Jeff&Reda-Aswan2014
Aswan, April 2014
Fifth Wedding Anniversary

A Small Wedding in Pyramids
Our household diary of the Egyptian Revolution period
Jeffrey Charles Marck (Gafar) and Reda Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan El Masry
Pyramids, Egypt

In 2006 Gafar bought a retirement flat in Pyramids then went back to Australia to do more Pacific Islander language prehistory work. He retired a bit young in 2008 after completing those projects and returned to Cairo April 15. By early 2009 his friends were seriously wondering who was "taking care" of him and helping to arrange introductions as he did, indeed, want to get married (to someone his own age who was also about retirement age and also wanted to tour the Arab world). "Well," said his friend Assim El Sersy. "There's our cousin Reda who, for forty years, has said, 'No,' to every man we have introduced her to..... but if you wanna try....." So they were introduced on Reda's birthday, 15 April.... and sped off to get married before letting the other get away.
Wedding Gold
The Bridewealth
The Day we didn't get married (again)
A Few Days
Before We Married

Prologue

Small Triumphs

One day in late 2014 the bike was with the mechanic and while my repairs were under way I walked over to the kofta restaurant to place an order. I was just about back to the mechanic’s cross street on tiny Ali Abu Zed, a market street hardly wider than the streets with just residential ground floor frontages not six meters across from each other. There was a lull in the normal bustle of people filling the street and the only thing before me was a miniature sort of person doing battle with something stuck to her left foot. I couldn’t see what she was stomping on and scuffling with even in the bright ambiance of the street where the skylight lit her up like floodlights on a stage. She looked like she was trying to get rid of a piece of flypaper stuck to her foot. But her new blue jeans were long and baggy and I couldn’t see what it was.

She was older than just two but maybe not three as she seemed to have diapers on under her jeans. She got rid of the obstruction, regained her footing and got on with the business of pressing onwards; determined, efficient, triumphant, as she trailed her mother who had just passed me going the other way. There was an object where the child had been scuffling away and as I got closer I could see that it was a sneaker of about the child’s size. White with pink trim like Reda’s sneakers. I wondered if it might be the child’s own shoe, picked it up, turned to the direction of the mother and child and called out, “Madame.” They were walking on and away but a matron coming towards me directed the child’s mother’s attention towards me.

She looked in my direction and the picture I presented was one of a largish man in the gigantic winter coat that keeps me clean and warm on the motorcycle, looking curiously at a child’s tiny new shoe in my hand. The shoe was twinkling clean in the skylight; me gazing off in her direction in the middle of the otherwise empty, sky lit real estate I was occupying; seeming, perhaps, to be standing in floodlights as had the child when I was first looking at her from the same vantage point. The matron said something to the child’s mother who then looked quizzically down to the child.

A shoe inventory wasn’t immediately possible because of the child’s long, loose pant legs falling down to and covering the toes of both feet. While the mother was bending down and pulling up the pant legs to see if the child was wearing two shoes or just one, I occupied myself by walking towards them. Just as the mother had confirmed that there was, indeed, a missing shoe, I had arrived. She turned to look in my direction, still bent at the knees, arched downward to the child’s level and, presto, I was standing right before her, the tiny shoe in my hand exactly at her eye level immediately in front of her nose.

Completely amused, she burst out laughing and snatched the shoe away from me, me seeing for the first time that she was young and beautiful and wearing elegant clothes beneath her robe, her lips bright red with a dignified shade of lipstick exposing gleaming, perfect teeth. I turned and walked back in the direction of the mechanic’s shop, enchanted by a cheerful memory of Ali Abu Zed Street for the day. A cool winter day.

Christmas Day, 2014, in the Western Church.


Prologue

Small Triumphs

One day in late 2014 the bike was with the mechanic and while my repairs were under way I walked over to the kofta restaurant to place an order. I was just about back to the mechanic’s cross street on tiny Ali Abu Zed, a market street hardly wider than the streets with just residential ground floor frontages not six meters across from each other. There was a lull in the normal bustle of people filling the street and the only thing before me was a miniature sort of person doing battle with something stuck to her left foot. I couldn’t see what she was stomping on and scuffling with even in the bright ambiance of the street where the skylight lit her up like floodlights on a stage. She looked like she was trying to get rid of a piece of flypaper stuck to her foot. But her new blue jeans were long and baggy and I couldn’t see what it was.

She was older than just two but maybe not three as she seemed to have diapers on under her jeans. She got rid of the obstruction, regained her footing and got on with the business of pressing onwards; determined, efficient, triumphant, as she trailed her mother who had just passed me going the other way. There was an object where the child had been scuffling away and as I got closer I could see that it was a sneaker of about the child’s size. White with pink trim like Reda’s sneakers. I wondered if it might be the child’s own shoe, picked it up, turned to the direction of the mother and child and called out, “Madame.” They were walking on and away but a matron coming towards me directed the child’s mother’s attention towards me.

She looked in my direction and the picture I presented was one of a largish man in the gigantic winter coat that keeps me clean and warm on the motorcycle, looking curiously at a child’s tiny new shoe in my hand. The shoe was twinkling clean in the skylight; me gazing off in her direction in the middle of the otherwise empty, sky lit real estate I was occupying; seeming, perhaps, to be standing in floodlights as had the child when I was first looking at her from the same vantage point. The matron said something to the child’s mother who then looked quizzically down to the child.

A shoe inventory wasn’t immediately possible because of the child’s long, loose pant legs falling down to and covering the toes of both feet. While the mother was bending down and pulling up the pant legs to see if the child was wearing two shoes or just one, I occupied myself by walking towards them. Just as the mother had confirmed that there was, indeed, a missing shoe, I had arrived. She turned to look in my direction, still bent at the knees, arched downward to the child’s level and, presto, I was standing right before her, the tiny shoe in my hand exactly at her eye level immediately in front of her nose.

Completely amused, she burst out laughing and snatched the shoe away from me, me seeing for the first time that she was young and beautiful and wearing elegant clothes beneath her robe, her lips bright red with a dignified shade of lipstick exposing gleaming, perfect teeth. I turned and walked back in the direction of the mechanic’s shop, enchanted by a cheerful memory of Ali Abu Zed Street for the day. A cool winter day.

Christmas Day, 2014, in the Western Church.

Letters to Family and Friends:

19 April 2009 – gold rush

I have wanted to get married for some months, since before leaving Australia last year, really, and have had introductions to some lovely women. But they were all 10 and 20 years younger than me. I wanted to marry someone who personally experienced the Gamal Abdel Nasser years and also had her own personal memories of American activities in the region and would understand my memories as an age-mate and my decision to retire to Cairo.

Assim, my good friend from a nearby neighborhood, has a cousin, Reda, who is a wee bit younger than me. We were formally introduced at Assim’s home four days ago and Reda and I are getting married ASAP – flank speed, kind of. Only certain things will cause delays – finding and fixing up a flat for the moment. She initially said she’d be happy to get married immediately, move in with me (she had seen my apartment), then look for something bigger over time. But yesterday or so she decided we should find, furbish and furnish a bigger place before the wedding. So I bought her a Nokia and, since last night, we are on stand-by to look at prospective flats as agents bring them to our attention.

Reda’s an electrical engineer with the telephone company. Maybe not an EE but both she and her sister have degrees of some kind. The sister was a school teacher but is a bit older and retired two or three years ago. They live together with the sister’s 20-year-old son from a short marriage years ago, raising the sister’s son together for the last 18 years, if I understood correctly.

Last night I bought Reda the gold which seals engagements in this part of the world. Under $2000. Like a lot of other people. The marriage contracts are registered and attract high fees if there is more gold than that involved. Once we’ve signed a lease, the wedding contract will be next. Always chirpy, Reda’s taken to holding hands for brief periods since she got her gold – when crossing the street last night after leaving the gold shop, later then at Assim’s house after she opened the gift wrapped cell phone box, and for a long moment as Assim and I were saying good-night when we dropped her home. This is all pretty formal stuff. I shouldn’t give her the phone or any other present until I gave her the gold. She wouldn’t let a hand-shake linger until she got the gold. We’re always chaperoned heavier than in the Godfather, etc., etc. We will get married the day the "house" (beyt - "house or apartment; home") is ready to move into which would seem to be within a month.

Residential construction is years ahead of occupancy here due to the Egyptian and general Muslim preference to put money into property development rather than interest bearing accounts and instruments. So there are thousands of empty flats right where we want to live… shells of buildings whose individual flats then see their interiors finished off as the market is able to absorb them. We’re looking for a flat in the middle of a triangle between Assim’s place, Reda’s present place and the little flat I bought four years ago. $150 a month will get us about 150 sq metres (~1500 sq feet). Renting out my 45 sq metre flat will bring us about half that. So somehow I have to come up with $75 to top off our rent each month. Problems, problems, problems.

The gold was a worry when I walked home from our negotiations Friday night. I’m not really cashed up at the moment. But then there came the offer of work from New Zealand… an 80 year old anthropologist’s language notes on a New Guinea area language that are quite extensive and substantial enough to be worked into a dictionary by a linguist familiar with the language family, the dictionary softwares, etc.

Friends and acquaintances from this side of town were blind-sided that I’m going to marry one of “them” and not a 40 year old from the rich side of town or something – that I’m content with them as my main amigos and compańeros, I guess. It’s been delightful and gives me a lot of contentment as I think of the future. Reda’s name means “contentment,” actually.

21 April 2009 – house hunting

I found quite a nice flat very near Assim’s house early this afternoon. Reda has agreed that we will take it if it passes her inspection. $175 for, perhaps, 130 sq m. It becomes available 1 May so we will probably be married about the 2nd or 3rd. It isn’t going to need a lot of fixing up but Reda and her sister will want to give it a good, somewhat ritual cleaning. Then they will be there off and on for some days before the the wedding to receive the furniture etc.

A wedding gift of gold is emergency money for them. “For you… 10,000 (Egyptian),” Reda’s smiling words to me when asked how much gold she was demanding. I don’t understand precisely yet, but there are no civil marriages in Egypt. Only registration of marriage contracts from church, mosque or synagogue. The registration fee is covered as part of an imam’s overall service: negotiation of the contract between the bride and groom’s families and registration of the marriage contract with the government. We will end up paying the imam LE 1,500 (~$275) for everything – his fee including the contract registration fee. Not, perhaps, all precisely correct but my understanding of it as I sit and write this evening.

23 April 2009 – the chess game continues

We were to have had a viewing of the $175 place on Assim’s street which was set up for yesterday afternoon but when we got there – Reda, her sister Zuba, the nephew Mahmoud, Assim, myself and others – they couldn’t produce the key for the flat as the current occupant didn’t arrive back from out of town by the time he said he would. Which cheesed us off a bit because it was a well orchestrated project to get all those people there at the appointed time.

Reda found the place we then saw last night. It’s a bit beyond the main part of Pyramids suburb and we decided to take it. The area has its own name which I haven’t learned yet. It’s all new (20 or 30 years or less?), all built to a plan surrounded by wide avenues compared to the narrow roads of Assim’s, Reda’s and my own current neighborhoods in the Faisal and Pyramids sub-suburbs of the more enormous region also called “Pyramids”. Its units were sold exclusively(?) to members of the armed forces and they now are said to rent them out or to have sold them or to be saving them for their children’s use upon marriage just as often as they are inhabited by the owners. It’s closer to the pyramids than my present home and the pyramids loom large on the near horizon from our new neighborhood. THE pyramids and our apartment complex are on the Giza Plateau which rises some hundred or hundreds of metres above the Nile floodplain which extends right to the edge of where the Sphinx and pyramids are built up on the higher elevations of the plateau. So we are up on a hill where Assim’s house, Reda’s house and my own house are on the floodplain (which saw no home construction except, as I presently understand it, seasonal farm houses which were annually flooded along with the farms’ fields before the building of the Aswan Dam).

The place Reda found is only 6 or 800 metres from the telephone company facility where she works:Central Remaya” – “central” in Egyptian seems always and only to refer to the central district telephone exchange offices. To me it didn’t much matter where we lived (in this part of town) because I will be motorcycling into work at the hotel every morning before rush hour. So Reda’s over the moon and so am I, really. The places are both bigger and cheaper out there. Our rent is to be LE550, precisely $100 a month, and the little place I own will be rented to the neighbour’s son for LE275 so somehow I have to come up with $50 a month to keep a roof over our heads.

So we’ve got 165 sq m with three bedrooms and three balconies for $100 a month instead of 120 sq m with 2 bedrooms and no balconies for $150 had we stayed within the Pyramids floodplain neighborhoods where we presently live.

This will require more furnishings than I have which will come over time. The only thing Reda said she wanted beyond what furniture I have was a new bedroom set. Assim took me out last night to a very flash used furniture place where all the wardrobes started at $1,000 and was talking as if it would be me who would be buying all this stuff. I began seeing spots before my eyes and had to go home.

In the end it doesn’t matter much. Reda finally wants to get married. Her family is relieved and joyous and we’re all a bit rich in this part of town anyway. Me because I speak English and can always get some kind of job. Assim with his hotel. And Reda with her job and properties. The properties seem to be a mix of vacant lands she and her sister bought over the last 30 years or something – and the building they put up and live in (a mosque on the ground floor and then five apartments in five stories above it where they rent out the four floors they don’t live in).

Reda and her sister are first generation Cairo women (from El Menya 250 km south of here on the Nile in “Upper Egypt” ["up" the Nile]) whose father saw to their higher education at a time when many men didn’t. He was some kind of businessman from Alexandria. And his daughters did well in the city. They bought several vacant properties and built their own apartment building, at any rate.

I don’t know if they grew up in the farming villages outside El Menya or in El Menya proper or in mixed farm / larger village areas or what. But they’re still farm girls. They have, for instance, lovely furniture in their large flat but have never had a refrigerator. Perhaps they figure a thoughtful householder can plan her food purchases and meal preparation without need of one. But Reda seems glad I’ll be bringing one along. She had a happy smile on her face as she glanced at it in her formal visit to my house some days ago (to take inventory of what she wants me to bring and what she wants me to leave behind). As it turns out, nothing will be left behind. With the third bedroom in the place we are renting, we will bring my rickety bed and other bedroom stuff to make a guest bedroom and the second bedroom will be an office / sewing room.

Off to play chess with Assim, who continues to pave the way for the next day as he organises information for these evening rendezvous where news of what I will be doing the next day unfolds.

24 April 2009 – snicker

Well, we’ve got our $100 dollar a month flat. We paid the first month’s rent, a deposit, a month’s rent “commission” to the doorman who informed Reda of the empty flat when she asked some days ago if he knew of anything… and $80 to local dignitaries who came to meet us, including the policeman who is routinely called in to begin the mandatory background checks of new residents when units are rented. (I would learn over time that such gatherings essentially eliminate any of the parties to the agreement making false claims about the agreement over  time).

But we can’t have the key to the place until we’re married.

The chaperones took a big step backwards – after the lease was signed by Reda and the money mentioned in it handed over by me to the landlord – and left us to go off by ourselves to look at furniture.

The imams don’t work on marriage contracts on Fridays so all we are doing tomorrow is going out in the evening to look at furniture again. What we saw tonight after the lease business was the same as what had me so dizzy last night. But tonight I found out the $1000 wardrobe was actually a $1000 complete bedroom set. So I think I’m going to squeak through somehow.

Target of Tuesday for the wedding is probably still possible. Marriage contract on Saturday, apparently.


Reflections 30 May 2016

I had wanted to marry someone who would remember President Gamal Abdel Nasser and the 1967 war and I did very well indeed.

Abdel Nasser came to their school when Reda was a little girl and shook their hands. He told them he was glad their parents were sending them to school, especially the girls. And he told them that if they stayed in school and then got higher education credentials, there would be a job waiting for them with the government.

Reda did those things and all that he had said came true for her. Of course decades of government job guarantees for people with higher education certificates led to a bloated bureacracy and the inability of the government to pay a living wage to all who entered public service. But Reda had earned an electrical technician certificate and was hired by Egyptian Telecom right out of her AE program.

Government-owned Egyptian Telecom has now been operating for over 160 years, and has its own income stream and positive cash flow. So her wages increased rather than shrank.

Like a lot of 35 old Egyptian women today, she got a good education, she got a good job, and hadn't yet married.

The contemporary malingerers were the subject of lively humor in the press before the revolution. After all, Muslim men are under serious pressure to marry by the time they are 35. But with no Koranic admonitions that they must, such women are simply free to go on and on not doing so; often to their parents' astonishment and constirnation. But all laughter ended during the revolution and even to some extent up to now.

A woman with options whose misgivings about marriage 35 years ago led to availing themselves of those options was rare, or is today rarely mentioned. Males socialize entirely with other men and no one my age would ever mention a never-married sister if they had one.

Reda had options because of her income; and  took them year after year. A bit of a pathfinder.

She and her sister Zuba built a small neighborhood mosque about 25 years ago with an apartment for themselves on top of it. They added four more apartments, each on top of the other floor before I met them and another one and a half since. Like the foundation, the mosque and the floors that came after, Reda watched the day labor while every batch of concrete was mixed and every brick was laid... her being technocrat (Zuba was a private school teacher).

Ducks, chickens, geese, pidgeons and other fowl grace the unrooved part of the seventh floor. I built a lot of the cages for them.

So it isn't the goat on the roof of the Naguib Mahfouz Cairo trilogy but we see lots of them as we look down and around on the rooves of the buildings that are still lower than theirs. There is almost no wet garbage that goes down to the street. It all goes to the roof.

In any event, I drive Reda over there every day at about 4PM as the traffic soon becomes worse and then I dash home before it becomes worse yet. There she stays into the evening feeding the critters and cleaning their pens and cages. I pick her up at about 10:30 PM after working through the evening on copy editing projects and going to Ibrahim The Painter's shop for a cup of tea at about 9. We have a meal when we get home then I do more editing and she watches TV until about 4AM when we retire. We get up for the noon prayer and Reda spends the afternoon cooking and doing other housework while I do my afternoon copy editing or video editing.

As invariable as the seasons. Old retired people at last. Or if Reda has spent the night at Zuba's I go to Ibrahim's shop at about noon as that is when the children are let out of school (they start at 6AM before the morning rush hour) and we video the street life as the children and young families start to pass by for the afternoon.

25 April 2009 – something she liked

We finished off our furniture adventure all at once today. Reda finally found something she liked. The installment plan.

So we got truckloads of nice, moderately priced furniture. I can’t guess where she’s going to put it all but our place is 165 sq. m. so who knows. At the last moment we got a second “solon” set (couch, love seat and two chairs) which was all overstuffed rather than the more formal set that was first on Reda’s list. It looked more comfortable than the more expensive set and she seems to want it to make one of the bedrooms into a ladies’ sitting room or something. I could afford to agree to it as it would just add $100 a month to our six months of payments.

I’m signed up for the joint Aussie/Kiwi ANZAC Day ceremonies at the Commonwealth War Cemetery. I have to be there for sunrise, leaving about six hours from now.

We go to the Ministry of Justice on Monday, as all foreigners must, to clear the administrative requirements for getting married. We were shooting for Tuesday or Wednesday but got the flat and furniture already so now we do the Muslim marriage contact and its registration and then there will be the wedding party Monday evening or Tuesday or something, a big noisy event in Reda’s neighborhood.

27 April 2009 – magnificence

Yesterday ended magnificently after a troubled start.

It began with Reda taking the day off to receive the new furniture and the doorman then refusing to open up the place for us (because we’re not married). So we tried to get married, instead, and dressed up and went downtown. Registering a marriage involving a foreigner requires doing so at the Ministry of Justice which told us we had to first start at the Australian consulate and get a standard sort of certificate saying the embassy has no objection. So we went down (river) to the embassy and had a cuppa at the Hilton next door while we waited for 1:30 pm and the consul to be available.

The consular officer just about soiled her britches when I had to ask Reda the rest of her name. Reda Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan El Masry.

Then we found out I will have to produce a certified copy of my Australian divorce (which I don’t have) and we went off to Assim’s hotel to lick our wounds. Like my friends around my neighborhood, the hotel staff is kind of nonplussed and delighted that I would be marrying someone my own age so we just sat there and enjoyed the afternoon chatting with the staff from our throne in the reception area (see the picture at the top of this web page of the two of us below the picture of Reda's gold). Our matching colors were fortuitous. We hadn’t discussed the matter before we made our individual selections of the day.
 
Then came word that the watchman had made a mistake and that the new flat was, indeed, available to us to move furniture into. But it was prayer time so we lost another half-hour while hands, faces and feet were washed and prayers were prayed, then heading off for Pyramids in the peak of the rush hour and it took an hour or more to get home.

Assim’s brother, Mohamed loaded a pretty big truck at the furniture shop while my neighbors helped me a bit and then sent me off to the new flat to help receive the truck while they moved my furniture down to the street and packed my personal possessions, making ready for Mohamed and the truck’s second load from Tersa Street (the furniture retailer is on Tersa and my old flat is just off Tersa a kilometer or two closer to the Pyramids). 

I arrived to the new flat just in time to see the most magnificent spectacle. At the top of the building’s rather grand entrance steps was Reda involved in a full blown African palaver with ten or fifteen men below, everyone shouting at full volume when they spoke. The truck from the furniture store had been unloaded onto the parking lot and they were negotiating what she would pay them to haul everything up to the 5th floor – Reda pumping her fist in the air, saying she would not give a piaster more than LE10 ($2) per man while they were refusing to budge, shouting all at once when they spoke, demanding LE15. This went on for maybe half an hour until the men caved in and then hauled it all up to our flat in about 20 minutes, there were so many of them – me standing the rear guard to make sure no one nicked anything out the parking lot entrance way. I’ve not seen such emotion in a crowd since 1960s anti-war demonstrations in America. Reda could have been a Viking woman with a shield and sword threatening a town under siege – various imagines swam through my mind. And she’s very short. 5 foot, maybe. Very grand that evening in any event.

Then the truck left and soon came back from my old place, Reda and I sorting the furniture into things we would keep here at the new place and things that would stay on the truck to go into storage at her old place. Some things had been left at my old place as gifts to the neighbor and his daughters-in-law, who ordered me off to the new place and then packed all my stuff themselves, and to his sons who hauled all of it down to the street along with the furniture, and stood guard over it on the street for a few hours waiting for the truck and then loading the truck.

One of my last memories of living in my little flat involves the neighbor’s wife and twenty-something daughter. They appeared at my flat’s entrance door with some of my laundry, carried it to my bedroom and were leaving to go, the daughter gone a moment ahead of her mother. My neighbor’s wife then paused at the bedpost closest to the door, clutched its top between her thumb and index finger and moved it as violently as she could with that light grip. The bed gave out a creek and a groan and we burst out laughing. Yes, it was well that we had just bought a new bed.

We all dragged home for the night at about 2 am, me staying with the old neighbors – “my” family – the people who fed me, washed my clothes, cleaned my house, repaired my fixtures, carried me off to the doctor once when I was too weak to get there myself and had four granddaughters under three to bounce on my knee for the last year. Their middle son – Ahmed the Magnificent – had free rent the year or 15 months after he got married and before I got back from Australia. The empty professor’s house always goes to the top student… And anyway, I figured if I started treating those young men like nephews, the father would start treating me like a brother… which he did immediately from when I returned to Egypt. I had introduced his son Ahmed to Assim who immediately hired him to work at his Sara Inn a few days before I returned to Australia in 2006. Ahmed already had an accounting degree and would learn the general  business  of running a small hotel in the following year.

Mohamed Adel (Assim’s brother), Mohamed Assim (Assim’s son) and one of my “nephews” came from the old house to the new house this morning and we started putting beds, buffets and wardrobes together. The men who hauled the stuff up made no effort to keep things together that looked alike – all Reda could do was make sure they were keeping paths clear through the place to the various rooms – so all the wardrobes’, buffets’, beds’ etc. pieces were scattered around the house like pieces of a lot of jig-saw puzzles. We began by grouping things by color and age – all the old stuff from my bedroom at the other place taken to the new guest room and reassembled.

Reda showed up a few minutes after five when she got off work and was able to tell us where the other things went and what color they were and what panes of glass and mirrors, slabs of alabaster, etc. went with what.

I had misunderstood the second lounge/“solon” room set Reda got at the furniture shop. She didn’t want to put the second set in one of the bedrooms instead of bedroom stuff (I had thought she wanted to make a woman’s reception room or something). She wanted the dining table in that bedroom and wanted both settee sets in the lounge room which now seats 14 – two couches, two love seats and four chairs. My office is now one wall of the guest room where my old bedroom furniture went. The neighbor’s wife and daughters-in-law had washed my Egyptian rugs and they were just gleaming, two of them (identical) precisely cover the lounge room floor from the front legs of the chairs etc. and precisely match and blend the various colors of the two settee (“solon”) sets.

Reda’s nephew, Mahmoud, then showed up and switched the lock on the entrance door so we can now let ourselves come and go at will. We needn’t seek the doorman’s permission anymore. Passive resistance.

Reda and I later went down and informed the building manager that our wedding has been delayed and that I would now be staying here while Reda would be moving in after the wedding. He shrugged even though the unit is exclusively in Reda’s name (a higher level of police check would have been required of the flat’s owner had a foreigner’s name also been on the lease).

So Reda and her chaperones will be regulars at about 4:10 pm after she gets off work and I will be getting home from work at the hotel about 20 minutes later on days when I have gone downtown.

I’ve told everybody I’m out of money and they (Reda, her sister, Assim, his brother) now have to deal with paying for everything. Reda and her nephew/chaperone left tonight after we talked for about seven hours, making budgets, etc., and only had to telephone someone for translation help about ten times. It’s all getting easier.

28 April 2009 – ring the bells?

Reda now wants to go the imam on Thursday for our interview for the marriage contract and then go back to him and get married the following Thursday. Civil registration will come in about a month after my divorce decree copy arrives from Australia.

Reda and I were alone in the flat for about three minutes when Mahmoud headed downstairs as he knew that Mohamed Adel was on his way up. I mock cornered Reda in the hallway and made as if to kiss her lips. She burst into a great smile but said there would be none of that before the wedding party.

We filled nine of our 14 lounge room seats tonight. Very gay with dinner at the dining room table in the back room where the entrance to its balcony keeps fresh air sailing through the room. Assim and his brother Mohamed Adel and son Mohamed Assim officially thanked me on behalf of their family for renting and furnishing such a nice place for Reda. Reda, her sister Zuba and Mahmoud the nephew were there. An imam I know. Another man I don’t know well, a driver from the hotel, perhaps, and myself.

Assim announced tonight that he is going to get us drapes. Which is a pretty big deal in terms of home furnishing in Egypt. And a substantial expense to Assim. People just love them and sometimes seem to put them on walls with no windows just to have more of them. Or to cover bare walls. There is often a portrait of the male and female heads of households’ fathers or the male head of household himself. But otherwise, lounge rooms and dining rooms often have completely bare walls except for the drapes.

Always best to make a girl laugh. I did pretty well tonight. They changed my mixing of the settee pieces so the one set now runs along two contiguous walls and faces the other on the opposite contiguous walls. Reda and I were sitting in adjacent pieces of the expensive stuff and had just finished a grueling look at our budget/cash flow. We did it ourselves. Her with her bits of English, me with my bits of Arabic. Numbers, days of the week, names of the months. Whew. We were catching our breath and had both gone briefly numb in the brain so I said three words in really perfect Arabic – “After six months...” and then swept my arm towards the less expensive solon set. She just exploded. Her own mind had finished the sentence – “... this will all be ours.” She laughed and she laughed and she laughed.

Then we made a list of things my old neighbor’s eldest son and I will do tomorrow. And now, too, Reda’s nephew Mahmoud, it would seem. She gave me LE100 earlier in the evening and tomorrow I will spend LE80 on hinges, door latches and shower heads (and LE20 on cigarettes for me and the young men). She and Zuba finished off stuffing the fridge with cheeses, milk, bread and other handy stuff and left for the night, faked kissing of the cheeks (we miss by about two inches), a light shake of the hand and “Bon nuit”.

I’m starting to live like some Arab business and laboring men like to live right now: sleeping until about noon and then working around the house about noon to 8 pm with the other men and then socializing until about two in the morning, going to bed at four. That will change after Reda and I begin cohabiting. I prefer sleeping 10 pm to 6 am and she has to because of her job. But Egyptian men, if they can, seem to sleep from 4 am to noon. One has “arrived” as an adult male if one can do so, or something.

09 May 2009 – we didn’t get married (again)

We were supposed to pick up Reda’s ID photos today and take them to the imam but there were tradesmen at Reda and Zuba’s house all through the afternoon and evening so the photos didn’t get picked up until about 8 pm – too late to go to the imam. There was the distraction of the tradesmen but there were relatives to direct them and keep the house secure so I’m wondering if Reda’s getting stage fright and put off the photos, relieved to have an excuse.

So I went and got them. They were terrific – her passport photos and a quick portrait they did of the two of us. They used a really bright flash which totally bleached out all my wrinkles’ shadows. And then there was heavy touch-up work. They even air brushed my shoes which were very, very dusty from the long walk to the photographers. It’s too big to scan the whole thing.

When I got back from the photo shop Reda was very nervous – at the loss of the delaying tactic, perhaps. I hadn’t said anything – not much, anyway. I think it was more from her family’s side that she felt boxed in and then announced, “Thursday, the imam and the wedding party. Finished. It will be Thursday. Finished.” “Finished” also translates as “It’s complete. It’s agreed. It’s decided. We don’t need to talk about it anymore.” The imam and the party – that means she will be moving in Thursday night. Unless she weasels out of it again. The party details are vague. Their house’s street is a traditional possibility but they were also on the phone pricing clubs’ and hotel function rooms (and also telephoning their relatives in Upper Egypt to say it’s on for Thursday… so perhaps this is it).

11 May 2009 – cheerful, kind and loving

We will, Inshallah, do our marriage contract with an imam Thursday which means we will get our flat lease papers released and Reda can start moving in. The wedding party is being delayed as it really takes a week or two to negotiate a venue, put out the invitations, etc.

“My” family has just been wonderful – the family which owns and occupies most of the flats in the building where my own little flat is. They dismantled and hauled all my furniture down to the street then loaded the truck when I shifted to the new place, the women packed up the kitchen, bedroom and office. It all happened in the blink of an eye. Boy Wonder (Ahmed), their middle son who got free use of my flat as a wedding present while I was back in Australia, continues to advance at the InterContinental reservations office after a useful apprentice year at Assim’s hotel 2006-2007. Ahmed’s elder brother, Semah, who is cheerful, kind and loving but entirely devoid of ambition, now occupies my little flat.

Semah’s work at our new house has also been useful in the resulting contact with Reda and her family – Assim’s older brother Mohamed and Reda’s nephew Mahmoud yesterday, for example (Semah was working on electrical fixtures and Mohamed and Mahmoud were installing curtain rods). So Reda’s family is understanding a little more that Semah and Ahmed are like nephews to me.

There is a system now where I tell Assim what Reda is saying she wants, Assim tells me what is a better idea, Assim tells Mohamed and then Mohamed gently mentions useful things to Reda. Yesterday, for instance, Mohamed mentioned to Reda that Thursday is too soon for the wedding party she had envisaged as a budget had to be developed and then invitations have to be circulated at least a week in advance. Now Assim will engage her in a little talk about the benefits of appliances compared to the some of the more expensive wedding party options. Everybody’s loving it. I’m the harried groom and glad for the intellectual escape into Kove dictionary work that I’m doing for the retired New Zealand anthropologist, hamdullah.

“After the marriage, it’s the wife who causes all the trouble. Before the marriage it’s the man.” Several people have said that philosophically in exactly the same tones in recent weeks. It means that I live with heaps of anxiety for the moment. And everyone’s glad to watch me suffer. It’s traditional.

13 May 2009 – turning the page

Reda and I will be married by the imam Thursday but the wedding party is now going to be on Saturday night. So, I guess it’s Saturday that will finally see Reda and myself chasing each other around the bedroom in the wee hours. “Eng” Reda. Electrical Engineer, Reda. Overeducated at an early time. Finally found her bloke.

I continue to be a bit brain dead and turn to the Kove dictionary work for a few hours every day as an escape.

Families have different ways of doing things, which, of course, each thinks is best. On the wedding party issue, there turns out to be a cultural debate, in Pyramids, anyway, as to the virtue of street weddings compared to venues involving clubs, hotels and other such options. A street wedding, you see, is the public announcement that society requires, etc. So everybody had me focused on this cultural debate for some days, my mind filled with lofty and confusing thoughts, when what actually turns out to matter are family histories – and Assim and Reda’s families have always had their wedding parties at clubs. So now events have conspired such that ours will be, too. This stuff is wearing me out.

The El Gabrys are a fabled family in Pyramids. 20,000 of them in our suburb alone. I think they owned much of the present Pyramids (suburb) area outright before Abdel Nasser’s reforms. They were the prototypical Pyramids tour guides when you had to ride out from Cairo on a camel. They migrated out of Arabia into Sinai and then to Pyramids generations ago, moving east to west rather than west to east like Moses. I have regular occasion to share a cuppa with one of their young professionals who’s enraptured by the Reda saga. “You play the part well,” he said at one point, nonplussed. “It’s like a Naguib Mahfouz novel. Mabruuk (‘congratulations’).” I was quite chuffed to hear that from an El Gabry. 

15 May 2009 – married yesterday

I got married last night to “Eng Reda” – Reda Mohamed Mahmoud Hassan El Masry. The first day of three that will see us actually move in together.

Reda did a two year electrical engineering technology certificate from 1969, all that was available to most women at the time, and rose to “Eng” (“engineer”), a title like “Dr”, “Prof” and few others so perhaps she did additional courses later. Anyway, that’s what her compańeros at the phone company, her employer of 38 years or so sometimes call her as does her family.

Reda wanted an announcement/invitation in English and wanted “Dr Gafar and Eng Reda” at the top. So it was. With a map to the club for the main wedding party tomorrow night meant to amuse my east-side friends.

The club location is to the far right on the invitation, streets from the west given in some detail. So the venue is central Pyramids and the map drawn mainly for people coming from “deeper” into this fearful district. Fearful now-a-days mainly in the sense of trying to get into or out of the area on Pyramids Street – the clogged main artery through our community that runs from the Nile straight out to the pyramids.

There are some millions and millions of people in this district. We really never see any police in our particular neighborhoods within. There is rarely any need for them. The murder rate in this part of town must be about zero. Overall, one has to look to such places as Tokyo and Stockholm to find murder rates lower than greater Cairo.[1] 

Fathers are raising their sons and taking them to church or mosque and teaching them right from wrong. If one hears, “Stop thief!” you can be sure that it all plays out in very exactly the same fashion as in Oliver Twist. The witnesses rally a crowd that starts chasing him and further crowds close in on him from the sides and to his front and the crowds usually get their man, hauling him off as one to the nearest police station. I’ve only seen this once in two years and soon stopped telling the story… the Egyptians are embarrassed a bit to know that I’ve seen such a thing but more incredulous that I mention it, as if: “What else would you expect?”

I drove around the last couple days giving out invitations. My favorite qahua (traditional cafe) is owned by an Upper Egypt man. His younger brother runs the day shift and has been my good friend since I first moved to the neighborhood four years ago. They have been spellbound that I am marrying a woman from Upper Egypt. Perhaps they had imagined: young, bare-foot and soon-to-be pregnant because when they saw “Eng” Reda they just exploded. There aren’t many “Eng” women of that age, I suppose. Not surprising that one of them is Assim’s cousin. Her female cousins on that side of the family… Assim’s sisters… are doctors and such, medical training and qualifications being available, as a practical matter, to women before a lot of other things.

Assim negotiated the marriage contract through recent days and helped me present our desires to the imam who came to Reda’s mosque for us yesterday evening. “Reda’s mosque” – she owns it. It’s the ground floor of their now six storied apartment building where she, her sister and nephew live on the fifth floor and from which they collect tiny rents on the four floors/flats below. A seventh story addition continues their 20 year project or whatever it has been, apparently seeing work on it as funds become available from the rent on the others.

I guess we started the contract work at about 5 or 6 pm and it went on through the sunset prayer and then the final prayer of the day, the men of the neighborhood staying on in the mosque as they saw what was going on (because when all is complete the bride’s father and the groom then read aloud the portions of the contract which apply to them over the mosque’s PA system which is as loud on the street as for calls to prayer). So after we had read it over the PA system, we signed (Reda’s eldest male relative available, Mohamed Adel, standing in for her deceased father) and thumb-printed the contract copies. Then the copies were sent out to Reda in the street where there were special lights and chairs for the occasion, the women of the neighborhood gathering as they heard the contract being read over the mosque’s PA. The contract copies then came back inside with Reda’s signature and thumb-print and that was it. We’re married.

Then I got to shake hands with all the men in the mosque and music started blasting from the DJ’s’ PA system in the street (from the wedding services company that brought and set up the chairs and lights outside). Then the women of the neighborhood and Reda’s female relatives danced and sang and laughed for about two hours, the only men there being Reda’s immediate male relatives (Mohamed Adel, Assim, Reda’s nephew Mahmoud, and Assim’s son Mohamed Assim), me and my carpenter who is a good friend of Assim’s. I had misunderstood these small street functions and thought they were humble street weddings. But as I reflected on it last night, there is a different cast of characters at these small contract functions, there is not always a stage for the bride and groom or a belly dancer, there is a PA system and never live music. In our neighborhoods, there are fewer men attending and the function is over relatively quickly. Reda, the devout mosque owner, by the way, insisted on a belly dancer for tomorrow night and had a particular one in mind.

We will be about 250 tomorrow night or perhaps it is the night after. I now repair to my old flat where “my” family has been feeding me as I stop by and we make plans. It’s a short hop from my old neighborhood to the wedding party venue so one hired car will ferry us all, four at a time, from about 7 pm, tomorrow night. Today, after touching base with the Selims (“my” family’s surname) I’ll be at Reda’s to spend the rest of the day with her Upper Egypt relatives here for the occasion and other such friends and relatives as stop by.

 16 May 2009 – our house

Our “house,” into which Reda will move after the wedding party, is pretty well fixed up. So I’m off to meet my fate.

This has been an awful lot of fun.

Mahmoud the magnificent, the nephew Reda helped raise, will be here with a car in a few minutes to get me and then we pick up Reda at the beauty parlor (where the brides traditionally go in their full wedding gowns, have things done to them then get picked up by their beaus and are driven together to the wedding party).

21 May 2009 – safe delivery

Reda was just rapt when a box from my sister arrived with the bosta to Assim’s hotel a couple days ago just as the wedding festivities were dying down. Assim took it home to Faisal and I picked it up from there last night. Reda was able to read out loud the words on the cover of a CD in the package, expressing her frustration that she didn’t know what most of them meant. She was an hour or more with all the stuff on the dining room table, looking at it again and again. Curtain lining fabric. Various things were in there.

People left us to ourselves for a couple days after the wedding party but then started stopping by in small groups in what now seems a period of formal visits. They’re all following the same script – dressed to the nines and hauling in piles of boxes from the best pastry and smorgasbord shops. We haven’t cooked since we got married. Her relatives had left baked chickens, pigeons and quail with the doorman for us after I had left to pick her up for the wedding party Saturday.

