Inolvidable Cairo

A compilation of tales, thoughts and images from the never-ending adventures...Click on any of the images for a blown-up version. Thanks for visiting.

Thursday, October 21, 2004

Red Jordan and Petra Rum

No, that's not what we were drinking, but what we were seeing...

We arrived in Jordan and headed to a resort on the eastern shore of the Dead Sea (with a very nice corporate rate from some of Genia's colleagues from her time there). She headed straight to the pool overlooking the Dead Sea, and it was obvious she had been there before...

After a nice mud bath and floating in (on?) the Dead Sea, we headed to Petra so that I could live out my Indiana Jones fantasies. It was truly magnificent to see this spectacular work of human hands, and I would say that the ruins in Petra rival even the great ruins of the Pyramids in Egypt.

We traveled from there to Wadi Rum to visit some of the spectacular desert scenery in the area where Lawrence of Arabia lived among the Beduouins. Truly spectacular scenery on a very large scale, which is probably some of the most beautiful desert scenery any where in the world.

Jordan was a nice place to visit, and the people were very friendly. English was widely spoken, and most people would nod that they were happy that we were speaking Arabic, but then just launch into perfect English. Jordan is a small country, and a quick visit will allow for lots to see.

Wednesday, October 20, 2004

In the Siq, Petra Posted by Hello

Red (Wadi) Rum Posted by Hello

Honey, we're home! Posted by Hello

Sun setting over Palestine and Dead Sea Posted by Hello

Blue Tunisia

All of our memories of this very beautiful country can be summed up in the magnificent blue hues that emanate from all angles as one travels through, from the wonderful reflection of the Mediterranean to doors and shutters of houses throughout.

This was one Mediterranean country that almost helped Brian get over his pessimism towards the Mediterranean. We spent a lovely few days touring around, and found the country quite affluent and very comfortable. For a few moments, Genia was wondering if she would go back to Cairo... All in all, it was great to visit but we did miss the chaos of Egypt, and, let's face it, no where on the Mediterranean can compare to the Red Sea...

We did enjoy trying our Arabic, as well, although French was much more prevalent. Why did spend so much time cutting up in French class in 9th grade?...

There was a great deal to explore in Tunisia, and this short blog can hardly do it justice, but we did enjoy Carthage as well as the Arabesque town of Sidi Bou Said. One very cool stop was a Kerkuane, a Phoenician town abandoned after its destruction in the 200s BC. It was never reinhabited, and the excavation left an indelible impression of the affluence and high standard of living of the wealthiest Phoenicians living in Africa at that time.

Tuesday, October 19, 2004

Blue Tunisia, street scene in Sidi Bou Said Posted by Hello

Blue Mediterranean view from Carthage Posted by Hello

Thursday, October 07, 2004


Success navigating the Mugamma - "I'm a resident-tourist!"

Genia received her resident status in Egypt today. Egypt has something for everyone, no doubt. Since she is no longer a tourist (on a one-month visa) and she does not yet have a work permit (since there is the chicken and egg scenario of her work - here to create an office for an organization that already exists but is not legally recognized yet), she can have a one-year "tourist residence" visa. Now tell me that's not great! Most of us would consider that an oxymoron, but in Egypt it makes perfect sense. The other interesting aspect of the process is actually procuring the tourist residence visa. There is a behemoth institution here named the Mugamma which oversees all the aspects of residency, visas, probably taxes and other things. It is bureaucracy at its apogee.

Yet, in a beautiful way that we are just not accustomed and like so many things in Egypt, the Mugamma is really and truly underpinned by a very elaborate system of organized chaos. Yes, that is another oxymoron, but it is a healthy dose of how to make sense of so many of the processes and experiences in Egypt, and keeping a smile on your face and being willing to bounce from one kiosk window to the next like a human pinball will help you navigate and keep you sane. All in all, we don't look forward to having to do this process twice (when it's Brian's turn to apply), but at least we will have the experience chalked up and know what is expected ahead of time.

So, in the end, Genia got the visa this afternoon! The funny part is that it is written in English on the visa stamp itself, "No working allowed." I guess she broke that rule...

Business in Egypt... Posted by Hello

Scuba, Arabic and HEAT

I arrived one week after Genia following my assignment in Sarajevo. Since arriving I have hit the ground running. She wanted to make sure I immediately had things to keep me occupied, as she was in the midst of assisting with a training session with Egyptian microfinance practitioners (she is always looking out for my best interest!). In fact, Genia has had my schedule so packed that I have to go to Angola in August to get a break (more on that in the next mail).

So, the immersion included Arabic lessons two days after my arrival... I have been working on the letters and learning some basic conversation. The alphabet is actually very beautiful once you learn to decipher it, and it was such a cool feeling when yesterday Genia and I were looking for a restaurant downtown whose name we knew in English, but we were able to find it by reading the Arabic-language signage above it (there wasn't any English...).

