Hello all! We've made another excursion or two since our last newsletter and have decided that it is time to report on our new adventures.
Jessica and Josh are loving school and loving having a pool in the compound where they can swim daily. Also, friends across the street have a pool also and if they get tired of their own, then they go visit the neighbours. If this isn't enough, the beach club has a pool with water slides and on weekends, they like to check it out, too. I'm beginning to hate the water, though. Both of the kids are brown as little indians and had much rather play outside where it is extremely hot than sit inside in the air conditioning.
Jessica has learned to swim, although she likes to have mom or dad around for comfort. Mom and dad like to be around for comfort, too, since Jessica might slip off into the deepend occasionally and have a panic attack.
Our latest big adventure was a trip to Cairo over spring break/Eid break. Schlumberger was out for 3 days and the kids were out for over a week, so Allison lined the trip up. As is usually with things in the Middle East, there were difficulties.
Our flight was due to leave at about 4:00PM, and usually we need to arrive at the airport 2 hours in advance. We were in the middle of the Dubai shopping Festival, so I decided to get us there an extra half hour to spare. As we approached the airport, I began to suspect a problem. It took over an hour from the time we got to the airport before we could get to the unloading area. Once inside the airport, the entire area was completely PACKED with people. You could not move an inch in either direction. I had to put Jessica on my shoulders (while dragging luggage) and had to threaten a couple Egyptians with their very lives if they ran over Josh again. Not fun. The line to get the bags X-rayed usually takes about 5 minutes. On this day it took 2 hours.
Once inside the 'secure' area, we stood in line another hour and a half before we got boarding passes. Occasioanlly, some arab speaking person would get out of line a shove his cart into the row in front of him. Generally some other Arab speaking person would light into him (with all of those agressive k sounds and clearing throat noises, it sounded pretty awsome). I only had to threaten twice and the little guys around me gave us a fairly wide berth, considering the situation.
Once at the counter, everyone abandoned their push carts. There was absolutely no where to put them and they continued to stack up. I just shook my head. We had thankfully limited our luggage on the trip and was able to drag it along without a push cart.
This is the truth. I'm not kidding. I saw it with my own eyes. There were people checking washing machines, hot water heaters, clothes dryers, 29" color TV sets, stereos, bicycles, you name it as luggage.I bet some of these guys get home and remember that to make some of these appliances work, that you need water and electricity. I didn't actually SEE any live animals, but I suspect there were some chickens in some of the boxes.
We managed to get on the plane only about an hour after it was due to take off. The plane was quickly full and people continued to get on. We continued to sit on the runway. After about 7 or 8 people were escorted back off the plane, another bus pulled up and about 50 more people got onto the plane. They were escorted back off. Big mess.
Egyptians smoke like chimneys. Some of these people had left Sharjah at about 1:00 PM and had been sitting in over 100F temperature with no A/C. One of them began to smoke. The stewardess came back and politely asked the offender to stop. He put out the cigarette, but as soon as she walked back to the front of the plane, he fired up another one. She came back to the back of the plane again and sternly asked him to put it out. He complied. 15 minutes later - another cigarette. This time she got into his face like nothing I've ever seen. I couldn't obviously understand what she said, but it had a certain cadence to it. Something like this:
Yah-da-da Da-da-da DAH, Yah-da-da
Yah-da-da Da-da-da DAH, Yah-da-da Da-da-da duh
Yah-da-da Da-da-da DAH, Yah-da-da Da-da-da DAH!!!
Repeat as many times as necessary.
Some common Middle-Eastern Hand Signals
|The 'Wait A
Minute' Hand Signal Explained:
This hand signal has the first three fingers brought together with the thumb. Point the fingers and thumb slightly upward and shake it once toward the person you are talking to as though to shake some water from your finger tips.
Skoal dippers probably undersand this motion as not shaking the extra worm-dirt toward the ground, but toward the person you are talking to.
In most Middle Eastern countries and parts of Europe if you want to ask the person to give you an extra minute, you make a clicking sound with your mouth and give the 'Wait a minute' signal with your hands described above.
In the US, this sound is usually associated with rolling your eyes toward the ceiling and thinking to yourself, "I don't belive it", especially if you are female.
The Sword Hand Signal Explained:
It is important that you never touch a person here. Just make him think that you are mad enough to do something, but not really do it.
Also, there are some hand signals that go with this stern warning. The first time, she gave the 'Wait a minute' signal (see the sidebar 'Some common Middle Eastern Hand Signals). .
The stewardess used this hand signal along with the stern dressing down for the 3rd episode with the smoker. He hastily put it out, but before she got to the fron of the plane, he fired up another one. This time she was really PO'd.
She came back and gave him the same hull-a-bulou only louder and this time she used the 'Sword' hand signal.
This time when she went back to the front of the plane, the whole back of the plane lit up. She just gave up.
We had an interesting man sitting next to us. He was a Saudi National and I KNOW he must have been extremely hot. He was a very large man dressed in white national dress (long white 'dress' with head covering) and he has stood in the same mess we had. I could smell that he was getting pretty ripe, but I know we all must have been by that time.
He got out some candy shortly after we got on the plane and gave it to the kids. Josh and Jess ate it quickly. I put mine aside as I figured this might be a long day. After we got airborne later, I gave it to Josh. When he opened it, it was totally melted and looked like hot chocolate rather than a candy bar. While we were on the plane, he borrowed Jessica's crayons and pad and started drawing pictures of Oasis(es), boats, sunsets, fruit bowls. We struck up a conversation and I found out that he was one of the national geologists for Saudi and was about to do the same for Egypt. He had moved his family to an area just outside of Cairo and was going back to visit.