I was out of the house for a couple hours Monday. Reda hasn’t, I think, left the flat at all.

I suddenly had a honeymoon to pay for the morning after the wedding party. I asked Reda when she would be going back to work, thinking it would be a day or two so she could save her vacation days for things further down the line. She looked at me rather blankly – “June 1st,” she said, “10 days marriage leave.” She just assumed I would know. So I got in touch with Australia about finishing my May dictionary work for the NZ anthropologist by the 25th and getting paid the 26th. They said, “No worries,” so there was then a budget to go somewhere for five days before Reda returns to work. We will be going to Dahab, a resort town on the Gulf of Aqaba. These places are only about 6 hours and $20 away on nice air-conditioned passenger vans and buses.

31 May 2009 – home again, home again 

We got home about 24 hours ago, slept a reasonable good night’s sleep and then both went off to work this morning. The Dahab, Gulf of Aqaba honeymoon was very relaxing. We had the perfect budget for the honeymoon and there wasn’t a single serious thing to do there. The van that brought us back stopped around Suez for an hour to let the rush hour cool down a bit in Cairo before driving us into town and Assim’s hotel. The traffic was indeed light all the way to the hotel but I had a wave of vertigo as we worked our way through the single traffic backup we encountered. I clutched up at the thought of all my new responsibilities but recovered before we got to Assim’s hotel.

Looking back on it, we are a couple of 60-ish professionals and her family wasn’t going to cough up much for the wedding beyond what we could do for ourselves. But neither of us had been saving for a wedding. That was too theoretical before actually finding a mate. So things got done for what we could afford at the time.

Two copies of my Australian divorce decree arrived in separate mailings while we were gone. So now we can go to the Australian consulate and provide them with the central document they want for their “Certification of No Objection” to the Egyptian Justice Ministry which registers all marriage contracts involving a foreigner.

We wandered off to Dahab with our marriage contracts from the imam. But we didn’t have them stamped by the Justice Ministry and couldn’t until the divorce decree came from Australia, etc. Without the stamp, the hotel reception desk in Dahab had to call in the police and disclose they were allowing, with police permission, a room to this couple with an unstamped marriage contract. The policeman didn’t know quite what to make of it and called in someone else. I had brought along my house purchase contract cum title, Egyptian driver’s license, previous Australian passport with Egyptian stamps from three and four years ago and all other bona fidé. I guess my birth certificate was still in Cairo but telling an Egyptian that one is also American is not always the first thing I want to do. Anyway, it didn’t take really, really long before the second man came, Assim (who they all know, including the second policeman) called, the policeman endorsed the hotel’s acceptance of our unstamped marriage contract and that was that.

This is what Egyptians do, I’m told. If travelling with one’s spouse, they travel with their (stamped) marriage contracts because the hotels are required by law to demand them and scrutinize them, a law that doesn’t apply if both members of a couple checking in are foreigners. It is said to always be the contract itself that is required. Egyptian women don’t take their husband’s surname so it isn’t obvious from driver’s licenses and other identity documents that a couple is (probably) married.

Home again, home again, now… Reda returns to a work routine defined by decades of invariance – 8 am to 4 pm. I took off for the hotel at 7 am and worked until about 2 pm and have to go back tonight to work with the night manager on the reservations documentation system. Then after a few days or weeks of orientation to the system, I will do the daily reservations work here at home in the morning over the Internet, then do dictionary and what other contract work I might find through midday and reservations again in the evening. It will be off season now through the summer. A good time to ease into the reservations work before they start picking up for September and beyond.

Reda glowed throughout the honeymoon and has been very cheerful today. She just left for her sister’s place and I am now leaving for my old neighborhood where I will spend a couple hours before going downtown to the hotel to work into the wee hours on learning the reservations procedures.

June 2009 – passing inspection

I saw a friend from Tersa Street in the row ahead of me after noon prayers were over in our big mosque at the top of the hill here one Friday in June. Here in “Masaakin Dobat, Remaya”… I’ve finally learned the name of where it is that we live. My friend, more of an acquaintance, is a PhD mechanical engineer and bearded “Sunna” (Salafi). The last time I had seen him was weeks or months ago when I drove or perhaps walked past him near his relative’s place which is right on Tersa a couple blocks from the cross-street that leads to the flat that I own. That day I last saw him I was hurrying off to meet up with some people, Reda’s family, perhaps, and only had time to tell him I was looking for a wife. “Who?” he said, spinning his right hand excitedly from the axis of his wrist. Another acquaintance stood looking over Dr Eng Wael’s shoulder where Wael had turned away from him to greet me. “Looking”, I said, holding a flat hand above my eyebrows as if looking for something from a distance. The two looked at each other, eyes wide as they saw that I was serious and I smiled and nodded “Yes”, and hurried off to my destination.  

He was in the Dobat Remaya mosque that June Friday, having brought his wife to visit her mother and sisters. Upon my noticing and greeting him in the mosque he was a man with a mission… to find out where I lived and who I married. He was bustling us along to his car, he explained, so we could drive to my place. I wasn’t making any progress explaining to him that we were almost there as we neared his mother-in-law’s parking lot. “There”, he said, pointing to where his car was. “There”, I said, pointing to the fifth floor of my building next door.

He followed me up the stairs and stood two steps short of the top, hand on the handrail, a common Egyptian courtesy when arriving unexpected at a residence. I unlocked our entrance door and called inside, “Eng Reda! Eng Wael heyna (Eng Wael is here)!” Wael was frozen at the top stairs and I called out to him, “Faddal (please [come along])!” and disappeared into the house. He entered nervously as I barked a few of Wael’s details to Reda way back in our bedroom. I got him seated and Reda appeared after going for her head scarf. They shook hands and she disappeared into the kitchen. “Tea, please?” I called to her in the kitchen and immediately regretted having done so. It’s a bit rude and their actual word for “please” is never heard. So I called to her right away after, “Tea, perhaps?” and she called back cheerfully, “Yes, perhaps.”

Wael seemed stunned and hardly spoke the whole time except when he and Reda were speaking Arabic rapidly and earnestly for some minutes. He was in a bit of a hurry to leave after a cup of tea as I imagine he had family obligations. But he really did seem stunned to find me in such a nice bright place with such nice new furniture and such a nice Upper Egypt wife. He, with his beard and constant galabea,[1] thinks I’m a theocratic recalcitrant and I’ve long done what I could to encourage him to believe it was true. A sort of a hobby of mine.

December 2009 – my “western holidays” note for 2009

A long note, as it turns out. They’ve just called the sunrise prayer. Copyediting work is starting to come in. There are holiday reservations at the hotel to deal with. And we’re moving house before the end of the month, I’ve just been told.

We got in for the night at straight up midnight.

I was puttering around our old neighborhoods through the evening while Reda and her sister commiserated on the 20-year-old nephew’s persistent demand and his reaction to being told he isn’t getting it: a big new $40,000 2010 car (with which he would surely kill someone). He gave up on the $6,000 motorcycle (with which he would surely have killed himself)... but only after many, many weeks. And now this.

It’s the first time they’ve ever said “No” to him and he isn’t giving up easily... raging around the house, etc.

I just stay out of it.

Reda had taken the day off again today as her sister, Zuba, is 63, a bit frail and just kind of elderly with cataract surgery she needs but seems frightened to pursue and not holding up very well under her son Mahmoud’s constant pressure. But no emergency calls came through during the day and we were home until 7 pm when the call finally came and Reda stated flatly that she was going over to the house she shared with them for 18 years (a 150 sq meter flat).

I didn’t want to ask her to take a taxi but I didn’t want take her over there myself, either, so I called Assim, their patient protector/cousin/next-best-thing-to-brother who helps them out, to see if it was worth it. I mentioned that Reda was saying there was an imam there for some reason and Assim then said it would be good to get over there as both he and the imam had been there the night before, the imam reading useful passages from the Quran to Mahmoud.

So off we went in the late rush-hour traffic, getting there in about half an hour rather than the 15 minutes it usually takes after 8 pm. The imam was gone and Mahmoud had locked himself in his room. I figured the two sisters would then want to talk for a few hours and went off by myself to visit friends. Only since this motorcycle and car business came up, except immediately after we were married, have they been having long, long talks on the phone... occasionally tearful before, during or after this time ‘round. Mahmoud didn’t come home one night recently, the first time he had ever done that, and Reda was just wailing though Mahmoud is 20 years old.

I first went to see my carpenter, Ashraf. I gave him $800 eight months ago to build a desk and book cases for my home office. He had built my kitchen cabinets and cupboards when I was in my own little flat, delivering about a year ago... some three months after the down payment (the kitchen pieces are now here in our present flat – Egyptians move their kitchen counters and cabinets from house to house like the Swedes).

He wasn’t in tonight but Assim’s older brother was – Mohamed who signed over responsibility for Reda to me at the mosque when we signed our marriage contract. 

Mohamed is also a carpenter and does some work with Ashraf from time to time. Assim related to me eight months ago that I was lucky to get the original kitchen stuff finished and delivered so quickly, telling me several stories of how long it took Ashraf to get certain projects done. He said, “Since it’s paid in full, it will probably be a long time before he starts and much, much longer before he finishes. You should have taken me with you when you placed the order. You should never pay Ashraf in full when placing an order.” He wasn’t wrong but there’s a longer story about why it had been paid in full that I might tell another day.

Ashraf is a gifted craftsman and kind of a puppy dog (we can say in English, but not Arabic)... he just wants to be loved and people put up with his faults because they specifically want things made by him. Especially Assim and certain of Assim’s close friends around Faisal. I’m beginning to learn that these men, including Ashraf, who have so welcomed me into their company for four years and more, are school days friends of Assim. I knew, vaguely, that Assim’s father married Reda’s mother’s sister, in the late 1930s, approximately, and raised his family on the Red Sea coast where he did well in construction. Some of the projects of the time, that are major visitor destinations today, were just getting started and he did well, indeed. I knew a bit of that and that his children were all educated to the highest degree they desired (the eldest son an MBA or something [his son is director of Radio Shack logistics in Egypt], the eldest[?] daughter a physician, Assim, trained in commercial painting contracting… other stories that escape me for the moment). But I only recently came to understand that their father maintained two households from the time the children came of school age: one or, over time, different family homes on the Red Sea and one in Cairo where the children were with their mother during the school year. And Assim’s friendship with Ashraf and these other men, with all Ashraf’s gifts and faults, go back to the 1950s.

Assim’s advice has been to stop by Ashraf’s shop occasionally and then every day if possible once he had actually started work on my office furniture... which was about 3 months ago. I stop by and kind of admire how it is coming along and try to keep the ball rolling.

But tonight my stuff was buried under a large order involving an entire kitchen, as it has been for about a month. I talked to Mohamed for half an hour and then headed off for Tarek’s music studio.

Tarek is a 50 year old composer, arranger and conductor who has won the “Middle East Arranger of the Year Award” 15 of the last 25 years. The most famous composer/arranger in the Arab world through many of those years but a private, humble and exuberantly happy guy, content to live in an enormous flat on Tersa Street some few hundreds of meters from my little flat over there, so as to be close to where an important recording studio was built some decades ago between Faisal and Pyramids Streets. Actually, he has three flats. One for himself and his present wife. Another in an adjacent suburb for his mother. And one above his own for his ex-wife and their grown, but not yet married children from his first marriage.

He was the man from Assim’s mosque that Assim brought along to the imam when I went to declare my faith a few days after getting back from Australia in 2008 (which was just a couple days short of a year before I met Reda).

Tarek has a number of rather high level religious training certificates and speaks a wider English-of-religion than Assim. Assim knew for some months of my intention to go to mosque upon returning 16 April 2008 and he had arranged that Tarek come along that night to translate for the imam and myself so the imam would not fear there were any misunderstandings. Assim and Tarek are old friends and Tarek and I immediately became friends as well.

Tarek was sitting at his really, really big, really, really souped-up Macintosh computer when I arrived, composing the orchestral accompaniment to a revered Yemini-Saudi singer/songwriter’s latest creation. He’s like an Egyptian falafel sandwich-maker at the computer – hands flying at about 90 miles an hour – right at the limit for hours on end. I can’t imagine how he escapes tendonitis. He works sort of 2 pm to midnight at his studio and unless he’s out of town it’s a fairly sure bet he’ll be there between those hours except for Fridays and occasionally Saturdays.

When I got married, Tarek said, “I’ll give you LE6000 for your assurance.” “Assurance” is what they call the money foreigners must pay each year to the government to engage in commerce or be employed in Egypt. It wasn’t of moment at the time of the wedding as I was doing the New Zealand anthropologist’s Papua-New Guinea dictionary work. We can do work from abroad on a tourist visa, which is what I had until last month, so long as we pay the normal income tax.

So as the dictionary work was coming to an end and I began to look for other things, the LE6000 was in the air and Tarek mentioned it the other day. I thought I was getting a working visa last month but they only gave me a residency visa without the right to work. The residency visa is tied to marriage. A working visa is tied to the 6000 which is paid by an employer or by oneself if self-employed. I hadn’t realized there was a difference and only then began to understand this “assurance” stuff Tarek and Assim had mentioned at the time of the wedding. Assim gives me LE6000 a year for his hotel’s very, very part-time internet reservations work so he wasn’t the place to go looking for the 6000 which would then be good for any other work I did for other Egyptian clients or employers. This would later turn out to involve certain misperceptions but it’s what we all understood of the situation on this particular night.

I had become uncomfortable with taking the LE6000 money off Tarek. So I went to see him.

“I wanted to tell you I can’t take the 6000,” I said, without sitting down.

“But I told you I’d give it to you,” he protested.

“But I should have said ‘No’,” I said.

“But it’s nothing,” he said. Which was a lie. His 35 year-old sister is finally getting married; ASAP as far as her family is concerned. Their father died 30 years ago and Tarek is her only hope for a fancy wedding, which Tarek very much wants to provide for her. And his oldest kids are all in expensive private schools and universities.

“It’s money,” I said. “Between us. And there’s never been money between us. So let’s not start now. We’ll buy a house in a couple years. Loan me 10,000 (LE) for a year when we do that instead.”

He’s got two producers, one presently offering “11 million” and the other more if he’ll do a 5 CD symphonic album of his own melodic compositions. He’ll have 10,000 LE left “in a couple years”, I reckon. And it will fit well with what is the local feeling of being adrift if not constantly owing some people and being owed by others.

Tarek broke out into a surprised smile, shook his head and I walked out without either of us saying more.

That trip only killed half an hour so I went to a coffee house near Reda’s sister’s house but the fun waiter I know works the day shift, I didn’t see anyone else I knew and after drinking a cup of tea so slowly it got cold I called Assim. He was home so I drove the 10 or 15 minutes to his house.

I asked his advice about Mahmoud which I had never done directly before, saying I kept my mouth shut because it’s better, down the road, if it was his uncles slapping him around when he went over the top rather than me.

“Mahmoud told me,” Assim reported, “that ‘This is the first time they’ve ever told me ‘No’. Why now?... what’s wrong with what I’m asking???’”

So he is actually and truly mystified. And his mommies are El Menya girls who never had a fridge until Reda got the one I brought along… the one which young Ahmed Magdy gave me as one of his gifts in kind for the year of free rent. So then Zuba had to have one, too. They just never spent a penny except on Mahmoud which is the kind of living that allowed them to build a six storied apartment building, floor by floor, for cash over the years. Reda, the electrical engineer, and Zuba who taught for 15 or 20 years in high paying jobs in Saudi Arabia. Mahmoud was born there (her ex-husband is also Egyptian) and Zuba came back here with Mahmoud after saving up a lot of gold when it was still rather inexpensive..

“So that is what this is truly all about?” I asked. “It’s the first time in his life he’s been told, ‘No.’ ‘No,’ is what they really mean. And we’re all just going to have to tough it out?”

“Yes,” he replied, not de-energized in the least. He has a difficult stepson who is perhaps 23, but finally maturing, and he then told the story of the latest episode with him. He’s like that around the hotel, as well. I’ve never seen him make a mistake when dealing with people, young or old.

“Assim,” I said. “Before marrying Reda and working for you I worked alone for 25 years and lived alone for 12 years. I didn’t even know what patience was, anymore. I’m not sure I had any in the first place. I learn a lot from you.”

Then I left and went back to Ashraf’s.

Ashraf was still gone and so was Mohamed, cabinetry in various stages of completion spread out onto both sides of the street which isn’t 5 yards wide, the roll-down door of the shop half open (people don’t nick stuff in these neighborhoods until after about 3 or 4 am). I decided to call Ashraf on my mobile before I gave up and then Reda. Ashraf reported that he was 1/2 hour away (easily not true and easily stretched to longer if he meant to avoid me). Reda asked for more time with Zuba but it was getting on towards 10 and I thought I better go over there and get things moving.

I got Reda to take off with me straight away but as we motorcycled out of the neighborhood she asked me to turn left back into the neighborhood rather than right towards the main boulevards to our home. She wanted to see someone for “10 minutes”. They were delightful. A woman and her 20 something daughter. Of course they all talked for an hour or two.

We got home right at midnight, as I guess I already mentioned.

Thinking back to what the working day was like today, nothing came to mind when I sat down to the computer after getting home tonight. Reda took the day off waiting for Zuba to call about Mahmoud. I worked the Sara Inn internet reservations through the morning for 3 or 4 hours as the holidays and high season are now upon us.

But now I remember we were house hunting in the afternoon.

Our one year lease, as I only recently learned (and this is standard), can be terminated by either party with one or two months’ notice. Which is just as well for the renter... one’s plans can change, one’s income may disappear, one’s neighbors might turn out to be unbearable, etc., etc. And now the landlord has suddenly said he wants to end the lease. As of 31 December.

His son is getting married a few months earlier than he expected when he signed the one-year lease (he had firmly told Reda “only one year” but I only became aware of that two or three months ago). The son will take the place (as the landlord and other people like him envisaged when buying such second or third or fourth houses 10 and 20 years before they are needed by their sons or daughters). “Good on ‘em.”

The ideal Egyptian father. To buy a place for each of their children, sons more often than daughters, perhaps, before or upon their marriage. Which is achievable for even rather poor people. The rather larger place Reda and I will begin looking for when she mandatorily retires 15 April, 2011 (yes... we first met at Assim’s house on her birthday) won’t cost us $30,000 or $40,000. The bachelor boys’ starter flats (45-65 sq meters) through a vast area of Pyramids aren’t $10,000 and some millions of families in richer and poorer Cairo, I would guess, began married life with a paid-for starter house.

So it seems we’ll be putting our furniture back together on New Year’s Eve and trying to find all our favorite stuff in the moving boxes.

Probably in this same “city of the armed forces” development. Many people are doing the same thing we are... getting a lot of floor space (“165 sq meters” [~ 1650 square feet] calculated by portion of building’s slab... about 135, actual) for $140 a month when they’re renting... ours has been just ~$100 due to the short lease or something.

I want to stay in this same building and Reda says, “We’ll see,” after viewing the one flat that may be available. The neighbors are wonderful... have made us feel welcomed... they always give a pleasant nod and the standard verbal greetings but are scrupulously private. There’s a well-lit place to chain up the motorcycle at night. It’s maybe 6-800 meters from Reda’s office. But there is only one empty unit in this building that may be available to let and the kitchen and bathroom have been gutted but not put back together yet. I think it’s been arranged that we look at it tomorrow evening. We only understand each other clearly about half the time but that hasn’t been a huge problem. We’re both glad to have found each other, there’s a lot of trust and joy, and we’re still just kind of laughing most of the time. I’ll get half the story and then forget half of that and suddenly it’s time to go someplace and I just cast my fate to the wind and we drive off to where she wants to go and I start putting the pieces together once we get there.

She is a product of Gamal Abdel Nasser’s early women’s education initiatives. An electrical engineering associate or some kind of two year degree. Whatever it was that had become available to women at the time. Abdel Nasser came to their school and shook their hands when she was 13, encouraging them, especially the girls, to get higher education. So when I kiss her hand….

I write for Mahmoud. His mother was about 43 when he was born and Reda about 38 and then Zuba and Reda raised him together from the time of his parent’s divorce when he was 2. We will all be gone sooner than he might like (although he might not feel that way tonight), and my Reda diary will be one of the things I leave him.

-------------------------------------
Addendum 1 – week later

I didn’t quite understand why Reda and Zuba were suddenly looking so bright when I showed up to collect Reda from Zuba’s on the evening described above... I was glad for it at the time as it left me feeling rather upbeat and in the mood to send a holiday note off into the ether. But when I went to the hotel after I woke up from sleeping through the morning Assim told me that Zuba and Reda had, that previous night, told Mahmoud that they would buy him the car... but would have to sell an apartment or empty lot first and that it would take a couple months... which they, of course, aren’t going to do. There is, in fact, no plan to buy him a car at all. But this will give Mahmoud time to reflect on the wisdom of selling off his inheritance to fund the whims of the moment and provides an indefinite delaying tactic to Zuba and Reda... inventing stories of deals that fell through etc. month after month. Anyway, we were over there again some days after the evening mentioned above… Mahmoud cheerful and content that they had given in to him... Zuba and Reda glowing in the relief of finding a sustainable delaying tactic.

23 January 2010 – An unfortunate experience

Today’s notes concern a strapping young steer who had an unfortunate experience. He got eaten.

My neighbor’s middle son at the flat I own, Ahmed Magdy Selim, is kind of a self-made man who I have mentioned before and there are perhaps some hundreds of thousands like him in Pyramids. This young bloke went to government schools and then did accounting at Cairo University, working part time as a house painter, and has just now, at the age of about 26 or 27, been promoted to chief or other upper level supervisor of reservation personnel or something like that after only three years at the Intercontinental Semiramis mega hotel on the Nile downtown. He, at least, seems on his way to being a little bit rich.

When he finished a Berlitz intensive business English course after his accounting BA and military service four years ago, I took him on a bit of a hike to meet Assim. We found him at the used furniture store he, at the time, owned and operated evenings close to his home in Faisal. Assim talked to Ahmed quietly and a bit privately and the few words spoken that I understood suggested that Assim was asking about Ahmed’s education. After some further lounging in front of a cup of tea at the furniture store, Ahmed and I started out on the long walk back to Tersa/Omda (the nearest well-known cross-street on Tersa).

“He hired me,” Ahmed gasped as soon as we were out of earshot from the furniture store. “He hired me to help with the bookkeeping and the evening shift.”

So that was that. I went back to Australia a few short days later and received nothing but reports of love and admiration in Assim’s emails about Ahmed and Ahmed’s emails about Assim for the two years I was back in Australia. And it was the two of them together who picked me up at the airport almost exactly two years later when I came back for good.

It’s fun to watch over time as I hang around and do a little work at the hotel... Assim’s kind of well-known for training and then launching young people on to bigger things. A great mentor, we would say in English. A bit of a sheikh to the young people who received their start in life from him.

By the time I left to go back to Australia in 2006 I was content with the flat I had bought and content that I would work, live and die with my friends in those neighborhoods when I retired from full-time employment in linguistics in 2008. I’d never really dropped my anchor before.

I decided by about 2007 back in Australia that I would also die praying with them and told Assim and Ahmed in phone calls that I wanted to go to mosque and declare my faith upon getting back to Egypt.

They wasted no time when I returned, April 2008, and the first day I was first looking well rested after returning they explained that Assim would take me to a particular sheikh/pastor and that another man would be there as well.


It was the sheikh from that first night at mosque, Sheikh Asfor (“Sparrow”), who came to my sister-in-law Zuba’s house two or three evenings ago... two or perhaps three days after she “sacrificed” a cow in honor of my marriage to Reda eight months ago.

I’ve been a great disappointment to Sheikh Asfor as I will mention presently.

As Assim now tells the story, Zuba told Assim, after he had introduced Reda and myself to each other, “I’m gonna kill a cow if she marries this guy (“sacrifice” – no precise English equivalent of an Arabic word that seems to imply either “kill” or “sacrifice” [“sacrifice” animals as in the Old Testament – they actually then consumed the animals as Jewish and Muslim people do today]). I promise to God I will kill a cow.” Assim was glad to let the comment be forgotten for a time but he has recently begun to tell me that story saying that he has been recalling it more and more to Zuba… “You can’t promise to God to do that and then not do it…”

So the cow story started some days ago with a two or three km motorcycle ride from Reda’s sister’s house up to where the farms start in northwest Pyramids/Faisal directly west of Dokki (and then extend north and beyond 26 July Corridor and then into the Delta). Not far at all from Reda and Zuba’s building – there are vast agricultural lands that are still being cultivated. The city now surrounds that huge part of the Nile’s west bank farms, which is on the Nile flood plain. The east bank, Cairo proper, has a bit of elevation and was the earlier city in its entirety. As mentioned before, the west bank flood plain only became available for residential use after the Aswan Dam was finished and that area quit flooding every spring.

At the southwestern edge of that remaining farm land, Reda paid for the cow under the date palms with money Zuba had given her and then we slowly putt-putt-putted back to Zuba’s place, one of the Upper Egypt kind of guys who sold us the cow walking along behind us in his galabea, leading the cow, followed by another motorcycle putt-putt-putting along with two butchers in galabea on it bringing up the rear. The “cow” was a two year old steer which looked very clean and healthy. They slaughtered it in their apartment building’s entrance/foyer because there was a drain on the floor for the blood.

When I got back some hours later, Reda and Zuba were finished with the butchering which they had done in an apartment in their building they are renovating after the men slaughtered, skinned, gutted and quartered the cow downstairs and brought the pieces up to them. They had it all in a big pile of black plastic bags of perhaps 5-10 kilos next to a gleaming white pile of bones.

Zuba gave me perhaps 10 kilos to take to “my” family (Ahmed Magdy’s parents, specifically). Reda and Zuba then distributed much of the rest around Zuba’s neighborhood over the next day or two, the biggest bags to the poorest families, and Reda and I brought armloads, perhaps 25 kilos, home for ourselves which went into the freezer with perhaps 3 kilos for our building’s doorman.

Sheikh Asfor came to Zuba’s place a few nights ago to do what imam’s do when someone sacrifices a cow. I went to his mosque many Fridays immediately after my conversion. But that soon came into competition with an equally conservative mosque very near my little flat where I was living (while Sheikh Asfor’s mosque was more like a 4 or 5 km hike through the streets of our neighborhoods).

A mosque near my flat took an interest in me once they noticed I was wandering off for the noon prayers in galabea every Friday at about 11 am. I was visited at home by three men, one of them a locally famous sheikh who has spent most of the last 20 years in Los Angeles with a growing mega-mosque. Actually someone came up from Magdy’s flat who said there were some men at Magdy’s house who would like to talk to me – and I went down to see what it was all about). Sheikh Mahdy speaks an unaccented American English and told me in a friendly, welcoming way that the men with him would help me get started in reading the Koran at a nearby mosque.

So it was Sheikh Mahdy at my brother Magdy’s house. Surely I will think of tongue twister with which to tell future versions of the story.

Sheikh Mahdy’s invitation soon became rather more appealing than Sheikh Asfor’s mosque because that small mosque – very small mosque – which Sheikh Mahdy directed me to is very close to my house – very close – and doesn’t pray Gomah (“1. the Friday midday prayer; 2. Friday”). Like many of the small mosques on our streets over around Tersa/Omda, everybody goes to a certain large mosque on the main street, Tersa, for Gomah. There the “Dr.” imam speaks rather softly for about 20 or 30 minutes while Sheikh Asfor always speaks for an hour and a bit… in a great bellowing voice over a loud PA system... to a good-sized gathering I might add. Very popular with Upper Egypt migrants. Of course I never understood anything of what either one of them was saying in their sermons so I was glad for a shorter walk to a shorter talk. I wore galabea to the Tersa Street mosque for a while. But it didn’t seem to be the most common thing to do so I then usually didn’t unless I was just feeling kind of happy and wanted to go to mosque as Muslims did 1,000 years ago and more, wearing galabea and sandals, my eyeglasses and wristwatch left at home and nothing in my pockets but my house key and prayer beads.

By the end of a year and a month back in Egypt, almost precisely, I got my first flat with Reda in Dobat. Here I go to a large mosque on the other side of the school from our flat. People at that mosque are pleasantly oblivious to me, as they were at the big mosque on Tersa Street, except that one or two people a month may walk up when they notice me somewhere in the neighborhood, and introduce themselves, saying they’ve seen me at mosque, and welcoming me since I seem to be new. They don’t necessarily assume that I am a foreigner. They just occasionally and pleasantly welcome anyone new to a mosque. An Egyptian might be a white, white Europoid (although very, very few have anything but jet black hair unless they are Syrian) or a black, black African.

I had learned by the time we married and moved out here that neither Sheikh Asfor’s mosque nor the small mosque I was directed to in my old neighborhood by Sheikh Mahdy are highly regarded by the main of the larger community. And... surprise, surprise, surprise... certain members of the one small “Sunna” mosque even made disparaging comments about the other.

There is mild disdain towards those Upper Egypt people who cling to their rural ways on the part of older Pyramids families and there is the same resentment towards fundamentalists in general that so many of us have in America and Australia. Jesus will come back if we help Israel steal more land from the Palestinians (America and even a bit of that in Australia). The rich people who don’t want to pay for my ten kids’ education will burn in hell (Egypt). But it means something to Assim and Tarek to attend Sheikh Asfor’s mosque so we talk about Islam quite often and I don’t say anything about Sheikh Asfor’s presumed disappoint with me.

And of course the fundamentalists are delightful when you meet them individually.

So there we sat the other night, Sheikh Asfor and myself, at opposite ends of my sister-in-law’s dining table on the day they butchered the steer, kind of lightly sparing with each other... a glance and a frown on his part, a glance and a smile on mine. The Keeper of the True Religion and the Comfortably Less Than Pious.

He had arrived with five other men on three motorcycles, the youngest about 20, the oldest about his age... 40 or so.

I had declined an offer, from the youngest, of a miswaak (sticks the size of a toothbrush, the blunt ends of which they use to ritually clean the teeth). He kept trying to give it to me after prayers at Reda’s mosque (the one she and her sister built into the first floor of their apartment house). I just didn’t want it and I especially didn’t want him to think I was interested in all their many overt acts of piety. Prayers were done, we were still kneeling where we had prayed and I refused it three times and then got up and moved to another part of the mosque when he poked it at me a fourth time. The Palestinians are not going to get their state etc. if I use miswaak. Which is, essentially, what fundamentalists of this type believe. Like Jerry Falwell, who came flying out the door September 11 and blamed the attacks on American homosexuals and others, Egyptians became more religiously conservative after the 1967 war because they believe God would not have let Israel win if they, the Egyptians, had been living right. Women, for instance, started wearing head scarves again… and still do.

So afterwards we were sitting at the dinner table, Sheikh Asfor “harumphff-ing” slightly whenever our eyes met, the 40-ish guy with the biggest zabibah (see Wikipedia) glowering at me again and again until my amused smiles made him give up, the young bloke a bit upset until he saw by my constant smiles that I wasn’t mad at him. Neither Asfor nor any of the others tried to converse with me as they speak no English that I know of and perhaps assumed that since I wasn’t taking an interest in the True Religion I also was not learning any Arabic. Or maybe I’m on their “to be shunned list”, though I don’t know. They’re generally friendly towards us in the neighborhoods when Reda and I are out and about. Anyway, I kept my peace and just kind of enjoyed the situation and did not, at Sheikh Asfor’s table, try to converse.

I don’t remember anything else of consequence from that night except that after the meal Asfor had each of the other five go into all the rooms of the house and then, as if at the mosques around the neighborhoods, sing out the call to prayer, the Adhan, loudly at slightly different starting moments. They were all experienced muezzin, their calls filled the house and it was really quite thunderous and pleasant to all of us to hear.

Assim, Reda’s nephew Mahmoud and I then walked the six of them down the five flights of stairs to the three meter wide street and they climbed onto their three motorcycles (in their galabeas). I had been saying “Shokrun” again and again as we went down the stairs and then poured out onto the street. Then as they started to pull away I called out good and loud, over the rather quiet motorcycle noises, “Shokrun tani! Miraati mabsuuta awi!” (“Thank you again! My wife is very happy!”). They exploded in embarrassed laughter. I don’t know why. Perhaps they then assumed I had understood everything they had been saying through the evening.

So that’s the report from Pyramids of a Saturday evening. I only found out a week or ten days ago that the spacious, gardened clubs of the rich keep lists of people offering native speakers’ English tutorials and that patrons of those clubs are used to paying $30 an hour for these services. So tonight I’ll be getting the names and phone numbers of these places on the Giza side of the Nile gathered together off the internet and start calling them tomorrow. A couple I previously knew of already have my details. I have a copyediting application in limbo with an Arabic language newspaper that is working towards launching an English edition (which they have already done in Beta ~ provisionally on the internet). The editor in chief says she can’t get the business office to cut loose with the funds for my position at the moment and I know independently that they are behind schedule on the launch of their English hardcopy version whose advertising revenue and the eventual addition of advertising to the web version being, one would guess, the source of funds for the copyediting position. But I have a little income from work at Assim’s hotel... and more if I want it. And my first pension check arrived a few weeks ago from one of my old trucking companies in America. So we’re some months away from crisis mode, financially, and Reda’s cheerfully frugal in the meantime.
 

27 February 2010 – a moving experience

Whew. We just spent the day moving (from Apt 54 to Apt 44 in the same building).

We’re done for the night and fairly well brain dead. The apartments are identical so by the time we got about half done I kept having trouble remembering if I was supposed to be taking stuff out or bringing more stuff in as I wandered back and forth with armloads of things. Kept going downstairs instead of upstairs when leaving 44 as well (one can only go down from 54 and I was walking out of 44 on autopilot or something). Lots of small differences, mostly negative. This flat only has one electrical outlet per room except for the kitchen. No fly screens in this one, either, so we’ll have to do something about that. The main breeze comes from the French doors and it isn’t easy to add fly screens to them if they weren’t built that way in the first place. I don’t quite know what we will do.

It didn’t rain at all the first year I was back but we had a real hot week from about ten days ago and then it turned cold again and it rained and hailed and the wind blew like crazy last night. And we’ve had rain several days already this winter. And me... the motorcyclist. It didn’t rain once last year and only two or three times the year before.

The English language newspapers that wanted to hire me couldn’t get their financial offices to cut loose with a budget to do so but then someone helped me look into tutoring intermediate school students and also adult business conversation people.

By two or three weeks ago I found I was having trouble getting on English tutoring lists at some of the “shooting clubs” and expensive “international” (rich people) English schools because I don’t have a Teaching English as a Second Language certificate. I found out I could do a correspondence course for $200 or $300 but wasn’t that keen to be teaching or tutoring as I have very little teaching experience and no tutoring experience at all.

So I let my fingers do the walking and found out there are 36, I think, translation services in the Yellow Pages for greater Cairo. Not wanting to blow all my leads at once I emailed five with a resume/brief about the kind of work I was looking for – seeking to do “A native English speaker’s final light editing”. They all gave me work and one of them has me all day, every day. I’m condensing Charles Dickens novels to an upper intermediate, early high school English as a second language level (when there is nothing else to do). And it is also the closest translation service to home so that’s been a great bonus.

And then, thanks to Google, the Dutch embassy found my home page (which doesn’t say “Israel Stinks” anymore) and they are now preparing a contract for me to do about 10 hours of work at $38 an hour... their suggestion of a reasonable price, not mine. So, all up, it looks like we’ll have a car and be saving for a house (apt.) by the end of summer or so. I’ve only had two employers, really, in the last 20 years, Linguistics – RSPAS – ANU and an Omaha trucking company, so I’m not used to seeking work. I didn’t know where to start but it all came good.

We took a two year lease on our new place upon Reda expressing her desire to do so. She wants to spend 15 April 2011, the day she mandatorily retires, until about two years from now looking for a place to buy. We’re happy in the burbs for the moment but we miss the barrios where everything is just out the door and life on the street is so invigorating. No idea what we’ll do. The newer developments and even the 20 or 40 year old development we live in aren’t half full and even when they do eventually fill up, they just don’t have the density for the neighborhood markets and street life we both miss out here.

12 March 2010 – recycling etc.

I starting writing these notes a few nights after I met Reda 11 months ago saying, retrospectively in a preface I added at a later date:

“Within 30 years, Delta and Upper Egypt migrants and their descendants will account for some large portion of Cairo’s peoples, a status they hold even today. But in 30 years they will be Cairo’s pre-eminent constituency.”

Learning more since about the demographics – 20 million live in Cairo, 20 million live in Upper Egypt and, my goodness, 40 million live in the Delta.... over half of Cairo’s 15% annual population growth is due to young singles and families arriving from Upper Egypt and the Delta. I am told, literally, there is no more water in the Nile to further expand farming in either place.[1] Family size is down but youth unemployment is high because of much higher birth rates 18 years ago and more. Not all these young people arriving to Cairo are literate. There is often a ground floor room or couple rooms designed into buildings where the doorman lives with his family... commonly illiterate Upper Egypt men in their 30s and their wife and children. But their children do go to school and so onward the generations march through time.

I thought for some months that both Reda’s parents were both from El Minya in Upper Egypt but Reda’s father turns out to have been from Alexandria. So she’s immediately related to people from the emerging constituencies of both Upper Egypt and the Delta as well. And typical of how they intermarry in Cairo... with each other or anyone else they feel leads an upright life. It’s twice the fun for us. We’ve been to the farm in El Minya and will soon be in Alexandria again where her cousins’ children are mostly in their 20s and have moderate numbers of children to bounce on our knees.

A Reda story that I thought I’d tell tonight is about the night she lost something off a toktok (tricycle motorcycle taxi - Latin orthography “toktok” sounding more like “tuktuk” sometimes because there is no difference in Arabic) after we were married but before she started riding on the back of my motorcycle.

We were on our way home from visiting her sister and she had armloads of plastic bags full of fruit and vegetables. We walked, me pushing the bike, to the thoroughfare where she got on a tuktuk with all this stuff and I got on the bike and followed along. About a kilometer away from her sister’s place one of her plastic bags about the size of a deflated basketball fell out of the tuktuk and I stopped and picked it up. It was wet and slimy and smelt like the alcoholic who died in my apartment house in Copenhagen  one Christmas. He had the heat turned up in the flat and his body wasn’t found for a week or two. Another bag kind of flopped off the tuktuk and onto the street’s sand and dust about 100 meters later and I shook my head and drove on. She was dumping her sister’s kitchen rubbish.

What happens to it in that particular place, and through much of Pyramids, is that Bedouin shepherds bring their sheep and goats through the next day and all the organic stuff is removed as the herds forage through the bags people have pitched since the herd was last there. Then self-employed trash collectors come through looking, by individual specialization, for cardboard or plastic bottles or empty tins. There are perhaps dozens of specialties. Some just drive about on the carts calling out, “Bikiya” (second hand) and dismantle things for parts or other recycling. They start very young when their parents take them out of school to help. They know no other life or work and are, perhaps, mostly illiterate. In this and other ways, over 80% of Cairo’s trash is recycled... a testament to the government’s effective fostering of informal solutions to things they don’t have a budget for and, also, a different kind of testament to using a soft hand with urban or rural poor people who take their children out of school to work. On the matter of Reda’s missiles onto the curb, nothing is left but tens of millions of, mostly white and shredded, empty plastic bags blowing through the neighborhoods like snow in a northern winter, invisible to the eye of the residential beholder.

