walked to gift shops and restaurants. Lunch outdoors was kudu and springbok that the waiter assured us were grown for that purpose on game ranches. They were tender and tasty.
En route southward, we stopped at Simon’s town, an old Victorian port, and returning northward, stopped at Boulders Beach to see little African Penguins, sometimes called jackass: they bray. They waddled about, many sitting on eggs, and we were very close because of a wooden walkway throughout their preserve. I’d thought penguins belonged in colder climes, but no. They eat pilchard and anchovies, and from a precarious state, their colony is now flourishing. We saw many small boats and fishermen.
Meals at Constantia were fantastic. The area is surrounded by other high quality winery restaurants, so we tried Cape Malay at the elegant Cellars-Hohenort Hotel, surrounded by fabulous gardens. We visited a shopping mall to use email, and it might have been in California. We drove into other beautiful places, many with shops and wine tastings, and oohed and aahed at the rugged countryside. Everyone says South Africa is beautiful; we agree.
Our next stop was at a small nature preserve, Grootbos (Big Bush or large forest in Afrikaans from the Dutch, who colonized the area before English wars took it). We perched on a hilltop overlooking the sea amid indigenous Western Cape milkwood forest. The area, once a cattle ranch, has regrown under German owners offering daily jeep nature drives and seaside walks. Meals were served indoors or al fresco from a thatched dining building with a gift shop and classroom. We slept in an elegant cottage with deck, high ceilings, oriental carpet, and fireplace. We barely touched the fresh fruit basket in the room because the meals were so grand. Outside our door was a pond, insuring frog serenades. There were 10 other luxury cottages, but elsewhere in over 3000 acres the owners were building another lodge, equally large. There were also quarters for some help nearby, invisible in the greenery. A beautiful swimming pool sat next to the lodge, but though we were tempted, we never got a dip since there was so much else to do!
We learned a bit about botany and fire control, and identified interesting plants and birds on beach or cave walks and from Land Rover drives with Silence. He is a well informed and humorous young African in short dreadlocks, bumping along up and down hillside paths amid proteus and erica fynbos (“fine bush”) plants. There are over 600 plant species. Many are indigenous and endemic, growing no place else on earth. A small school on the property holds a dozen adult native students for a year, and they will be offered jobs elsewhere upon graduation. Our young waitress, quick with a giggle, was to spend six months waiting table in Dublin and London a few months hence. The dining room was run by two young men, one black and one white, extremely professional and competent. We ate three wonderful meals a day. Health benefits from walking and climbing were probably ruined by the champagne that our tall guide Igna popped open midroute! I believe the girl was a blonde mountain goat—and barefoot! Her name comes from her father’s, Ignatius.
At another season, whale watching is a big draw, but since it was summer, we took a boat out to Dyer or Seal Island (smelly but packed with noisy seal families) and en route watched wetsuited adventurers in boats near us climb into shark cages. The tall metal cages don’t completely submerge, so one bends or squats to be underwater with the sharks. Their boat chummed the sea to attract mammoth white visitors. I had never seen seals leap from the water into the air like dolphins before.
We drove past beautiful mountains to the point at Cape Agulhas where Atlantic and Indian oceans meet. En route in a Napier coffee stop we chatted with retired Army Major Visser, who claimed to be the major domo, the butler, and the barrista. His obvious delight in chatting up the visitors overshadowed his duties running a small shop. He had an oversize mustache and a twinkle in his eye and loved showing Mike his military collections.
Our Marriott Hotel sat on an island and was once a palace for the khedive (keh-deev’-eh, like a king) built before the Suez Canal opening. When Empress Josephine announced she’d attend in 1869, a room replicating her Paris salon was added. The elaborate building, with huge pierced metal lamps and intricately carved ceilings and woodwork, houses restaurants and public rooms. Two tall towers added on either end hold guest rooms. We had rooms on high floors with a balcony and views of gardens and the Nile. Even up high we heard traffic. The staff was fantastic, cleanliness extreme, prices modest. (Mike bought a plaid long sleeve shirt for $7). We never got sick even a little, drinking bottled water and avoiding uncooked veg.