The heat took a good bit of getting used to at first. The good news is that the heat is expected to be intense for only 2 months, July and August, and these are the months that most folks pack up and get out of Egypt. So, by September we will have done a good job of adjusting our expectations. In fact, the heat can be pleasantly nice at times. Two days ago we went for a run in Maadi, and it was glorious to run and sweat in the dry heat - I've always been a fan of the sauna...

As for the submersion, Genia had me enrolled in scuba classes the day after I arrived. My friend from Marist, Claire Newbern, had done a short-term stint in Cairo in the winter. She is an epidemiologist in the public health sector. She had returned for a one-month follow-up with the group she was assisting. Part of her goals for the follow-up was also to take advantage of the Red Sea and learn to scuba. So, Genia enrolled me in the scuba class that she had identified, and I spent my first week in Egypt learning how to breathe in the heat above the water and how to breathe from a tank under the water. We completed the class in good fashion, and then the instructor (who is the Egyptian equivalent of Jean Reno) took us to Dahab, a small, laid-back town on the Sinai peninsula, for our open water dives. Genia's already had her diving certificate from living in Mexico so she was able to join us in Dahab but went on more interesting dives while we were sitting on the sea floor 30-feet below the surface and being instructed to remove the regulator from our mouths and blow bubbles. Although I felt a bit claustrophobic with all that water above me, it was really cool to learn how to scuba with Claire, and the three of us enjoyed a few recreational dives once Claire and I had the certification. As for my future with scuba, I don't know... Dad, any chance you want to visit Honduras or Mexico someday???

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Blowing bubbles... Posted by Hello

The Nile, looking southwest from downtown. Posted by Hello

Cairo Update - July 2004

Warm faces, earthly smells, magnificent history, and of course, the work…. These are the main images that characterize my first month in Egypt. It really has been a great month. Brian and I have already learned a lot in our short time here and we are excited about what lies ahead.

Warm faces. I was greeted at the airport by a friendly driver, Said, a meeting which was thankfully arranged in advance by a friend. He was very chatty and eager to point out all the major landmarks we passed on the road to our temporary apartment. “Ahlan wa Sahlan” (welcome to Egypt) he repeated over and over. We have heard this expression many times since our arrival. Most Egyptians that we have met have been very friendly and eager to help out if they can. Our Arabic teachers are young Egyptians and they explained to us that this is the typical Egyptian way. It is so nice to be greeted so warmly so far away from home.

Earthly smells. Some combination of the intense heat, the dry, dry land, the Nile River and the Egyptians expertise in irrigation makes for a wonderful smell – something similar to the smell after a rainstorm in Atlanta. Despite the desert, parts of Egypt are quite tropical. Walking home from a friend’s house the first week I was here I was overtaken by this rich smell, in combination with the nighttime humidity and the frogs that were making a raucous in the yard next to me. Is this really Cairo?? And then there are also the smells that are more typical of Cairo – the heavy smells of gasoline and exhaust and (mixed with a healthy body odor) that greet you whenever you enter a taxi or the metro. But those were to be expected when moving to the developing world, right?

Magnificent history. Yesterday we went to the Egyptian museum. It is truly overwhelming with ancient relics, artwork, manuscripts and mummies dating as far back as 3100 BC. And they are everywhere. Brian and I spent around 4 hours there and we didn’t begin to process all that was around us. The monuments and relics are just lying around everywhere… I typically do not like museums but I was fascinated by the history that was told through the mausoleums, papyri, jewelry, mummies and stelas (stones with writing). King Tut’s tomb was just one of many. Egypt is truly blessed to have such a rich history, and that even the minimal part that was preserved is still such a magnificent display. We also had the chance to take a long weekend trip to the Red Sea and while there, climbed Mt. Sinai. While the walk up was a long haul (we headed up at 1:00am to climb to the peak at 2,285m in order to be there by sunrise) it was humbling to think how many people had taken that pilgrimage to honor the biblical history of Moses and the Ten Commandments. It was remarkable to be in the spot where historians believe God spoke to a human being, not to mention all the beauty and grandeur of the high Sinai mountains in the middle of that stark desert.

And, the work…I have faced two major challenges since arriving to Egypt: learning Arabic and learning how to do business in Egypt. Both are essential for survival. I have a feeling that the first will be easier than the second… We are taking language classes with a small language center about six hours a week. I am finding myself needing to unlearn some of my Syrian Arabic to learn the more colloquial Egyptian Arabic. Our teachers are young and enthusiastic and they make learning fun. It is just the homework and study time that can be difficult! The second challenge…learning to do business in Egypt…well let’s just say I am still learning. I am enjoying the challenges that are brought daily in the work that I am doing with Sanabel. I am sure that I will be a more polished diplomat before I leave this place.