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CAIRO - Part 5 - Meals and Survival

First of all, you never, never, never go anywhere in the city without your mineral water bottle. You NEVER accept a cup of tea from a merchant, you eat salads ONLY where other Americans tell you it's safe, and those places are few and far between. The Pharaoh's Curse is just as deadly, if not more so, than Montezuma's Revenge. And even with all the precautions you take, it is not guaranteed that you will be safe. I came down with it after my first week and was unable to completely shake it until we were leaving, two weeks later. Margo's husband had it so bad, it was necessary to take him to a hospital and have special treatment. Bob had it, but was able to keep on working. Even though we were told it was safe to brush your teeth in the hotel, we used our mineral water.

We had most of our meals in our hotel, the Ramses Hilton, which had several restaurants and cafes, all of which got our business at least once. One was on the top of our high rise hotel and you could view the city at night, and on a clear day, see the Pyramids in the distance. Another was deep in the bowels of our hotel and was purely Egyptian, with their native dishes and belly dancers, magicians, and other performers, but it was so dark you needed a flashlight to see what you were eating.

Once a week, the Marines, stationed at the American Embassy, hosted a barbeque for any Americans who happened to be in the city and were informed about it. We only went to one and it was wonderful. They held it outside and we were served hot dogs, hamburgers, beans, beer, etc. just like home! It came as a minor shock to suddenly hear the unrestrained outburst of American laughter. I had not realized, I hadn't heard it since arriving in Cairo, and had missed it. Strange.

CAIRO - Part 6- Odds and Ends

Egypt is a third world country and, perhaps the main reason it will probably never be any other way, is because there is no middle class. The upper class may function very well in the modem world, but the vast majority of lower class, even though they may own a car, and have a TV set, do not have that necessary educational ethic and work ethic.

Margo brought me to her room one day, to show me the other side of our building. Her balcony looked over the city (our room had a view of the Nile), and she wanted to show me an example of the Egyptian work ethic. We stood and watched a work crew below. The were digging a trench in the middle of the street, employing about twenty or twenty- five men. Everyone stood around and watched one or two men break up the street, until they had worked about five minutes. Then they stopped work and watched while another couple shoveled the macadam into a wheel barrow and then stopped work and waited for a man to take it away and come back. We watched this for about thirty minutes and never did more than two men work at a time. Margo said they had been doing this for two weeks and had not progressed more than a half a block.

Bob and I were in a cab driving down the street when we stopped at a stop light in front of a rather stately looking  building, being guarded by two Egyptian Army personnel with rifles. However, they were not standing at attention, but casually chatting and laughing and moving around. The one was not even carrying his gun in a military fashion and when he stopped bouncing around and stood still, I was looking down the barrel of his gun, not more than ten feet away, and he was totally oblivious of it's position. I was informed later that the gun was probably not loaded.

They have two types of No Parking signs. One is round and has a broad line running from one upper corner to the opposite lower corner and means "No Parking". The other is also round and has a broad line running from one upper corner to the opposite lower corner, with a second broad line running the opposite direction to form a large "X" and means "No Parking, We Really Mean It!!!" In both cases, the parking signs are ignored and cars are parked three abreast, bumper to bumper on the sidewalk.

One strange sight for these American eyes, was to see the crowded busses pass by, with two or three men hanging on to something inside the open door of the bus, with part or all of their bodies on the outside of the bus.

Drivers seem to be reluctant to observe red lights. At one major intersection, I observed one traffic light where three policemen were needed to make the traffic stop so that the other lane of cars could cross.

The old city of Cairo is mostly of old British architecture, due to being occupied by the British many years ago. Now it is old, tired and run down, but it stands in sharp contrast to the countryside where the houses are nothing more than mud huts. On the road to Saqqara, we passed an entire village of mud apartments. They were small, single story, and had a common wall with their neighbors; no windows and just a solitary open door. The walls appeared to be a foot thick and the roofs were flat. But the remarkable thing was that they had cow pies, stacked on end, side by side in a vertical position. We had to assume they were used as fuel and as a sort of cooling system for the roof as a protection from the blazing sun.