It’s the largest hotel in the mideast, and in back, near the large pool, was a vast red tent with live Egyptian music, where patrons puff on hookas after dinner. Waiters use long metal tongs to replenish coals. Crouched near the door all day long, two ladies pat small dough balls that puff into round pita breads in their clay oven. Nearby was the largest sporting club in Cairo, with riding paths and playing fields. Normally I don’t choose big hotels, but in this case, the embassy made arrangements because of security.
In the lobby, I noticed a tall dark and handsome man wearing a flowing white gown and headdress, and inquired whether he was a Saudi. The bellhop said no, he was the minister of something-or-other from Qatar, and on a previous visit, he’d booked four floors for his four wives, children, and retinue.
Traffic was wild. Among crowded cars and busses, burros pulled little boys on open carts wobbling on rubber tires. Lane lines are only a suggestion, and at night, it’s rude to drive with your lights on. Street sweepers and curb painters work at night in dark clothes. Why half the town isn’t riding unconscious on the hood of a truck is beyond me, since nobody thinks twice about crossing 8 lanes, kiddies in tow, with cars rushing past on both sides as they stride along, or wait for another chance to make a break! People drive and honk horns. When I commented on this, my taxi driver spun around, toothlessly grinning: “Cairo music!” Cars leave a gnat’s wing of space between them, and the “nose rule” seems to apply. Whichever car is a millimeter ahead of the next has the right of way. There are no meters or set prices: every ride is a negotiation. The trick is to offer something so little they will scorn it, but after you walk away a bit and appear disinterested, they beseech you to hop in.
We were given small pink cards that say, one side in Arabic and one English, that we are US employees. In case of accident, we are immediately to leave the taxi, get into another, and leave the card instructing readers to call the embassy, “since accidents often result in violence and the police are loathe to interfere.” A handout mentioned that taxis often broke apart on impact and 20% of Egyptian accidents result in death, 80% in serious injury.
We were met by an armored embassy car, a ford Explorer, and driver. If embassy or service wives want to drive here, they take a terrorism crash course. Tear into an area at 60 mph, simultaneously slam on the brakes and hit the accelerator, and spin off in another direction without stopping. Never stop! Many Americans live in Mina, a pretty suburb with modern apartments, KFC, Mickey D’s, and other ghetto niceties, and have household help at low cost. The American school is there. The doorman washes your car daily, puts your kids on the school bus, and carries all your packages.
Young men at metal detectors guard every building and entry, usually with uniforms and machine guns. Our hotels had three men at every entry, and often searched bags and parcels. (“You got gun?” Smile. OK!”) There is universal conscription, and men (not women) serve a year if they are university graduates, but three years if they only finish high school. Nine years of school are required, and there are far more people than jobs. Mrs. Mubarek has made a goal of a girls’ school in every village.
Children were clean and well dressed, with good teeth, even if some were barefoot. Gas is cheap and no car is abandoned, with a hodgepodge of models from every nation and vintage, two million in Cairo alone, running nearly around the clock. Black and white taxis are cheap, tiny, tinny, old, few with seat belts in the back. Drivers are great, and speak at least a few English words, but tourists should carry a written destination in Arabic just in case. Red lights are ignored (“we know which ones to stop for”) and modern superhighways are free of potholes. US drivers are missing the thrill of nearly careening into abandoned unlit vehicles that suddenly loom, unmarked, or weaving donkey carts, bikes, horses, and motorcycles. Cars back up unexpectedly on highways. Narrow side streets may be unpaved, rutted, and dusty. Thousands of high rise brick apartments sit amid rubble piles looking like old WWII movie sets. There are no playgrounds, trees or flower gardens in those areas.