I was up to a friend’s place on the 10th floor of one of the area’s grand new apartment buildings, standing on the balcony smoking a cigarette, and called to my friend, saying that “a very wealthy man is walking down the street.” He came to look and I pointed to the man leading a flock of sheep down on the street. He laughed merrily and said, “Those sheep belong to the man with the new car business” (around the corner). I had assumed all were Bedouin doing well in the city.

We got moved into our new flat some days ago. Then just as we were sitting around huffing and puffing from our exertions of the day, the old landlord telephoned and asked us if we’d like to move back in to his flat again. His son is still getting married but is being posted overseas so the flat isn’t presently needed by his family after all. I don’t have time to move again due to favorable volumes of business coming in for my native English speaker copy editing work. Reda will moan for three months, her cousin Assim predicts, because the rent in our new place is about $30 higher. But for a dollar a day... I ain’t gonna move again. But I’ve designed the fly screens for our new flat, which has none, and am going to buy the tools and put them in myself. Reda’s endlessly intrigued that both my grandmothers grew up on farms and attributes anything I can make or fix to those good influences.

“Badaghaz” (bottled and piped natural gas or perhaps, I am now wondering, the name of the stove itself) hookup came 10 days or two weeks after we moved into the new flat. So now Reda is again cooking the last of the cow parts she froze… which I can no longer identify. But that’s a story previously told.

13 June 2010 – meet Ashraf

A week ago made right about fifteen months since I gave my carpenter LE4000 ($800) towards an LE6000 project to do a major office desk and bookshelves project for my own little flat that I then moved out of when Reda and I got married and moved into another, and now another, place. The following is pasted from a letter I drafted to the tourist police telling the story.

---------------
Submission to the Egyptian Tourist Police
Pyramids Monument Station
Pyramids, Giza Governate
by Jeffrey C. Marck
Egyptian Drivers License Number: 02070000472631
Australian Passport Number: M9223627
53 Abdullah El Bahar Street (via Omda)
Pyramids, Giza Governate
and
Apartment 44, Building 38
El Remaya City
Pyramids, Giza Governate

Sometime between the end of February and the end of March, 2009, I deposited LE4000 with Mr. Ashraf for the construction of a large desk and office set for my home on Abdullah El Bahar Street. The total cost was to be LE6000 and LE2000 would be due upon completion of the work.

But in April 2009 I was introduced to a woman, we decided to get married and were married in May, moving into Building 38, El Remaya City.

The LE6000 project was to be custom built for a particular room in my Abdullah El Bahar Street home. I went to Mr. Ashraf upon moving to El Remaya City. Actually he was present when we signed the lease. I informed him that the LE6000 project was too big for our new home. I then asked him to build a smaller project. I asked if he could build it to about the same size as a LE3000 project he had done for me in about three months’ time the year before. With him in the new house we measured the place the desk would go.

He had done nothing to start the LE6000 project so this was no inconvenience to him. We agreed that he would build the LE3000 project and that he could keep the other LE1000.

There was never any receipt from Mr. Ashraf nor any contract. There had been none for the project the year before. But a mutual friend, Assim El Sersy, was witness to conversations surrounding the two projects as they developed. He witnessed these conversations at Mr. Ashraf’s shop, at my home, at Mr. Assim’s hotel and other places we met. Mr. Ashraf came to my wedding. There were various places we met and Mr. Assim talked with Mr. Ashraf and myself about the nature of our agreements. I think we can expect that Mr. Assim will provide evidence if Mr. Ashraf wishes to complain that I have said something untrue.

There is now a big problem. Mr. Ashraf did not start the project for about a year. Various pieces of the project have now simply been lying around his shop for several months, are becoming damaged and have never been completed. And now Mr. Ashraf, and Mr. Assim saw Mr. Ashraf do this, has begun asking for an additional LE1000 to complete the project.
---------------

I had the letter translated by Mr. Ibrahim who owns the translation service I’ve been working with for some months now. He printed it on his company’s four color letterhead, stamping the translation as certified with two different kinds of stamps at the bottom. This was about ten days ago on a Thursday.

The translation service is two turns down side streets from a major U-turn junction on Faisal Street and the carpenter’s shop is two turns down side streets on the other side of the U. We generally wander away from the office at about 4:15 pm (mine is thus a seven hour day which begins at about 9:15 am as I wait until 9 am to leave our house, the traffic being quite wretched up to 9 and quite lovely immediately afterwards).

So upon leaving the office just after 4 pm a week ago last Thursday, I folded the letter into thirds, put it in a nice envelope, put the envelope in my shirt pocket and motorcycled to the U-turn in the median and across, going the wrong way down the last 40 metres of Faisal Street, as cyclists do, and turned onto the first side street. I didn’t have to turn down the second because Ashraf, the carpenter, was at the falafel shop right where his shop’s side street intersects with the main side street. He tried a bit of hail fellow, well met, but I was immediately occupied with getting the bike turned around and pointed back at Faisal Street, gave it a shot of gas, lurching towards him, slammed on the brakes as I came up to him, pulled the letter out of my pocket, handed it to him with a snarl, and blasted off, showering him with gravel from my spinning rear tire.

He had been served.

This was 4:20 pm.

At 5:20 pm I was at home and there came a call from “General” somebody at Ashraf’s shop.

“Aii-iiy-wa (Ye-e-ess)?” I said, unruffled. We rent our home from a general. Our last landlord was a general. Our apartment building is full of generals. The building super is a retired general. If Ashraf wanted me to talk to a general, I guess I could get a few generals to talk to him. But better save them for another day.

The general on the phone could apparently think of nothing more to say and Assim, my old, old friend who owns the hotel and married me off to his cousin Reda, came on the line and said, “Ashraf is saying to pick up everything on Sunday.” I thanked him and Reda called Ashraf for me on that Sunday to sus it out. It would be ready, “tomorrow” and “tomorrow” was the word again the next day, Reda gaily conversing with him a bit extraneously each day to sustain the fiction that it was a friendly phone call.

On Wednesday I drove by his place after work, passing the shop and ignoring Ashraf’s beckoning me to stop and talk, making a U-turn about 20 meters down the street. The pieces of my desk and book shelves were all completed and sitting against the buildings on both sides of the road. Probably he didn’t have the money to send it all to the paint shop for lacquering or whatever it is he usually does, and I called out to him as I drove back past his shop that I would return after 10 pm with a truck.

Reda and I motorcycled back to that neighborhood at about 10 pm and started looking for a truck. It’s the city that never sleeps. Trucks for hire congregate at nearby bridge over the Mariotea canal nearby. Some were too big for Ashraf’s side street, some were too small for the load, some were too expensive, some drivers looked just a little bit crazy and on we went, Reda bargaining at last for one that had a driver and an extra man.

When the deal was made there was then a long conversation about how to get to the shop, when finally the men said, “Oh, Ashraf. We’ll see you there.”

Reda and I took some wrong way street shortcuts on the motorcycle to Ashraf’s while the men made a legal trip with the truck, all of us arriving at the same moment, as it turned out. It was all sweetness and light, we got the stuff loaded, down the road and up the hill to our house, up four flights of stairs, into the guest room/office and off to bed before midnight. I’ll stain and varnish it myself, who knows when?

I’ve worked over 1000 hours, 1500 perhaps, at home with boxes stacked on each other for a desk since giving Ashraf the LE4000 15 months ago. I didn’t really want to go on for another 15 months checking twice a week to see if it was all inching along or something.

The power of the press. Perhaps I shall write more letters to the Pyramids Monument Tourist Police Station in the future... that I never deliver to them. It was a sufficient threat this time around just to ask the villian if he would like me to send the letter.

26 June 2010 – interested parties

Well, my monthly charges at the bank went through yesterday without overdrawing anything and I thought I’d give pen to certain... interested parties.=

Yesterday also firmed up some new arrangements with a new customer for ATS translation where I work. It is a customer I found. He had Googled for “native English speaker copy editing Cairo” about six months ago, lining up his ducks for services he would be needing as he prepared to crash into forming an Africa infrastructure news service (for international construction companies, technology companies, etc. wanting to know about government tenders around Africa).

As it does today, or even Googling just “copy editing Cairo”, my website came straight to the top six months ago. And also, “native English copy editing”, for which I continue to be number one in the world. I’d be a little bit rich if I could tell people how I did it but I don’t actually know why it is tops in the whole world. Anyway, it only brings in about four or five large assignments a year.

Quite unexpectedly, I loved my Peoples of the Pacific Islands elective and Introduction to Archaeology courses in about 1973. Between the two the whole direction of my studies changed entirely. I struggled with the idea of leaving African economic studies... leaving that “investment” behind... but it was a particular repressed insight on a particular day at a particular hour at a particular moment that burst out of my subconscious and calmly said, “The Pacific is full of wonderful small peoples with wonderful small problems, with a romantic prehistory and... besides... the population of Africa is going to double twice by the end of the century and the economies will not.” It was those precise words. I will never forget them.

I finally faced it. I simply didn’t want to watch those unhappy African stories unfold for the next 40 years. And suddenly I was free. I was gone. That’s the last moment that there was any inner conflict and suddenly I was in graduate school studying language in prehistory in the Pacific Islands.

I never lived in a huge city where my various lives keep proving useful as they do presently.

I was on Saipan for some years when it hardly had an economy.

Then I was back in the American Midwest from the mid-1980s just in time for a long recession.

Then I was in Australia just in time for “the recession Australia had to have” but insulated from it by a large scholarship and certain university employment in a different department.

Then I was back in America just in time to watch the neo-con bubble inching towards the wreckage that would surely come. I saw it before in the Savings and Loan excesses when they were neo-con deregulated in 1980s and wondered how it was materially different than the subprime bubble – but the scale this time was of an entirely different order.

But then there was Australia again and the dreamy grant Andrew Pawley and Malcolm Ross had... finishing up things I hardly imagined 30 years before that we would see completed in our lifetimes. It has taken and continues to take me into a lot of studies on matrilineality... an unexpected result because few MalayoPolynesian societies in the Pacific are still matrilineal... but they were as they migrated into the area 3500 years ago (Hage 1998, Hage and Marck 2003, Marck 2008). Similar results for Bantu and other Niger-Congo speaking prehistories in Africa: matrilineal migrants. I’m looking to get to Brussels again and the Africa library there in the coming years.

Anyway, I was able to watch the neo-con wars, the neo-con economic implosion and the neo-con oil spill from afar.

I’m in this vibrant economy – six percent annual growth again this year – that seems set to give me the kind of retirement I imagined when I bought my little flat here in 2005. Really hard work this year, but more like picking and choosing next year, and more so the next, and the next...

People work hard here and life gets better, at least a little bit, for most people most years and seems set to go on like that for a while. America was influential in encouraging the economic liberalization that’s behind it. The Yank government isn’t always wrong about everything Middle Eastern. And when it is the Egyptians blame the American government for poor leadership rather than the American people for poor followership. Still, few people know I’m also American and I never bring it up in conversation. And it is always my Australian passport that accompanies me to driver’s license renewal, etc.

It was a stroke of luck when one of the young people in the neighborhood loaded a copy of “Australia” (Nicole Kidman in the northern desert) onto my computer and Reda and I watched it one night. “That’s Australia?” she asked. “Yes,” I said without qualification. “When can we go?” she wanted to know.

Reda’s had cataract laser removals. Or I guess it’s ultrasound but here they call it “lazer” in colloquial Egyptian. One about 40 days ago and one about 15 days ago. They turned out just great. The phone company seems to pay for everything on their health plan. 50% of Egyptians have health insurance somehow. I’d never have guessed that but now I’ve noticed that figure mentioned in two reliable sources. And hers continues after retirement, Mr. Ibrahim tells me.

She came home one day with a purchase order from her health plan with a lot of medications on it and “cataracts” on one of those lines. That was the first I heard about her cataracts. I only knew that she kept rather bright lights on in the hallways at night. She said she’d like me to take her to the hospital the next day. I assumed it was for a consultation but it was for the surgery itself and we were there all day, me dozing off in the waiting room and she getting quite upset about it as had the guys at the motorcycle mechanic’s place the night before. I had been working 60-70 hour weeks for a couple months by then and finally… I did it. I dozed off in public. Twice. And really offended everybody. 

Live and learn.

Anyway, she’s been off work all of the last 40 days or something and sleeps a lot during the day and rattles around the house into the wee hours. So I do, too. I knocked back to 35 hours a week before starting the English teaching certificate work 5 or 6 days ago. I’d been running short on sleep for several months and finally just really wasn’t sleeping at all. So I’m feeling a bit refreshed these last many days.

Reda and I are both still just terrible about language and it’s still all kind of pitiful baby talk between us. But there’s a lot of trust and joy and it doesn’t seem to matter much to either of us. And when it does Google Translator remains our faithful companion. We get a lot of mileage out of well-planned jokes and surprises, too.

I come home to find her working on the English CDs for a week or so and then I get into the Arabic CDs for a while but then she finally says, one day, “I don’t remember any of this stuff,” and I say, “I don’t either,” and I guess one just really doesn’t so much anymore at our age. But we find ourselves going back to the CDs every few months and have another go at it. She has more and more vocabulary coming back to her from rote memorization in secondary school. I have the immersion advantage. We both have each other. We’re just kind of happy and don’t care. And there is progress, however slow.

Mr. Ibrahim (BA English, Grad Dip Linguistics), his wife (BA English Education) and Reda and I are planning out a book of Cairo Arabic verbs. The most common ones. Which, as in any language, are the most irregular. It will force me to go over it again and again and again. And this book of verbs will be designed to get the user accustomed to the pronouns, prepositions, common juxtapositions of people, places and things, etc. and not just the verb tenses etc. There isn’t anything quite like what we’re planning on the shelves of the American University in Cairo Bookstore and they routinely stock everything on Egyptian Arabic so they’ll probably stock ours.

I’ve looked for lexicography projects since I got back in 2008 (that I might volunteer on and similarly force myself into a book, again and again and again going over the same material, even at the level of data entry and proofing) but I’ve met most of the “real” (theoretical) linguists in town... there aren’t many of us and we meet once a month on Saturdays... and no one knows of any dictionary projects, etc.

16 July 2010 – irrigation on the floodplain


Reda and I were up the Nile in El Minya overnight, leaving just after I got home from work on Thursday.

I didn’t see the kind of activity on the floodplain, as we drove in yesterday evening, that I saw this morning coming back.

As we drove the Nile floodplain on its main roads coming back late this morning in the Peugeot 504 station wagon bush taxi with six other passengers and the driver, I saw some hundreds and hundreds of men by ones and twos on donkey wagons but mostly by twos on small motorcycles hauling their little petrol-powered irrigation pumps and sort of nine to eighteen foot, 6 or nine inch diameter pump hoses to the fields. The taxi driver was just great... always slightly under the speed limit and taking every kind of sensible precaution with oncoming traffic, etc. I relaxed and enjoyed the sights.

Some significant portion of water use is unregulated at the level of the individual farmer. If you have land and there’s a canal running by... you can pump from it. But of course the canals are thousands of years in the planning and making and it’s all pretty logical, according to the engineering assessments, of how to make water available to the whole floodplain... districts thereof, actually.

What is now regulated is the making of new farms fields, as I understand it. For millennia and millennia people just expanded the farms and canals as their families grew. But now, as I’ve mentioned once or twice over the months, there are at least some areas where the area as a whole is using its quota of water running into its district’s canals, there can be no more water allocated to the district, and no one can open up new land (i.e., prepare more floodplain for irrigation) and one, especially, cannot pump onto land not registered as irrigation land. But as a practical matter, I suppose they don’t extend the canals into those areas, anyway. So it’s all pretty simple at that level and these guys sort of burst out of their residential compounds and onto the roads all at once as if police in cruisers coming onto the streets from their station for their day’s shift. It made me wonder if there was a specific time they knew that the water level of the canals would rise. They live in grander and lesser villages and settlements and not in the middle of their individual fields like the Yanks or Aussies... all off at 25 kph on motorcycles (always a second man to carry the pump and hose) or donkey carts (often, or perhaps usually, with just one man) to their fields outlying a few healthy kilometers away.

I wondered at the scale of the retail donkey cart business and where they are manufactured. They have nice, sturdy springs and wheels as on light to mid-weight family cars. They were all small wagons today that a single donkey can pull when full. Somewhere they have larger two donkey carts but none were in use for this morning’s purposes.

I wondered again if our driver would make ample adjustments for this traffic but I needn’t have. He was once again a dream and assiduously kept his speed down and gave a wide berth as we progressed through one vast expanse of fields and its flurry of irrigation equipment transport, through village areas, and then on through more fields and small equipment on the road.

It’s as flat as south central Manitoba and Minnesota/Northern Iowa. It’s the height of summer and all the floodplain was green with one thing or another unless something had just been harvested and was only stubble. There were no bundles of fodder from these cuttings laying around as one might imagine a neighbor or perhaps more distant districtman might be glad to liberate anything left overnight.

I saw grape fields close up for the first time. Or took good notice for the first time because they were bearing fruit and I finally knew what they were. They grow the plants in little bushes of about three feet in height and diameter... no climbing sticks or wires for vines, no nothing that I saw... and we’ve been having the lovely purple and white fruits for what seems like months now. I think they were 80 to 110 American cents a kilogram this year, the white ones less, and the purple ones more, where I didn’t know what they cost last year... I just never noticed because they were so cheap. They were half the price and less 5 years ago, I remember clearly. But now perhaps they are said to have gone more onto the international markets and doubled in price due to export competition/pressures.

It’s not currency inflation that’s driving those particular prices up. The Egyptian pound is steadily, year after, year... right at 5.4-5.7 per American dollar. Australia’s currency exchange rates fluctuate with the Egyptian pound, but only when the Australian currency is having its own ups and downs. Over any appreciable period of time the Aussie dollar comes back to 90 US cents and 5.0 Egyptian pounds.

So, this stuff is kind of rolling through my mind, the grape prices, the end of farm expansions, and, more personally, the recent increase of cigarette prices by 40 cents a pack because they finally started taxing them in the past month or so. They cut back petrol subsidies a bit at the same time, I’m told. A lot of second hand information and guesses perhaps. I didn’t notice.... driving the motorcycle and buying whole guinea (pound, LE) amounts of “benzene” so I can pay and depart instead of waiting for them to come back with change. I just heard about this but don’t know if I’ll be able to take notice and make sense of it next time I get fuel. I can never remember what, in a sense, the unvarying price was before. It was 1.75 guineas a liter for one octane level but I never noticed if that was the one I always got or not. One price was always around 1.75 and the others were always some odder number I never committed to memory. So, previously, it was about 1.25 a gallon, American and 35 cents a litre, Australian... the 1.75 guinea per liter stuff.

The road rose eventually where the floodplain and its farms ended and we rose not fifty or one hundred feet to a kind of low plateau or former floodplain of undulating, very low rises. I first, as we came towards the edge, noticed six very tall, thin smokestacks sticking up out of nowhere over the edge of the rise where the floodplain ended. I had noticed these for the first time yesterday evening and wondered what they were. It occurred to me in El Menya that Reda and I were communicating well enough now that I could ask her what they were and I did so as they came into view on the way back. First I saw four so I was trying to get her to focus on the number four and that there were four things I wanted to know about standing up like fingers on the horizon, holding four fingers up very straight and still. But by that time there were eight or ten so we had to have another go. Then, all at the same moment, she realized what I was asking about and a broad graveyard came into view with five or ten of the smokestacks seeming to stand in the midst of the graveyard and I made a faint noise of comprehension, thinking for an instant that they were smokestacks of crematoriums, smoke belching out of every third or fourth stack of a Friday morning. But then the small size of the surrounding population occurred to me, dozens more of these smokestacks were appearing to the right and to the left. And I then realized that I had never heard of Muslims cremating, and I was uttering a little noise of deflation and misunderstanding just in time to rescue myself from the opinion of the other occupants of the taxi. My little noise started just an instant before their little groans over my initial misperception. No. Muslims never cremate, I was told, eventually, after asking Assim when we got back home.

They turned out to be the smoke stacks of brick kilns which I saw as our aspect rose a moment later and then there was some further elevation that exposed kilometers and kilometers of them right at the edge of dry side up from the floodplain, desert edge, Reda gaily noting that I figured out what they were, with some helpful pointing on her part. There they obviously had the best of both worlds. A clay kind of substance to mine from the surfaces of the low hills and valleys right at the edge of the floodplain’s high water table. I didn’t see any surface water pipes at all and wondered if they mustn’t simply drill shallow wells down to the porous soil of the water table.

I wondered what hundreds and hundreds of trucks it might take to haul all their industry to Cairo, just as we had seen hundreds and hundreds of “big trucks” (semis/lorries) waiting to be loaded with fruit and vegetables along the larger canals where there are always substantial paved roads. I’d not seen anything like those hundreds of trucks out in the fields since trucking, myself, into and out of the American West Coast and Southwest desert “truck farms”.

Then came a beautiful sight. “Cairo” was only “140 km” away and our home was about 15 km before Tahrir Square in Cairo proper, to which the signs always refer. The drive was now through the desert where it is cheaper and more convenient to build a superhighway and there would be only a few tiny villages and too many, really, sparkling but empty modern petrol stations. We were dropped off with the Pyramids to our right and our home up the hill on the left and walked home. Which was a great deal easier than catching these taxis and nice passenger vans to El Menya. They’re always full by the time they get to our part of town. They muster 15 km deeper into the city so when we left yesterday we first had to city-bus 15 km in the wrong direction.


We had been talking about going to El Menya for a couple weeks because this week was the first anniversary of Reda and Zuba’s sister’s daughter’s death (a 40 year-old) after many years of battling Hepatitis C. Even in Australia, that battle is rarely won. Or such was recently so.

But then there could be no further delay, because, tragedies of tragedies, the very woman’s 45 year-old sister and her husband were killed in a motoring accident. Almost a year to the very day after the other one had died. We went to Zuba’s house before we left where she gave us money and other gifts for their sister whose only two daughters were now dead.

We went straight to El Menya and straight to the sister’s house where I soon passed out in the bed they made available to us. I hadn’t expected the trip until the next day and had worked all night on my teaching certificate the night before. When I woke up this morning it was with the knowledge that Reda had not come to bed all night and when I went out into the lounge room she, the dead women’s mother, and her son, Khalid, were right where I had left them 12 hours before. They had talked all night and they all looked just terrible. Reda was ready to go. She was too disheartened to come up for the funeral the day before and didn’t tell me until we were suddenly leaving yesterday, why we now had to go. The rows of funeral chairs were stilled filled by men yesterday evening when we arrived.

Khalid had told me last night that his sister and her husband had been driving, the car rolled into an irrigation canal upside down, and they had both died there. He sadly walked us to the main road this forenoon and took us to one of the utes/pickup trucks in the settlement’s main street on the other side of the canal, the ute driving us, and picking up more people along the way, to the mustering point for the Peugeots and passenger vans to Cairo.

We didn’t talk about family business in the Peugeot but as we walked up the hill to our home on the Giza Plateau after getting out of the taxi, she explained that there were four children. Three are in university and will stay there. The fourth is Mohamed who I met last night at his grandmother’s house. There it was explained to me that he was the youngest child of the deceased couple, was still in secondary school, and would now live with the grandmother (where he will be innocent, obedient, industrious and loved).

Reda had about just enough energy to feed me, tell me those further details of the situation, and no more. She went to bed and I went off to the mechanic near my old neighborhood to see about getting my oil changed but he was too busy until tomorrow. So I went off to find Assim to see about further details of the deaths and to talk about a few other situations I might clear up with him.

Assim expressed his anger with the dead couple. All their anger. The mother, the aunts, the surviving brothers. All of them. “They didn’t have to leave us like that. They should of been more careful. God knows!” What they specifically believe is that God knows, for all the eons ahead of us, what people there will be, what, minutely, they will do of their own free will, and what will happen to them in every detail just as he knows all such things for all the people who have come before us and those of us alive today. We will have our own successes and failings, they will, in the main, be of our own free will, but God knows what they will be and where they will lead us from even before the time we are born.

Assim was able to tell me a bit more than Khalid did last night. Khalid teaches French and also speaks wonderful English but I didn’t want to sort of sit there and grill him about the death of his second sister in a year. Assim had been talking to Zuba the last two days and the crash was a single vehicle event on a deserted road. Perhaps veering to avoid a stray cow or something... they overturned... and slid into the canal upside down. Did they drown or were they already dead? Why would I ask? Why would he spontaneously say? I didn’t and he didn’t. I don’t even know if it was day or night.

There were happier things to talk about. I had decided to work with adult business English conversation students for my $30 an hour when I get my TEFL certificate in coming weeks (5 or 10 I’d say). People in the industry say this is a sensible and possible full time aspiration. Mr. Ibrahim at the translation service has a 12 year old daughter, Nada, who has been coming to the office twice a week and I have been tutoring her. Practicing my TEFL lessons on her. And I know enough, generally as a linguist and in the evidence of my self-taught foster daughter, Iva, that if you can catch kids and work on their hearing of a new language, the benefits in terms of their pronunciations of the new language just kind of naturally flow with small amounts of coaching and exercises. But this natural ability quickly fades from about 13 on up. Except in Iva, who went off to New York City for some months recently at the age of 30 and came back to Australia talking like a Yank. Yes, Ivancica! I noticed. How rude of me to mention it now....

So, I’m learning how fast 12 year olds grab on to good instruction, how quickly they pick up the specific new sounds of the target language, and how quickly they forget if I don’t have the right kind of exercises to send home with them. So Assim’s daughter, Maria (Mariam) is also 12 this summer but a bit further along to begin with and it is now that I want to bring her in on these twice a week sessions with Nada. Well, she just about died and went to heaven when she heard this and then there was the question of how to show her where the office is. I would come at 11 am Tuesday and take her on the motorcycle, or we could take the bus or we could take a taxi (just the once). Maria said she wanted to go on the bus. But her mother said, “Take her on the motorcycle. She’s afraid to do it. Make her do it.” It was all very gay and after Maria and I exchanged mobile numbers I went home, Reda was still sleeping, and I worked on www.AmericansInCairo.org, a web site I own, and then turned to this missive at about dawn.

I had told Assim about midnight that I couldn’t teach his older kids... he had asked about that, too... because I have to specialize and that I’m going to have the two: adult business conversation and children under 13 who need tutoring or small group work in hearing and pronouncing English correctly. I told him, “I have to get serious. I have to be making $20,000 within a year. Reda retires in a year and gets a lot of free doctors, and operations and medicine. People say it will still be free after she retires. Is that really true?” (This all comes with her phone company employment).

“Yes,” he said. “But the Ministers have been telling President Mubarak that there isn’t enough money. And he told them, ‘We can’t stop doing these things for the people.’ And the Ministers told him, ‘We can’t go on doing all these things for the people.”‘

Assim is very grateful that I never want to talk about domestic politics. And I sincerely don’t want to. I never said “boo” about Australian domestic politics or foreign affairs until I was a citizen and, in the same way here in Egypt, I am a grateful guest of this nation as I was in Australia and even then I never got involved in politics after citizenship except in the area of Palestinian rights (and Israeli wrongs). But there are times, such as this night, when I need to know what’s going on and Assim has the most eloquent way of distilling it into the folk knowledge of the moment and I always accept it without a word except, “Thank you.”

It’s well past dawn and Reda was up at 7 and left to take a bus to a (free, for the moment?) doctor’s appointment having to do with persistent colon problems. “I’ll take you on the bike,” I said. “I don’t understand this colon problem at all. I want to come along and talk to the doctor.”

“I’ll get the doctor to write you a letter.”

“Hmph,” I said, lying essentially, and secretly glad for the chance to now sleep all morning. The doctors at the phone company’s clinics don’t like the husbands coming along. And Reda probably took one look at me and knew I’d fall asleep there, repeating my previous hospital offences. As I mentioned some weeks or months ago, falling asleep at the motorcycle mechanic’s shop one Sunday after a long weekend of overtime into the wee hours. They’re all still upset. Though less so every time I see them. Egyptians can get very completely indignant and do hold on to it a bit. But they are also completely forgiving, or at least completely forgetting, of all my faux pas so far... given a little time.

There are reasons to rejoice, these days.

For all of Cairo right down to just about every single person I know.

The price rises and ratcheting down of subsidies comes at a time when most of Cairo is sharing in Egypt’s 6.5-7.5% growth (and more) for the last many years and last year and this year as well.

It’s the first time I’ve missed an American or Australian recession in 40 years.

The US/EU neo-con recession hasn’t caused any hardship here. One of the most significant effects came most of two years ago when computer components fell in price by over 2/3. Every teenager in Cairo seems to know how to build a computer. But this fall in components prices meant that, in Cairo, a new computer, with completely new parts fell from about $600 to about $120. The only people who suffered were the internet cafes because by the end of six months or a year of the new, low prices so many households had computers that their members were no longer filling up the internet cafes.

Which is huge to families with teenagers in school that need lots of computer hours to muscle up their skills for the job market. And the major appliance megastores are all packed from the moment they open to the moment they close – this is Cairo and, yes, one occasionally exaggerates... but I think that helps paint the picture. Things are terribly upbeat and I especially take notice of the closest major appliance store whenever I drive past it and indeed, it is simply packed with people all the time.

Another measure is what must be tens or hundreds of thousands of wonderful $500 150cc Chinese motorcycles in Cairo, the rural areas and small (upper) Nile and Delta cities. Just like mine… these bikes. Mine has 23,000 km on it in 23 and a half months and has cost me $2.10 Yank a day over those months, an extra 79 cents a day if I were to depreciate the whole thing in one fell swoop. The modern world, computers and motorcycles, have come to them. They won’t all have to come to Cairo and Alexandria to find them or earn the money for such things. They’ve taken a lot of the money the Yanks give them and have world class farm to market roads, rural electrification and sewerage systems.

The young people who want to buy my little flat were thoroughly befuddled and then embarrassed when their “deal” with a bank “for the first week in June” turned out to be only an offer to look seriously at the application once the woman achieved the current-job-longevity-requirement in the first week of June. So the first week of July they finally fessed up and said they were having problems they didn’t understand.

“No worries!” I said (lit.: “No problem.”). “In Australia we apply to five or six banks and they all say the same thing. Either they all say, ‘Yes’, or they all say, ‘No.’ If they all say, ‘Yes,’ then we take their offers to a good accountant who can read their offers and tell us which one is giving us the cheapest deal with the least hassles and potential problems.”

“But isn’t that sneaky?” they asked.

Noooo, it’s like buying a new car. They expect you to. You go to five different places who have the same new car and see who gives you the lowest price. It’s just like buying a new car. They expect you to shop around.”

So every couple of days since then I get a merry call from them at yet another bank where they are being treated courteously and the loan officers are glad for the application etc., etc. It’s been such a great lift because I’ve really been suffering for them, not to mention myself and my creditors. Other potential buyers are appearing in the wings and the young couple will accept this as all that can be done at this point in their financial lives if all the banks decline. I specifically want to sell to them because then the whole building will be owned by one family again, “my” family, who can parlée  it into... well that’s another story.

So now I will leave off by slapping in a few paragraphs that haven’t found a home in these missives previously. It’s about “residence”. And the subject at the moment, has, indeed, been residence. Therefore:

“I married Ma’adi. We live in Ma’adi.”


I heard this said in Cairo in 2005. It was a 30ish man replying to the question of where he and his wife had made their home upon marriage, she being from Ma’adi.

This was some weeks or months after I was looking for a flat to buy and my new acquaintance, also 30ish man, mentioned that their flat was near his wife’s parents and that it was part of the neighborhood into which I was buying, if I was happy with the area he would show me, and the “house”, as flats are called in Cairo English, that he knew to be for sale. He and his wife of similar age were expecting their first child and they were happy to think that the young woman’s mother and two sisters were nearby.

Of course these kinds of stories occur in a wider society where the male prerogatives, concerning residence, are essentially absolute. A normative kind of statement that can be made is that the wife, when living with her husband’s family, seeks to isolate her husband’s resources from his family that surrounds them, seeking for herself, her children and her parents and extended family all that she can in the face of constant small pressures from his family. I guess that same normative statement can be made when they don’t live anywhere near the husband’s family, but of course when they do it is all amplified.

There are accommodations of various sorts. Two brothers in their mid and late 20s married two sisters in their early and mid 20s and took them to live in the men’s father’s apartment building. I have watched the young ladies become each other’s partners in microscopic passive resistance conspiracies and they are endlessly glad for each other’s company. Some small group of men, perhaps two or three, was discussing the young men’s circumstances with me one night and there was a certain question of resource distribution in the air in that patriarchal homestead.

“Well, what are their wives thinking of all this?” one asked, because it involved an element of competition between the young men.

“Their wives are sisters,” I said.

“What?” a second asked. Neither he nor the first speaker seemed to expect me to know of such patterns.

“Their wives are sisters,” I said.


“Well....” they both sighed, much astonished. “Then there’s no problem,” one of them said, completing the thought both had begun to speak.

Just guessing at the time, whoever won the father’s favor would then be under pressure from his wife to receive some share, she would divert some of the resulting resources to her sister, who would present them to her husband, ameliorating her husband’s hurt at not winning the prize outright. In fact, I wondered if the father wouldn’t transfer the resources concerned to the son who would play all this out the most elegantly... which he… eventually… did.

Outright matrilocality – which, for Cairo purposes, I would define as renting or buying in the bride’s mother’s building or neighborhood (bride’s father’s building or neighborhood if still alive and still cohabiting with the bride’s mother) – is common enough that one young engaged couple’s residence was undecided and the subject of some gossip in an office I visit occasionally. “It’s a crazy man who makes his wife live somewhere she doesn’t want to,” I said lazily, as the office was entirely friends of the bride. One of the eldest men looked a bit ruffled and then said, “Yes, but we can’t say that.”

And my talk was cheap. I have no relatives in Cairo and we would, just naturally, as we have done, live nearest my wife’s family as do most men who have migrated here and marry women with local extended families. Convenient to her place of employment, in our case, but not inconvenient to her family or even “mine” on short motorcycle hops. Which is similar to another kind of success story for the bride: the groom marries the girl next door. Then she’s in heaven. Her mother will be right there.

04 September 2010 – Ramadan 2010

It’s 1:30 am and Reda just called the landlord, one “General Sami”, to arrange payment of the rent for tomorrow some time. I was amazed and mentioned that I don’t call people after 9 pm at all unless it’s someone I know who turns off their phone when they’re sleeping.

“No one’s asleep this early on a Friday night during Ramadan,” she said, taking my hand and walking us out to the balcony. There she swept her arm grandly across the panorama of the immediate neighborhood and indeed the lights of every lounge room and most of the other rooms were shining where all but two or three are normally off by that time of night.

“There’s no light in that one,” I said, pointing to the single flat that wasn’t lit up.

“They’re not home yet,” she said.

Perhaps our memory of Ramadan this year will always return first to a really wonderful evening Assim had for us at his hotel with his oldest brother, Ahmed, and his wife – who I had never met before.

Ahmed’s 15 years older than Assim and, technically, it would have been him watching over the brother-less and divorced (Zuba) and maiden (Reda) female cousins all these decades in Cairo (their mothers were sisters from El Menya) – but Ahmed was away those many years with an illustrious career in the Gulf… all his kids got PhDs, etc. And then there was a sister of Ahmed and Assim at that big Ramadan meal, a medical doctor, who I wasn’t seated close to and didn’t get a chance to converse with much. But the star of the evening was Reda because something amusing had happened at our house that Assim exploited for the occasion.

It was just a few nights before that Zuba had telephoned. She no longer tries to boss me around but I occasionally remind her of the days when she did… by teasing her... which is what slowly made her give up trying to tell me what to do all the time after Reda and I first got married.

If the home phone rings at 3 am, I know it’s Zuba so when the call came I thought I’d do what I might do to rile her and picked it up, myself:

“Hallooo”, (the English is used to answer the phone in Egypt).

“Salam aleikum, fein Reda?” (‘Hi, where’s Reda?” – i.e., why didn’t she pick up the phone, it being 3 am?).

“Mish mawguta,” (‘She’s not here.”)

“Eh?” (‘What?’)

“Mish mawguta.” (Reda had arrived to the phone and was watching, amused that I would mislead Zuba).

“Ley?” cried Zuba. (‘Why?’ – the only answer would be the hospital or something – Reda’s always either here or at Zuba’s at 3 am).

But the answer was:

“Fii ręgil tani.” (‘There’s another man.’) Reda’s face lit up in delight and she started pulling her right hand across her throat as if holding a knife and cutting her throat.

“Eh?” Zuba said, shocked and mystified.

“Fii ręgil tani.”

“Eh?” Zuba cried loudly.

Now Reda was just flatly laughing, and reaching out to take the phone. A little revenge against the sister who had authority over her for decades?

“La’a, aana kizęęb,” (‘No, I was lying.’) I said before Reda got the phone away from me with her left hand, still making slicing motions across her throat with her right.

After the phone call Reda picked up right where it had started and told me quite happily and excitedly that now her family had to cut her throat.

Without knowing it, I had said the magic words. I attempted to convey Reda’s amusement to Tarek, the great composer, a few days later. But he simply froze as I said the specific words I had spoken. Suspended animation. I attempted to continue with the story but, he was so disappointed that I knew those words that decided I’d best act like I hadn’t spoken them and changed the subject. There is a particular phrase in Polynesian languages and another in Micronesian, both ancient we think, going back to the time of Christ and before, having to do with men sneaking around at night with their girlfriends. Young men would run from my office, screaming with laughter, to hear them spoken (and the old and the proper are mortified to discover that a foreigner knows them – I had seen Tarek’s sort of suspended animation when an Islander or reacted, crestfallen, to my knowledge of such things in Egypt or the Pacific Islands).

When I next saw Assim, I mentioned the phone call. He was instantly amused but attempted a frown, saying:

“You can’t say that!!! Now Zuba has to tell us all!!! And we have to make an investigation and ask everybody in the family to swear what they know!!!”

He let it go at that and since he was amused rather than concerned I let it go as well.

But the inquisition did come. It was on the day of the Ramadan feast at his hotel that I began the present story.

It was in a guest room perhaps 7 meters by 7 meters. The one my sister, Jana, stayed in, come to think of it.

Tables from the dining room had been brought in for the meal and I had been seated next to Ahmed, Assim’s (much) older brother, and we had some interesting chats in English during the course of the meal.

Everybody finished eating and we were spreading around the room a bit. To the couch along one wall. Pulling our chairs away from the table. Ahmed’s large wife laying down on the double bed with Assim’s 10 and 12 year old daughters sitting on the other side of the bed.

Eventually, there was a lull in all the conversations all at once and Assim, stood up, taking a central position in the room, saying, as he swept his arm widely around the room until his hand was pointing at me, something like, “Huuwa olti, ‘Fii ręgil tani.’” (“He says, ‘There’s another man.’”)