On the same trip we observed women washing their laundry in canals about eighteen inches deep, while a cow stood drinking, etc., not twenty feet away in the same canal.

As mentioned before, Bechtel, housed all their employees in the elegant, three year old Ramses Hilton Hotel. We were very comfortable in our modern, clean, beautiful room. However, during our three week visit, the laundry lost two of my husband's shirts in the first week, and were never able to find them. And, one morning, during our second week in residence, after Bob had left for work, they had a flood in the lobby and the elevators were shut down for a couple hours. Fortunately, that was the morning I choose to do some light laundry and had not planned to leave the building until afternoon, and thereby was not inconvenienced. Fortunately, I say, because our room was on the ninth floor.

During our first week, I ran into a young, American woman who was also newly arrived in Egypt and whose husband worked for another American company. We got to be friends and after a couple days, she happened to mention that her husband was having a very frustrating time of it. It seems that Egyptian customs was holding $8,000.00 worth of his company's testing equipment and wouldn't release it because the officials couldn't figure out what it was. Then she just happened to mention that it was needed on the Bechtel Power Plant Site. Somehow, her husband had been spending all his time, trying to deal with Egyptian officials, and apparently it had not occurred to him to contact Bechtel to see if they could help. My husband placed one phone call that evening before dinner, and the next morning, they released the testing equipment.

One day, alter my city adventure, I stopped in the lobby of our hotel to rest before returning to my room. A family of Egyptian women, sat down in the grouping of sofas next to mine. They spanned the years. There was the grandmother dressed in black from head to toe, a black veil covering her face. There was the mother, wearing a flowered print which covered her arms and went almost to the floor. And then there was the third generation, a young woman in her late teens or early twenties, wearing a western style short sleeved dress, which was hemmed just above the knee. I watched them for several minutes, wondering how long it would be before the upper class was entirely westernized. I guess that I, too, was noticed (I was wearing long pants), for as they got up to leave, the young girl turned and smiled at me and I smiled back.

CAIRO - Part 7- Flight Out of Egypt

Our flight out of Egypt was on the most dilapidated old bus I have ever seen. The seats were built for more delicate bodies than ours and the leather was ripped, torn and worn. Some windows were in an up position.. .permanently, others were in a down position...permanently. 
The bus was dirty, but all we really cared about was that it would hold together until we reached the boarder. We had been told we should take the nine hour bus ride out of Egypt to Israel, just for the experience. We were told we would be glad we had done it, but that we would only do it once. The advise was correct.

We left Cairo at 4:00 am. as I blinked back the tears. I really loved this city with all it's third world problems and inadequacies. The first thing we discovered was that our driver was insane. He raced through the dark streets, weaving back and forth, tooting his horn. speeding, turning his lights on, only when necessary, and going through every red light we came to.

We stopped for gas at 6:30 am, as the dawn was breaking, and we all got off the bus and stretched our legs for about twenty minutes. Later, arriving at the Suez Canal, we watched as three or four large ships passed by, and then we crossed by ferry.

The Sinai Desert was awesome, stretching for miles and miles, with nothing but sand. A few times, we saw the Mediterranean. We also saw two, three or four of Rommel's tanks, left behind, evidence there had been a battle, a war there, once. And then we saw people. People living in small groups, maybe three or four families, in grass huts, but with miles until the next family. But what were they doing here? Some had little herds of sheep or goats. Fewer families had a camel or two. But what were they eating? What were the animals eating? Where did they get their water? We saw no palm or date trees, no grass, no evidence of industry. How did they survive? These questions were never answered.

At the boarder, we passed through customs on the Egyptian side. We were directed into a large Quonset-type building with a dirt floor. Bob was asked  to unzip a couple pockets on his luggage, but the guard only glanced at it and, I got the impression, he was only trying to look as though he was doing his job. We stood in another line to get our passports stamped, and then a third line to pay $5.00 each to get out of the country. Finally, we went through the gate of the chain-link fence and onto a new, clean, luxurious Israeli bus, which brought us into the land of milk and honey, green grass and flowers (right there on the boarder). We could relax. The nine hour ordeal was over, and we could drink the water.


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