Because it was the Eid (eed), when Muslims go to Mecca, families who normally don’t eat much meat will buy a live sheep. They ritually butcher it, roast it, pray, and share after fasting from sunrise to sundown the day before. Small herds of sheep and goats trot in streets with the cars and a shepherd. Butcher shops drape strings of colored lights over hanging carcasses of sheep, goats, and beef. The Eid feast date is lunar, and the day before we left London on a long-planned trip, the Egyptian government declared a 5 day holiday, which meant some of Mike’s appointments were cancelled. We decided to fly to Luxor for the newly empty weekend while 2 to 3 million worshippers gathered in thousands of Mecca’s tents. This was the Big Eid, when climbing Mt. Arafat occurs; our driver, Sallah, took his family in a lesser year when that isn’t done. He’s teaching his oldest, an eight year old son, to fast sunrise to sunset by setting goals of a few hours at a time.
Many families were traveling to see relatives for the Eid, celebrated nearly like Christmas, on a train that burned, incinerating over 370 people. The class III train cars are metal shells for poor folk, who sit on portable benches and bring butane stoves to make tea. One of them set a car on fire, and its doors were locked because they didn’t close securely. There were no emergency cords or connections with the driver, who sped on, spreading the fire with the breeze he created, unawares. Windows were barred, and only a few people escaped, jumping from moving cars. Often there are no lights or toilets, since people remove bulbs and even plumbing fixtures. This happened just as we arrived.
It’s easy to see how the Nile was seen as father, mother, nurturer, lifegiver. From the airplane windows, on both sides as far as you can see is sand, miles and miles, in rivulets, mountains, gulleys, and for endless miles there’s no bush or shrub. No roads interfere. Beige, tinged blue beige, golden beige, rosy beige, the sand changes beneath the sun. The great river, in contrast, is clothed in green fields of grapes and vegetables, tall date palms, leafy trees, flowers, canals, homes, and activity. There is fishing, recreation, beauty and sustenance. Outside the Nile is death.
In Cairo, we visited the pyramids at Giza and the step pyramids at Saqqara. Our driver set us up with his friends, but I wouldn’t return without a better guide. We were put into a horse cart, hustled to the stereotypical grinning camel driver for photos on his beast, taken to the Papyrus Institute for purchases after obligatory tea and small talk, and all that could have been avoided—maybe. There is a set way of doing things, and I know they thought we’d be pleased. We went down some tiny side streets in warrens of closely packed apartments that reminded me of how Terry Anderson or Daniel Pearle’s kidnapping might have occurred. There are no signs, even in Arabic. Just children, chickens, carts, and dust, and an occasional woman with a box or basket balanced on her head.
Papyrus no longer grows naturally in the Nile, but a bit is being reintroduced. Banana strips look the same, and are difficult to detect. The papyrus rolls, formed by laying strips of the stalk horizontally, then vertically, and pressing them, held writing until Romans began binding codexes on one side. Those became our modern books. Eventually vellum and parchment took over, since animal skin outlasted papyrus. Modern paper is less than 200 years old.
The pyramids of Khufu, Khafre, and Menakure were wonderful, huge, awesome, and we visited other small tombs, climbing down deep hallways into the rooms of the dead. Sometimes I sent Mike down first to see if it was scary. A wrinkled little guy in his long gellabaya might be holding a flashlight about halfway down the banked dark passage. The Sphinx stood guard, facing the rising sun, as did the pharaohs in death; our church apses today face east as well. The tombs are Cheops, Chefren, and Mycerinus, if you’re speaking Greek. They face north, south, east and west exactly, have 2,300,000 limestone blocks weighing 2 1/2 tons each, and the largest covers 13 acres and was nearly 500 feet—50 stories—tall.
We both liked the funereal boat next to Cheops’ tomb, around which is built a museum. Pharaoh’s body was brought to his final rest on this boat, after the 70-day mummification and the Opening of the Mouth ceremony. The solar boat, raised from its burial site, is smooth brown cedar from Lebanon, fitted together with ropes and waterproofed by pitch. The oars and rudder are on display too. Nearby, excavations are underway in another boat. At Saqqara, we visited Zoser’s huge step pyramid, over 200 ft. high and in six levels, preceding the great pyramids and recording the name of the first known architect, Imhotep.