The slouching young girls’ spines went straight as arrows and their eyes went huge as they looked at Reda and then Ahmed’s wife and then their mother, Hanan, as the latter two exploded wildly in utter mirth.

Reda was instantly beaming demurely and squirming in her chair like a naughty school girl caught out about something.

The inquisition was on.

Assim formally and loudly called to the various blood relatives in the room, one by one, asking if they knew anything about this while I chirped out again and again that I had been lying and Ahmed and Assim’s wives (and Assim’s sister, el doctora) laughed on and on, wiping tears from their eyes, Reda beaming happily and making a motion of a knife slicing across her throat every time our eyes met, the little girls incredulous and only gradually understanding the accusation and that it was a joke. They sat through it all, each with all eight small fingers her mouth, which spread their mouths wide, their teeth clenching down on their fingertips, their aspect darting from person to person as Assim, and the others, one by one, spoke.

Goodness. Everybody was so amused… and Assim, surprise, surprise, the great maestro of those moments, was finally mock mollified and sitting down… the conversations from before picking up where they left off. A cherished memory of the day for the family.

Twice since, I think, I’ve been talking on the mobile to Reda, catching up on where to meet later and there was to be some delay at her end. Both times I said, with a light inquisitional voice, “Mafish ręgil tani?” (‘There’s no other man?’). And twice the reaction of her and the people around me was the same. She happily protesting that her family would get a knife and cut her throat if there was anything like that going on. The people around me amused that I would know that phrase and amused that I would play the jealous husband to my wife (there were no children present). “Knife.” “Sikkiina.” Finally, perhaps, I shall finally remember the word.

The next couple of times I stopped at their house, Assim’s little daughters greeted me with speechlessness, eyes as big as the moon and smiles as wide as when they had eight fingers in their mouths at the hotel dinner. I didn’t known it was possible for the mouth to stretch that wide unassisted.

Otherwise there are these nascent language services accounts from the rich side of town that my ATS boss once didn’t want me to have on a freelance basis (but now finds some of them bringing in not just native English speaker copy editing work but then translation of the completed work into Arabic – which pays him more than other aspects of the total job pays me). Not a great change in income but I have to kind of put on the brakes and make sure these new clients are getting taken care of properly before I go out and look for more. Sometimes two at once want something done overnight. My rates are low with the understanding that they will rise to the going rate by about this time next year.

Otherwise, still, I’ve been drafting grant proposals to get some of the Pacific Island’s most productive breadfruit to tropical Africa (the present Pacific Island breadfruit in Africa comes from the time of Captain Bligh, his crew’s mutiny to some extent due to the pregnant girlfriends they had on Tahiti after six months of carousing while waiting for the right time of the year to prepare breadfruit cuttings for the West Indies [and transferred to West Africa in the 1840s]). What is now being shipped produces two or three times the Tahitian variety of tree already there.

The world’s great Breadfruit Institute (in Hawai’i) turned all their Africa contacts over to me because with the American recession they have neither the resources to help write grant proposals nor do they know enough about Africa to be of help in all the necessary areas. So I’ve learned a lot quickly about the science of breadfruit and have found it fairly easy to get NGOs in Ghana started on applications as 1) I did an African rural economies BA and visited Ghana in 1971 and 2) I lived with breadfruit cultivation for 10 years in the Pacific Islands.

Diane Ragone (rah-goh-neh), the Breadfruit Institute’s founder and director writes overnight that US-AID might fund African initiatives (we missed, 31 July, the deadline for the Australian grant that would have been most appropriate as we were just, at the time, first pulling information together). She’s to go to the mainland and meet with them in DC. And I’m her guy in Africa.

I don’t think they need my participation on any of the grants’ actual activities though I help quite a bit with the bona fides of the African groups. So I’ll just be staying here growing my language services accounts.

Still, quite an honor to be helping the Diane Ragone... and the African NGOs. I’ll always be the guy who emailed or telephoned out of the blue... the guy with the magic wand.

Samoa has licensed the genetic material to Diane and Diane has licensed that genetic material to Global Breadfruit (Cultivaris) and they clone, in layman’s language, and produce as many tens of thousands of “germs”, I think they call them, as one wants, and raise them up to 6 inch plants with nice little root balls. At $10 each, FOB Germany. We’ll probably be speaking of 500-1000 plants in the Ghana proposal (as much as $50,000 all up – $5000-$10,000 for the plants, ~$5000 in shipment costs, and then 3-6 months of central nursery care before they are made available to farmers).

Samoa’s foreign aid program to 300,000,000 tropical Africans, one Samoan variety having ultimately come from tiny Rotuma.

Thousands of islands over thousands year. And rare incidents in prehistory that one of the crossbreeds resulted in super-producing seedless varieties. And there are some Micronesian super-producing varieties. The most bountiful breadfruit in the world. They out-produce the present African varieties 2 to 1 and 3 to 1. They even out produce Belgium by dryweight when comparing to grains and Belgium is the largest producer per hectare in the world. Two varieties are shipped that fruit at complementary times of the year – good for people who want to eat every day. Good for factories that want product every day.

Prehistorically, the Samoan varieties concerned were, perhaps, the source of or a destination for the breadfruit I was around in Micronesia. I didn’t know there was any breadfruit in the world that out-produces certain Micronesian varieties. Western Polynesia and Central and Eastern Micronesia kind of stayed in touch after they were settled two and three thousand years ago so I assume the best from the one place would sometimes have made it to the other. I’ll find out over time.

This first grant that the Breadfruit Institute will write a letter of support for goes to Ghana. It will test my ability to find NGOs that, in turn, have or find agricultural stations where plant survival is most likely to be up around 100%, as it was among Global Breadfruit’s first of its kind shipment in history to Jamaica – where it is the national food and where the shipment perhaps arrived to some fanfare. The second shipment went to Honduras and was apparently met with suspicion by agricultural inspection teams at the airport who delayed the release a number of days and there was significant plant mortality. And there are no “valorization” issues in Ghana. Breadfruit saved tens and tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands, perhaps, from starvation or aid dependence in the 1983-1984 famine when all their other crops failed and their Tahitian variety breadfruit trees kept producing.

15 November 2010 – seeing double


Well, Muslims are celebrating Eid (‘festivity’ – there is only this one a year plus the Eid that ends Ramadan) and the Yanks are all set to celebrate Thanksgiving... the national starting gun for Christmas shopping.

Interesting work keeps coming in and I am transitioning to those in fits and starts with the security of my children’s books production activities for which hours are available to me any time I want to do some of that work.

The motorcycle continues to be an enormous source of convenience and continues to cost about $2 a day – petrol, parts, service and licenses. And fortunately none of my friends, rich or poor, have cars unless their work requires one. Assim, Reda’s little-bit-rich cousin with the small downtown hotel doesn’t even have one. Which is a great asset when Reda asks about when we might get one. I’d say ‘Never. Lots of taxis are still cheaper than a car. And you don’t have to park a taxi.’ Kind of moot points, though. We always take the most dangerous-looking junky-looking bus before we take a taxi.

There has been one traffic ticket. It was an $8 ticket. Which I could have paid on the spot (and left with my driver’s license). But I didn’t have $8 with me (flat tires are only $4 for tube replacement and I think I had $5 or some similarly slim surplus). So they kept my driver’s license and told me where I could pick it up for $10. So "within a week" I had paid it off at a facility that didn’t have long waiting lines, etc. But it was $20 – an extra $12 for not paying on the spot. Not just an extra $2. And I didn’t have it. I had the $10 and the standard don’t-go-anywhere-without-$5-for-a-flat-tire. But some guy standing at the next window paying some dozens and dozens of slips for a trucking company pulled $10 off the top of his LE50(=$11) stack that looked to be about 9 inches high... and I was off and on my way.

I was at the motorcycle mechanic tonight. I’ve been around there a bit lately as the return spring for the brake pedals age and give out after a couple years – those factory-fitted from a couple years ago. But there’s a massive supply of poor replacement springs in town and the shops are just kind of replacing them once a week until they are all gone or a better supply shows up or something. Now there’s the same problem with the rear brake-shoe retractor springs. So possibly I’ll be stopping by the mechanic 8 times a month instead of 4. Or maybe they’ll just replace both at the same time once each week for the duration.

I was sitting in one of the chairs at the mechanic’s place reflecting on such things when my eyes drifted over to the interior wall on which his tools are hung. He now has two of everything... spanners, screw drivers, socket sets... everything. Not just one. For the two mechanics who now make their living there... not just him. Life’s kind of doubled up for him in similar ways. Two years and three months ago he had a few Vespas (‘fesba’) that he rented out. But then people like me started showing up with these new Chinese motorcycles he bought two, renting them out, then a third and a fourth and perhaps now a fifth and a sixth. And since all that was doubling nicely he got a 14 seat passenger vehicle and has personally started plying the highways and byways of Greater Cairo – they don’t try different things every day, although they may be free to do so. They run regular routes, experimenting a bit with others, to see how they might keep their van loaded most of the day for the highest price. So his young brother-in-law, who he has been the second man for two years or more, is now running the shop and training others and so on it goes.

Not so different than Assim who added the 6th floor of his building most of two years ago where the hotel/hostel was just on the 7th floor for the first five years he had it open. Double the fun. Double the income.

The property situation is perhaps well out of hand now but it hasn’t yet crashed like it did in America and Dubai and when it does it will involve speculative luxury villas and apartments rather than the apartments most of us live in. Too many in the far west of Cairo and too many in the far east. Perhaps tens of thousands of them empty. As is true of middle and low income housing but those have the thronging millions coming of age or immigrating to Cairo to keep that market rather better balanced out. Reda and I hope for our savings to intersect with the luxury stuffs’ prices’ demise on a two to four year basis.

Some of the sleepy old kinds of businesses are going under. But there are abundant examples of the world of consumerism coming to Pyramids and finding a hearty reception: Arab and American fast food, car dealerships, appliance super-stores, computer shops.

Otherwise, I have become the Breadfruit Institute’s ‘lead man’ in Africa. Which pays for nothing… except for the sins of my past. See link below:

www.jeffmarck.net/breadfruitrevolution.htm

16 January 2011 Not what we might call "Mr Clean"

Six or eight months ago – yes, June it was or perhaps May – I told Reda and various friends that I would then most earnestly begin seeking freelance work from area translation agencies to do native English copy editing and that it might be the end of the year before it came to much good.


I had been working since March or April at the closest translation service to our house. But southwest Pyramids is not the place to be looking for work touching up Arabic to English projects. I don’t know if I’m the only "European" living in Pyramids but at that agency it’s all English to Arabic – equipment manuals, doctors’ reports – things at a personal or small business level that brings the outside world to them. So my time at the translation office has been spent exclusively – not almost exclusively – precisely exclusively – condensing Dickens and Shakespeare for Egyptian middle school students.

I have a pronounced astigmatism which wasn’t diagnosed until I was 35 years old. Long afternoons reading on the beach etc. resulted in sick headaches up to that time which was when I first got glasses of any kind including all through my school days and through a BA and two MAs. Consequently, before the diagnosis and first pair of specs I had little interest in reading for pleasure or purpose, but did so laboriously when circumstances required.

So, with three different kinds of reading glasses I started reading Dickens for this guy in Faisal (Pyramid’s northwestern most district) in February and, to me, it was thrilling. Dickens’ use of verbs not normally associated with the action described so often created a good bit of inner laughter. Adjectives not normally associated with the noun in question. Same thing.

The Dickens was just delightful.

But though it was "a far, far better thing than ever I have done", it paid almost nothing so by about May I was looking for a polite way out and it was handed to me on a silver platter by the translation service owner himself, Mr. Ibrahim.

He went to Mecca in May, and made the minor pilgrimage which is the same as the annual Haj except you get less "credit" for it... but can do it in less crowded circumstances. It was also a bit of a business trip for him, selling elementary level books for learning English. The Egyptian and Saudi curricula are similar to some extent and Dickens and Shakespeare are a safe bet in Egypt because such condensations are required reading in the public schools and the private schools as well. So in a town of 20 million people you can do what you like and try to sell it to the schools for their (4-6 million?) students. It’s all out of copyright and Shakespeare, too, which isn’t actually Shakespeare. Every last public and private school in town is required to have their students read Charles and Mary Lamb’s 1810s prose summaries of some of the dramatic works, simplified for middle school second language students.

Never was there one single copy editing job. By April I was looking for a graceful way to branch out.

The opportunity came when Ibrahim didn’t pay me when he came back from Mecca around the first of June. And he hadn’t paid the phone or DSL or light bill before he left which were going out one by one and I had started staying home to do my work for him.

"You can’t pay me?"

"Not yet."

"Assim just got back from Mecca, too. He took his whole family. He couldn’t pay me either so he sold his car." Which was true but involved his 10 or so employees at his hotel, not just me.

"You think I should sell my car?”

"Yes. I do. I’ve got to pay my rent and feed my wife."

He said no more and I left for the day. Whether it is some sort of special license to all returning pilgrims or just him... I now had the excuse to go out to look for freelance copy editing assignments from other translation outfits. Ibrahim and certain others (partners in his school book operation) had insisted that I not freelance when I came to work 7 hours a day for them. But there had not been a single copy editing assignment which is what I applied for (its higher pay, specifically).

So, with neither income from copy-editing, nor, especially, getting paid the little they owed me on time, I let my fingers do the walking, found the three or four next closest translation services, sent them CVs by email, and walked in a few days later, a new one each day for several days, next-to-cold-call-fashion. They were like Mr. Ibrahim. They were delighted to meet me in person and all offered work as they had occasion to receive appropriate commissions. I had seen this with Mr. Ibrahim and by about that time I was beginning to understand what it was.

They had all seen the big commission slip out of their grasp because they knew no native English speaker doing copy editing work. So that was my entree to all these places. The big one that got away. They were all just delightful, as was my current "employer" when I first met him. But I was beginning to wonder by then what good it could do if they would then advertise "native English speaker copy editing" as they all proposed to do.[here]

Look for yourself. Do it now. Google those words and yes, it is moi meme who is numero uno in the world, right below the two to five paid placement outfits. And this was true at the time I was making these forays last June. It took me two or three months from about February to move to the top. But it results in very little business. Nor had it helped my initial potential benefactor, Ibrahim of Faisal, to bring any new English copy editing work to his west Faisal service. We both have services that report to us about visits to our web sites and I, El Numero Uno de la Monde on Google, gets hardly any visits at all and just five, as I recall, actually retained me (and all paid when I was done, thank goodness).

Mr. Ibrahim’s web site visits are most predominantly from people linking through upon finding him listed in the online Yellow Pages – which has no dedicated "copy editing" category.

My breaks began to come from two men I hadn’t heard from much since visiting them in June. One had a major corporation’s web site for me to copy edit some time during the summer and thought he would give me a try. His client was quite happy but no word from him came again until about October when he and another agency started getting in touch quite a lot and then, too, a quite wonderful man with an agency in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia started sending me editing and proofing as well. I asked the gentleman from Jeddah how he found out about me and it wasn’t my web site. It was someone he knew in Cairo, who he didn’t mention by name, who knew of me somehow and that, perhaps, is the heart of the story on how people seek such services as well – referrals from other clients.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had moved on to A Tale of Two Cities and it was a joy to get paid to read it. Condensation ran much the same as with Oliver Twist and David Copperfield – getting rid of 8 page adjectives etc. and just leaving Dickens’ other magical words alone. A Tale of Two Cities was approached as with the others but it was a shock to see we would need 1700 definitions in the glossary when we ran the software to see what was in there (that is, 1700 words beyond the 2500 most frequently words seen in English late elementary curricula). I think it was 400 or less for the others.

 

I’m not an educator and hadn’t really noticed the difference but Dickens was using a whole different level of vocabulary in Tale of Two Cities (Oliver Twist and David Copperfield were first serialized in newspapers or magazines and only appeared as books afterward).


Then there was the Shakespeare work and Charles and Mary Lamb’s ~1810 "retelling" which was just that much different than Dicken’s English of the 1830s to 1860s that it isn’t accessible in the same way. It had to be heavily edited and then to-ing and fro-ing between using more glossary items, getting rid of a lot of their words with modern synonyms when they are a bit archaic. A tougher row to hoe than Dickens.


The work will always be there if I want it. And I do. I worked at Mr. Ibrahim’s office 52 hours in October, 50 hours in November and 52 hours again in December. I had a difficult master’s thesis to copy edit over the past eight days. A guy in a certain regional government ministry who needed a formatter and typesetter more than he needed a copy editor. So I haven’t seen Mr Ibrahim for a week except when he called me to come collect my pay for December.


We had a good laugh late last month. His wife had their car and was at the school where she teaches and the battery had gone flat. We went down there on my motorcycle and between my on board motorcycle tools and some nicer stuff he had in his car we started working on the situation. But then his daughter got out of the car and closed the door and his wife’s keys were then locked inside. So I scrambled over to his apartment on my motorcycle to get his car keys from the baby-sitter and got back rather quickly. The rush hour was closing in on us and we were all laughing as one thing we did and then another had no effect on the stubborn starter.

 

Then I saw Ibrahim was some yards away on the main road flagging down a three-wheeled taxi ("toktok" – from India) and assumed he was off to buy a new battery. But then he and the toktok driver drove straight to the car and Ibrahim pointed to the battery under the driver’s seat of the toktok. It was the size of a car battery so for $1 we took out the battery, hooked it up in his car, and the car started right away. The toktok driver got his battery back in place and blasted off to make money in the rush hour and we got the car’s old battery back in place and blasted off in our different directions, laughing, to see if we could get to our destinations before the rush hour had the streets backing up badly. We’re pals, now, I guess.

 


Reda and I are still fairly pitiful when trying to speak the other’s language... getting better glacially. Her more than me because her secondary school English is coming back in bits and pieces. I’ve got my spoken Arabic CDs and she’s got her spoken English CDs but we’re both about 60 and don’t retain much when rote memorization is involved. We have better luck spending time sitting together with the dictionaries working back and forth on vocabulary we want to know or want the other to know. Spelling out the Arabic word with the Quranic diacritics and, for the English, the symbols of the International Phonetics Society helps me most in terms of memorizing and trying to pronounce words when practicing them on my own without an Arabic speaker at hand.


So life involves a lot of good faith, a lot of Google translator and a lot of jokes and surprises. The utter failure of tonight’s surprise is what inspired me to sit down and write a small wedding missive.


The man on the ground floor who sells salted fat and sugar to the students from the boys’ high school across the street had been cleaning up the empty shop next to his sundries shop and suddenly, yesterday, the unit he had cleaned up was filled with shelves and counters and display racks of fruit and vegetables. And he seems to be set to stay open 24 hours a day as most fruit and vegetable shops do. Which is great for a lot of reasons. 24 hour security for my motorcycle which is locked to the lamp post 20 meters away, for one reason. And something besides Borios (an Oreos copycat) for when I’m ready for a snack and a walk – which might be at 3 am because some of my copy editing work involves largish overnight jobs.


I noticed yesterday that he had iceberg lettuce which I had noticed at a very few other produce markets though more so lately now that I think to look for it. I had been feeling low in a not-enough-veggies way for a number of days and it was like a dream come true to see this guy’s shop open up. And everything is in season now, though less so for some fruits. The tomato crop has been fabulous as well as for cucumbers, capsicum and a number of other things I like but don’t know their names. And there’s too much of all of it. The tomatoes are 20 cents (AUS/US) a kilo, vine ripened, picked yesterday, etc. and about half of it rots before it’s sold. Getting a little overripe in the farmers’ fields, I guess. I can’t imagine how little the retailers are paying for them. The trucks coming from the farms can be seen driving the neighborhoods begging the retailers to take them.


The produce shops have a pleasant way of just piling one’s small bits of this and that onto their scales and charging a "salad" price per kilo. Today it all cost me $2.50 after adding a kilo of bananas to the salad stuff. If I really want to make Reda feel she’s living a glorious life, I bring home bananas, milk and sugar. But today it was all about salad and I contrived to be in the kitchen chopping it all up as she came home from work. Well, she arrived and just felt invaded. Big disaster. And she thought it was a plainly crazy idea to be using iceberg lettuce for salad when everybody knows it’s for mashi (the rice wrapped in grape leaves one sees at Lebanese restaurants and Arab weddings... grape leaves, iceberg lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves, stuffed into small hollowed out eggplants – dozens of ways to make mashi, perhaps).


So she fought the iceberg lettuce away from me, stuffed it into the fridge, and then came over to the counter where I was cutting up the tomatoes and started trying to grab the knife away from me because, as I understood her to say, I obviously didn’t know how to cut tomatoes.


Egyptians will simply grab things from you or grab your arm and, with what force they can muster, drag you away from something they don’t think you should be doing. Well, I was not going to fight over a knife and came in here to the office to write this instead.......

We’ve just had dinner this half hour later or more and there were tiny pieces of iceberg lettuce in the salad. And they say contrition is puppy poop. Anyway, she’s brightened up... which is what everybody says about her: "Kulliyom mabsoota." (She’s always happy.)

We’re in a new flat again. This last general kicked us out early, too, saying we had violated the lease by getting a land line telephone. And he only gave us 5 days to get out. I wondered aloud to my friends as to whether he had an adult child who would be taking it or if there was someone offering to pay more. "No," they all said. "Nobody wants you to put a phone in their house. Or to get the electric or gas in your own name. Did it say in the lease ‘no phone?’" "Yes, but why?" "Because some people will get those things in their name and after 5 years go to the land office with the receipts and say they bought the place but lost the papers. They never win those cases. Or in some cases you can’t figure out who’s lying. But you can’t touch them and it might take 5 years for you to get them out... all the time getting no rent... all the time preventing you from selling it if that is what you want to do... all the time wondering if the son or daughter you bought it for is going to want to get married before you get rid of the other people. Nobody wants you to get a phone in their house."


So here we are. Five weeks in our new place. Our concession to a legal system that uses a soft hand when poor people or others make the aforementioned kinds of claims. Many of them are illiterate but prove, in the end, that it was the landlord who was trying to pull off a dirty trick. Actually our phone was never associated with that flat’s address in the phone company records. It was a line thrown down from the roof by people Reda works with at the phone company. But it was a general telling us to go... so off we went. Up the hill in the same "city of generals". Renting from a woman who bought the place from a general years ago. Here the phone line already came down from the roof and through the office window and there isn’t any "no phone" clause in our present lease, anyway.


The move would have been a disheartening financial blow if not for this recent blossoming of relations with the accounts that I developed last year. When we decided not to take the general to court and simply move out as he was demanding, we sat down to look at what our moving expenses would be. All up it was going to be about $1000 which we didn’t have. The new landlady was going to cut us some slack until January or something but that wasn’t the half of it. But we just kept putting one foot ahead of the other and going through the motions when two days later I got a large, short-time-schedule copywriting project and then another and then another. I worked flat out at the computer for five days while Reda field marshaled the house moving. My computer was the last thing out the door and the first thing made serviceable at our new place here. And the jobs I had by then finished paid $1100. $100 is huge money in this part of town. Our "profit" from those days. $1100 in 5 days. But it’s feast or famine. I probably won’t see that again for a while.


The flat is a mirror image of where we lived before. I was, for a lot of days, walking out of the office and into the bedroom rather than taking a left towards the kitchen and the coffee urn.


The snow storm in Jerusalem in the middle of December was a big howling sand storm here. It took days to clean the house up. We were protected from strong winds better in the previous flats but we’ll be glad for any smaller or larger improvement in the breeze through the summer at the top of the hill here we are now.


Reda makes the occasional comment of late about buying the place, but at the same time gets excited every time she sees a banner advertising a vacant flat on the bustling main street near the apartment building she built with her sister. The air is much fresher here. The flats are bigger for less money. There would be a place to park a car if we get one. But I do love the life in town, too, and the new places going up on the empty lots in our old neighborhoods all have basement car parks. We shall see what we shall see.


Reda’s got 96 days to retirement, she tells me. She acts like it and has ever since her cataract surgeries in about June. Really took the wind out of her sails. She takes a lot of sick days, now, that she maybe doesn’t need, and I notice her office now has four desks instead of three and hers is no longer the big oak desk for the manager of that unit to preside over (she got that job only a year ago or so, "Yes," she said. "Madame Noor turned 60 and retired. And when I turn 60, I’m going to retire." She patted a small pile of papers on her office desk that she was working on and said quite happily, "We have to."


Ours is a Muslim marriage contract. There are no civil unions under Egyptian law. One is married in church or mosque or synagogue and divorce (which the main Christian denominations don’t allow) is also defined and implemented according to the rules and practices of one’s faith. In a Muslim marriage contract the man always signs up to "take responsibility" for the woman "from" her family... her father or oldest male relative signing her away. I’ve never asked about her income or what she does with it although I suppose her nephew Mahmoud’s undergraduate tuition is a big part of the story. Last year was just plain tough financially but whatever little bit I brought home she made it last and allowed me the dignity of being the household’s sole source of support.


She talked recently about wanting to continue to work somewhere after her retirement from Telecom. Maybe she will. The nephew Mahmoud has another year at the institute after this one. But I brought up to her a general vision of traveling quite a lot. "We could be in Damascus for six months... anywhere. My work comes by email. It doesn’t matter where we are." So that was news to her. We’ll go to Mecca first. If we went anywhere else outside Egypt first she would just want to be in Mecca anyway.


At the electronics and IT institute Mahmoud is fast learning to use the English he was only taught to read K-12. And he’s settled down to studying and other better priorities than a year (?) ago when he was demanding an expensive motorcycle or car and just plainly couldn’t understand why his mother and Reda wouldn’t buy him one. Danish kids start buying all their own clothes when they are 14 and move into their own flat when they are 18. Which was also true of the Yank-Danskers as I was growing up. Such questions of whether that is better for the youth are moot. Young people don’t generally have any way to make enough money to live independently here in Egypt.


I procured a 10-20 weeks Teaching English as a Foreign Language Internet course in about June. A respected outfit and the certificate from that course would have opened lots of doors. But – OH – sick headache. The course rather assumed that one would either have other teaching experience or be prepared to supplement, on a self-starter basis, one’s preparations through readings of certain theory and practice of education stuff. I could see myself slowly slipping behind on a 10 week schedule, then a 20 week schedule. I didn’t see how I could get it done within the 6 month limit. I was 5 weeks into it and had lost 5 kilos from stress (plus the 20 kg I lost, on purpose, when I came back from Australia in 2008 – I was beginning to look like Uriah Heep). The 20 kilos went by way of a lot of walking. Most of 10 km per day for 3 months. The 5 kilos in 5 weeks was from stress and loss of appetite from the course so I cut bait.


But it all came good. I’d rather work at home doing the copy editing. The work is very absorbing, time flies and I finish up, usually, the day I get the assignment or the day after. I email it off and that’s it. I walk down to the cafe and by the time I get there I can’t always remember the project’s topic, even if it took several days. Don’t care. Don’t have to care. The client agencies do all the marketing and billing. They pay within 30 days and before that if I ask.


When I hear the phone beeping with a text message it’s almost always one of the agencies as my friends are all too old to fuss with texting much and it’s a bit of a thrill to hear the phone beeping upon the arrival of a new SMS.


My PhD thesis supervisors probably think it’s a big funny joke that I would be copy editing anything. But I do it at a level that seems to strike a comfortable place in the clients’ hearts. And I do. Yes, I do, feel like I’m in a Bourne movie when a text message comes to me at a cafe and I have to blast off on my motorcycle down desert roads to get to my computer and send a quote off or, alternately, just sit down and do the job immediately because the agency’s already promised a client that "their" guy would do so.


The motorcycle – 28,000 km on the mean streets of Cairo in 29 months. We are, indeed, enjoying our second childhood together. We will go to the far side of town tomorrow to look at sewing machines. But we will take buses and subways. We won’t leave until after the noon prayer after which one has an hour or two to drive around town quite easily but then we would be driving back 20-25 km through full-on weekend traffic by the time we were done looking around the markets. Not a place for the faint-hearted. We don’t even go to her sister’s house 5 km away between 5 and 8 pm on work days. It’s not so much dangerous as it is very slow going and hard on my hips to balance two on the bike when we are at a standstill.


It’s the Coptic Christmas Eve tonight and we just finished watching the midnight mass on TV. Pope Shenouda seemed to be wiping away tears, as well he might. And the congregation looked gravely terrified. Perhaps 20 Christians were murdered in a bombing outside an Alexandria cathedral as they left a New Year’s Eve mass. I only heard about it a couple days ago. I finally had time to get the TV set up with its e]dish that day and the first thing that came on was a Middle Eastern Christian funeral with two or three caskets being passed over people’s heads into a cathedral. The sound wasn’t working yet so I didn’t know where it was. I had heard Christians were being bombed again and again in Iraq in recent days but only yesterday came to know that the funeral I saw on TV was more probably for some of the people in Alexandria.


If the God-damned Yank Congress and presidents would cry like this when Israel cluster-bombed civilians in Lebanon and phosphorus-bombed civilians in Giza maybe they would stop saying naughty-naughty to the Israelis and start telling them to withdraw the settlements and fucking well behave themselves.


Europe is united. There the people believe that the biggest threat to world peace is Israel. Except for the UK people who think the biggest threat to world peace is America.


[here]People no longer stand up when American ambassadors enter the room. Not in Europe or the Middle East, anyway.


I just yesterday pushed the "Confirm" button on the Internet payment that involved what I expect to be the last taxes I ever expect to pay to the United States of America.


I shall never be helping to fund its violent adolescence on the world stage again.


Why didn’t I know about the Alexandria bombings sooner? Because nobody even talks about anything having to do with America and Israel. What difference would it make? They don’t. I don’t. I’m glad to never give it any thought at all... except upon seeing the tears of Baba Shenouda.


Fuck America. Fuck the horsies its Congress rides around upon.


Thank you for your time,


Jeff

 

27 January 2011 00:45 – long johns and hippie chicks

Egyptians wear long johns through the winter. They make all the difference between enjoying Cairo at this time of year as opposed to often wishing one were somewhere else. All my friends wear long johns. My wife wears long johns. Her sister wears long johns. Our nephew wears long johns. Everybody wears long johns. You don’t even have to ask.

 

I joined the legions and got some long johns for myself towards the end of my first winter in Cairo in 2006, finally taking the Egyptians’ advice a month or two before returning to Australia 15 April. I left for Australia feeling like I had discovered an entirely different city. I no longer got cold in the outdoor cafes in the evening when the breeze picked up a little. I no longer shivered through the evening and early morning working hours as I rattled around the house. People don’t heat their apartments in Cairo. Not in Pyramids, anyway. We all wear long johns.

 

I’m not the first Des Moines Luther Memorial Church person to have retired to Cairo. My parents’ great friends, Wilber and Cleo Williamson wintered here, as I recall, more often than not after they retired. Or perhaps it was somewhere else in Egypt and not Cairo.

 

As an undergraduate African economies student, I had been to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in 1968 and first came to Egypt after West Africa, East Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen in 1971.

 

I was a student in Enok Mortensen’s confirmation classes about 1962-1964. He was in Des Moines for a year or two, half time as pastor of Luther Memorial, and half time gleaning bits of Danish American history from the archives of the Evangelical Danish Lutheran Church in America Grand View College. I knew then that he was writing a history of the Danish Lutheran church in America but it was only within the last year that I learned of his many other books and I sent off for some of them.

 

Enok spoke to us briefly about something special one Saturday morning, our small confirmation class meeting in the parsonage just west of the Danish old people’s home, Valborg, and across the street from the Grandview College women’s dormitory, although I don’t know what the latter is now. He spoke to us of something he did when he was 17 or 18. He had come to America with his family when he was 16. When he finished high school he got himself to San Francisco, rode steerage to Japan and, from the Asian coast somewhere, had taken the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Moscow at the height of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He never said more about it than just those basic facts. But it got my mind turning as to the things he might have seen and heard when taking that route at that time and going onward to Denmark from Moscow. By 1968 when I finished high school I had also met Bob Shreck who went on to be a famous cancer doctor in Des Moines. Bob’s tales of his Middle Eastern travels when he was about 20 and I was about 15 also got me thinking I might do well to go out and see a bit of the world.

 

I had come back to Cairo in 2005 to see if I might like to retire here and I stayed the better part of a year. I was here in 2005 when Jyllens Post published the Muhammad cartons. I saw the Danish products immediately disappear from the supermarkets – yards and yards of empty dairy cases around the neighborhood more or less immediately. I came back in 2008, retiring from academics and getting on with my new life here. The Danish products had not come back. Nor have they today. So neither can I comfortably tell people that I’m American nor, since 2005, mention that my family was entirely Danish before that. I had been living in Australia through the 1990s and have been a citizen of Australia since 1999. So even before 2005 I had a more useful nationality to mention than saying anything about America. Egyptians don’t often speak English and when they do they don’t seem to notice differences in English dialects and they commonly assume that I’m a native born Australian. I’m careful not to disabuse them of that impression until they are aware that I am pro-Palestinian and have been for a long time.

 

Ever since hitch-hiking from one Mediterranean youth hostel to another in 1968, I had been witness to the common European opinion that these settlements Israel was establishing in the Occupied Territories were a cause for great concern. We young people in the youth hostels in 1968 swore oaths to never visit Israel or buy Israeli products until the settlements were abandoned, an oath from which I have never strayed. Charles de Gaulle, the French President, had put it succinctly the year before: [Israel] is organizing, on the territories which it has taken, an occupation which cannot work without oppression, repression and expulsions… and if there appears resistance to this, it will in turn be called “terrorism”. He was president of a nation which had just seen over 100,000 people killed due to its colonial project in Algeria – a project which France, in the end, had to abandon.

 

So there I was, late summer, 1968, properly concerned about the settlements. But I was going home to where I had learned to swim at the Jewish Community Center, had a very few classmates who were Jewish and had seen a Jewish girl at our high school play Anne Frank most worthily some months before in the drama club’s spring production. Enok had taken our confirmation class to a synagogue the year he was in Des Moines. A pleasant rabbi spoke to us and showed us around. My siblings and I were all aware of the Danes getting the Jewish people of Denmark safely away to Sweden during the initial Nazi occupation. I’ve had Jewish people point out to me that those Danish Jews had to pay well for the help they received getting to Sweden… but so did one of my mother’s cousins in Viborg when he went onto Nazi arrest lists after he and another boy or two stole some of their troops’ rifles while their owners were eating lunch.

 

From 1968 I’ve always had comfortable friendships with Jewish people starting from that fall when I began university. I have never felt it was difficult to separate Jewish rights and humanity from Israeli government wrongs and inhumanity. I remember, especially, having lunch with three Jewish people in Australia in the mid-1990s. There was an Israeli-Australian who was glad to do long university years in Australia. One’s time owed to Israeli military service was calculated according to how much time one spent in Israel and how much time one spent in other nations where one had citizenship or permanent residence. He was a lieutenant, I think, in the Israeli army… and was called to service but little because he lived in Israel but little. The second was a UK-Australian Jewish woman doing a PhD. The third I can’t remember specifically except that it was a young woman and that I was the only non-Jewish person there. It was all of them glaring at me for a moment… me the American… when the subject of Israeli government excesses came up. It was America that gave the government of Israel its license to steal what it wanted from the Palestinians, not those Jews at that table or their families or their nations.

 

I went back to America 1999 to 2004. I had not looked for a pro-Palestinian American organization to join when I was back there previously, 1986-1991. But I certainly went looking for one in September of 2000 when Ariel Sharon ascended Temple Mount under armed guard. By doing that he symbolically proclaimed that there would never be an end to The Occupation, there would never be an end to the settlements, there would never be a Palestinian state and that East Jerusalem would never be its capital. Was he wrong?

 

Instantly there was the uprising in the Occupied Territories and a good pro-Palestinian organization came looking for people like me in those days. It was by way of the picture of the little Palestinian boy holding his arms out as if with hand flags – or perhaps he did have little flags – as he stood in front of an Israeli tank, blocking its progress as it advanced into the little boy’s Palestinian neighborhood. It was the picture the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) splashed across America in full page newspapers advertisements some weeks or months into the rebellion. I immediately joined ADC and, with their help, I began searching out Palestinians in the Omaha and Council Bluffs area where I was living and working at the time. I found few Palestinians who could suggest anything useful to do or say. Most of a year after Sharon’s fabled foray up Temple Mount, I finally wrote to my senators from Iowa – Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley… I don’t recall and response from Harkin. But I know it was Chuck Grassley who did because I remember that he did reply by way of a forgettable six page corporate letter. Had he come around to read it to me out loud, it would have sounded like a person speaking with a mouthful of rocks. I marked up his letter with bits of red ink and sent it back to him.

 

Then a few days later there was September 11th. I was one of those 14% of American citizens or residents said, at the time, to believe that we brought the attack on ourselves. Double dared them too many times, in my opinion, then and now. Just asking for it. My blood pressure shot up 30 points and only came down slowly over the next six months, I was so enraged to have watched us do that to ourselves. I began to plot my escape and worked especially hard on some Pacific Island prehistory topics that might take me back to the Australian National University, a development that eventuated in 2004.

 

I had been a polite guest of Australia 1991 to 1999. I was a Meals on Wheels volunteer and a foster parent but did not get involved in political issues… a spectator in “the recession Australia had to have” and other politico-economic issues while comfortably ensconced at the national university. But when I went back in 2004 it was as an Australian citizen thinking of the future and I joined the Australian Capital Territory’s Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine (AJPP). Or, now that I think about it, I only found them after returning from my 2005-2006 residence in Cairo. Once again, a good pro-Palestinian organization found me. This one through a poster on a pillar that I noticed when whiling away some moments standing in a line for an ATM. I worked with AJPP for most of two years and then came back to Cairo where I was going to have to plan out a cheap retirement. I hadn’t had the consistent academic careers of Wilber and Cleo Williamson.

 

I remember the years 1999-2004 back in the United States in many ways but one memory that made me proud stands out. I was visiting Joel and Karla Mortensen in Minneapolis. I was reading one of the Church and Life issues from their coffee table and, like those in my mother’s (Anna Marie Marck) home in Des Moines, it had some very useful observations on the plight of the Palestinians. I mentioned it to Joel and he said it was our parents’ good friends Thorval Hansen and, perhaps, Marvin Jensen writing up those articles. I remembered my father, Arthur Krog Marck, mentioning that LCA[2], or perhaps LCA and ALC[3] jointly, had ongoing relief programs in Gaza. That conversation was in the late 1960s or early 1970s. I was glad to read the Church and Life articles, to recall my father’s words and to think that one or both of the old synods had kept some support going to Palestine and may have continued to do so after the merger.

 

There were no feasts in Cairo when Obama nominated Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. The Clintons didn’t even understand why the Oslo accords immediately unraveled – they were either oblivious to the settlements issues or felt that they didn’t have the political capital to deal with them head on. Obama seems the same. His address to the Arab world in Cairo is only remembered here for the inconvenience of having him in town for the day. Every major road in Greater Cairo was closed. Obama’s speech was just more “naughty, naughty” if he talked about the government of Israel’s culpabilities at all. I don’t remember a word of it, actually. In any event, since that time, there has been no effective American government action to reel in Israeli Apartheid whatsoever. There is even the current fear that Obama will veto the UN Security Council resolution concerning the settlements.