We finally arrived in Cairo. It took about an hour to get our passports stamped and collect our luggage. We had paid a tour operator to be there to collect us, and I just knew that we would be on our own, but they managed to show up and we were soon wisked away to our hotel so we could sleep 3 hours to get up and go again.
We had breakfast a 5 AM and met our tour guide. He took us to the plane and gave us some numbers to contact him and his group if we had any problems. We got on the plane and headed for Aswan.
We arrived in Aswan and met our drive who took us to the MS Sherry, which was our riverboat and means of transportation for the next few days. We stowed our luggage and met our tour guide. He took us to see a the Nile High Dam and the 'Unfinished Obelisk'.
The High Dam is quite an engineering feat. Virtually all of the life in Egypt lives along the Nile river, which leaves the vast majority of Egypt virtually uninhabited. By damming the Nile, hundreds of miles of once deserted land now has access to water. And, there is flood control for the villages down stream. In the past, they were swept away occasionally, but now, the flooding is controlled. A downside to this is the fact that the river used to bring rich sediment with the flooding which acted as a free fertilizer and this doesn't happen any more.
A familiar example of an obelisk is the Washington Monument (or Denny Chimes for thoes who are familiar with the University of Alabama Campus). Obelisks had their start thousands of years ago. These were cut from a single piece of Granite, hundreds of feet long. The one that we visited, was still in the ground, almost cut out and somewhere through during the carving process, it was abandoned after a crack was found. Bummer. I'll bet there were some pretty ticked off workers some 5000 years ago.
Next, we got on a Faloucca or wind powered boat and went to the other side of the Nile to visit some botanical gardens. Our tour guide was completedly terrified of the water and held on to the mast all the way across the Nile.
Later we got on the riverboat and had a nice dinner (no McDonalds here).
Following are some shots of the rest of the trip. It was fun and well worth it. If you get the chance and have sometime to spend cruising the river, do it.
Ken, Allison, Josh, and Jessica
PS.... Bill Bufton, luckily our boat didn't catch fire. I bet if it did that all our belonging could be found in the local store for sale back to us, though.
|20 of us clinbed on to a faloucca or sailboat. Or captain was all of about 12 years old. The first mate (his little brother) was probably no more than 8. Yet he steered quite well. The boat was hand made and had very little metal anywhere. If the USCG got a hold of this rig, I'm sure the owner would be impounded. Yet, it seemed to do the trick for the day, anywhow.|
|After getting off of the boat, we visited a botanical garden. The captain who set this up years before has since alluded me. The guy was one of the temple excavators who must have had some spare time on his hands. Made a great garden with lots of nice flowers and different tree types.|
|This is a shot from the old section of Cairo. Note the massive amount of smog. If you look in the distance, you can see the Great Pyramids|
|The 'Step Pyramid'. This one was one of the earlier Pyramids built in layers.|
|King Tut's Toumb. We didn't visit this one as they wanted an extra 40 Egyptian pounds and I'd already seen enough dead people and breathed enough dust for a lifetime.|
|Near the great Pyramids, we were conned by our tour guide into taking a camel ride, Jessica and I and Josh and Allison took the camels for a ride. This one was called 'Micky Mouse'. I had told the kids we would visit the Egyptian Disney Land. This was as close as we got.|
|We had to pay extra 'baksheesh' to have the camel driver take our picture. The Great Pyramids are to the left along with some lesser pyramids of the wives. The city of Cairo is in the background.|
|Josh and Mickey Mouse.|
|After a tough day of stomping through ruins, we stopped for some lunch. Josh and Jessica watch as a lady makes bread. She puts the bread into the wood-fired oven in the back. We were very hungry and this really hit the spot.|
|This is the famous Luxor temple. Alllison may fill you in on some of the historical detail here, but I was pretty much awed by the ability that these people had to create these massive structures without a crane. Mud-brick walls were built as scaffolding around these structures and people and oxen pulled the heavy stones into place. Later the mud-bricks were removed.|
|Another great night picture of the Luxor temple.|
|The temple of Komono Ombo. The kids are resting after listening to the tour guide for about an hour describe how his 'great-grandfather King Ramses III' built the temple. There were some pretty amazing things at this ruin. There were mumified crocodiles found on the premesis. There is also a Nile-O-meter that was connected to the river to tell how high the river was.|
|The kids hanging out on the river boat. Jessica, Nader, Nader's brother, and Amanda are playing cards. After the kids discovered friends, they were no longer hanging around the adults. They played ping-pong and fuse-ball and cards. THere were quite a few older citizens on-board that really enjoyed having them around. Several of them wanted to take them home as thier 'grandchildren'.|
|At one of the stops along the river, we took a ride on a horse and buggy. These little villages are dirt poor and rely heavily on the tourists that stop with the riverboat to make a living. We took a 20 minute ride and paid the driver about 15 Egyptian pounds or about 4 dollars.|
|One of the things about being on a riverboat is the entertainment. One night there was a traditional show including belly dancing. I wasn't too impressed with the belly dancer, but she had an accomplice that played the finger cymbols who was really good. This guy could get a LOT of different sounds out of thoes things.|
|A typical wheat field along the Nile. It's a shame, but one of the North Dakota International Harvesters could probably harvest the whole Nile crop in a single day. These guys really work to get it done by hand.|
|Monday is wash day. Even on the Nile. On monday morning, there were lots of sights like this.The river is everything to these people. It is their drinking water supply, wash water, water for their live stock and garden and even carries off the garbage.|
|Jessica and Amanda at some unknown Temple.|
|Sunset on the Nile. Temples like this are scattered along the river banks. Notice just behind, the red sand dunes.|