Memphis is nearby, the first capitol from 2750 BC, but there is little left today to recommend it. Besides a colossal statue of Ramses II, lying on its back, the museum has no signs, some large figures, and a bored unshaven guide. A policeman (machine gun) offered a gesture to show some pit tombs dug into the earth, and I was pleased with his help. Then he put out his hand for baksheesh. I was surprised. Dusty booths nearby were filled with plaster casts of cats, pharaohs, and scarabs, a sign of immortal life, since the beetles appear from eggs long after they’re laid. No customers were evident. The irrigation canals are filled with trash and plastic bags, and nearby children played. Water buffalo and fields of clover bordered the canals.
That night we returned for dinner at an Egyptian fish restaurant across from the pyramids. Because of errors in the times, we missed the English sound and light show in the biting cold desert, but rented a blanket and sat through most of the German and French ones.
We flew to Luxor, which has many horse drawn carriages, some elaborately festooned, and the price of a ride is negotiable. Some horses are glue factory candidates. You flag a cab, decide on a price, and when you arrive, the driver may says it’s farther than he thought, looks wounded, and demand more money. Or he wants baksheesh. If you refuse, he might frown, then grin sheepishly and sweetly, “baksheesh for the horse?” The livestock eat clover from green fields, piled high on carts.
Luxor has rows of huge boats moored along the river, sometimes five or six abreast, for Nile cruises. I would love to go back and take one. The craggy mountains loom soft in the distance, and the serene countryside must be similar to what pharaoh saw over five thousand years ago. The Nile begins far south at Lake Victoria but has passed all the fierce cascades by the time it’s captured behind the dam forming Lake Nasser, where I’d hoped to see Abu Simbel. We thought we’d booked tickets for a day trip, but the plane was full, and we didn’t have time for a river cruise. The last Nile hippo left the Nile in the 1600’s, and probably couldn’t live in today’s pollution, but the water looks clean and I recall all the fish portrayed in ancient paintings. Our Luxor Sonesta Hotel sat on the river, and at sunset, offered free tea and classical music while we sat on the floating dock, watching the Technicolor extravaganza offered by the sun. It’s most understandable how for thousands of years, Amun would be worshipped as a golden disc!
The temples at Karnak and Luxor are connected by about a mile of carved stone sphinxes in a row, now partially broken by housing areas. They marked Amun’s annual procession, when the god visited his altar at Luxor. Townspeople saunter past just as the ancients did. There are hundreds of lively boys in the streets, but few girls. I took a picture of some boys, at their laughing demand, and will send them a copy. Temples were fantastic and striking, with lotus and papyrus columns, obelisks, and giant sculptures stylistically unchanged for thousands of years. They are still open to the sky, longer than football fields, and painted colors can be discerned in many areas.
Luxor is also the entry to the Valley of the Kings and of the Queens. At the embassy we met two Army couples who drove to Luxor with two little girls. All drives between Luxor and Cairo are escorted by armed military, even taxis, and no one may travel other than in the two daily convoys. We met them at a monument and arranged a day of touring together. Luxor also has a modem art museum, well lit and displayed. We missed Tut’s tomb and the temple of Hatchepsut, so will have to return! One obelisk from Luxor now stands in the center of the Place de la Concorde, regilded at the tip and in the lettering as a millennium project. It’s nearly 111 feet, carved from one stone. The guillotine once stood nearby.
Our guide Hassan Ahmed Hussein, a young university graduate, had got us and our Army friends some of the 150 daily tickets for Nefertari’s tomb at 5:30 AM. We were allowed in for only 15 minutes, since human respiration is one of the worst enemies of the refurbished tomb. Those tickets cost about $20 each, the most expensive of the trip. We climbed down the long tunnel opening and were all blown away by the hieroglyphs decorating the beloved young wife of Ramses II, brightly painted as if done last week.