 

I’m older than Benyamin Netanyahu and I hope we both live long enough to see the settlements and West Bank abandoned to Palestine as they should be. That will be the price of America regaining some respect around the world. For the moment the US government is kind of like mosquitoes in the summertime or something. One can’t completely get rid of them so one makes certain accommodations.

 

I never complained about the Afghanistan project but wondered how America could possibly prevail when the Soviet Union and colonial Britain before had failed to do so before. Thrice with respect to the UK. Afghanistan was a failed state from which we had been attacked. But Iraq was a failed state that had neither done us wrong nor had any relationship with Al Qaeda except to keep it out. And where was the American government’s moral capital to be mucking around in the Middle East, anyway? The Protector of the Shah. The Funder of Apartheid Israel. Etc.

 

Boy W. George. The Great Connector of Dots. Conqueror of Baghdad and Fallujah… Instrument of the Messiah… I’m not paying taxes for it any more. Literally. A very few days ago I pushed the “Confirm” button on the Internet payment that involved what I expect to be the last taxes I ever pay to the United States of America.  I shall never again be helping to fund its violent adolescence on the world stage.

 

My wife and I watched the Egyptian Coptic Christmas Eve mass on TV about the 6th or 7th of this month, as we did last year. The congregation looked gravely terrified. Pope Shenouda seemed occasionally to be wiping away tears… as well he might. More than 20 Christians were murdered in a bombing outside an Alexandria cathedral as they left a New Year’s Eve mass. I only heard about it some days later. I finally had time to set up our TV dish that day, as we had recently moved house. The first thing I got the dish to pick up was footage of a Middle Eastern Christian funeral with two or three caskets being passed over people’s heads into a cathedral. The sound wasn’t working yet so I didn’t know where it was. I had heard Christians were being bombed again and again in Iraq in previous days but only the day after setting up the TV dish did I come to know that the funeral I saw on TV was more probably for some of the people in Alexandria… the deadliest such incident in over 20 years.


If the Yank Congress and presidents gave it a think when Israel cluster-bombed civilians in Lebanon and phosphorus-bombed civilians in Gaza maybe they would stop saying naughty-naughty to the Israelis and start telling them to withdraw the settlements and jolly-well behave themselves. But I doubt that the recent murder of scores of Christians around the Middle East made Congress want to do anything more than what it is already doing… slogging on with their “War on Terror.” Is that one up to a trillion dollars yet? Is the “War on Drugs?” I don’t take much notice anymore.


Europe is united. There the people believe that the biggest threat to world peace is Israel. Except for the UK people who think the biggest threat to world peace is America. For myself, I think the biggest threat to American security is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). They have successfully lobbied Congress to ignore questions of right and wrong for a number of decades now. September 11 was just the beginning of the price America continues to pay… the slow-motion knee-jerking that had Boy W. George invading Iraq, for instance. Ignorant, violent, unreconstructed alcoholic that he is. Spending trillions in the Iraq war and “War on Terrorism” whose most significant effect will be remembered as that of driving Iraq closer to the bosom of Iran.


Why didn’t I know about the Alexandria bombings sooner? Because nobody I know in Egypt ever talks about anything having to do with America and Israel. What difference would it make? They don’t. I don’t. I’m glad to never give it any thought at all... except upon seeing the tears of Baba Shenouda.


TO HELL with the horsies the American Congress rides around upon. A president who wanted to do right by the Palestinians wouldn’t be allowed to do so by Congress.

 

It is one of the difficulties the Egyptian government faces with its own population: the failure of the Egyptian government to complain about Israel in any effective way. But the government is constrained by Sadat’s Camp David agreements with Israel and both governments have promised not to interfere in the affairs of the other… although Israel is scrambling to do so now that President Mubarak may soon be taking a permanent vacation in Saudi Arabia.

 

Egypt has at least 5000 years’ experience in distancing itself from events in the Levant. But it leaves the government of Egypt in the constant position of suppressing the moral indignation of its citizens who want to ask why no one is doing anything effective about the government of Israel’s theft of Palestinian land, life and liberty – and the question of why the government of Egypt should continue such a cozy relationship with the American government, a government which just goes on and on and on exacerbating troubled Middle East situations.

 

The reason falls into the collective American lap, as the Jewish people I was to tea with in Australia 15 or more years ago implied. The government of Israel’s license to kill and establish Apartheid is a specifically American Christian, ever faithful to AIPAC, license to kill.

 

The New Year’s Eve bombing of the Coptic cathedral in Alexandria and the current flurry of email I receive from Australia and America – about getting Obama to vote against Israel in the UN Security Council showdown on the settlements – has me thinking about all this when usually I don’t.

 

 

On a happier note, I married an Egyptian woman a couple years ago. And she retires from the national phone company in April. A product of President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s education reforms 50 years ago and more. Reda did a two year electrical engineering certificate in an institute Abdel Nasser opened up to women.

 

He personally visited her elementary school and encouraged female education in what he said to those children and shook their hands, as mentioned some weeks or months ago. So when I kiss her hand I kiss… It isn’t a story the middle and especially upper middle class likes to hear. It was all kind of Soviet and a lot of private land and production resources were appropriated by the government without compensation for their full value and, at times I am told, no compensation at all.

 

Reda mainly wears pants and capes and ponchos with her headscarves.

 

It is almost certain in our Pyramids neighborhoods, that almost any woman – or, especially, group of women – without headscarves is Christian. I was telling this to a young Nigerian-American man who I took on a brief tour of Pyramids suburbs some nights ago. “Oh, really?” he said, his head darting about looking for Christians. There was one directly ahead of us by about 20 yards. She was coming up to the bottom of the stairs up to the Metro platform and he kept his eyes on her as we walked along in that same direction. I had swept my arm to the south as we were walking a couple hundred yards from the municipal bus we had taken from our home to the Metro station bus stop and said, “There’s a big cathedral and other churches beginning on the next large cross-street down there. Mostly the Muslims and Christians just kind of comfortably ignore each other.”

 

“Look at that woman,” I said, raising my head and pointing my nose at the possibly Christian woman his eyes had been following. “Nobody’s bothering her. Look at the way she walks. She’s not worried about anything.”

 

Egyptian Muslim city women were progressively giving up the head scarf up to the time of the 1967 War. Then, like Jerry Falwell on September 11, who came bursting out the door and blamed the attack on American homosexuals and others. Many Egyptians couldn’t imagine that God would have allowed what had happened to them in the 1967 War if they had been living right just as Falwell imagined it was failures in American values that caused God to allow the events of September 11. Here, from 1967, the women began to return to their head scarves and the nation withdrew into greater religious fundamentalism, just as America has in the last nine years or more.

 

Now there are some Muslim women giving up the head scarf again. A very few and they are a bit like hippie chicks in certain ways – seeking a more international education, world view and identity. Legions of more and less educated young women are entering the work force and do not marry, and do not marry, and do not marry and then they get to be about 35 and there is the question, their embarrassed families’ question most prominently, of if  (no longer “when”) they will ever get married. In most instances they continue to live with their parents before marriage… even up to the age of 35 and beyond. They’re supposed to and often do in any event.

 

I read some astonishing statistics about the number of never married Egyptian women aged 35[4] and some equally astonishing figures on the number of divorced women aged 35 who had never remarried. But then in that same, highly independent and highly respected newspaper, I read an unquestioned quote of a well-educated and well-connected woman. She, in the context of an increasing religious conservatism (or “fashion” – did they call it “fashion” rather than “conservatism”) discussion, said that ninety or ninety-five percent of Egyptian women were now wearing the veil – which was certainly off the mark by forty or fifty percent – an Egyptian proclivity for exaggeration that I am coming to appreciate a bit more as time goes on. It’s as if people are surprised if you don’t exaggerate when making a point… as if one isn’t doing a very good job of it.

 

So maybe not all the women without head scarves in Pyramids are Christian. And if their husbands’ wedding rings are gold, that is the clincher. Muslim men wear no gold. Just silver. But it remains a good rule of thumb. Probably my wife never went around without a head scarf before 1967. She grew up amongst observant Muslims in an Upper Egypt city where she would have worn a headscarf from her early teens or so. But like the legions of poorly censused professional women of 35 years of age today who have never married, she hadn’t married by that age either and never did until she married me.

 

This was all turning over in my mind as we walked mile after mile in the sprawling suqs of Ataba the other day, looking for a sewing machine and buying clothes. She picked up a few largish pieces of fabric that she said were to become ponchos. I began to notice only about three months ago that she’s the only woman I know or see on the streets who wears ponchos. Hippie chick or something.

 

I asked her wonderful cousin, Assim, who introduced us most of two years ago, what it would have been like for her to go to work for Telecom with her electrical engineering certificate when she was young. “Forty years ago?” he said. “They would have put her in the lowest job and kept her there.” When we got married we rented an apartment near an area telephone exchange that she’s assigned to so she could walk to work. She was punctually out the door and on her way to work at 7:45 am on every working day until June of last year.

 

Then one June day she came home with one of the phone company’s health care purchase orders. Fifty percent of Egyptians are said to have employment-based or other private health cover. Upon the advice of Yanks, I imagine. One wouldn’t want, for instance, to be giving national health insurance to one’s unemployed youth – or would one?

 

Egyptian economic statistics are quoted with greater precision than social statistics (e.g., never married 35 year old women estimates) and I have assumed that the “50%” with health insurance that I read about is roughly accurate. So Reda (“warm satisfaction” – a both male and female given name) showed me, last June, a Telecom purchase order with the normal list of arthritis and other medications. But there was also a line that said “Cataracts” which I had never seen on the forms before… a condition she had never mentioned at all. She asked me to take her to the eye hospital the next day and I said, “Sure,” assuming it was for a referral or check-up.

 

Off we went on the motorcycle – I got it four or five months after coming back from Australia in 2008. Twenty-nine months and twenty-nine thousand kilometers on the mean streets of Cairo. But it turned out that Reda wasn’t at the hospital for a check-up. She was there for the first of two cataract removal operations that would have her on sick-leave through the next 45 days or more. It kind of took the wind out of her sails with respect to enthusiasm for her job. With only six or eight months left until retirement after her time off for the cataract operations, she began taking more sick days for less convincing reasons and was sent home without pay one day owing to her late arrival that morning – which was becoming routine.

 

So she is well and truly ready for retirement and I’m drifting into a routine of doing native English speaker copy editing for a few Egyptian and Saudi Arabian translation services – work I get through their to-ing and fro-ing email of all information and documents to my home. I will be able to service those accounts from any place in the world with Internet connections once Reda retires and we will start traveling.

 

Reda had no brothers and had never married before. Meaning she, as an Egyptian women of her age, has never traveled abroad for lack of suitable escorts. So we will be seeing the rest of the Middle East in coming years. We think nothing of it. Fathers  take their sons to church and mosque and teach them right from wrong. The murder rates in Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities are as low as in Tokyo and Amsterdam. Except when people bring terror to those they think would collaborate with Apartheid Israel and its guarantor – The Failed States of America. The tears of Baba Shenouda. Any Christian becomes a target. My memory of Christmas 2010.

 

I would have peppered this piece with more facts and better spellings about Danish American Lutherans, American Christians and Jews (do you follow Forward – a lovely, highly regarded American Jewish newspaper?), Israel (do you follow Haaretz – a lovely, highly regarded Israeli Jewish newspaper?), and Egyptian Muslims and Christians. But the Internet was down through the night.

 

Following on the heels of the Tunisian Revolution of recent weeks, Egyptian young people have been doing what they can to shut down traffic in central Cairo for several days (10 or 12 kilometers away on the other side of the Nile). A big push was being organized for today again, after a relatively quiet day yesterday, and since all this is organized over Facebook, etc., the authorities have shut down the Internet and cell phones altogether. I will email this missive when email becomes available again, as is. Written from memory and from the heart.

 

Egyptian birth rates are getting well lower than in the past but of course youth unemployment has to do with birth rates fifteen and twenty-five years ago and they were still very high at the time. So many young people without higher education or without useful higher education are without work or, at least, without well-paying work. And they’ve been busy for a day or two trying to shut down central Cairo road traffic. Even 40 and 50 years ago when President Gamal Abdel Nasser was asked what worried him most, his reply was “3000 new Egyptians a day.” It is perhaps more like 4500-5500 new Egyptians born every day now and something like 3500-4500 young Egyptians, on average, coming onto the job market every day.

 

We were up all night, napping off and on, watching the developments downtown on TV. The Friday noon prayers were called some moments ago and I’m sitting at my desk at home where I can hear the sermon from the large nearby mosque’s outdoor loudspeakers. Reda just now came into the room, curious that I hadn’t left for mosque. But I told her there was trouble downtown and it was better that the Egyptians go to the mosque, listen to the sermon and talk it over afterwards without any foreigners.

 

Egyptians ask me about my past and why I retired here and why I became Muslim. I’m fond of pointing out to them that I grew up in a Lutheran church. There no book or person told me that Muslims were going to hell or that there would be any way of knowing who was going to heaven and who was going to hell. And that since I imagine I will one day die in Egypt, I wanted to do so praying with them because their life here is so wonderful. They find that quite astonishing. “Come on down.” They’re anxious to meet you.

 

The summer is too hot for all but the most intrepid visitor (but you get very good price). October and November are nice as are March, April and May. And December, January and February are also lovely (if you bring your long johns).

 

Addenda - 2 February 2011 13:11

 

So we’ve got our Internet connections back.

 

I’ve been wondering if you’ve been watching the news of Egypt these last many days.

 

Tell me the Egyptian people aren’t magnificent!

Tell me these young people aren’t pretty!

Tell me Obama doesn’t now have all the ammunition he needs to fire Hillary Rodham Clinton and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee!

Tell me Obama shouldn’t be listening instead to that wonderful ex-US Senator Mike somebody who spoke on our TVs from San Francisco on about 31 January!

Tell me America wasn’t blindsided by the “rights” approach while it poured more trillions into the military approach!

Tell me Enok didn’t show us how to open our eyes without telling us what we would see!

Tell me these gorgeous Egyptian young people didn’t learn a lot from studying the non-violence of the American civil rights movement!

Tell me the Egyptian upper classes and their children weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like at their beloved American University in Cairo!

Tell me the Egyptian lower classes weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like in public schools that use American models of civics!

Tell me this isn’t the beginning of the END for Halliburton and the military-industrial “complex” General Eisenhower warned us about!

Oh, glory… Glory… GLORY!!!

 

Tell me what you will –

 jeff@jeffmarck.netwww.jeffmarck.netwww.jeffmarck.net/index-old.htm

 

27 January 2011 - night I had come home from food fight with the Sara Inn ADSL/WiFi system

 

0.5 days lost finding out if the bill had been paid (it had)

2.5 days lost trying to get the password (which only(?) Assim could get – but Mr Monsour did)

0.5 days setting up new ADSL modem

2.5 days trying to get the WiFi working

1.0 days waiting for neighborhood EEs to come look at it who suggested LE450 modem

0.5 days of panic thinking the problem would never be solved

0.5 days real panic as it first occurred to me that old modem may have been OK and it might have just been the power supply (and praying no one had taken it out of the trash and figured out my mistake)

1.0 day home sick in bed

1.0 days trying again but using an old Chinese laptop to test what I was doing (the old laptop not able to hold on to a signal, anyway) – partial victory in the end when someone on the far side of the hotel got a good signal but couldn’t log in – reprogrammed a little and went home, not knowing if that last burst of activity had any useful result

1.0 days trying to switch home and hotel modems (we don’t use WiFi at home but it has good WiFi functionality) – end of the day Ahmad Salah, the evening shift manager, told me the same story as Mr. Monsour (which I assumed was a misunderstanding) that Ahmad’s laptop was able to hook up through WiFi at a good high speed – but hotel modem was at home which meant it would all spill into another day – ISP network goes down.

1.0 days with the home modem back at home and waiting for ISP functionality and then configuring back to settings for home – five or ten minutes hooking the hotel modem up again at the hotel – worked instantly – wrecked the rest of the afternoon fooling around with “access points” that I was mucking up because I had forgotten how. Rearranged access points (little boxes with antenna) to put the one with the biggest antenna directly above the reception area, next floor up, where it also spilt nicely into the dining room – finding old modem in computer room (someone had rescued it from the trash – took it home – power supply tested function – unit was not functioning)

1.5 hours lost getting home as there were pro-Tunisian sorts of demonstrations all along my normal routes and we were detoured all over the place by the riot police.


23 January 2010 – An unfortunate experience

 

Today’s notes concern a strapping young steer who had an unfortunate experience. He got eaten.


My neighbor’s middle son at the flat I own, Ahmed Magdy Selim, is kind of a self-made man who I have mentioned before and there are perhaps some hundreds of thousands like him in Pyramids. This young bloke went to government schools and then did accounting at Cairo University, working part time as a house painter, and has just now, at the age of about 26 or 27, been promoted to chief or other upper level supervisor of reservation personnel or something like that after only three years at the Intercontinental Semiramis mega hotel on the Nile downtown. He, at least, seems on his way to being a little bit rich.


When he finished a Berlitz intensive business English course after his accounting BA and military service four years ago, I took him on a bit of a hike to meet Assim. We found him at the used furniture store he, at the time, owned and operated evenings close to his home in Faisal. Assim talked to Ahmed quietly and a bit privately and the few words spoken that I understood suggested that Assim was asking about Ahmed’s education. After some further lounging in front of a cup of tea at the furniture store, Ahmed and I started out on the long walk back to Tersa/Omda (the nearest well-known cross-street on Tersa).

 

“He hired me,” Ahmed gasped as soon as we were out of earshot from the furniture store. “He hired me to help with the bookkeeping and the evening shift.”

 

So that was that. I went back to Australia a few short days later and received nothing but reports of love and admiration in Assim’s emails about Ahmed and Ahmed’s emails about Assim for the two years I was back in Australia. And it was the two of them together who picked me up at the airport almost exactly two years later when I came back for good.

 

It’s fun to watch over time as I hang around and do a little work at the hotel... Assim’s kind of well-known for training and then launching young people on to bigger things. A great mentor, we would say in English. A bit of a sheikh to the young people who received their start in life from him.


By the time I left to go back to Australia in 2006 I was content with the flat I had bought and content that I would work, live and die with my friends in those neighborhoods when I retired from full-time employment in linguistics in 2008. I’d never really dropped my anchor before.


I decided by about 2007 back in Australia that I would also die praying with them and told Assim and Ahmed in phone calls that I wanted to go to mosque and declare my faith upon getting back to Egypt.


They wasted no time when I returned, April 2008, and the first day I was first looking well rested after returning they explained that Assim would take me to a particular sheikh/pastor and that another man would be there as well.


It was the sheikh from that first night at mosque, Sheikh Asfor (“Sparrow”), who came to my sister-in-law Zuba’s house two or three evenings ago... two or perhaps three days after she “sacrificed” a cow in honor of my marriage to Reda eight months ago.


I’ve been a great disappointment to Sheikh Asfor as I will mention presently.

 

As Assim now tells the story, Zuba told Assim, after he had introduced Reda and myself to each other, “I’m gonna kill a cow if she marries this guy (“sacrifice” – no precise English equivalent of an Arabic word that seems to imply either “kill” or “sacrifice” [“sacrifice” animals as in the Old Testament – they actually then consumed the animals as Jewish and Muslim people do today]). I promise to God I will kill a cow.” Assim was glad to let the comment be forgotten for a time but he has recently begun to tell me that story saying that he has been recalling it more and more to Zuba… “You can’t promise to God to do that and then not do it…”[here]


So the cow story started some days ago with a two or three km motorcycle ride from Reda’s sister’s house up to where the farms start in northwest Pyramids/Faisal directly west of Dokki (and then extend north and beyond 26 July Corridor and then into the Delta). Not far at all from Reda and Zuba’s building – there are vast agricultural lands there still being cultivated. The city now surrounds that huge part of the Nile’s west bank farms, which is on the Nile flood plain. The east bank, Cairo proper, has a bit of elevation and was the earlier city in its entirety. As mentioned before, the west bank flood plain only became available for residential use after the Aswan Dam was finished and that area quit flooding every spring.


At the southwestern edge of that remaining farm land, Reda paid for the cow under the date palms with money Zuba had given her and then we slowly putt-putt-putted back to Zuba’s place, one of the Upper Egypt kind of guys who sold us the cow walking along behind us in his galabea, leading the cow, followed by another motorcycle putt-putt-putting along with two butchers in galabea on it bringing up the rear. The “cow” was a two year old steer which looked very clean and healthy. They slaughtered it in their apartment building’s entrance/foyer because there was a drain on the floor for the blood.


When I got back some hours later, Reda and Zuba were finished with the butchering which they had done in an apartment in their building they are renovation after the men slaughtered, skinned, gutted and quartered the cow downstairs and brought the pieces up to them. They had it all in a big pile of black plastic bags of perhaps 5-10 kilos next to a gleaming white pile of bones.


Zuba gave me perhaps 10 kilos to take to “my” family (Ahmed Magdy’s parents, specifically). Reda and Zuba then distributed much of the rest around Zuba’s neighborhood over the next day or two, the biggest bags to the poorest families, and Reda and I brought armloads, perhaps 25 kilos, home for ourselves which went into the freezer with perhaps 3 kilos for our building’s doorman.


Sheikh Asfor came to Zuba’s place a few nights ago to do what imam’s do when someone sacrifices a cow. I went to his mosque many Fridays immediately after my conversion. But that soon came into competition with an equally conservative mosque very near my little flat where I was living (while Sheikh Asfor’s mosque was more like a 4 or 5 km hike through the streets of our neighborhoods).


A mosque near my flat took an interest in me once they noticed I was wandering off for the noon prayers in galabea every Friday at about 11 am. I was visited at home by three men, one of them a locally famous sheikh who has spent most of the last 20 years in Los Angeles with a growing mega-mosque. Actually someone came up from Magdy’s flat who said there were some men at Magdy’s house who would like to talk to me – and I went down to see what it was all about). Sheikh Mahdy speaks an unaccented American English and told me in a friendly, welcoming way that the men with him would help me get started in reading the Koran at a nearby mosque.

 

So it was Sheikh Mahdy at my brother Magdy’s house. Surely I will think of tongue twister with which to tell future versions of the story.


Sheikh Mahdy’s invitation soon became rather more appealing than Sheikh Asfor’s mosque because that small mosque – very small mosque – which Sheikh Mahdy directed me to is very close to my house – very close – and doesn’t pray Gomah (“1. the Friday midday prayer; 2. Friday”). Like many of the small mosques on our streets over around Tersa/Omda, everybody goes to a certain large mosque on the main street, Tersa, for Gomah. There the “Dr.” imam speaks rather softly for about 20 or 30 minutes while Sheikh Asfor always speaks for an hour and a bit… in a great bellowing voice over a loud PA system... to a good-sized gathering I might add. Very popular with Upper Egypt migrants. Of course I never understood anything of what either one of them was saying in their sermons so I was glad for a shorter walk to a shorter talk. I wore galabea to the Tersa Street mosque for a while. But it didn’t seem to be the most common thing to do so I then usually didn’t unless I was just feeling kind of happy and wanted to go to mosque as Muslims did 1,000 years ago and more, wearing galabea and sandals, my eyeglasses and wristwatch left at home and nothing in my pockets but my house key and prayer beads.


By the end of a year and a month back in Egypt, almost precisely, I got my first flat with Reda in Dobat. Here I go to a large mosque on the other side of the school from our flat. People at that mosque are pleasantly oblivious to me, as they were at the big mosque on Tersa Street, except that one or two people a month may walk up when they notice me somewhere in the neighborhood, and introduce themselves, saying they’ve seen me at mosque, and welcoming me since I seem to be new. They don’t necessarily assume that I am a foreigner. They just occasionally and pleasantly welcome anyone new to a mosque. An Egyptian might be a white, white Europoid (although very, very few have anything but jet black hair unless they are Syrian) or a black, black African.


I had learned by the time we married and moved out here that neither Sheikh Asfor’s mosque nor the small mosque I was directed to in my old neighborhood by Sheikh Mahdy are highly regarded by the main of the larger community. And... surprise, surprise, surprise... certain members of the one small “Sunna” mosque even made disparaging comments about the other.

 

There is mild disdain towards those Upper Egypt people who cling to their rural ways on the part of older Pyramids families and there is the same resentment towards fundamentalists in general that so many of us have in America and Australia. Jesus will come back if we help Israel steal more land from the Palestinians (America and even a bit of that in Australia). The rich people who don’t want to pay for my ten kids’ education will burn in hell (Egypt). But it means something to Assim and Tarek to attend Sheikh Asfor’s mosque so we talk about Islam quite often and I don’t say anything about Sheikh Asfor’s presumed disappoint with me.


And of course the fundamentalists are delightful when you meet them individually.

 

So there we sat the other night, Sheikh Asfor and myself, at opposite ends of my sister-in-law’s dining table on the day they butchered the steer, kind of lightly sparing with each other... a glance and a frown on his part, a glance and a smile on mine. The Keeper of the True Religion and the Comfortably Less Than Pious.


He had arrived with 5 other men on three motorcycles, the youngest about 20, the oldest about his age... 40 or so.


I had declined an offer, from the youngest, of a miswaak (sticks the size of a toothbrush, the blunt ends of which they use to ritually clean the teeth). He kept trying to give it to me after prayers at Reda’s mosque (the one she and her sister built into the first floor of their apartment house). I just didn’t want it and I especially didn’t want him to think I was interested in all their many overt acts of piety. Prayers were done, we were still kneeling where we had prayed and I refused it three times and then got up and moved to another part of the mosque when he poked it at me a fourth time. The Palestinians are not going to get their state etc. if I use miswaak. Which is, essentially, what fundamentalists of this type believe. Like Jerry Falwell, who came flying out the door September 11 and blamed the attacks on American homosexuals and others, Egyptians became more religiously conservative after the 1967 war because they believe God would not have let Israel win if they, the Egyptians, had been living right. Women, for instance, started wearing head scarves again… and still do.


So afterwards we were sitting at the dinner table, Sheikh Asfor “harumphff-ing” slightly whenever our eyes met, the 40-ish guy with the biggest zabibah (see Wikipedia) glowering at me again and again until my amused smiles made him give up, the young bloke a bit upset until he saw by my constant smiles that I wasn’t mad at him. Neither Asfor nor any of the others tried to converse with me as they speak no English that I know of and perhaps assumed that since I wasn’t taking an interest in the True Religion I also was not learning any Arabic. Or maybe I’m on their “to be shunned list”, though I don’t know. They’re generally friendly towards us in the neighborhoods when Reda and I are out and about. Anyway, I kept my peace and just kind of enjoyed the situation and did not, at Sheikh Asfor’s table, try to converse.


I don’t remember anything else of consequence from that night except that after the meal Asfor had each of the other five go into all the rooms of the house and then, as if at the mosques around the neighborhoods, sing out the call to prayer, the Adhan, loudly at slightly different starting moments. They were all experienced muezzin, their calls filled the house and it was really quite thunderous and pleasant to all of us to hear.


Assim, Reda’s nephew Mahmoud and I then walked the six of them down the five flights of stairs to the three meter wide street and they climbed onto their three motorcycles (in their galabeas). I had been saying “Shokrun” again and again as we went down the stairs and then poured out onto the street. Then as they started to pull away I called out good and loud, over the rather quiet motorcycle noises, “Shokrun tani! Miraati mabsuuta awi!” (“Thank you again! My wife is very happy!”). They exploded in embarrassed laughter. I don’t know why. Perhaps they then assumed I had understood everything they had been saying through the evening.


So that’s the report from Pyramids of a Saturday evening. I only found out a week or ten days ago that the spacious, gardened clubs of the rich keep lists of people offering native speakers’ English tutorials and that patrons of those clubs are used to paying $30 an hour for these services. So tonight I’ll be getting the names and phone numbers of these places on the Giza side of the Nile gathered together off the internet and start calling them tomorrow. A couple I previously knew of already have my details. I have a copyediting application in limbo with an Arabic language newspaper that is working towards launching an English edition (which they have already done in Beta ~ provisionally on the internet). The editor in chief says she can’t get the business office to cut loose with the funds for my position at the moment and I know independently that they are behind schedule on the launch of their English hardcopy version whose advertising revenue and the eventual addition of advertising to the web version being, one would guess, the source of funds for the copyediting position. But I have a little income from work at Assim’s hotel... and more if I want it. And my first pension check arrived a few weeks ago from one of my old trucking companies in America. So we’re some months away from crisis mode, financially, and Reda’s cheerfully frugal in the meantime.

 

 




Actually, there has been only one. And it was an $8 ticket. Which I could have paid on the spot (and left with my driver’s license). But I didn’t have $8 with me (flat tires are only $4 for tube replacement and I think I had $5 or some similarly 27 February 2010 – a moving experience

 

Whew. We just spent the day moving (from Apt 54 to Apt 44 in the same building).


We’re done for the night and fairly well brain dead. The apartments are identical so by the time we got about half done I kept having trouble remembering if I was supposed to be taking stuff out or bringing more stuff in as I wandered back and forth with armloads of things. Kept going downstairs instead of upstairs when leaving 44 as well (one can only go down from 54 and I was walking out of 44 on autopilot or something). Lots of small differences, mostly negative. This flat only has one electrical outlet per room except for the kitchen. No fly screens in this one, either, so we’ll have to do something about that. The main breeze comes from the French doors and it isn’t easy to add fly screens to them if they weren’t built that way in the first place. I don’t quite know what we will do.


It didn’t rain at all the first year I was back but we had a real hot week from about ten days ago and then it turned cold again and it rained and hailed and the wind blew like crazy last night. And we’ve had rain several days already this winter. And me... the motorcyclist. It didn’t rain once last year and only two or three times the year before.


The English language newspapers that wanted to hire me couldn’t get their financial offices to cut loose with a budget to do so but then someone helped me look into tutoring intermediate school students and also adult business conversation people.


By two or three weeks ago I found I was having trouble getting on English tutoring lists at some of the “shooting clubs” and expensive “international” (rich people) English schools because I don’t have a Teaching English as a Second Language certificate. I found out I could do a correspondence course for $200 or $300 but wasn’t that keen to be teaching or tutoring as I have very little teaching experience and no tutoring experience at all.


So I let my fingers do the walking and found out there are 36, I think, translation services in the Yellow Pages for greater Cairo. Not wanting to blow all my leads at once I emailed five with a resume/brief about the kind of work I was looking for – seeking to do “A native English speaker’s final light editing”. They all gave me work and one of them has me all day, every day. I’m condensing Charles Dickens novels to an upper intermediate, early high school English as a second language level (when there is nothing else to do). And it is also the closest translation service to home so that’s been a great bonus.


And then, thanks to Google, the Dutch embassy found my home page (which doesn’t say “Israel Stinks” anymore) and they are now preparing a contract for me to do about 10 hours of work at $38 an hour... their suggestion of a reasonable price, not mine. So, all up, it looks like we’ll have a car and be saving for a house (apt.) by the end of summer or so. I’ve only had two employers, really, in the last 20 years, Linguistics – RSPAS – ANU and an Omaha trucking company, so I’m not used to seeking work. I didn’t know where to start but it all came good.


We took a two year lease on our new place upon Reda expressing her desire to do so. She wants to spend 15 April 2011, the day she mandatorily retires, until about two years from now looking for a place to buy. We’re happy in the burbs for the moment but we miss the barrios where everything is just out the door and life on the street is so invigorating. No idea what we’ll do. The newer developments and even the 20 or 40 year old development we live in aren’t half full and even when they do eventually fill up, they just don’t have the density for the neighborhood markets and street life we both miss out here.

 

 

12 March 2010 – recycling etc.

 

I starting writing these notes a few nights after I met Reda 10 months ago saying, retrospectively in a preface I added at a later date:


“Within 30 years, Delta and Upper Egypt migrants and their descendants will account for some large portion of Cairo’s peoples, a status they hold even today. But in 30 years they will be Cairo’s pre-eminent constituency.”


Learning more since about the demographics – 20 million live in Cairo, 20 million live in Upper Egypt and, my goodness, 40 million live in the Delta.... over half of Cairo’s 15% annual population growth is due to young singles and families arriving from Upper Egypt and the Delta. I am told, literally, there is no more water in the Nile to further expand farming in either place.[1] Family size is down but youth unemployment is high because of much higher birth rates 18 years ago and more. Not all these young people arriving to Cairo are literate. There is often a ground floor room or couple rooms designed into buildings where the doorman lives with his family... commonly illiterate Upper Egypt men in their 30s and their wife and children. But their children do go to school and so onward the generations march through time.


I thought for some months that both Reda’s parents were both from El Minya in Upper Egypt but Reda’s father turns out to have been from Alexandria. So she’s immediately related to people from the emerging constituencies of both Upper Egypt and the Delta as well. And typical of how they intermarry in Cairo... with each other or anyone else they feel leads an upright life. It’s twice the fun for us. We’ve been to the farm in El Minya and will soon be in Alexandria again where her cousins’ children are mostly in their 20s and have moderate numbers of children to bounce on our knees.


A Reda story that I thought I’d tell tonight is about the night she lost something off a toktok (tricycle motorcycle taxi - Latin orthography “toktok” sounding more like “tuktuk” sometimes because there is no difference in Arabic) after we were married but before she started riding on the back of my motorcycle.

 

We were on our way home from visiting her sister and she had armloads of plastic bags full of fruit and vegetables. We walked, me pushing the bike, to the thoroughfare where she got on a tuktuk with all this stuff and I got on the bike and followed along. About a kilometer away from her sister’s place one of her plastic bags about the size of a deflated basketball fell out of the tuktuk and I stopped and picked it up. It was wet and slimy and smelt like the alcoholic who died in my apartment house in Copenhagen over one Christmas. He had the heat turned up in the flat and his body wasn’t found for a week or two. Another bag kind of flopped off the tuktuk and onto the street’s sand and dust about 100 meters later and I shook my head and drove on. She was dumping her sister’s kitchen rubbish.

 

What happens to it in that particular place, and through much of Pyramids, is that Bedouin shepherds bring their sheep and goats through the next day and all the organic stuff is removed as the herds forage through the bags people have pitched since the herd was last there. Then self-employed trash collectors come through looking, by individual specialization, for cardboard or plastic bottles or empty tins. There are perhaps dozens of specialties. Some just drive about on the carts calling out, “Bikiya” (second hand) and dismantle things for parts or other recycling. They start very young when their parents take them out of school to help. They know no other life or work and are, perhaps, mostly illiterate. In this and other ways, over 80% of Cairo’s trash is recycled... a testament to the government’s effective fostering of informal solutions to things they don’t have a budget for and, also, a different kind of testament to using a soft hand with urban or rural poor people who take their children out of school to work. On the matter of Reda’s missiles onto the curb, nothing is left but tens of millions of, mostly white and shredded, empty plastic bags blowing through the neighborhoods like snow in a northern winter, invisible to the eye of the residential beholder.

 

I was up to a friend’s place on the 10th floor of one of the area’s grand new apartment buildings, standing on the balcony smoking a cigarette, and called to my friend, saying that “a very wealthy man is walking down the street.” He came to look and I pointed to the man leading a flock of sheep down on the street. He laughed merrily and said, “Those sheep belong to the man with the new car business” (around the corner). I had assumed all were Bedouin doing well in the city.


We got moved into our new flat some days ago. Then just as we were sitting around huffing and puffing from our exertions of the day, the old landlord telephoned and asked us if we’d like to move back in to his flat again. His son is still getting married but is being posted overseas so the flat isn’t presently needed by his family after all. I don’t have time to move again due to favorable volumes of business coming in for my native English speaker copy editing work. Reda will moan for three months, her cousin Assim predicts, because the rent in our new place is about $30 higher. But for a dollar a day... I ain’t gonna move again. But I’ve designed the fly screens for our new flat, which has none, and am going to buy the tools and put them in myself. Reda’s endlessly intrigued that both my grandmothers grew up on farms and attributes anything I can make or fix to those good influences.


“Badaghaz” (bottled and piped natural gas or perhaps, I am now wondering, the name of the stove itself) hookup came 10 days or two weeks after we moved into the new flat. So now Reda is again cooking the last of the cow parts she froze… which I can no longer identify. But that’s a story previously told.

 

13 June 2010 – meet Ashraf


A week ago made right about fifteen months since I gave my carpenter LE4000 ($800) towards an LE6000 project to do a major office desk and bookshelves project for my own little flat that I then moved out of when Reda and I got married and moved into another, and now another, place. The following is pasted from a letter I drafted to the tourist police telling the story.

---------------
Submission to the Egyptian Tourist Police

Pyramids Monument Station

Pyramids, Giza Governate

 
by Jeffrey C. Marck

Egyptian Drivers License Number: 02070000472631

Australian Passport Number: M9223627

 
53 Abdullah El Bahar Street (via Omda)

Pyramids, Giza Governate

and

Apartment 44, Building 38

El Remaya City

Pyramids, Giza Governate


Sometime between the end of February and the end of March, 2009, I deposited LE4000 with Mr. Ashraf for the construction of a large desk and office set for my home on Abdullah El Bahar Street. The total cost was to be LE6000 and LE2000 would be due upon completion of the work.

 
But in April 2009 I was introduced to a woman, we decided to get married and were married in May, moving into Building 38, El Remaya City.

 
The LE6000 project was to be custom built for a particular room in my Abdullah El Bahar Street home. I went to Mr. Ashraf upon moving to El Remaya City. Actually he was present when we signed the lease. I informed him that the LE6000 project was too big for our new home. I then asked him to build a smaller project. I asked if he could build it to about the same size as a LE3000 project he had done for me in about three months’ time the year before. With him in the new house we measured the place the desk would go.

 
He had done nothing to start the LE6000 project so this was no inconvenience to him. We agreed that he would build the LE3000 project and that he could keep the other LE1000.

 
There was never any receipt from Mr. Ashraf nor any contract. There had been none for the project the year before. But a mutual friend, Assim El Sersy, was witness to conversations surrounding the two projects as they developed. He witnessed these conversations at Mr. Ashraf’s shop, at my home, at Mr. Assim’s hotel and other places we met. Mr. Ashraf came to my wedding. There were various places we met and Mr. Assim talked with Mr. Ashraf and myself about the nature of our agreements. I think we can expect that Mr. Assim will provide evidence if Mr. Ashraf wishes to complain that I have said something untrue.

 
There is now a big problem. Mr. Ashraf did not start the project for about a year. Various pieces of the project have now simply been lying around his shop for several months, are becoming damaged and have never been completed. And now Mr. Ashraf, and Mr. Assim saw Mr. Ashraf do this, has begun asking for an additional LE1000 to complete the project.


---------------

I had the letter translated by Mr. Ibrahim who owns the translation service I’ve been working with for some months now. He printed it on his company’s four color letterhead, stamping the translation as certified with two different kinds of stamps at the bottom. This was about ten days ago on a Thursday.