She is taken by the hand to meet Osiris, god of the dead, and assisted in her journey to eternity by Horus, the hawk headed son of god, avenger of his father’s murder. He was conceived by Isis when she, as a bird, revived her dead husband/brother just enough to be impregnated by his seed. There are many sculptures of her nursing Horus in the same later poses of Mary with baby Jesus. There was a trinity, the shepherd’s crook (love, good shepherd) and the flail (justice) of Osiris and pharaoh, god’s earthly representative. There ware ankhs, the cross with the circle of everlasting life at the top, which in Coptic art (Egyptian Christian) may have another cross inside it.
Moses and the Greeks saw the Egyptian’s art, the Romans accepted the Greek religion wholesale, and eventually made Christianity their state religion. Arabs hating Roman law and taxes embraced a new religion, Islam, after the Angel Gabriel revealed stories to Mohammed. Scribes wrote it for the illiterate prophet. (The Koran is small, but the explanations are lengthy!) It’s all one big religion soup: one guide remarked that Christians have a Messiah, the Jews are waiting for one, and Islam doesn’t believe in one.
The sound and light show at Luxor is extremely well done, starting at dusk with a crowd walking from the entry and progressing into the various temple rooms. From the rows of rams representing Amun, we passed tall pillars and heard the stories of the past under the stars. I decided the lore statingt 100 men could fit on one of the papyrus pillars was probably true.
One of the most interesting visits was to Hussein’s own home, in a tiny village with a few mud brick houses and no paving at all. Children ran around excitedly at our arrival, several barefoot. Some tried to sell us very crude little handmade dolls. We saw a barrel of water being hauled in on a donkey cart. Hussein lives with his parents and his brother’s family, and they recently added a second story to the house, of mud brick. I hope there no earthquakes test their architecture. The front is whitewashed, and there is a painted pattern over the door inside, an Arabic verse from the Koran. Out in back, next to the plain wood bench holding a pan of dishwater, was the little gray burro, tethered by an old rope, and nearby the chickens. They lived around a buff colored clay stove, about four feet high, with fuel piled around behind it—stacks of bundled reeds.
We had tea (always served in glasses—easy to burn your fingers!) in Hussein’s front room, sitting on couches covered with a throw. There was electricity from power lines on wood poles, but no plumbing, as far as I could see, with a refrigerator in one corner of the cement floor and a TV on a stone shelf. His dignified, white haired 83 year old father, once the village iman of the mosque, came in to meet us, but his mother, in black, stayed in another room. His cute tall teenage nephew was nearby. Hussein speaks English, German, and Arabic and has never left the country. His brother is a guide and twice has been sent airline tickets to visit other countries by his clients. The whole village would benefit from even one computer.
We flew back to Cairo on Monday morning early, with a hotel pickup at 5:45. Luxor airport was still closed when we arrived for our Egypt Air flight, with a few hundred people milling at the front door, with luggage. A few more taxis and busses disgorged passengers and when the doors were unlocked, it was like stuffing 10 pounds of sausage into a five pound casing! Japanese, Italian, French, American, English, and Egyptian voices called out for their luggage tags, babies, and each other. Virtually everyone set off the metal detectors and were hastily wand-searched (men only—they never search the girls, just nod us through) and bags were piled everywhere. There were no gate signs, queues, or intelligible announcements we could discern in the roar and crush, and somehow we ended up on our flight—they all went to Aswan or the like—and left, miraculously with our luggage on board, only about an hour late.
Flying into south Cairo, we saw hundreds of brand new high rise apartments in the desert below, with no cars around, nor laundry waving from the windows. These are built by the state and private individuals to house the ever-expanding population. Women bear over 4 children on average, but there are family planning clinics that have slightly lowered the population growth. Women drive and needn’t cover heads or faces. Egypt is about 85% Moslem. Officially, there is no homosexuality or HIV: an American STD doctor told Mike he worked with “a disease that doesn’t exist in Egypt!”