The translation service is two turns down side streets from a major U-turn junction on Faisal Street and the carpenter’s shop is two turns down side streets on the other side of the U. We generally wander away from the office at about 4:15 pm (mine is thus a seven hour day which begins at about 9:15 am as I wait until 9 am to leave our house, the traffic being quite wretched up to 9 and quite lovely immediately afterwards).


So upon leaving the office just after 4 pm a week ago last Thursday, I folded the letter into thirds, put it in a nice envelope, put the envelope in my shirt pocket and motorcycled to the U-turn in the median and across, going the wrong way down the last 40 metres of Faisal Street, as cyclists do, and turned onto the first side street. I didn’t have to turn down the second because Ashraf, the carpenter, was at the falafel shop right where his shop’s side street intersects with the main side street. He tried a bit of hail fellow, well met, but I was immediately occupied with getting the bike turned around and pointed back at Faisal Street, gave it a shot of gas, lurching towards him, slammed on the brakes as I came up to him, pulled the letter out of my pocket, handed it to him with a snarl, and blasted off, showering him with gravel from my spinning rear tire.

 

He had been served.

 

This was 4:20 pm.


At 5:20 pm I was at home and there came a call from “General” somebody at Ashraf’s shop.

“Aii-iiy-wa (Ye-e-ess)?” I said, unruffled. We rent our home from a general. Our last landlord was a general. Our apartment building is full of generals. The building super is a retired general. If Ashraf wanted me to talk to a general, I guess I could get a few generals to talk to him. But better save them for another day.

 

The general on the phone could apparently think of nothing more to say and Assim, my old, old friend who owns the hotel and married me off to his cousin Reda, came on the line and said, “Ashraf is saying to pick up everything on Sunday.” I thanked him and Reda called Ashraf for me on that Sunday to sus it out. It would be ready, “tomorrow” and “tomorrow” was the word again the next day, Reda gaily conversing with him a bit extraneously each day to sustain the fiction that it was a friendly phone call.

 

On Wednesday I drove by his place after work, passing the shop and ignoring Ashraf’s beckoning me to stop and talk, making a U-turn about 20 meters down the street. The pieces of my desk and book shelves were all completed and sitting against the buildings on both sides of the road. Probably he didn’t have the money to send it all to the paint shop for lacquering or whatever it is he usually does, and I called out to him as I drove back past his shop that I would return after 10 pm with a truck.


Reda and I motorcycled back to that neighborhood at about 10 pm and started looking for a truck. It’s the city that never sleeps. Trucks for hire congregate at nearby bridge over the Mariotea canal nearby. Some were too big for Ashraf’s side street, some were too small for the load, some were too expensive, some drivers looked just a little bit crazy and on we went, Reda bargaining at last for one that had a driver and an extra man.


When the deal was made there was then a long conversation about how to get to the shop, when finally the men said, “Oh, Ashraf. We’ll see you there.”


Reda and I took some wrong way street shortcuts on the motorcycle to Ashraf’s while the men made a legal trip with the truck, all of us arriving at the same moment, as it turned out. It was all sweetness and light, we got the stuff loaded, down the road and up the hill to our house, up four flights of stairs, into the guest room/office and off to bed before midnight. I’ll stain and varnish it myself, who knows when?

 
I’ve worked over 1000 hours, 1500 perhaps, at home with boxes stacked on each other for a desk since giving Ashraf the LE4000 15 months ago. I didn’t really want to go on for another 15 months checking twice a week to see if it was all inching along or something.

 

The power of the press. Perhaps I shall write more letters to the Pyramids Monument Tourist Police Station in the future... that I never deliver to them. It was a sufficient threat this time around.

 

26 June 2010 – interested parties


Well, my monthly charges at the bank went through yesterday without overdrawing anything and I thought I’d give pen to certain... interested parties.


Yesterday also firmed up some new arrangements with a new customer for ATS translation where I work. It is a customer I found. He had Googled for “native English speaker copy editing Cairo” about six months ago, lining up his ducks for services he would be needing as he prepared to crash into forming an Africa infrastructure news service (for international construction companies, technology companies, etc. wanting to know about government tenders around Africa).


As it does today, or even Googling just “copy editing Cairo”, my website came straight to the top six months ago. And also, “native English copy editing”, for which I continue to be number one in the world. I’d be a little bit rich if I could tell people how I did it but I don’t actually know why it is tops in the whole world. Anyway, it only brings in about four or five large assignments a year.


Quite unexpectedly, I loved my Peoples of the Pacific Islands elective and Introduction to Archaeology courses in about 1973. Between the two the whole direction of my studies changed entirely. I struggled with the idea of leaving African economic studies... leaving that “investment” behind... but it was a particular repressed insight on a particular day at a particular hour at a particular moment that burst out of my subconscious and calmly said, “The Pacific is full of wonderful small peoples with wonderful small problems, with a romantic prehistory and... besides... the population of Africa is going to double twice by the end of the century and the economies will not.” It was those precise words. I will never forget them.

 

I finally faced it. I simply didn’t want to watch those unhappy African stories unfold for the next 40 years. And suddenly I was free. I was gone. That’s the last moment that there was any inner conflict and suddenly I was in graduate school studying language in prehistory in the Pacific Islands.

 

I never lived in a huge city where my various lives keep proving useful as they do presently.


I was on Saipan for some years when it hardly had an economy.


Then I was back in the American Midwest from the mid-1980s just in time for a long recession.


Then I was in Australia just in time for “the recession Australia had to have” but insulated from it by a large scholarship and certain university employment in a different department.


Then I was back in America just in time to watch the neo-con bubble inching towards the wreckage that would surely come. I saw it before in the Savings and Loan excesses when they were neo-con deregulated in 1980s and wondered how it was materially different than the subprime bubble – but the scale this time was of an entirely different order.


But then there was Australia again and the dreamy grant Andrew Pawley and Malcolm Ross had... finishing up things I hardly imagined 30 years before that we would see completed in our lifetimes. It has taken and continues to take me into a lot of studies on matrilineality... an unexpected result because few MalayoPolynesian societies in the Pacific are still matrilineal... but they were as they migrated into the area 3500 years ago (Hage 1998, Hage and Marck 2003, Marck 2008). Similar results for Bantu and other Niger-Congo speaking prehistories in Africa: matrilineal migrants. I’m looking to get to Brussels again and the Africa library there in the coming years.


Anyway, I was able to watch the neo-con wars, the neo-con economic implosion and the neo-con oil spill from afar.


I’m in this vibrant economy – six percent annual growth again this year – that seems set to give me the kind of retirement I imagined when I bought my little flat here in 2005. Really hard work this year, but more like picking and choosing next year, and more so the next, and the next...


People work hard here and life gets better, at least a little bit, for most people most years and seems set to go on like that for a while. America was influential in encouraging the economic liberalization that’s behind it. The Yank government isn’t always wrong about everything Middle Eastern. And when it is the Egyptians blame the American government for poor leadership rather than the American people for poor followership. Still, few people know I’m also American and I never bring it up in conversation. And it is always my Australian passport that accompanies me to driver’s license renewal, etc.


It was a stroke of luck when one of the young people in the neighborhood loaded a copy of “Australia” (Nicole Kidman in the northern desert) onto my computer and Reda and I watched it one night. “That’s Australia?” she asked. “Yes,” I said without qualification. “When can we go?” she wanted to know.


Reda’s had cataract laser removals. Or I guess it’s ultrasound but here they call it “lazer” in colloquial Egyptian. One about 40 days ago and one about 15 days ago. They turned out just great. The phone company seems to pay for everything on their health plan. 50% of Egyptians have health insurance somehow. I’d never have guessed that but now I’ve noticed that figure mentioned in two reliable sources. And hers continues after retirement, Mr. Ibrahim tells me.

 

She came home one day with a purchase order from her health plan with a lot of medications on it and “cataracts” on one of those lines. That was the first I heard about her cataracts. I only knew that she kept rather bright lights on in the hallways at night. She said she’d like me to take her to the hospital the next day. I assumed it was for a consultation but it was for the surgery itself and we were there all day, me dozing off in the waiting room and she getting quite upset about it as had the guys at the motorcycle mechanic’s place the night before. I had been working 60-70 hour weeks for a couple months by then and finally… I did it. I dozed off in public. Twice. And really offended everybody.

 

Live and learn.


Anyway, she’s been off work all of the last 40 days or something and sleeps a lot during the day and rattles around the house into the wee hours. So I do, too. I knocked back to 35 hours a week before starting the English teaching certificate work 5 or 6 days ago. I’d been running short on sleep for several months and finally just really wasn’t sleeping at all. So I’m feeling a bit refreshed these last many days.


Reda and I are both still just terrible about language and it’s still all kind of pitiful baby talk between us. But there’s a lot of trust and joy and it doesn’t seem to matter much to either of us. And when it does Google Translator remains our faithful companion. We get a lot of mileage out of well-planned jokes and surprises, too.


I come home to find her working on the English CDs for a week or so and then I get into the Arabic CDs for a while but then she finally says, one day, “I don’t remember any of this stuff,” and I say, “I don’t either,” and I guess one just really doesn’t so much anymore at our age. But we find ourselves going back to the CDs every few months and have another go at it. She has more and more vocabulary coming back to her from rote memorization in secondary school. I have the immersion advantage. We both have each other. We’re just kind of happy and don’t care. And there is progress, however slow.


Mr. Ibrahim (BA English, Grad Dip Linguistics), his wife (BA English Education) and Reda and I are planning out a book of Cairo Arabic verbs. The most common ones. Which, as in any language, are the most irregular. It will force me to go over it again and again and again. And this book of verbs will be designed to get the user accustomed to the pronouns, prepositions, common juxtapositions of people, places and things, etc. and not just the verb tenses etc. There isn’t anything quite like what we’re planning on the shelves of the American University in Cairo Bookstore and they routinely stock everything on Egyptian Arabic so they’ll probably stock ours.


I’ve looked for lexicography projects since I got back in 2008 (that I might volunteer on and similarly force myself into a book, again and again and again going over the same material, even at the level of data entry and proofing) but I’ve met most of the “real” (theoretical) linguists in town... there aren’t many of us and we meet once a month on Saturdays... and no one knows of any dictionary projects, etc.


16 July 2010 – irrigation on the floodplain


Reda and I were up the Nile in El Minya overnight, leaving just after I got home from work on Thursday.


I didn’t see the kind of activity on the floodplain, as we drove in yesterday evening, that I saw this morning coming back.


As we drove the Nile floodplain on its main roads coming back late this morning in the Peugeot 504 station wagon bush taxi with six other passengers and the driver, I saw some hundreds and hundreds of men by ones and twos on donkey wagons but mostly by twos on small motorcycles hauling their little petrol-powered irrigation pumps and sort of nine to eighteen foot, 6 or nine inch diameter pump hoses to the fields. The taxi driver was just great... always slightly under the speed limit and taking every kind of sensible precaution with oncoming traffic, etc. I relaxed and enjoyed the sights.


Some significant portion of water use is unregulated at the level of the individual farmer. If you have land and there’s a canal running by... you can pump from it. But of course the canals are thousands of years in the planning and making and it’s all pretty logical, according to the engineering assessments, of how to make water available to the whole floodplain... districts thereof, actually.


What is now regulated is the making of new farms fields, as I understand it. For millennia and millennia people just expanded the farms and canals as their families grew. But now, as I’ve mentioned once or twice over the months, there are at least some areas where the area as a whole is using its quota of water running into its district’s canals, there can be no more water allocated to the district, and no one can open up new land (i.e., prepare more floodplain for irrigation) and one, especially, cannot pump onto land not registered as irrigation land. But as a practical matter, I suppose they don’t extend the canals into those areas, anyway. So it’s all pretty simple at that level and these guys sort of burst out of their residential compounds and onto the roads all at once as if police in cruisers coming onto the streets from their station for their day’s shift. It made me wonder if there was a specific time they knew that the water level of the canals would rise. They live in grander and lesser villages and settlements and not in the middle of their individual fields like the Yanks or Aussies... all off at 25 kph on motorcycles (always a second man to carry the pump and hose) or donkey carts (often, or perhaps usually, with just one man) to their fields outlying a few healthy kilometers away.


I wondered at the scale of the retail donkey cart business and where they are manufactured. They have nice, sturdy springs and wheels as on light to mid-weight family cars. They were all small wagons today that a single donkey can pull when full. Somewhere they have larger two donkey carts but none were in use for this morning’s purposes.


I wondered again if our driver would make ample adjustments for this traffic but I needn’t have. He was once again a dream and assiduously kept his speed down and gave a wide berth as we progressed through one vast expanse of fields and its flurry of irrigation equipment transport, through village areas, and then on through more fields and small equipment on the road.


It’s as flat as south central Manitoba and Minnesota/Northern Iowa. It’s the height of summer and all the floodplain was green with one thing or another unless something had just been harvested and was only stubble. There were no bundles of fodder from these cuttings laying around as one might imagine a neighbor or perhaps more distant districtman might be glad to liberate anything left overnight.


I saw grape fields close up for the first time. Or took good notice for the first time because they were bearing fruit and I finally knew what they were. They grow the plants in little bushes of about three feet in height and diameter... no climbing sticks or wires for vines, no nothing that I saw... and we’ve been having the lovely purple and white fruits for what seems like months now. I think they were 80 to 110 American cents a kilogram this year, the white ones less, and the purple ones more, where I didn’t know what they cost last year... I just never noticed because they were so cheap. They were half the price and less 5 years ago, I remember clearly. But now perhaps they are said to have gone more onto the international markets and doubled in price due to export competition/pressures.


It’s not currency inflation that’s driving those particular prices up. The Egyptian pound is steadily, year after, year... right at 5.4-5.7 per American dollar. Australia’s currency exchange rates fluctuate with the Egyptian pound, but only when the Australian currency is having its own ups and downs. Over any appreciable period of time the Aussie dollar comes back to 90 US cents and 5.0 Egyptian pounds.


So, this stuff is kind of rolling through my mind, the grape prices, the end of farm expansions, and, more personally, the recent increase of cigarette prices by 40 cents a pack because they finally started taxing them in the past month or so. They cut back petrol subsidies a bit at the same time, I’m told. A lot of second hand information and guesses perhaps. I didn’t notice.... driving the motorcycle and buying whole guinea (pound, LE) amounts of “benzene” so I can pay and depart instead of waiting for them to come back with change. I just heard about this but don’t know if I’ll be able to take notice and make sense of it next time I get fuel. I can never remember what, in a sense, the unvarying price was before. It was 1.75 guineas a liter for one octane level but I never noticed if that was the one I always got or not. One price was always around 1.75 and the others were always some odder number I never committed to memory. So, previously, it was about 1.25 a gallon, American and 35 cents a litre, Australian... the 1.75 guinea per liter stuff.


The road rose eventually where the floodplain and its farms ended and we rose not fifty or one hundred feet to a kind of low plateau or former floodplain of undulating, very low rises. I first, as we came towards the edge, noticed six very tall, thin smokestacks sticking up out of nowhere over the edge of the rise where the floodplain ended. I had noticed these for the first time yesterday evening and wondered what they were. It occurred to me in El Menya that Reda and I were communicating well enough now that I could ask her what they were and I did so as they came into view on the way back. First I saw four so I was trying to get her to focus on the number four and that there were four things I wanted to know about standing up like fingers on the horizon, holding four fingers up very straight and still. But by that time there were eight or ten so we had to have another go. Then, all at the same moment, she realized what I was asking about and a broad graveyard came into view with five or ten of the smokestacks seeming to stand in the midst of the graveyard and I made a faint noise of comprehension, thinking for an instant that they were smokestacks of crematoriums, smoke belching out of every third or fourth stack of a Friday morning. But then the small size of the surrounding population occurred to me, dozens more of these smokestacks were appearing to the right and to the left. And I then realized that I had never heard of Muslims cremating, and I was uttering a little noise of deflation and misunderstanding just in time to rescue myself from the opinion of the other occupants of the taxi. My little noise started just an instant before their little groans over my initial misperception. No. Muslims never cremate, I was told, eventually, after asking Assim when we got back home.


They turned out to be the smoke stacks of brick kilns which I saw as our aspect rose a moment later and then there was some further elevation that exposed kilometers and kilometers of them right at the edge of dry side up from the floodplain, desert edge, Reda gaily noting that I figured out what they were, with some helpful pointing on her part. There they obviously had the best of both worlds. A clay kind of substance to mine from the surfaces of the low hills and valleys right at the edge of the floodplain’s high water table. I didn’t see any surface water pipes at all and wondered if they mustn’t simply drill shallow wells down to the porous soil of the water table.


I wondered what hundreds and hundreds of trucks it might take to haul all their industry to Cairo, just as we had seen hundreds and hundreds of “big trucks” (semis/lorries) waiting to be loaded with fruit and vegetables along the larger canals where there are always substantial paved roads. I’d not seen anything like those hundreds of trucks out in the fields since trucking, myself, into and out of the American West Coast and Southwest desert “truck farms”.


Then came a beautiful sight. “Cairo” was only “140 km” away and our home was about 15 km before Tahrir Square in Cairo proper, to which the signs always refer. The drive was now through the desert where it is cheaper and more convenient to build a superhighway and there would be only a few tiny villages and too many, really, sparkling but empty modern petrol stations. We were dropped off with the Pyramids to our right and our home up the hill on the left and walked home. Which was a great deal easier than catching these taxis and nice passenger vans to El Menya. They’re always full by the time they get to our part of town. They muster 15 km deeper into the city so when we left yesterday we first had to city-bus 15 km in the wrong direction.


We had been talking about going to El Menya for a couple weeks because this week was the first anniversary of Reda and Zuba’s sister’s daughter’s death (a 40 year-old) after many years of battling Hepatitis C. Even in Australia, that battle is rarely won. Or such was recently so.


But then there could be no further delay, because, tragedies of tragedies, the very woman’s 45 year-old sister and her husband were killed in a motoring accident. Almost a year to the very day after the other one had died. We went to Zuba’s house before we left where she gave us money and other gifts for their sister whose only two daughters were now dead.


We went straight to El Menya and straight to the sister’s house where I soon passed out in the bed they made available to us. I hadn’t expected the trip until the next day and had worked all night on my teaching certificate the night before. When I woke up this morning it was with the knowledge that Reda had not come to bed all night and when I went out into the lounge room she, the dead women’s mother, and her son, Khalid, were right where I had left them 12 hours before. They had talked all night and they all looked just terrible. Reda was ready to go. She was too disheartened to come up for the funeral the day before and didn’t tell me until we were suddenly leaving yesterday, why we now had to go. The rows of funeral chairs were stilled filled by men yesterday evening when we arrived.


Khalid had told me last night that his sister and her husband had been driving, the car rolled into an irrigation canal upside down, and they had both died there. He sadly walked us to the main road this forenoon and took us to one of the utes/pickup trucks in the settlement’s main street on the other side of the canal, the ute driving us, and picking up more people along the way, to the mustering point for the Peugeots and passenger vans to Cairo.


We didn’t talk about family business in the Peugeot but as we walked up the hill to our home on the Giza Plateau after getting out of the taxi, she explained that there were four children. Three are in university and will stay there. The fourth is Mohamed who I met last night at his grandmother’s house. There it was explained to me that he was the youngest child of the deceased couple, was still in secondary school, and would now live with the grandmother (where he will be innocent, obedient, industrious and loved).


Reda had about just enough energy to feed me, tell me those further details of the situation, and no more. She went to bed and I went off to the mechanic near my old neighborhood to see about getting my oil changed but he was too busy until tomorrow. So I went off to find Assim to see about further details of the deaths and to talk about a few other situations I might clear up with him.


Assim expressed his anger with the dead couple. All their anger. The mother, the aunts, the surviving brothers. All of them. “They didn’t have to leave us like that. They should of been more careful. God knows!” What they specifically believe is that God knows, for all the eons ahead of us, what people there will be, what, minutely, they will do of their own free will, and what will happen to them in every detail just as he knows all such things for all the people who have come before us and those of us alive today. We will have our own successes and failings, they will, in the main, be of our own free will, but God knows what they will be and where they will lead us from even before the time we are born.


Assim was able to tell me a bit more than Khalid did last night. Khalid teaches French and also speaks wonderful English but I didn’t want to sort of sit there and grill him about the death of his second sister in a year. Assim had been talking to Zuba the last two days and the crash was a single vehicle event on a deserted road. Perhaps veering to avoid a stray cow or something... they overturned... and slid into the canal upside down. Did they drown or were they already dead? Why would I ask? Why would he spontaneously say? I didn’t and he didn’t. I don’t even know if it was day or night.


There were happier things to talk about. I had decided to work with adult business English conversation students for my $30 an hour when I get my TEFL certificate in coming weeks (5 or 10 I’d say). People in the industry say this is a sensible and possible full time aspiration. Mr. Ibrahim at the translation service has a 12 year old daughter, Nada, who has been coming to the office twice a week and I have been tutoring her. Practicing my TEFL lessons on her. And I know enough, generally as a linguist and in the evidence of my self-taught foster daughter, Iva, that if you can catch kids and work on their hearing of a new language, the benefits in terms of their pronunciations of the new language just kind of naturally flow with small amounts of coaching and exercises. But this natural ability quickly fades from about 13 on up. Except in Iva, who went off to New York City for some months recently at the age of 30 and came back to Australia talking like a Yank. Yes, Ivancica! I noticed. How rude of me to mention it now....


So, I’m learning how fast 12 year olds grab on to good instruction, how quickly they pick up the specific new sounds of the target language, and how quickly they forget if I don’t have the right kind of exercises to send home with them. So Assim’s daughter, Maria (Mariam) is also 12 this summer but a bit further along to begin with and it is now that I want to bring her in on these twice a week sessions with Nada. Well, she just about died and went to heaven when she heard this and then there was the question of how to show her where the office is. I would come at 11 am Tuesday and take her on the motorcycle, or we could take the bus or we could take a taxi (just the once). Maria said she wanted to go on the bus. But her mother said, “Take her on the motorcycle. She’s afraid to do it. Make her do it.” ( It was all very gay and after Maria and I exchanged mobile numbers I went home, Reda was still sleeping, and I worked on www.AmericansInCairo.org, (a web site I maintained but would eventually abandon) and then turned to this missive at about dawn.


I had told Assim about midnight that I couldn’t teach his older kids... he had asked about that, too... because I have to specialize and that I’m going to have the two: adult business conversation and children under 13 who need tutoring or small group work in hearing and pronouncing English correctly. I told him, “I have to get serious. I have to be making $20,000 within a year. Reda retires in a year and gets a lot of free doctors, and operations and medicine. People say it will still be free after she retires. Is that really true?” (This all comes with her phone company employment).


“Yes,” he said. “But the Ministers have been telling President Mubarak that there isn’t enough money. And he told them, ‘We can’t stop doing these things for the people.’ And the Ministers told him, ‘We can’t go on doing all these things for the people.”‘

 

Assim is very grateful that I never want to talk about domestic politics. And I sincerely don’t want to. I never said “boo” about Australian domestic politics or foreign affairs until I was a citizen and, in the same way here in Egypt, I am a grateful guest of this nation as I was in Australia and even then I never got involved in politics after citizenship except in the area of Palestinian rights (and Israeli wrongs). But there are times, such as this night, when I need to know what’s going on and Assim has the most eloquent way of distilling it into the folk knowledge of the moment and I always accept it without a word except, “Thank you.”


It’s well past dawn and Reda was up at 7 and left to take a bus to a (free, for the moment?) doctor’s appointment having to do with persistent colon problems. “I’ll take you on the bike,” I said. “I don’t understand this colon problem at all. I want to come along and talk to the doctor.”


“I’ll get the doctor to write you a letter.”


“Hmph,” I said, lying essentially, and secretly glad for the chance to now sleep all morning. The doctors at the phone company’s clinics don’t like the husbands coming along. And Reda probably took one look at me and knew I’d fall asleep there, repeating my previous offences aAs I mentioned some weeks or months ago, falling asleep at the motorcycle mechanic’s shop one Sunday after a long weekend of overtime into the wee hours. They’re all still upset. Though less so every time I see them. Egyptians can get very completely indignant and do hold on to it a bit. But they are also completely forgiving, or at least completely forgetting, of all my faux pas so far... given a little time.

 

There are reasons to rejoice, these days.


For all of Cairo right down to just about every single person I know.

 

The price rises and ratcheting down of subsidies comes at a time when most of Cairo is sharing in Egypt’s 6.5-7.5% growth (and more) for the last many years and last year and this year as well.

 

It’s the first time I’ve missed an American or Australian recession in 40 years.


The US/EU neo-con recession hasn’t caused any har    dship here. One of the most significant effects came most of two years ago when computer components fell in price by over 2/3. Every teenager in Cairo seems to know how to build a computer. But this fall in components prices meant that, in Cairo, a new computer, with completely new parts fell from about $600 to about $120. The only people who suffered were the internet cafes because by the end of six months or a year of the new, low prices so many households had computers that their members were no longer filling up the internet cafes.


Which is huge to families with teenagers in school that need lots of computer hours to muscle up their skills for the job market. And the major appliance megastores are all packed from the moment they open to the moment they close – this is Cairo and, yes, one occasionally exaggerates... but I think that helps paint the picture. Things are terribly upbeat and I especially take notice of the closest major appliance store whenever I drive past it and indeed, it is simply packed with people all the time.

 

Another measure is what must be tens or hundreds of thousands of wonderful $500 150cc Chinese motorcycles in Cairo, the rural areas and small (upper) Nile and Delta cities. Just like mine… these bikes. Mine has 23,000 km on it in 23 and a half months and has cost me $2.10 Yank a day over those months, an extra 79 cents a day if I were to depreciate the whole thing in one fell swoop. The modern world, computers and motorcycles, have come to them. They won’t all have to come to Cairo and Alexandria to find them or earn the money for such things. They’ve taken a lot of the money the Yanks give them and have world class farm to market roads, rural electrification and sewerage systems.

 

The young people who want to buy my little flat were thoroughly befuddled and then embarrassed when their “deal” with a bank “for the first week in June” turned out to be only an offer to look seriously at the application once the woman achieved the current-job-longevity-requirement in the first week of June. So the first week of July they finally fessed up and said they were having problems they didn’t understand.


“No worries!” I said (lit.: “No problem.”). “In Australia we apply to five or six banks and they all say the same thing. Either they all say, ‘Yes’, or they all say, ‘No.’ If they all say, ‘Yes,’ then we take their offers to a good accountant who can read their offers and tell us which one is giving us the cheapest deal with the least hassles and potential problems.”

“But isn’t that sneaky?” they asked.


Noooo, it’s like buying a new car. They expect you to. You go to five different places who have the same new car and see who gives you the lowest price. It’s just like buying a new car. They expect you to shop around.”


So every couple of days since then I get a merry call from them at yet another bank where they are being treated courteously and the loan officers are glad for the application etc., etc. It’s been such a great lift because I’ve really been suffering for them, not to mention myself and my creditors. Other potential buyers are appearing in the wings and the young couple will accept this as all that can be done at this point in their financial lives if all the banks decline. I specifically want to sell to them because then the whole building will be owned by one family again, “my” family, who can parlée  it into... well that’s another story.


So now I will leave off by slapping in a few paragraphs that haven’t found a home in these missives previously. It’s about “residence”. And the subject at the moment, has, indeed, been residence. Therefore:

 

“I married Ma’adi. We live in Ma’adi.”

 
I heard this said in Cairo in 2005. It was a 30ish man replying to the question of where he and his wife had made their home upon marriage, she being from Ma’adi.

 
This was some weeks or months after I was looking for a flat to buy and my new acquaintance, also 30ish man, mentioned that their flat was near his wife’s parents and that it was part of the neighborhood into which I was buying, if I was happy with the area he would show me, and the “house”, as flats are called in Cairo English, that he knew to be for sale. He and his wife of similar age were expecting their first child and they were happy to think that the young woman’s mother and two sisters were nearby.

 
Of course these kinds of stories occur in a wider society where the male prerogatives, concerning residence, are essentially absolute. A normative kind of statement that can be made is that the wife, when living with her husband’s family, seeks to isolate her husband’s resources from his family that surrounds them, seeking for herself, her children and her parents and extended family all that she can in the face of constant small pressures from his family. I guess that same normative statement can be made when they don’t live anywhere near the husband’s family, but of course when they do it is all amplified.

 
There are accommodations of various sorts. Two brothers in their mid and late 20s married two sisters in their early and mid 20s and took them to live in the men’s father’s apartment building. I have watched the young ladies become each other’s partners in microscopic passive resistance conspiracies and they are endlessly glad for each other’s company. Some small group of men, perhaps two or three, was discussing the young men’s circumstances with me one night and there was a certain question of resource distribution in the air in that patriarchal homestead.


“Well, what are their wives thinking of all this?” one asked, because it involved an element of competition between the young men.


“Their wives are sisters,” I said.


“What?” a second asked. Neither he nor the first speaker seemed to expect me to know of such patterns.


“Their wives are sisters,” I said.


“Well....” they both sighed, much astonished. “Then there’s no problem,” one of them said, completing the thought both had begun to speak.


Just guessing at the time, whoever won the father’s favor would then be under pressure from his wife to receive some share, she would divert some of the resulting resources to her sister, who would present them to her husband, ameliorating her husband’s hurt at not winning the prize outright. In fact, I wondered if the father wouldn’t transfer the resources concerned to the son who would play all this out the most elegantly... which he… eventually… did.

 
Outright matrilocality – which, for Cairo purposes, I would define as renting or buying in the bride’s mother’s building or neighborhood (bride’s father’s building or neighborhood if still alive and still cohabiting with the bride’s mother) – is common enough that one young engaged couple’s residence was undecided and the subject of some gossip in an office I visit occasionally. “It’s a crazy man who makes his wife live somewhere she doesn’t want to,” I said lazily. As the office was entirely friends of the bride, one of the eldest men looked a bit ruffled and then said, “Yes, but we can’t say that.”

And my talk was cheap. I have no relatives in Cairo and we would, just naturally, as we have done, live nearest my wife’s family as do most men who have migrated here and marry women with local extended families. Convenient to her place of employment, in our case, but not inconvenient to her family or even “mine” on short motorcycle hops. Which is similar to another kind of success story for the bride: the groom marries the girl next door. Then she’s in heaven. Her mother will be right there.

 

04 September 2010 – Ramadan 2010

 

It’s 1:30 am and Reda just called the landlord, one “General Sami”, to arrange payment of the rent for tomorrow some time. I was amazed and mentioned that I don’t call people after 9 pm at all unless it’s someone I know who turns off their phone when they’re sleeping.


“No one’s asleep this early on a Friday night during Ramadan,” she said, taking my hand and walking us out to the balcony. There she swept her arm grandly across the panorama of the immediate neighborhood and indeed the lights of every lounge room and most of the other rooms were shining where all but two or three are normally off by this time of night.

 

“There’s no light in that one,” I said, pointing to the single flat that wasn’t lit up.


“They’re not home yet,” she said.


Perhaps our memory of Ramadan this year will always return first to a really wonderful evening Assim had for us at his hotel with his oldest brother, Ahmed, and his wife – who I had never met before.


Ahmed’s 15 years older than Assim and, technically, it would have been him watching over the brother-less and divorced (Zuba) and maiden (Reda) female cousins all these decades in Cairo (their mothers were sisters from El Menya) – but Ahmed was away those many years with an illustrious career in the Gulf… all his kids got PhDs, etc. And then there was a sister of Ahmed and Assim at that big Ramadan meal, a medical doctor, who I wasn’t seated close to and didn’t get a chance to converse with much. But the star of the evening was Reda because something amusing had happened at our house that Assim exploited for the occasion.


It was just a few nights before that Zuba had telephoned. She no longer tries to boss me around but I occasionally remind her of the days when she did… by teasing her... which is what slowly made her give up trying to tell me what to do all the time after Reda and I first got married.


If the home phone rings at 3 am, I know it’s Zuba so when the call came I thought I’d do what I might do to rile her and picked it up, myself:


“Hallooo”, (the English is used to answer the phone in Egypt).


“Salam aleikum, fein Reda?” (‘Hi, where’s Reda?” – i.e., why didn’t she pick up the phone, it being 3 am?).


“Mish mawguta,” (‘She’s not here.”)


“Eh?” (‘What?’)


“Mish mawguta.” (Reda had arrived to the phone and was watching, amused that I would mislead Zuba).


“Ley?” cried Zuba. (‘Why?’ – the only answer would be the hospital or something – Reda’s always either here or at Zuba’s at 3 am).


But the answer was:


“Fii ręęgil tani.” (‘There’s another man.’) Reda’s face lit up in delight and she started pulling her right hand across her throat as if holding a knife and cutting her throat.


“Eh?” Zuba said, shocked and mystified.


“Fii ręęgil tani.”


“Eh?” Zuba cried loudly.


Now Reda was just flatly laughing, and reaching out to take the phone. A little revenge against the sister who had authority over her for decades?


“La’a, aana kizęęb,” (‘No, I was lying.’) I said before Reda got the phone away from me with her left hand, still making slicing motions across her throat with her right.


After the phone call Reda picked up right where it had started and told me quite happily and excitedly that now her family had to cut her throat.


Without knowing it, I had said the magic words. I attempted to convey Reda’s amusement to Tarek, the great composer, a few days later. But he simply froze as I said the specific words I had spoken. Suspended animation. I attempted to continue with the story but, he was so disappointed that I knew those words that decided I’d best act like I hadn’t spoken them and changed the subject. There is a particular phrase in Polynesian languages and another in Micronesian, both ancient we think, going back to the time of Christ and before, having to do with men sneaking around at night with their girlfriends. Young men would run from my office, screaming with laughter, to hear them spoken (and the old and the proper are mortified to discover that a foreigner knows them – I had seen Tarek’s sort of suspended animation when an Islander or reacted, crestfallen, to my knowledge of such things in Egypt or the Pacific Islands).


When I next saw Assim, I mentioned the phone call. He was instantly amused but attempted a frown, saying:


“You can’t say that!!! Now Zuba has to tell us all!!! And we have to make an investigation and ask everybody in the family to swear what they know!!!”


He let it go at that and since he was amused rather than concerned I let it go as well.


But the inquisition did come. It was on the day of the Ramadan feast at his hotel that I began this story with.


It was in a guest room perhaps 7 meters by 7 meters. The one my sister, Jana, stayed in, come to think of it.


Tables from the dining room had been brought in for the meal and I had been seated next to Ahmed, Assim’s (much) older brother, and we had some interesting chats in English during the course of the meal.


Everybody finished eating and we were spreading around the room a bit. To the couch along one wall. Pulling our chairs away from the table. Ahmed’s large wife laying down on the double bed with Assim’s 10 and 12 year old daughters sitting on the other side of the bed.


Eventually, there was a lull in all the conversations all at once and Assim, stood up, taking a central position in the room, saying, as he swept his arm widely around the room until his hand was pointing at me, something like, “Huuwa olti, ‘Fii ręęgil tani.’” (“He says, ‘There’s another man.’”)


The slouching young girls’ spines went straight as arrows and their eyes went huge as they looked at Reda and then Ahmed’s wife and then their mother, Hanan, as the latter two exploded wildly in utter mirth.


Reda was instantly beaming demurely and squirming in her chair like a naughty school girl caught out about something.


The inquisition was on.


Assim formally and loudly called to the various blood relatives in the room, one by one, asking if they knew anything about this while I chirped out again and again that I had been lying and Ahmed and Assim’s wives (and Assim’s sister, el doctora) laughed on and on, wiping tears from their eyes, Reda beaming happily and making a motion of a knife slicing across her throat every time our eyes met, the little girls incredulous and only gradually understanding the accusation and that it was a joke. They sat through it all, each with all eight small fingers her mouth, which spread their mouths wide, their teeth clenching down on their fingertips, their aspect darting from person to person as Assim, and the others, one by one, spoke.


Goodness. Everybody was so amused… and Assim, surprise, surprise, the great maestro of those moments, was finally mock mollified and sitting down… the conversations from before picking up where they left off. A cherished memory of the day for the family.


Twice since, I think, I’ve been talking on the mobile to Reda, catching up on where to meet later and there was to be some delay at her end. Both times I said, with a light inquisitional voice, “Mafish ręęgil tani?” (‘There’s no other man?’). And twice the reaction of her and the people around me was the same. She happily protesting that her family would get a knife and cut her throat if there was anything like that going on. The people around me amused that I would know that phrase and amused that I would play the jealous husband to my wife (there were no children present). “Knife.” “Sikkiina.” Finally, perhaps, I shall finally remember the word.

 

The next couple of times I stopped at their house, Assim’s little daughters greeted me with speechlessness, eyes as big as the moon and smiles as wide as when they had eight fingers in their mouths at the hotel dinner. I didn’t known it was possible for the mouth to stretch that wide unassisted.


Otherwise there are these nascent language services accounts from the rich side of town that my ATS boss once didn’t want me to have on a freelance basis (but now finds some of them bringing in not just native English speaker copy editing work but then translation of the completed work into Arabic – which pays him more than other aspects of the total job pays me). Not a great change in income but I have to kind of put on the brakes and make sure these new clients are getting taken care of properly before I go out and look for more. Sometimes two at once want something done overnight. My rates are low with the understanding that they will rise to the going rate by about this time next year.


Otherwise, still, I’ve been drafting grant proposals to get some of the Pacific Island’s most productive breadfruit to tropical Africa (the present Pacific Island breadfruit in Africa comes from the time of Captain Bligh, his crew’s mutiny to some extent due to the pregnant girlfriends they had on Tahiti after six months of carousing while waiting for the right time of the year to prepare breadfruit cuttings for the West Indies [and transferred to West Africa in the 1840s]). What is now being shipped produces two or three times the Tahitian variety of tree already there.

 

The world’s great Breadfruit Institute (in Hawai’i) turned all their Africa contacts over to me because with the American recession they have neither the resources to help write grant proposals nor do they know enough about Africa to be of help in all the necessary areas. So I’ve learned a lot quickly about the science of breadfruit and have found it fairly easy to get NGOs in Ghana started on applications as 1) I did an African rural economies BA and visited Ghana in 1971 and 2) I lived with breadfruit cultivation for 10 years in the Pacific Islands.


Diane Ragone (rah-goh-neh), the Breadfruit Institute’s founder and director writes overnight that US-AID might fund African initiatives (we missed, 31 July, the deadline for the Australian grant that would have been most appropriate as we were just, at the time, first pulling information together). She’s to go to the mainland and meet with them in DC. And I’m her guy in Africa.


I don’t think they need my participation on any of the grants’ actual activities though I help quite a bit with the bona fides of the African groups. So I’ll just be staying here growing my language services accounts.

 

Still, quite an honor to be helping the Diane Ragone... and the African NGOs. I’ll always be the guy who emailed or telephoned out of the blue... the guy with the magic wand.


Samoa has licensed the genetic material to Diane and Diane has licensed that genetic material to Global Breadfruit (Cultivaris) and they clone, in layman’s language, and produce as many tens of thousands of “germs”, I think they call them, as one wants, and raise them up to 6 inch plants with nice little root balls. At $10 each, FOB Germany. We’ll probably be speaking of 500-1000 plants in the Ghana proposal (as much as $50,000 all up – $5000-$10,000 for the plants, ~$5000 in shipment costs, and then 3-6 months of central nursery care before they are made available to farmers).

 

Samoa’s foreign aid program to 300,000,000 tropical Africans, one Samoan variety having ultimately come from tiny Rotuma.

 

Thousands of islands over thousands year. And rare incidents in prehistory that one of the crossbreeds resulted in super-producing seedless varieties. And there are some Micronesian super-producing varieties. The most bountiful breadfruit in the world. They out-produce the present African varieties 2 to 1 and 3 to 1. They even out produce Belgium by dryweight when comparing to grains and Belgium is the largest producer per hectare in the world. Two varieties are shipped that fruit at complementary times of the year – good for people who want to eat every day. Good for factories that want product every day.

 

Prehistorically, the Samoan varieties concerned were, perhaps, the source of or a destination for the breadfruit I was around in Micronesia. I didn’t know there was any breadfruit in the world that out-produces certain Micronesian varieties. Western Polynesia and Central and Eastern Micronesia kind of stayed in touch after they were settled two and three thousand years ago so I assume the best from the one place would sometimes have made it to the other. I’ll find out over time.

 

This first grant that the Breadfruit Institute will write a letter of support for goes to Ghana. It will test my ability to find NGOs that, in turn, have or find agricultural stations where plant survival is most likely to be up around 100%, as it was among Global Breadfruit’s first of its kind shipment in history to Jamaica – where it is the national food and where the shipment perhaps arrived to some fanfare. The second shipment went to Honduras and was apparently met with suspicion by agricultural inspection teams at the airport who delayed the release a number of days and there was significant plant mortality. And there are no “valorization” issues in Ghana. Breadfruit saved tens and tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands, perhaps, from starvation or aid dependence in the 1983-1984 famine when all their other crops failed and their Tahitian variety breadfruit trees kept producing.

 

15 November 2010 – seeing double


Well the Muslims are celebrating Eid (‘festivity’ – there is only this one a year plus the Eid that ends Ramadan) and the Yanks are all set to celebrate Thanksgiving... the national starting gun for Christmas shopping.


Interesting work keeps coming in and I am transitioning to those in fits and starts with the security of my children’s books production activities for which hours are available to me any time I want to do some of that work.

slim surplus). So they kept my divers license and told me where I could pick it up for $10. So "within a week" I had paid it off at a facility that didn’t have long waiting lines, etc. But it was $20 – an extra $12 for not paying on the spot. Not just an extra $2. And I didn’t have it. I had the $10 and the standard don’t-go-anywhere-without-$5-for-a-flat-tire. But some guy standing at the next window paying some dozens and dozens of slips for a trucking company pulled $10 off the top of his LE50(=$11) stack that looked about 9 inches high... and I was off and on my way.


The motorcycle continues to be an enormous source of convenience and continues to cost about $2 a day – petrol, parts, service and licenses. And fortunately none of my friends, rich or poor, have cars unless their work requires one. Assim, Reda’s little-bit-rich cousin with the small downtown hotel doesn’t even have one. Which is a great asset when Reda asks about when we might get one. I’d say ‘Never. Lots of taxis are still cheaper than a car. And you don’t have to park a taxi.’ Kind of moot points, though. We always take the most dangerous-looking junky-looking bus before we take a taxi.


There has been one traffic ticket. It was an $8 ticket. Which I could have paid on the spot (and left with my driver’s license). But I didn’t have $8 with me (flat tires are only $4 for tube replacement and I think I had $5 or some similarly slim surplus). So they kept my driver’s license and told me where I could pick it up for $10. So "within a week" I had paid it off at a facility that didn’t have long waiting lines, etc. But it was $20 – an extra $12 for not paying on the spot. Not just an extra $2. And I didn’t have it. I had the $10 and the standard don’t-go-anywhere-without-$5-for-a-flat-tire. But some guy standing at the next window paying some dozens and dozens of slips for a trucking company pulled $10 off the top of his LE50(=$11) stack that looked to be about 9 inches high... and I was off and on my way.


I was at the motorcycle mechanic tonight. I’ve been around there a bit lately as the return spring for the brake pedals age and give out after a couple years – those factory-fitted from a couple years ago. But there’s a massive supply of poor replacement springs in town and the shops are just kind of replacing them once a week until they are all gone or a better supply shows up or something. Now there’s the same problem with the rear brake-shoe retractor springs. So possibly I’ll be stopping by the mechanic 8 times a month instead of 4. Or maybe they’ll just replace both at the same time once each week for the duration.


I was sitting in one of the chairs at the mechanic’s place reflecting on such things when my eyes drifted over to the interior wall on which his tools are hung. He now has two of everything... spanners, screw drivers, socket sets... everything. Not just one. For the two mechanics who now make their living there... not just him. Life’s kind of doubled up for him in similar ways. Two years and three months ago he had a few Vespas (‘fesba’) that he rented out. But then people like me started showing up with these new Chinese motorcycles he bought two, renting them out, then a third and a fourth and perhaps now a fifth and a sixth. And since all that was doubling nicely he got a 14 seat passenger vehicle and has personally started plying the highways and byways of Greater Cairo – they don’t try different things every day, although they may be free to do so. They run regular routes, experimenting a bit with others, to see how they might keep their van loaded most of the day for the highest price. So his young brother-in-law, who he has been the second man for two years or more, is now running the shop and training others and so on it goes.


Not so different than Assim who added the 6th floor of his building most of two years ago where the hotel/hostel was just on the 7th floor for the first five years he had it open. Double the fun. Double the income.


The property situation is perhaps well out of hand now but it hasn’t yet crashed like it did in America and Dubai and when it does it will involve speculative luxury villas and apartments rather than the apartments most of us live in. Too many in the far west of Cairo and too many in the far east. Perhaps tens of thousands of them empty. As is true of middle and low income housing but those have the thronging millions coming of age or immigrating to Cairo to keep that market rather better balanced out. Reda and I hope for our savings to intersect with the luxury stuffs’ prices’ demise on a two to four year basis.


Some of the sleepy old kinds of businesses are going under. But there are abundant examples of the world of consumerism coming to Pyramids and finding a hearty reception: Arab and American fast food, car dealerships, appliance super-stores, computer shops.


Otherwise, I have become the Breadfruit Institute’s ‘lead man’ in Africa. Which pays for nothing… except for the sins of my past. See link below:

 

www.jeffmarck.net/breadfruitrevolution.htm


06 January 2011 - Egyptian icebergs

Six or eight months ago – yes, June it was or perhaps May – I told Reda and various friends that I would then most earnestly begin seeking freelance work from area translation agencies to do native English copy editing and that it might be the end of the year before it came to much good.


I had been working since March or April at the closest translation service to our house. But southwest Pyramids is not the place to be looking for work touching up Arabic to English projects. I don’t know if I’m the only "European" living in Pyramids but at that agency it’s all English to Arabic – equipment manuals, doctors’ reports – things at a personal or small business level that brings the outside world to them. So my time at the translation office has been spent exclusively – not almost exclusively – precisely exclusively – condensing Dickens and Shakespeare for Egyptian middle school students.


I have a pronounced astigmatism which wasn’t diagnosed until I was 35 years old. Long afternoons reading on the beach etc. resulted in sick headaches up to that time which was when I first got glasses of any kind including all through my school days and through a BA and two MAs. Consequently. Before the diagnosis and first pair of specs I had little interest in reading for pleasure or purpose, but did so laboriously when circumstances required.


So, with three different kinds of reading glasses I started reading Dickens for this guy in Faisal (Pyramid’s northwestern most district) in February and, to me, it was thrilling. Dickens’ use of verbs not normally associated with the action described so often created a good bit of inner laughter. Adjectives not normally associated with the noun in question. Same thing.


The Dickens was just delightful.


But though it was "a far, far better thing than ever I have done", it paid almost nothing so by about May I was looking for a polite way out and it was handed to me on a silver platter by the translation service owner himself, Mr. Ibrahim.


He went to Mecca in May, and made the minor pilgrimage which is the same as the annual Haj except you get less "credit" for it... but can do it in less crowded circumstances. It was also a bit of a business trip for him, selling elementary level books for learning English. The Egyptian and Saudi curricula are similar to some extent and Dickens and Shakespeare are a safe bet in Egypt because such condensations are required reading in the public schools and the private schools as well. So in a town of 20 million people you can do what you like and try to sell it to the schools for their (4-6 million?) students. It’s all out of copyright and Shakespeare, too, which isn’t actually Shakespeare. Every last public and private school in town is required to have their students read Charles and Mary Lamb’s 1810s prose summaries of some of the dramatic works, simplified for middle school second language students.


Never was there one single copy editing job. By April I was looking for a graceful way to branch out.


The opportunity came when Ibrahim didn’t pay me when he came back from Mecca around the first of June. And he hadn’t paid the phone or DSL or light bill before he left which were going out one by one and I had started staying home to do my work for him.


"You can’t pay me?"


"Not yet."


"Assim just got back from Mecca, too. He took his whole family. He couldn’t pay me either so he sold his car." Which was true but involved his 10 or so employees at his hotel, not just me.


"You think I should sell my car?”


"Yes. I do. I’ve got to pay my rent and feed my wife."


He said no more and I left for the day. Whether it is some sort of special license to all returning pilgrims or just him... I now had the excuse to go out to look for freelance copy editing assignments from other translation outfits. Ibrahim and certain others (partners in his school book operation) had insisted that I not freelance when I came to work 7 hours a day for them. But there had not been a single copy editing assignment which is what I applied for (its higher pay, specifically).


So, with neither income from copy-editing, nor, especially, getting paid the little they owed me on time, I let my fingers do the walking, found the three or four next closest translation services, sent them CVs by email, and walked in a few days later, a new one each day for several days, next-to-cold-call-fashion. They were like Mr. Ibrahim. They were delighted to meet me in person and all offered work as they had occasion to receive appropriate commissions. I had seen this with Mr. Ibrahim and by about that time I was beginning to understand what it was.

 

They had all seen the big commission slip out of their grasp because they knew no native English speaker doing copy editing work. So that was my entree to all these places. The big one that got away. They were all just delightful, as was my current "employer" when I first met him. But I was beginning to wonder by then what good it could do if they would then advertise "native English speaker copy editing" as they all proposed to do.


Look for yourself. Do it now. Google those words and yes, it is moi meme who is numero uno in the world, right below the two to five paid placement outfits. And this was true at the time I was making these forays last June. It took me two or three months from about February to move to the top. But it results in very little business. Nor had it helped my initial potential benefactor, Ibrahim of Faisal, to bring any new English copy editing work to his west Faisal service. We both have services that report to us about visits to our web sites and I, El Numero Uno de la Monde on Google, gets hardly any visits at all and just five, as I recall, actually retained me (and all paid when I was done, thank goodness).

Mr. Ibrahim’s web site visits are most predominantly from people linking through upon finding him listed in the online Yellow Pages – which has no dedicated "copy editing" category.

My breaks began to come from two men I hadn’t heard from much since visiting them in June. One had a major corporation’s web site for me to copy edit some time during the summer and thought he would give me a try. His client was quite happy but no word from him came again until about October when he and another agency started getting in touch quite a lot and then, too, a quite wonderful man with an agency in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia started sending me editing and proofing as well. I asked the gentleman from Jeddah how he found out about me and it wasn’t my web site. It was someone he knew in Cairo, who he didn’t mention by name, who knew of me somehow and that, perhaps, is the heart of the story on how people seek such services as well – referrals from other clients.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had moved on to A Tale of Two Cities and it was a joy to get paid to read it. Condensation ran much the same as with Oliver Twist and David Copperfield – getting rid of 8 page adjectives etc. and just leaving Dickens’ other magical words alone. A Tale of Two Cities was approached as with the others but it was a shock to see we would need 1700 definitions in the glossary when we ran the software to see what was in there (that is, 1700 words beyond the 2500 most frequently words seen in English late elementary curricula). I think it was 400 or less for the others.

 

I’m not an educator and hadn’t really noticed the difference but Dickens was using a whole different level of vocabulary in Tale of Two Cities (Oliver Twist and David Copperfield were first serialized in newspapers or magazines and only appeared as books afterward).


Then there was the Shakespeare work and Charles and Mary Lamb’s ~1810 "retelling" which was just that much different than Dicken’s English of the 1830s to 1860s that it isn’t accessible in the same way. It had to be heavily edited and then to-ing and fro-ing between using more glossary items, getting rid of a lot of their words with modern synonyms when they are a bit archaic. A tougher row to hoe than Dickens.


The work will always be there if I want it. And I do. I worked at Mr. Ibrahim’s office 52 hours in October, 50 hours in November and 52 hours again in December. I had a difficult master’s thesis to copy edit over the past eight days. A guy in a certain regional government ministry who needed a formatter and typesetter more than he needed a copy editor. So I haven’t seen Mr Ibrahim for a week except when he called me to come collect my pay for December.


We had a good laugh late last month. His wife had their car and was at the school where she teaches and the battery had gone flat. We went down there on my motorcycle and between my on board motorcycle tools and some nicer stuff he had in his car we started working on the situation. But then his daughter got out of the car and closed the door and his wife’s keys were then locked inside. So I scrambled over to his apartment on my motorcycle to get his car keys from the baby-sitter and got back rather quickly. The rush hour was closing in on us and we were all laughing as one thing we did and then another had no effect on the stubborn starter.

 

Then I saw Ibrahim was some yards away on the main road flagging down a three-wheeled taxi ("toktok" – from India) and assumed he was off to buy a new battery. But then he and the toktok driver drove straight to the car and Ibrahim pointed to the battery under the driver’s seat of the toktok. It was the size of a car battery so for $1 we took out the battery, hooked it up in his car, and the car started right away. The toktok driver got his battery back in place and blasted off to make money in the rush hour and we got the car’s old battery back in place and blasted off in our different directions, laughing, to see if we could get to our destinations before the rush hour had the streets backing up badly. We’re pals, now, I guess.


Reda and I are still fairly pitiful when trying to speak the other’s language... getting better glacially. Her more than me because her secondary school English is coming back in bits and pieces. I’ve got my spoken Arabic CDs and she’s got her spoken English CDs but we’re both about 60 and don’t retain much when rote memorization is involved. We have better luck spending time sitting together with the dictionaries working back and forth on vocabulary we want to know or want the other to know. Spelling out the Arabic word with the Quranic diacritics and, for the English, the symbols of the International Phonetics Society helps me most in terms of memorizing and trying to pronounce words when practicing them on my own without an Arabic speaker at hand.


So life involves a lot of good faith, a lot of Google translator and a lot of jokes and surprises. The utter failure of tonight’s surprise is what inspired me to sit down and write a small wedding missive.


The man on the ground floor who sells salted fat and sugar to the students from the boys’ high school across the street had been cleaning up the empty shop next to his sundries shop and suddenly, yesterday, the unit he had cleaned up was filled with shelves and counters and display racks of fruit and vegetables. And he seems to be set to stay open 24 hours a day as most fruit and vegetable shops do. Which is great for a lot of reasons. 24 hour security for my motorcycle which is locked to the lamp post 20 meters away, for one reason. And something besides Borios (an Oreos copycat) for when I’m ready for a snack and a walk – which might be at 3 am because some of my copy editing work involves largish overnight jobs.


I noticed yesterday that he had iceberg lettuce which I had noticed at a very few other produce markets though more so lately now that I think to look for it. I had been feeling low in a not-enough-veggies way for a number of days and it was like a dream come true to see this guy’s shop open up. And everything is in season now, though less so for some fruits. The tomato crop has been fabulous as well as for cucumbers, capsicum and a number of other things I like but don’t know their names. And there’s too much of all of it. The tomatoes are 20 cents (AUS/US) a kilo, vine ripened, picked yesterday, etc. and about half of it rots before it’s sold. Getting a little overripe in the farmers’ fields, I guess. I can’t imagine how little the retailers are paying for them. The trucks coming from the farms can be seen driving the neighborhoods begging the retailers to take them.


The produce shops have a pleasant way of just piling one’s small bits of this and that onto their scales and charging a "salad" price per kilo. Today it all cost me $2.50 after adding a kilo of bananas to the salad stuff. If I really want to make Reda feel she’s living a glorious life, I bring home bananas, milk and sugar. But today it was all about salad and I contrived to be in the kitchen chopping it all up as she came home from work. Well, she arrived and just felt invaded. Big disaster. And she thought it was a plainly crazy idea to be using iceberg lettuce for salad when everybody knows it’s for mashi (the rice wrapped in grape leaves one sees at Lebanese restaurants and Arab weddings... grape leaves, iceberg lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves, stuffed into small hollowed out eggplants – dozens of ways to make mashi, perhaps).


So she fought the iceberg lettuce away from me, stuffed it into the fridge, and then came over to the counter where I was cutting up the tomatoes and started trying to grab the knife away from me because, as I understood her to say, I obviously didn’t know how to cut tomatoes.


Egyptians will simply grab things from you or grab your arm and, with what force they can muster, drag you away from something they don’t think you should be doing. Well, I was not going to fight over a knife and came in here to the office to write this instead.......

We’ve just had dinner this half hour later or more and there were tiny pieces of iceberg lettuce in the salad. And they say contrition is puppy poop. Anyway, she’s brightened up... which is what everybody says about her: "Kulliyom mabsoota." (She’s always happy.)

We’re in a new flat again. This last general kicked us out early, too, saying we had violated the lease by getting a land line telephone. And he only gave us 5 days to get out. I wondered aloud to my friends as to whether he had an adult child who would be taking it or if there was someone offering to pay more. "No," they all said. "Nobody wants you to put a phone in their house. Or to get the electric or gas in your own name. Did it say in the lease ‘no phone?’" "Yes, but why?" "Because some people will get those things in their name and after 5 years go to the land office with the receipts and say they bought the place but lost the papers. They never win those cases. Or in some cases you can’t figure out who’s lying. But you can’t touch them and it might take 5 years for you to get them out... all the time getting no rent... all the time preventing you from selling it if that is what you want to do... all the time wondering if the son or daughter you bought it for is going to want to get married before you get rid of the other people. Nobody wants you to get a phone in their house."


So here we are. Five weeks in our new place. Our concession to a legal system that uses a soft hand when poor people or others make the aforementioned kinds of claims. Many of them are illiterate but prove, in the end, that it was the landlord who was trying to pull off a dirty trick. Actually our phone was never associated with that flat’s address in the phone company records. It was a line thrown down from the roof by people Reda works with at the phone company. But it was a general telling us to go... so off we went. Up the hill in the same "city of generals". Renting from a woman who bought the place from a general years ago. Here the phone line already came down from the roof and through the office window and there isn’t any "no phone" clause in our present lease, anyway.


The move would have been a disheartening financial blow if not for this recent blossoming of relations with the accounts that I developed last year. When we decided not to take the general to court and simply move out as he was demanding, we sat down to look at what our moving expenses would be. All up it was going to be about $1000 which we didn’t have. The new landlady was going to cut us some slack until January or something but that wasn’t the half of it. But we just kept putting one foot ahead of the other and going through the motions when two days later I got a large, short-time-schedule copywriting project and then another and then another. I worked flat out at the computer for five days while Reda field marshaled the house moving. My computer was the last thing out the door and the first thing made serviceable at our new place here. And the jobs I had by then finished paid $1100. $100 is huge money in this part of town. Our "profit" from those days. $1100 in 5 days. But it’s feast or famine. I probably won’t see that again for a while.


The flat is a mirror image of where we lived before. I was, for a lot of days, walking out of the office and into the bedroom rather than taking a left towards the kitchen and the coffee urn.


The snow storm in Jerusalem in the middle of December was a big howling sand storm here. It took days to clean the house up. We were protected from strong winds better in the previous flats but we’ll be glad for any smaller or larger improvement in the breeze through the summer at the top of the hill here we are now.


Reda makes the occasional comment of late about buying the place, but at the same time gets excited every time she sees a banner advertising a vacant flat on the bustling main street near the apartment building she built with her sister. The air is much fresher here. The flats are bigger for less money. There would be a place to park a car if we get one. But I do love the life in town, too, and the new places going up on the empty lots in our old neighborhoods all have basement car parks. We shall see what we shall see.


Reda’s got 96 days to retirement, she tells me. She acts like it and has ever since her cataract surgeries in about June. Really took the wind out of her sails. She takes a lot of sick days, now, that she maybe doesn’t need, and I notice her office now has four desks instead of three and hers is no longer the big oak desk for the manager of that unit to preside over (she got that job only a year ago or so, "Yes," she said. "Madame Noor turned 60 and retired. And when I turn 60, I’m going to retire." She patted a small pile of papers on her office desk that she was working on and said quite happily, "We have to."


Ours is a Muslim marriage contract. There are no civil unions under Egyptian law. One is married in church or mosque or synagogue and divorce (which the main Christian denominations don’t allow) is also defined and implemented according to the rules and practices of one’s faith. In a Muslim marriage contract the man always signs up to "take responsibility" for the woman "from" her family... her father or oldest male relative signing her away. I’ve never asked about her income or what she does with it although I suppose her nephew Mahmoud’s undergraduate tuition is a big part of the story. Last year was just plain tough financially but whatever little bit I brought home she made it last and allowed me the dignity of being the household’s sole source of support.


She talked recently about wanting to continue to work somewhere after her retirement from Telecom. Maybe she will. The nephew Mahmoud has another year at the institute after this one. But I brought up to her a general vision of traveling quite a lot. "We could be in Damascus for six months... anywhere. My work comes by email. It doesn’t matter where we are." So that was news to her. We’ll go to Mecca first. If we went anywhere else outside Egypt first she would just want to be in Mecca anyway.


At the electronics and IT institute Mahmoud is fast learning to use the English he was only taught to read K-12. And he’s settled down to studying and other better priorities than a year (?) ago when he was demanding an expensive motorcycle or car and just plainly couldn’t understand why his mother and Reda wouldn’t buy him one. Danish kids start buying all their own clothes when they are 14 and move into their own flat when they are 18. Which was also true of the Yank-Danskers as I was growing up. Such questions of whether that is better for the youth are moot. Young people don’t generally have any way to make enough money to live independently here in Egypt.


I procured a 10-20 weeks Teaching English as a Foreign Language Internet course in about June. A respected outfit and the certificate from that course would have opened lots of doors. But – OH – sick headache. The course rather assumed that one would either have other teaching experience or be prepared to supplement, on a self-starter basis, one’s preparations through readings of certain theory and practice of education stuff. I could see myself slowly slipping behind on a 10 week schedule, then a 20 week schedule. I didn’t see how I could get it done within the 6 month limit. I was 5 weeks into it and had lost 5 kilos from stress (plus the 20 kg I lost, on purpose, when I came back from Australia in 2008 – I was beginning to look like Uriah Heep). The 20 kilos went by way of a lot of walking. Most of 10 km per day for 3 months. The 5 kilos in 5 weeks was from stress and loss of appetite from the course so I cut bait.


But it all came good. I’d rather work at home doing the copy editing. The work is very absorbing, time flies and I finish up, usually, the day I get the assignment or the day after. I email it off and that’s it. I walk down to the cafe and by the time I get there I can’t always remember the project’s topic, even if it took several days. Don’t care. Don’t have to care. The client agencies do all the marketing and billing. They pay within 30 days and before that if I ask.


When I hear the phone beeping with a text message it’s almost always one of the agencies as my friends are all too old to fuss with texting much and it’s a bit of a thrill to hear the phone beeping upon the arrival of a new SMS.


My PhD thesis supervisors probably think it’s a big funny joke that I would be copy editing anything. But I do it at a level that seems to strike a comfortable place in the clients’ hearts. And I do. Yes, I do, feel like I’m in a Bourne movie when a text message comes to me at a cafe and I have to blast off on my motorcycle down desert roads to get to my computer and send a quote off or, alternately, just sit down and do the job immediately because the agency’s already promised a client that "their" guy would do so.


The motorcycle – 28,000 km on the mean streets of Cairo in 29 months. We are, indeed, enjoying our second childhood together. We will go to the far side of town tomorrow to look at sewing machines. But we will take buses and subways. We won’t leave until after the noon prayer after which one has an hour or two to drive around town quite easily but then we would be driving back 20-25 km through full-on weekend traffic by the time we were done looking around the markets. Not a place for the faint-hearted. We don’t even go to her sister’s house 5 km away between 5 and 8 pm on work days. It’s not so much dangerous as it is very slow going and hard on my hips to balance two on the bike when we are at a standstill.


It’s the Coptic Christmas Eve tonight and we just finished watching the midnight mass on TV. Pope Shenouda seemed to be wiping away tears, as well he might. And the congregation looked gravely terrified. Perhaps 20 Christians were murdered in a bombing outside an Alexandria cathedral as they left a New Year’s Eve mass. I only heard about it a couple days ago. I finally had time to get the TV set up with its dish that day and the first thing that came on was a Middle Eastern Christian funeral with two or three caskets being passed over people’s heads into a cathedral. The sound wasn’t working yet so I didn’t know where it was. I had heard Christians were being bombed again and again in Iraq in recent days but only yesterday came to know that the funeral I saw on TV was more probably for some of the people in Alexandria.


If the God-damned Yank Congress and presidents would cry like this when Israel cluster-bombed civilians in Lebanon and phosphorus-bombed civilians in Giza maybe they would stop saying naughty-naughty to the Israelis and start telling them to withdraw the settlements and fucking well behave themselves.


Europe is united. There the people believe that the biggest threat to world peace is Israel. Except for the UK people who think the biggest threat to world peace is America.


People no longer stand up when American ambassadors enter the room. Not in Europe or the Middle East, anyway.


I just yesterday pushed the "Confirm" button on the Internet payment that involved what I expect to be the last taxes I ever expect to pay to the United States of America.


I shall never be helping to fund its violent adolescence on the world stage again.


Why didn’t I know about the Alexandria bombings sooner? Because nobody even talks about anything having to do with America and Israel. What difference would it make? They don’t. I don’t. I’m glad to never give it any thought at all... except upon seeing the tears of Baba Shenouda.


Fuck America. Fuck the horsies its Congress rides around upon.


Thank you for your time,


Jeff

 

27 January 2011 00:45 – long johns and hippie chicks

Egyptians wear long johns through the winter. They make all the difference between enjoying Cairo at this time of year as opposed to often wishing one were somewhere else. All my friends wear long johns. My wife wears long johns. Her sister wears long johns. Our nephew wears long johns. Everybody wears long johns. You don’t even have to ask.

 

I joined the legions and got some long johns for myself towards the end of my first winter in Cairo in 2006, finally taking the Egyptians’ advice a month or two before returning to Australia 15 April. I left for Australia feeling like I had discovered an entirely different city. I no longer got cold in the outdoor cafes in the evening when the breeze picked up a little. I no longer shivered through the evening and early morning working hours as I rattled around the house. People don’t heat their apartments in Cairo. Not in Pyramids, anyway. We all wear long johns.

 

I’m not the first Des Moines Luther Memorial Church person to have retired to Cairo. My parents’ great friends, Wilber and Cleo Williamson wintered here, as I recall, more often than not after they retired. Or perhaps it was somewhere else in Egypt and not Cairo.

 

As an undergraduate African economies student, I had been to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in 1968 and first came to Egypt after West Africa, East Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen in 1971.

 

I was a student in Enok Mortensen’s confirmation classes about 1962-1964. He was in Des Moines for a year or two, half time as pastor of Luther Memorial, and half time gleaning bits of Danish American history from the archives of the Evangelical Danish Lutheran Church in America Grand View College. I knew then that he was writing a history of the Danish Lutheran church in America but it was only within the last year that I learned of his many other books and I sent off for some of them.

 

Enok spoke to us briefly about something special one Saturday morning, our small confirmation class meeting in the parsonage just west of the Danish old people’s home, Valborg, and across the street from the Grandview College women’s dormitory, although I don’t know what the latter is now. He spoke to us of something he did when he was 17 or 18. He had come to America with his family when he was 16. When he finished high school he got himself to San Francisco, rode steerage to Japan and, from the Asian coast somewhere, had taken the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Moscow at the height of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He never said more about it than just those basic facts. But it got my mind turning as to the things he might have seen and heard when taking that route at that time and going onward to Denmark from Moscow. By 1968 when I finished high school I had also met Bob Shreck who went on to be a famous cancer doctor in Des Moines. Bob’s tales of his Middle Eastern travels when he was about 20 and I was about 15 also got me thinking I might do well to go out and see a bit of the world.

 

I had come back to Cairo in 2005 to see if I might like to retire here and I stayed the better part of a year. I was here in 2005 when Jyllens Post published the Muhammad cartons. I saw the Danish products immediately disappear from the supermarkets – yards and yards of empty dairy cases around the neighborhood more or less immediately. I came back in 2008, retiring from academics and getting on with my new life here. The Danish products had not come back. Nor have they today. So neither can I comfortably tell people that I’m American nor, since 2005, mention that my family was entirely Danish before that. I had been living in Australia through the 1990s and have been a citizen of Australia since 1999. So even before 2005 I had a more useful nationality to mention than saying anything about America. Egyptians don’t often speak English and when they do they don’t seem to notice differences in English dialects and they commonly assume that I’m a native born Australian. I’m careful not to disabuse them of that impression until they are aware that I am pro-Palestinian and have been for a long time.

 

Ever since hitch-hiking from one Mediterranean youth hostel to another in 1968, I had been witness to the common European opinion that these settlements Israel was establishing in the Occupied Territories were a cause for great concern. We young people in the youth hostels in 1968 swore oaths to never visit Israel or buy Israeli products until the settlements were abandoned, an oath from which I have never strayed. Charles de Gaulle, the French President, had put it succinctly the year before: [Israel] is organizing, on the territories which it has taken, an occupation which cannot work without oppression, repression and expulsions… and if there appears resistance to this, it will in turn be called “terrorism”. He was president of a nation which had just seen over 100,000 people killed due to its colonial project in Algeria – a project which France, in the end, had to abandon.

 

So there I was, late summer, 1968, properly concerned about the settlements. But I was going home to where I had learned to swim at the Jewish Community Center, had a very few classmates who were Jewish and had seen a Jewish girl at our high school play Anne Frank most worthily some months before in the drama club’s spring production. Enok had taken our confirmation class to a synagogue the year he was in Des Moines. A pleasant rabbi spoke to us and showed us around. My siblings and I were all aware of the Danes getting the Jewish people of Denmark safely away to Sweden during the initial Nazi occupation. I’ve had Jewish people point out to me that those Danish Jews had to pay well for the help they received getting to Sweden… but so did one of my mother’s cousins in Viborg when he went onto Nazi arrest lists after he and another boy or two stole some of their troops’ rifles while their owners were eating lunch.

 

From 1968 I’ve always had comfortable friendships with Jewish people starting from that fall when I began university. I have never felt it was difficult to separate Jewish rights and humanity from Israeli government wrongs and inhumanity. I remember, especially, having lunch with three Jewish people in Australia in the mid-1990s. There was an Israeli-Australian who was glad to do long university years in Australia. One’s time owed to Israeli military service was calculated according to how much time one spent in Israel and how much time one spent in other nations where one had citizenship or permanent residence. He was a lieutenant, I think, in the Israeli army… and was called to service but little because he lived in Israel but little. The second was a UK-Australian Jewish woman doing a PhD. The third I can’t remember specifically except that it was a young woman and that I was the only non-Jewish person there. It was all of them glaring at me for a moment… me the American… when the subject of Israeli government excesses came up. It was America that gave the government of Israel its license to steal what it wanted from the Palestinians, not those Jews at that table or their families or their nations.

 

I went back to America 1999 to 2004. I had not looked for a pro-Palestinian American organization to join when I was back there previously, 1986-1991. But I certainly went looking for one in September of 2000 when Ariel Sharon ascended Temple Mount under armed guard. By doing that he symbolically proclaimed that there would never be an end to The Occupation, there would never be an end to the settlements, there would never be a Palestinian state and that East Jerusalem would never be its capital. Was he wrong?

 

Instantly there was the uprising in the Occupied Territories and a good pro-Palestinian organization came looking for people like me in those days. It was by way of the picture of the little Palestinian boy holding his arms out as if with hand flags – or perhaps he did have little flags – as he stood in front of an Israeli tank, blocking its progress as it advanced into the little boy’s Palestinian neighborhood. It was the picture the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) splashed across America in full page newspapers advertisements some weeks or months into the rebellion. I immediately joined ADC and, with their help, I began searching out Palestinians in the Omaha and Council Bluffs area where I was living and working at the time. I found few Palestinians who could suggest anything useful to do or say. Most of a year after Sharon’s fabled foray up Temple Mount, I finally wrote to my senators from Iowa – Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley… I don’t recall and response from Harkin. But I know it was Chuck Grassley who did because I remember that he did reply by way of a forgettable six page corporate letter. Had he come around to read it to me out loud, it would have sounded like a person speaking with a mouthful of rocks. I marked up his letter with bits of red ink and sent it back to him.

 

Then a few days later there was September 11th. I was one of those 14% of American citizens or residents said, at the time, to believe that we brought the attack on ourselves. Double dared them too many times, in my opinion, then and now. Just asking for it. My blood pressure shot up 30 points and only came down slowly over the next six months, I was so enraged to have watched us do that to ourselves. I began to plot my escape and worked especially hard on some Pacific Island prehistory topics that might take me back to the Australian National University, a development that eventuated in 2004.

 

I had been a polite guest of Australia 1991 to 1999. I was a Meals on Wheels volunteer and a foster parent but did not get involved in political issues… a spectator in “the recession Australia had to have” and other politico-economic issues while comfortably ensconced at the national university. But when I went back in 2004 it was as an Australian citizen thinking of the future and I joined the Australian Capital Territory’s Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine (AJPP). Or, now that I think about it, I only found them after returning from my 2005-2006 residence in Cairo. Once again, a good pro-Palestinian organization found me. This one through a poster on a pillar that I noticed when whiling away some moments standing in a line for an ATM. I worked with AJPP for most of two years and then came back to Cairo where I was going to have to plan out a cheap retirement. I hadn’t had the consistent academic careers of Wilber and Cleo Williamson.

 

I remember the years 1999-2004 back in the United States in many ways but one memory that made me proud stands out. I was visiting Joel and Karla Mortensen in Minneapolis. I was reading one of the Church and Life issues from their coffee table and, like those in my mother’s (Anna Marie Marck) home in Des Moines, it had some very useful observations on the plight of the Palestinians. I mentioned it to Joel and he said it was our parents’ good friends Thorval Hansen and, perhaps, Marvin Jensen writing up those articles. I remembered my father, Arthur Krog Marck, mentioning that LCA (the Lutheran Church in America), or perhaps LCA and ALC (the American Lutheran Church)t jointly, had ongoing relief programs in Gaza. That conversation was in the late 1960s or early 1970s. I was glad to read the Church and Life articles, to recall my father’s words and to think that one or both of the old synods had kept some support going to Palestine and may have continued to do so after the merger.[here]

 

There were no feasts in Cairo when Obama nominated Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. The Clintons didn’t even understand why the Oslo accords immediately unraveled – they were either oblivious to the settlements issues or felt that they didn’t have the political capital to deal with them head on. Obama seems the same. His address to the Arab world in Cairo is only remembered here for the inconvenience of having him in town for the day. Every major road in Greater Cairo was closed. Obama’s speech was just more “naughty, naughty” if he talked about the government of Israel’s culpabilities at all. I don’t remember a word of it, actually. In any event, since that time, there has been no effective American government action to reel in Israeli Apartheid whatsoever. There is even the current fear that Obama will veto the UN Security Council resolution concerning the settlements.

 

I’m older than Benyamin Netanyahu and I hope we both live long enough to see the settlements and West Bank abandoned to Palestine as they should be. That will be the price of America regaining some respect around the world. For the moment the US government is kind of like mosquitoes in the summertime or something. One can’t completely get rid of them so one makes certain accommodations.

 

I never complained about the Afghanistan project but wondered how America could possibly prevail when the Soviet Union and colonial Britain before had failed to do so before. Thrice with respect to the UK. Afghanistan was a failed state from which we had been attacked. But Iraq was a failed state that had neither done us wrong nor had any relationship with Al Qaeda except to keep it out. And where was the American government’s moral capital to be mucking around in the Middle East, anyway? The Protector of the Shah. The Funder of Apartheid Israel. Etc.

 

Boy W. George. The Great Connector of Dots. Conqueror of Baghdad and Fallujah… Instrument of the Messiah… I’m not paying taxes for it any more. Literally. A very few days ago I pushed the “Confirm” button on the Internet payment that involved what I expect to be the last taxes I ever pay to the United States of America.  I shall never again be helping to fund its violent adolescence on the world stage.

 

My wife and I watched the Egyptian Coptic Christmas Eve mass on TV about the 6th or 7th of this month, as we did last year. The congregation looked gravely terrified. Pope Shenouda seemed occasionally to be wiping away tears… as well he might. More than 20 Christians were murdered in a bombing outside an Alexandria cathedral as they left a New Year’s Eve mass. I only heard about it some days later. I finally had time to set up our TV dish that day, as we had recently moved house. The first thing I got the dish to pick up was footage of a Middle Eastern Christian funeral with two or three caskets being passed over people’s heads into a cathedral. The sound wasn’t working yet so I didn’t know where it was. I had heard Christians were being bombed again and again in Iraq in previous days but only the day after setting up the TV dish did I come to know that the funeral I saw on TV was more probably for some of the people in Alexandria… the deadliest such incident in over 20 years.


If the Yank Congress and presidents gave it a think when Israel cluster-bombed civilians in Lebanon and phosphorus-bombed civilians in Gaza maybe they would stop saying naughty-naughty to the Israelis and start telling them to withdraw the settlements and jolly-well behave themselves. But I doubt that the recent murder of scores of Christians around the Middle East made Congress want to do anything more than what it is already doing… slogging on with their “War on Terror.” Is that one up to a trillion dollars yet? Is the “War on Drugs?” I don’t take much notice anymore.


Europe is united. There the people believe that the biggest threat to world peace is Israel. Except for the UK people who think the biggest threat to world peace is America. For myself, I think the biggest threat to American security is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). They have successfully lobbied Congress to ignore questions of right and wrong for a number of decades now. September 11 was just the beginning of the price America continues to pay… the slow-motion knee-jerking that had Boy W. George invading Iraq, for instance. Ignorant, violent, unreconstructed alcoholic that he is. Spending trillions in the Iraq war and “War on Terrorism” whose most significant effect will be remembered as that of driving Iraq closer to the bosom of Iran.


Why didn’t I know about the Alexandria bombings sooner? Because nobody I know in Egypt ever talks about anything having to do with America and Israel. What difference would it make? They don’t. I don’t. I’m glad to never give it any thought at all... except upon seeing the tears of Baba Shenouda.


TO HELL with the horsies the American Congress rides around upon. A president who wanted to do right by the Palestinians wouldn’t be allowed to do so by Congress.

 

It is one of the difficulties the Egyptian government faces with its own population: the failure of the Egyptian government to complain about Israel in any effective way. But the government is constrained by Sadat’s Camp David agreements with Israel and both governments have promised not to interfere in the affairs of the other… although Israel is scrambling to do so now that President Mubarak may soon be taking a permanent vacation in Saudi Arabia.