Cairo museums were wonderful repositories of treasure after treasure, especially King Tut’s tomb furnishings. We went twice. The size of several things astonished me, especially the tables, even though I’ve read about them for years. Labels throughout the museum were typed on index cards in the ‘50’s, often misspelled or missing. I’m sure a thousand American or French grad students would volunteer to work there for free, but doubt that will happen. Labels were in Arabic, English, and French. There were no wall signs. Private proper guides took some groups around, and “pick-up” guides who hang around every museum nabbed whoever they could, hoping for baksheesh. The Cairo museum shop had prices as good or better than the souks and there was no bargaining.
I loved seeing the palette of Narmer, which starts the Egyptian section in every Art History book, and seeing copies of the Book of the Dead. The original is at the British Museum in London, and I’ve visited many times.
One of the most interesting parts of the museum was the mummy room opened a few years ago to draw tourists—for a stiff extra fee. We saw Rameses’ face, with tooth and curly hair showing. He died in his 90’s, with nearly 200 children. There was also a separate room for Tut’s spectacular jewelry, often in gold with artfully fitted stones. They are beyond comparison! Tut’s face, although I’ve seen it in books and slides many times, was unforgettable, with inlaid stone carefully fitted into a solid gold sort of helmet. And he was such a minor king!
I also visited the wonderful white marble mosque of the ruler Mohammed Ali and the vast Citadel nearby, but had no time to see the local museums there. I visited Coptic churches on a tour: I was the only client accompanying the guide, while the driver and two others waited in the minibus. I came back to the Coptic museum the next day by taxi, alone. The churches hold ancient relics wrapped in dark red embroidered covers over wooden tubes. They are brought out on the saint’s feast, and people were bringing in plastic bags and touching them to the cases of relics. They might want help in an exam, or with legal papers in the bags.
The churches were dusty in contrast to the spiffy restored thousand year old Jewish synagogue of Ben Ezra, recently restored with worldwide donations. The effort took 15 years, beginning after the first Begin-Sadat peace talks under President Carter, now so woefully absent. Not far away a Muslim graveyard is on the eastern bank, not the west as in ancient times, with the setting sun. Squatters build houses on top of graves because land is scarce.
The place to bargain is the khan, the market area of Cairo we visited one evening, where a narrow hive of streets is filled with tiny shops and surging shoppers. Our guide was a women we’d met at the embassy who led us through the labyrinth with two others. We bought a brass tray and a brass lamp on a second floor up a small dark staircase, where metalwork was done under the stars. I bought a cotton caftan. Our new friend bought perfumes and a tea set. The perfume seller’s shop held hundreds of vials and jars, and the lampmaker’s lamps hung from the ceiling on chains, in every shape and size. Every price was a negotiation! Several of the sales people had worked in the US. The others had a good patter: “Hey, remember me?” or ”Come in, cone in! I make you special deal. Cost nothing to look!”
One day we made the three hour drive to Alexandria, named after its founder Alexander the Great, once a fantastic city. The famous library with half a million parchment books was burned, but next month a new ultra modern library will open. Unfortunately, we got a bit lost and our driver missed the scenic city entry, but finally found our way to Mike’s meeting, after which I was dropped at the Greco-Roman museum. There was great stuff inside, with very bad signs. There were so many sculptures that many were piled in the garden near where I had tea.
Because of its location on the Mediterranean, the city is packed with vacationers every summer, so February was a good time to see it. The early church was strong there, and underwater excavation is working on the old lighthouse area. Before the drive back, we were given lunch at a seafood restaurant overlooking the turquoise sea and new seafront, still a-building. Both our hosts and our Egyptian embassy scientist had spent time working iin America, and Mike seemed happy with work in oil spills they discussed that day. He was far less happy with much of the research he explored in Cairo, and ultimately decided that the term “research” means different things to the Egyptian Army than to the US scientists, although many of the generals have graduate degrees from American and French institutions. It was a great trip for us on a personal level, nonetheless, and I hope American and Egyptian science prospers from these meetings.
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