 

Egypt has at least 5000 years’ experience in distancing itself from events in the Levant. But it leaves the government of Egypt in the constant position of suppressing the moral indignation of its citizens who want to ask why no one is doing anything effective about the government of Israel’s theft of Palestinian land, life and liberty – and the question of why the government of Egypt should continue such a cozy relationship with the American government, a government which just goes on and on and on exacerbating troubled Middle East situations.

 

The reason falls into the collective American lap, as the Jewish people I was to tea with in Australia 15 or more years ago implied. The government of Israel’s license to kill and establish Apartheid is a specifically American Christian, ever faithful to AIPAC, license to kill.

 

The New Year’s Eve bombing of the Coptic cathedral in Alexandria and the current flurry of email I receive from Australia and America – about getting Obama to vote against Israel in the UN Security Council showdown on the settlements – has me thinking about all this when usually I don’t.

 

 

On a happier note, I married an Egyptian woman a couple years ago. And she retires from the national phone company in April. A product of President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s education reforms 50 years ago and more. Reda did a two year electrical engineering certificate in an institute Abdel Nasser opened up to women.

 

He personally visited her elementary school and encouraged female education in what he said to those children and shook their hands, as mentioned some weeks or months ago. So when I kiss her hand I kiss… It isn’t a story the middle and especially upper middle class likes to hear. It was all kind of Soviet and a lot of private land and production resources were appropriated by the government without compensation for their full value and, at times I am told, no compensation at all.

 

Reda mainly wears pants and capes and ponchos with her headscarves.

 

It is almost certain in our Pyramids neighborhoods, that almost any woman – or, especially, group of women – without headscarves is Christian. I was telling this to a young Nigerian-American man who I took on a brief tour of Pyramids suburbs some nights ago. “Oh, really?” he said, his head darting about looking for Christians. There was one directly ahead of us by about 20 yards. She was coming up to the bottom of the stairs up to the Metro platform and he kept his eyes on her as we walked along in that same direction. I had swept my arm to the south as we were walking a couple hundred yards from the municipal bus we had taken from our home to the Metro station bus stop and said, “There’s a big cathedral and other churches beginning on the next large cross-street down there. Mostly the Muslims and Christians just kind of comfortably ignore each other.”

 

“Look at that woman,” I said, raising my head and pointing my nose at the possibly Christian woman his eyes had been following. “Nobody’s bothering her. Look at the way she walks. She’s not worried about anything.”

 

Egyptian Muslim city women were progressively giving up the head scarf up to the time of the 1967 War. Then, like Jerry Falwell on September 11, who came bursting out the door and blamed the attack on American homosexuals and others. Many Egyptians couldn’t imagine that God would have allowed what had happened to them in the 1967 War if they had been living right just as Falwell imagined it was failures in American values that caused God to allow the events of September 11. Here, from 1967, the women began to return to their head scarves and the nation withdrew into greater religious fundamentalism, just as America has in the last nine years or more.

 

Now there are some Muslim women giving up the head scarf again. A very few and they are a bit like hippie chicks in certain ways – seeking a more international education, world view and identity. Legions of more and less educated young women are entering the work force and do not marry, and do not marry, and do not marry and then they get to be about 35 and there is the question, their embarrassed families’ question most prominently, of if  (no longer “when”) they will ever get married. In most instances they continue to live with their parents before marriage… even up to the age of 35 and beyond. They’re supposed to and often do in any event.

 

I read some astonishing statistics about the number of never married Egyptian women aged 35[4] and some equally astonishing figures on the number of divorced women aged 35 who had never remarried. But then in that same, highly independent and highly respected newspaper, I read an unquestioned quote of a well-educated and well-connected woman. She, in the context of an increasing religious conservatism (or “fashion” – did they call it “fashion” rather than “conservatism”) discussion, said that ninety or ninety-five percent of Egyptian women were now wearing the veil – which was certainly off the mark by forty or fifty percent – an Egyptian proclivity for exaggeration that I am coming to appreciate a bit more as time goes on. It’s as if people are surprised if you don’t exaggerate when making a point… as if one isn’t doing a very good job of it.

 

So maybe not all the women without head scarves in Pyramids are Christian. And if their husbands’ wedding rings are gold, that is the clincher. Muslim men wear no gold. Just silver. But it remains a good rule of thumb. Probably my wife never went around without a head scarf before 1967. She grew up amongst observant Muslims in an Upper Egypt city where she would have worn a headscarf from her early teens or so. But like the legions of poorly censused professional women of 35 years of age today who have never married, she hadn’t married by that age either and never did until she married me.

 

This was all turning over in my mind as we walked mile after mile in the sprawling suqs of Ataba the other day, looking for a sewing machine and buying clothes. She picked up a few largish pieces of fabric that she said were to become ponchos. I began to notice only about three months ago that she’s the only woman I know or see on the streets who wears ponchos. Hippie chick or something.

 

I asked her wonderful cousin, Assim, who introduced us most of two years ago, what it would have been like for her to go to work for Telecom with her electrical engineering certificate when she was young. “Forty years ago?” he said. “They would have put her in the lowest job and kept her there.” When we got married we rented an apartment near an area telephone exchange that she’s assigned to so she could walk to work. She was punctually out the door and on her way to work at 7:45 am on every working day until June of last year.

 

Then one June day she came home with one of the phone company’s health care purchase orders. Fifty percent of Egyptians are said to have employment-based or other private health cover. Upon the advice of Yanks, I imagine. One wouldn’t want, for instance, to be giving national health insurance to one’s unemployed youth – or would one?

 

Egyptian economic statistics are quoted with greater precision than social statistics (e.g., never married 35 year old women estimates) and I have assumed that the “50%” with health insurance that I read about is roughly accurate. So Reda (“warm satisfaction” – a both male and female given name) showed me, last June, a Telecom purchase order with the normal list of arthritis and other medications. But there was also a line that said “Cataracts” which I had never seen on the forms before… a condition she had never mentioned at all. She asked me to take her to the eye hospital the next day and I said, “Sure,” assuming it was for a referral or check-up.

 

Off we went on the motorcycle – I got it four or five months after coming back from Australia in 2008. Twenty-nine months and twenty-nine thousand kilometers on the mean streets of Cairo. But it turned out that Reda wasn’t at the hospital for a check-up. She was there for the first of two cataract removal operations that would have her on sick-leave through the next 45 days or more. It kind of took the wind out of her sails with respect to enthusiasm for her job. With only six or eight months left until retirement after her time off for the cataract operations, she began taking more sick days for less convincing reasons and was sent home without pay one day owing to her late arrival that morning – which was becoming routine.

 

So she is well and truly ready for retirement and I’m drifting into a routine of doing native English speaker copy editing for a few Egyptian and Saudi Arabian translation services – work I get through their to-ing and fro-ing email of all information and documents to my home. I will be able to service those accounts from any place in the world with Internet connections once Reda retires and we will start traveling.

 

Reda had no brothers and had never married before. Meaning she, as an Egyptian women of her age, has never traveled abroad for lack of suitable escorts. So we will be seeing the rest of the Middle East in coming years. We think nothing of it. Fathers  take their sons to church and mosque and teach them right from wrong. The murder rates in Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities are as low as in Tokyo and Amsterdam. Except when people bring terror to those they think would collaborate with Apartheid Israel and its guarantor – The Failed States of America. The tears of Baba Shenouda. Any Christian becomes a target. My memory of Christmas 2010.

 

I would have peppered this piece with more facts and better spellings about Danish American Lutherans, American Christians and Jews (do you follow Forward – a lovely, highly regarded American Jewish newspaper?), Israel (do you follow Haaretz – a lovely, highly regarded Israeli Jewish newspaper?), and Egyptian Muslims and Christians. But the Internet was down through the night.

 

Following on the heels of the Tunisian Revolution of recent weeks, Egyptian young people have been doing what they can to shut down traffic in central Cairo for several days (10 or 12 kilometers away on the other side of the Nile). A big push was being organized for today again, after a relatively quiet day yesterday, and since all this is organized over Facebook, etc., the authorities have shut down the Internet and cell phones altogether. I will email this missive when email becomes available again, as is. Written from memory and from the heart.

 

Egyptian birth rates are getting well lower than in the past but of course youth unemployment has to do with birth rates fifteen and twenty-five years ago and they were still very high at the time. So many young people without higher education or without useful higher education are without work or, at least, without well-paying work. And they’ve been busy for a day or two trying to shut down central Cairo road traffic. Even 40 and 50 years ago when President Gamal Abdel Nasser was asked what worried him most, his reply was “3000 new Egyptians a day.” It is perhaps more like 4500-5500 new Egyptians born every day now and something like 3500-4500 young Egyptians, on average, coming onto the job market every day.

 

We were up all night, napping off and on, watching the developments downtown on TV. The Friday noon prayers were called some moments ago and I’m sitting at my desk at home where I can hear the sermon from the large nearby mosque’s outdoor loudspeakers. Reda just now came into the room, curious that I hadn’t left for mosque. But I told her there was trouble downtown and it was better that the Egyptians go to the mosque, listen to the sermon and talk it over afterwards without any foreigners.

 

Egyptians ask me about my past and why I retired here and why I became Muslim. I’m fond of pointing out to them that I grew up in a Lutheran church. There no book or person told me that Muslims were going to hell or that there would be any way of knowing who was going to heaven and who was going to hell. And that since I imagine I will one day die in Egypt, I wanted to do so praying with them because their life here is so wonderful. They find that quite astonishing. “Come on down.” They’re anxious to meet you.

 

The summer is too hot for all but the most intrepid visitor (but you get very good price). October and November are nice as are March, April and May. And December, January and February are also lovely (if you bring your long johns).

 

Addenda - 2 February 2011 13:11

 

So we’ve got our Internet connections back.

 

I’ve been wondering if you’ve been watching the news of Egypt these last many days.

 

Tell me the Egyptian people aren’t magnificent!

Tell me these young people aren’t pretty!

Tell me Obama doesn’t now have all the ammunition he needs to fire Hillary Rodham Clinton and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee!

Tell me Obama shouldn’t be listening instead to that wonderful ex-US Senator Mike somebody who spoke on our TVs from San Francisco on about 31 January!

Tell me America wasn’t blindsided by the “rights” approach while it poured more trillions into the military approach!

Tell me Enok didn’t show us how to open our eyes without telling us what we would see!

Tell me these gorgeous Egyptian young people didn’t learn a lot from studying the non-violence of the American civil rights movement!

Tell me the Egyptian upper classes and their children weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like at their beloved American University in Cairo!

Tell me the Egyptian lower classes weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like in public schools that use American models of civics!

Tell me this isn’t the beginning of the END for Halliburton and the military-industrial “complex” General Eisenhower warned us about!

Oh, glory… Glory… GLORY!!!

 

Tell me what you will –

 jeff@jeffmarck.netwww.jeffmarck.netwww.jeffmarck.net/index-old.htm

 

27 January 2011 - night I had come home from food fight with the Sara Inn ADSL/WiFi system

 

0.5 days lost finding out if the bill had been paid (it had)

2.5 days lost trying to get the password (which only(?) Assim could get – but Mr Monsour did)

0.5 days setting up new ADSL modem

2.5 days trying to get the WiFi working

1.0 days waiting for neighborhood EEs to come look at it who suggested LE450 modem

0.5 days of panic thinking the problem would never be solved

0.5 days real panic as it first occurred to me that old modem may have been OK and it might have just been the power supply (and praying no one had taken it out of the trash and figured out my mistake)

1.0 day home sick in bed

1.0 days trying again but using an old Chinese laptop to test what I was doing (the old laptop not able to hold on to a signal, anyway) – partial victory in the end when someone on the far side of the hotel got a good signal but couldn’t log in – reprogrammed a little and went home, not knowing if that last burst of activity had any useful result

1.0 days trying to switch home and hotel modems (we don’t use WiFi at home but it has good WiFi functionality) – end of the day Ahmad Salah, the evening shift manager, told me the same story as Mr. Monsour (which I assumed was a misunderstanding) that Ahmad’s laptop was able to hook up through WiFi at a good high speed – but hotel modem was at home which meant it would all spill into another day – ISP network goes down.

1.0 days with the home modem back at home and waiting for ISP functionality and then configuring back to settings for home – five or ten minutes hooking the hotel modem up again at the hotel – worked instantly – wrecked the rest of the afternoon fooling around with “access points” that I was mucking up because I had forgotten how. Rearranged access points (little boxes with antenna) to put the one with the biggest antenna directly above the reception area, next floor up, where it also spilt nicely into the dining room – finding old modem in computer room (someone had rescued it from the trash – took it home – power supply tested function – unit was not functioning)

1.5 hours lost getting home as there were pro-Tunisian sorts of demonstrations all along my normal routes and we were detoured all over the place by the riot police.

28 January 2011 - Fri - Bastille Day - Egypt 27/01/2011

3:35 pm 27 January 2011

Well, it all broke loose after the Friday midday prayers across the northern cities in the country.

I've seen little distressing violence on Al Jazeera English or the Persian English channels which we might not have for long.


It isn't Tiananmen Square. The police are not shooting the people at the moment and the army isn't yet involved at all. The police seem to be retreating and regrouping rather than trying to fight their way into the crowds. They are massively outnumbered. Or perhaps you know that from watching Al Jazeera or PressTV, feeds from those two or coverage from Western news outfits.


The scariest thing I saw on TV involved occasional footage of civilians being hauled off down side streets by three and five other "civilians" who are not plainclothes police - they are thugs and day laborers for the plainclothes police - and can, at least in the past, do what they want with people they abscond with during demonstrations. In recent years, something like five (?) years, 2000 Egyptians have disappeared into the hands of such people and their higher-ups in the Ministry of the Interior and have never been seen or heard of again.


The Internet was shut down, nationally, overnight and now the mobile phones don't work.


Reda left, taking the municipal bus for her sister's house more than an hour ago perhaps. The land lines are working and she's not at her sister's house yet so I'm well worried although the demonstrations are most of 10 km away and the ebb and flow of the day seems to be going on as normal in our immediate neighborhood.


We don't have long distance on our home phone, by the way, so for the moment we are incommunicado with respect to telephoning beyond the greater Cairo area code.


Al Jazeera reports that the Internet is working sporadically so I'll get this going as kind of a diary of the day and try to send it every hour or two.


4:07 pm - Reda just called from her sister's house. Whew. She had lost an hour or two going to their largest area market. It was crowded with people stocking up on staples so they don't have to leave their homes for basics. But Reda didn't want to elbow her way through the crowds and went on over to her sister Zuba's place.


Police have retaken a main bridge over the Nile in the last 20 minutes or so... the 6th of October Bridge. Al Jazeera and the Persian channel are saying, however, that the protesters now have the momentum at Tahrir (Liberation) Square. They report that some kind of massive government concessions will eventually be in the offing if the government is to survive at all. When I first switched on the TV at about 1 pm I thought they were saying that the Parliament building was already occupied but I haven't heard that again and may have misunderstood.


Footage of Alexandria seemed to have the sound of automatic weapons going off at one point. Alexandria is especially incensed with the regime these days. Right about the time of the fake election two Alexandria policemen went into a cafe, dragged out a prominent journalist and beat him to death on the footpath in front of the cafe - right out in the open for all to see. Those two policemen were never charged with murder or lesser crimes over the incident so far as I know.


The October Bridge was retaken by the police with what seemed hundreds and hundreds of volleys of tear gas rather than rubber bullets or worse.

I thought I heard the thumping of gunfire in the distance here in our neighborhood but I stuck my head out the window and saw it was just a nearby woman beating carpets on her balcony. My senses have lept to a certain unwanted level of acuity. This is history and I'm very glad I'm here to observe it.


4:22 pm - The protesters have taken the bridge again. Surging from the Giza side of the river, perhaps.


The networks are talking about the regime having signed its own death warrant with the last election... which was a big, complacent, evil joke. I don't think any international monitors or whatever showed up, it being understood by the U.N. and the others beforehand that it wasn't something would call an election anyway. It was just a couple months ago... if that long. And then there was the Tunisian Revolution. The sun is getting low on this winter afternoon. I'm wondering if more people will pour into the streets now that they see the government is using non-lethal methods to try to clear the people from the main squares, etc.


5:01 pm - The TV is saying police commanders are no longer present on the streets of Alexandria and the outnumbered foot police are being left to their own devices, handing over their weapons and shields to protesters and walking away.


Protesters are burning armored police cars and such other police vehicles as they gain control of. But I've seen no footage or heard any reports of private property being destroyed. This isn't a general riot and they're not targeting private property.

"They" are young people who put all this together on Facebook and Twitter. Entirely without acknowledged leaders or notables. Joined now by both men and women of all ages. They have no way of communicating with each other for now but perhaps they're ducking into small hotels and shops, viewing the situation on the TVs and reacting accordingly. They don't seem to have moved around in groups much. Staying where they were just after the noon prayers and holding their ground as individual projects.

5:15 pm - I had worried about the regime making good on its promise, today, to confront the protesters with "overwhelming" force by which I assumed they meant the army. But then the international TV networks emphasized that the military is highly respected and would not sully its reputation saving the regime. And, indeed, what seemed to be an armored vehicle of the army showed up outside the Hilton from which Al Jazeera is streaming the 6th of October Bridge Battle and the protesters, who are looking to the army to protect them from the regime's police, ran cheering to the army vehicle and everyone started shaking hands.


6:30 pm - A curfew was announced at about 5:30 for 6pm-7am. So Reda's stuck at her sister's place for the night. Not that it would matter. All the shops stayed open and children are playing in the street in this city of generals that we live in. Nobody's observing the curfew.


10:30 pm - I slept for a few hours after sunset . The neighborhood is still ignoring the curfew and I called Reda again on the land line. I said I could probably go over there and bring her home but I'd rather not have to talk to the police for any reason on a night like this, although the uniformed police have been very restrained through the day. It's the plainclothes police and their day labor thugs who have been a problem through the day... when there have been problems. I think about five people have been killed in the last 24 hours... three in Suez City (where there are always more fatalities for some reason) and two here in Cairo, both, I think it was said, from getting hit on the head by tear gas canisters rather than bullets, bludgeons, knives, etc. The army has separated the police from the people and will now watch the city sleep. The protesters, I suppose it was, have managed to set alight the large national headquarters of the National Democratic Party, Mubarak's mob, which is right next to the Egyptian Museum.

12:40 am Saturday January 28 - Well, President Mubarak just spoke for about ten minutes on state television talking useless drivel so I suppose the demonstrations will be larger after sunrise and we will once again have no mobile phone or Internet service. I'm going to bed. Queuing this to "Send" when we get our Internet back.


Good night and good luck,

Jeff


02 February 2011 - Weds - 13:11 - Internet is back

 

So we’ve got our Internet connections back.
I’ve been wondering if you’ve been watching the news of Egypt these last many days.

Tell me the Egyptian people aren’t magnificent!
Tell me these young people aren’t pretty!
Tell me Obama doesn’t now have all the ammunition he needs to fire Hillary Rodham Clinton and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee!
Tell me Obama shouldn’t be listening instead to that wonderful ex-US Senator Mike somebody who spoke on our TVs from San Francisco on about 31 January!
Tell me America wasn’t blindsided by the “rights” approach while it poured more trillions into the "security" approach!
Tell me these gorgeous Egyptian young people didn’t learn a lot from studying the non-violence of the American civil rights movement!
Tell me the Egyptian upper classes and their children weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like at their beloved American University in Cairo!
Tell me the Egyptian lower classes weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like in public schools that use Americo-European models of civics!
Tell me this isn’t the beginning of the END for Halliburton and the military-industrial “complex” that General/President Eisenhower warned U.S. about!

Oh, gloryGlory… GLORY!!!
Tell me what you will – jeff@jeffmarck.net
 
02 February 2011 18:55 - Weds - Protesters hold Tahrir Square

 
Hi all,
 

About half of you wrote back immediately while I was out for the afternoon.

I dropped Reda at her favorite Faisal neighborhood outdoor market and went to the motorcycle mechanic.


He took care of a small problem and I then stopped at my carpenter's shop near Reda's sister's place where she was to go by toktok after shopping.


The men at the shop were glued to the TV where street fighting was seen from Cairo for the first time since things heated up a week ago. They asked me what I thought so I asked, "Who will come after Mubarak? Gamal (Mubarak's son)? This is Korea? The father. Then the son. And then the grandson...?" I started plotting out a map in the air showing where Korea was and that it was North Korea that I was talking about but I needn't have bothered. They knew exactly what I was talking about and were glad to have that answer for the tips of their tongues.


I saw two bands of sociopaths in our Pyramid neighborhoods today - 10 or 12 men each - men the Ministry of the Interior hires to do their Cairo thug work - one small band on Tersa Street in my old neighborhood. One small band moving down one of the main avenues - Faisal or Pyramids, I forget which. They had placards and were chanting slogans that they seem to have learnt imperfectly - all of an age, 35 to 45, and wearing the same weathered coats, pants and shoes they wear when they have disrupted peaceful demonstrations downtown over the years. The people in the cafes etc. were just ignoring them.


But if you have a member of congress or parliament who might lend an ear it is worth telling them immediately that this has been the pattern of suppression for many years. True, otherwise unemployable sociopaths with black jacks and sometimes knives - and the fired red bricks that magically appear when they do. These guys leading the counter protests are simply the same sociopaths Interior has hired for decades to suppress any gathering of opposition groups. Over 2000 people have disappeared into their hands in recent years. Hauled off and never heard of again, just as you may have seen in the first days of the protest on TV. It's Interior ("undercover" police, secret police, etc.) that cooperate with American style disappearances of people and committal to torture chambers, etc., not the Army, as I understand the situation. It made my skin crawl when I saw those kinds of men on TV, hauling off young people down side streets, etc.


I've heard not terribly distant gun fire every night but one.


But the networks are reporting no persons missing from downtown - but who would know under the circumstances - or persons killed by gunfire in the neighborhoods. If you're able to watch Al Jazeera English or Iran's PressTV you know as much about it as me. CNN would seem to be staffed by corporate zombies for the moment.


The protesters held Tahrir Square, night is setting in and there are, one would hope, few people in the outside world who watched it all on TV and believed the attempt to dislodge them was anything but choreography out of Interior. But the numbers of young protesters at Tahrir now seems very small. If their parents called them on the phone and ordered them to come home for fear of a deteriorating situation... well... there's that aspect in all this, too.


I stopped by Reda's sister's place and picked up the groceries. She stayed there so we don't have to fight over the TV's remote tonight.


The main checkpoints/"barriers" are getting more sophisticated and the youth seem to have brought in police they trust, who are in plain clothes but obviously savvy, to help them with their procedures and decisions. The leader at the check point at the 1st Dobat entrance even wore the kind of jumper police wear - of that style but not the Interior issue itself. I was a distressing case to those polite citizens since I couldn't produce anything with my Dobat home address on it. But they had routinely checked my backpack, knew I had only groceries and the older ones left it to the younger ones to talk to Reda on the mobile and see if she was telling the same general story as me.

I wondered before all this what it would mean for us to be living in one of the City of Generals (Dobat or Zobat Haram (Remaya/Pyramids)) if things came to something like they have in the last week.


But it's Army generals who bought these flats, not police generals, and everyone loves the Army this week and always has. The barriers within Dobat had been manned all night by the youth up to about middle aged men, grandfathers in lawn chairs on the sidewalks or nearby patios. Around here last night, well inside our little town, they were down to one or two bored young men last night. There's little amiss, apparently. The nearest mosque is some three hundred meters away and has been broadcasting information to us from their outdoor loudspeakers during recent days when we didn't go out at all. Escaped prisoners - many prisons simply emptied out, one way or another - were moving through the area and perhaps the gun shots I heard through those nights were simply a rouse to discourage the escapees from coming in this direction.

Much army heavy equipment - tanks and armored personnel carriers - is parked at the bottom of the hill we live on where they are at the ready to dash down Faisal Street or Pyramids Street where there is other heavy equipment and their associated troops. Nobody with nefarious purposes has any way to get into our development without passing the main checkpoints where our two main streets come up the hill from Fayoum Road, the initial leg of the national highway to Upper Egypt. We haven't heard any heavy Army equipment scooting around this high on the hill since the first night they were here, three or four days ago. The bored youth of Dobat finally have purpose, patriotic purpose, in their quiet evening gatherings at the development's larger and smaller internal intersections.


So I will spend a quiet night, home alone. Reda's sister's place is deep into the barrios and it's just the grandfathers watching the streets from chairs at their doorsteps. The goon squads would simply be accosted by area men and the goons don't have any reason to go into those streets, anyway.


Reda was watching "counter protests" on government television last night but it was so obviously staged and the same 50 sociopaths playing up to the cameras hour after hour. No women or children as there have been amongst the Tahrir Square multitudes. All the fake counter protest men of an age - 35 to 45 - their signature, really.


I just went into the lounge room and watched TV for a few minutes... they were talking about "counter protesters..." the young people making citizens' arrests of these people when violent in their midsts and finding, when they turn them over to the Army, that their national IDs show actual employment with Interior in many instances.

Mostly we've just been at home fighting over the TV remote... switching back and forth between Al Jazeera and Persian TV English broadcasts and the pro-government Arabic broadcasts Reda prefers to follow. To her, Mubarak is the designated successor of Sadat who was the designated successor of Abdel Nasser who gave her education, opportunity and a career. All gave her quite a lot, actually, and she burst into tears last night when Mubarak said he would not be running for election again later in the year. The world, as she has known it, is about to change. We had never talked politics before. No one ever did. Best not to until only a few days ago, actually.

 

Breathlessly,

Jeff



04 February 2011 21:30 - Fri - From Cairo: no protester deaths today?

 

My friends,


I dug into catching up with some neglected favors owed through last night so I might have the utter weariness to sleep through the afternoon as things started up for the day again. I went to bed just as the midday prayers were over.


Very hard to sit in front of the TV and watch protester bodies hauled off day after day. But still, the toll now is said to be under 500 and perhaps as low as 300 and I've now been rattling around the house for a couple hours and there don't seem to have been any deaths of protesters or any others through this day so far.


The killers are paid Ministry of Interior employees, actual employees. And their $17 a day temp workers. True sociopaths that they are, they will quit killing when the money for doing so dries up. And they all disappeared even quicker when the Army rolled in a few days ago. It was the Army that stopped the police killings.


Now that the American government has more familiarity with the costs and futility of security-based approaches, and from Iraq to Pakistan their security "partners" have been more or less telling them to bugger off in the last many days, they might take note of the Egyptian uprising's rights-based approach, its economies and its possible relevance to Israel-Palestine.


Netanyahu and the others just seem to be pooping their pants. The little shit, anyway (I'm older than he is). I hope the little dag is just writhing. Picture it. A writhing little dag. I hope he has a stroke like Sharon and they both wake up in ten years to see the settlements have all been removed to the Negev.


That's been one side of it that's just as well but for the many deaths we've been counting day to day for what now seems a very long time.


Will Bush and Blair now politely drink hemlock and wander off to their rightful places in the history books?


Probably not nor will certain other people who might well politely do so, too. But their sins, after all, are not so great and were committed in the context of America's conflicted and overpowering "principals" which had been imposed on them.


Totally amazing to me is that Blair is still the "lead man", is it called, for the "quartet", is it called? Who only a few weeks ago said that if there was a two state solution Israel would get to keep the settlements and Palestine "will get, ah.... ah…. what's left." That is, precisely, what I saw him say on TV less than a month ago.


We still have much to do... foremost of which is to scream bloody murder that Blair is the "lead man" of the "quartet" who, presumably, awaits the nod of Washington before he does anything. Hopefully, Obama will continue to be as irrelevant to the rights-based approach as he has been in the past and American, security-minded influence will essentially end in the region, the Iraq War now seeming to have driven Iraq into the bosom of Iran.


But there will still be Israel... and Netanyahu's soiled knickers.


This is just great. And it was the Egyptian young people, who I love, who did it on the Tunisian model. Apartheid Israel's settlements may be removed to the Negev before I'm dead and gone after all.


I was approached by a middle-aged, somewhat portly plainclothesman in front of my apartment building yesterday in this City of (Army) Generals (Dobat, Pyramids, Giza) and asked to accompany him in his car. We hadn't actually picked the right horse or anything. My wife works just down the street at Remaya Central, the central telephone exchange for Dobat and Hadaba, I think it is called, and we live here so she can walk to work. I really never asked questions about what kind of generals we were living with - sustaining the fiction my wife and I lived with that such things didn't matter. It was an enormous relief, some days into the uprising, to learn that they were Army generals all. I didn't ask directly. No police generals. I forget how, exactly, I found out.


So the plainsclothesman approached me yesterday and asked where I lived.

I pointed to the building in front of us.


He asked if I had a car.


I pointed to the motorcycle chained to the lamp post behind him.


He asked if I didn't know any better than to be out taking pictures at a time like this.


I said, "I wanted one to show my house at the barriers. They don't all know what the building numbers mean and then I have to call my wife and it all takes a lot of time." He had witnessed me taking a picture, the last in a series that I was taking - pictures of all the rooms in our house (built to the same plan as all the others), the apartment number on the entrance door, etc.


"Could you come with me please," he said, indicating his car and retaining possession of my mobile phone which contained the offending camera.


"Sure," I said.


There was a protocol current, as I would soon find out. Anyone, any foreigner anyway, caught taking pictures had to be taken to a certain Army office complex nearby and questioned or something. For all I knew the plainclothesman could be from Interior - into the hands of which 2000 live bodies have disappeared and never been seen or heard of again in recent years. I shuttered through recent days as I saw protesters being hauled off down side streets by the same Interior goons doing the killing, live in front of cameras, on TV, in Liberation (Tahrir) Square. But this was Dobat, it was Army, and no one ever disappears in the hands of the Army. So off I went, 99.9% sure he was Army and thinking we were going to the main barrier at the entrance of one of the two roads into our housing complex. Like there was now an official or semi-official command post there.

But we drove right past that, the barrier still manned by plainclothesmen who mostly looked to be about the age of some of the generals' sons who still live with their parents; just as has been the case for some days; and we drove out onto the road to Upper Egypt which I wasn't happy about at all. But we turned left after a short kilometre or two and were then facing the gate in a long tall wall which entirely hid whatever establishment was behind it, only the pyramids on the Giza Plateau visible above the wall and its gate. The gentleman gave his ID card to a guard, the gate opened and we parked after going 20 or 40 meters into the complex which wasn't very deep and which I knew was not very wide because of the length of the front wall.


I suppose I could have checked to see if there were bars on the windows of the building we were entering but it didn't occur to me at the time and we entered into a large, white marbled foyer that was bright with light from large windows to the rear. We went upstairs and I was delivered into the spacious, tidy office of a man of rank... probably a general... who was maybe 40 years old.


It is worth adding that the civil service, as we know it in the West, is supervised to a large extent by Army generals in Egypt who rotate through Immigration, Health perhaps, and other ministries during their career and are often sort of MBA types. Their "troops" are the civil service people at those particular assignments. They don't have a big reputation for taking bribes like the police and Interior in general.


I didn't know immediately the gentleman's agenda; his name, I eventually found out when I asked, turned out to be Sharif; but my agenda was to confirm, as soon as there was an opening, my expectation that he was probably Army.


After looking over my bona fides and happily finding out that I had been in Pyramids about three years and not just three days or something; he explained that the plainclothesman had to bring me in because of the use of the camera and he, personally, had to confiscate the phone's tiny memory cards... which had recently cost me $12 for the two. (The memory cards, not the SIM card that makes the phone operational and contains backup memory of the phone numbers one has saved).


I asked if we could just delete the offending photograph but he said, no, the procedure presently in force was that he had to take the memory cards, both of them, even though the one was so new it had nothing on it.


There had been other preliminaries where he quickly relaxed when I started rattling away in my Arabic baby talk if a point wasn't getting through quickly in English, when I spoke only Arabic when I called Red, and explained my circumstances to her, when he relaxed more again during his talk with her on the phone, when he relaxed even more and felt a bit chuffed when he saw me relax after asking, as innocently as possible, whether he was Army or police and was told he was Army.


I mention him relaxing in the sense of getting less and less formal. He continued to move through the topics to be covered rather crisply.


I don't recall if he was wearing a uniform... I think I remember a blue and white shirt patterned shirt so perhaps it was civilian clothes. He was very quick and bright and businesslike and engaging as a human being and we were making more eye contact than kind of looking each other over. Finally he gave me back the very nicely produced computer scanned and color printed copies of Reda's passport and mine along with my driver’s license and said, "Would you like a cup of tea? You have to have a cup of tea."


We conversed about something I don't quite recall while awaiting my cup of tea and through the time I drank it. My copy editing work, perhaps. I was getting anxious to be out the door as I just use my Australian passport these past many years, my American dual-nationality hadn't come up and I wanted to get away before it did. I remember he gave me a cigarette to go with the tea when it arrived and we exchanged phone numbers. When I stood up to leave I slapped my pants pockets and checked my wallet and then had to ask, "Would you have a pound and a half for the bus? I just left the house to get some exercise for my legs and feet. I didn't put any money in my pockets before I left." He gave me everything in his right pocket, four pounds and a half, I think, but then the plainclothesman had arrived again and drove me back to my apartment building's front door. As when we had driven to the Army base, we didn't converse.


I haven't been out of the house again and have little to do, as the telling of the story of General Sharif may suggest.


But it is a story worth telling.


When the protesters and general citizenry are asked to consider having these kind of men administering the nation for some interim period or something, they largely do so under current circumstances and the ranks of generals are filled by men (and women?) such as Mr. Sharif. They're often just plainly gamil (gorgeous). They're like the finest administrators amongst Western civil servants who leave their politics at home when they go off to work. And Arabs do consider themselves Western, by the way. So the Yank congress, Blair and others who think they are in a cultural or religious conflict are simply encountering resistance from cultures that are more similar than they imagine because they, the Yank congress and Blair, are not presenting a rights-based  conflict resolution model.


Look at www.americansincairo.org[5] - I think I have four years of "semi-official" opinion as to what Mubarak and others believe is wrong with what America and Blair have tried to do in the neighborhood, why it will fail, how long it will take to fail, etc., ad nauseum. And for 30 years Mubarak had to suppress popular opinion emanating from aspirations grounded in rights, as they watched Israeli Apartheid grow and grow and grow and become the disgusting monster that it is today - defended at all costs by the American government and its security-based models. Filthy contraptions that they are.


I'll bet Netanyahu is just wearing nappies these days. It's wonderful to see him squirm.

Thank you for your time,

Jeff

05 February 2011 - Sat - 21:33 From Cairo: first things first

My friends,


Another day without fatalities amongst the protesters - Hamdullah. Al Jazeera English is still operating out of its Cairo office and from the street but the Al Jazeera Arabic office was closed down today and some of their staff arrested. I think the arrests and closing may have been done by Interior - wouldn't be the Army - and other reports indicate that uniformed (?) police are coming back onto the streets after being absent since the day of the highest fatalities - ? the 27th or 28th ? or maybe it was the 29th. Kind of a blur as we were up and down, sleeping in small bits at different times of the day depending on when things were happening or still receiving useful comment and analysis - useful new interviews 24 hours a day because there is really no time of day or night, our time, that there isn't someone new to interview many time zones to the east, west or both. Then last night there had been no fatalities during the day or evening so I finally had a good long sleep from 2 or 3 am.


Reports from the English channels (Al Jazeera and PressTV) towards early evening, a few hours ago, included interviews with people elevated to positions at or near the top within the regime over the last many days. One of them was explaining, at some length and in some detail in the longest such interview that I caught, that there is a constitutional way for Mubarak to sign off from his responsibilities as president, kind of one by one and in a certain order; promulgate, by decree, some of the things demanded by the protesters under State of Emergency procedures (which would free time up for the new parliament because they would already be law, etc.). He seemed sincere. We shall see what we shall see. It would mean others could call the end result a revolution but would, constitutionally, at the front end, be acts of members of the current government who accomplish these noble deeds.


It really might take them a couple weeks to go through the stages he was talking about and the protesters might really just stay in Tahrir Square while they do.


The phone company service centers, "centrals," are opening up again tomorrow so Reda will be going back to work after being off the whole of last week.


I just work at home and could have worked through the last 10 days when we all started taking notice - but I've been the zomboid and just glued to the TV. If there are still people being killed, I want to watch out of respect for them. This evening I finally picked up the copy editing where I left off... a large, continuing project I can work on as much as I want.


PressTV (Iran) - which is gleeful about all this - has been airing a lovely parade of full screen still photos showing all this as following the same script as the departure of the Shah:

1. the mass protests

2. picture of the Shah signing documents followed by picture of Mubarak signing documents
3. the swearing in of a "new" cabinet by the Shah followed by the swearing in of a "new" cabinet by Mubarak

4. pictures of more mass protests

5. more of the same... with different versions of Items 2 and 3

6. Item 4 again.
7. A picture of the Shah getting on a plane and leaving Iran.

It's really an effective visual experience. All unfolding identically, so far.

Best,
Jeff

07 February 2011 - Mon - 02:19: getting back to work

My friends,

Egypt went back to work today. At least the day shift and only in fits and starts.

Which is just as well because for tens of millions of Egyptians, a day the parents don't work is a day the family doesn't eat.

Thanks to those Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine people who have written in recent days. It brings back a lot of wonderful memories. Here I live in a whole nation that thinks like us at AJPP (but can't do anything about it because of the American government).

Today Reda went back to work, walking there as usual. It's only right around Tahrir Square, and a few, I will admit, very, very poor and transient neighborhoods, that an Egyptian has to worry much about what's going on about them at the present time.

After work, Reda took the bus to her sister Zuba's where I picked her up in time to get us home before the 7pm curfew.

The banks were to open today. Maybe they did. I didn't get to ours until about 2pm, perhaps, and Reda now tells me they were all open but only until 1pm. But she didn't physically go into town and see one open - so maybe not. The ATMs were out of money or something by the time I got to mine and I didn't even see queues at the others I passed... nothing left there either.

LOTS of Egyptians have the idea that Israel caused this or America caused it. Cairo is an entirely different experience for me, through the TV, than it was only two weeks ago but that is not so true of Pyramids where I am known to certain people in certain places. I ride a motorcycle so I just put on my helmet and no one even knows that I'm a Europoid on my way to the places I know people and am welcome. People at the bank who were queued up for the ATM kind of wondered what I was doing there but I eventually found a small excuse to speak Egyptian to one or two briefly and everybody soon forgot that I was there.

There were no petrol stations with petrol on the main roads I took to town, El Fayoum, Remaya Roundabout and Pyramids streets, but I slipped into my old neighborhood's minor thoroughfare down from Pyramids and El Arish streets (Tersa and Ezzadin Omar) and the first station was furiously pumping petrol but had no queue to speak of.

Then I stopped to see Tarek, my composer friend at the recording studio. He was there and so was a violinist who I know well. We were so happy to see each other after 10 days that we didn't talk politics at all. Which we had never done before anyway. Egyptians just didn't in the past and I'm hearing more stories like mine - the subject of politics never came up amongst Egyptians in the past because there was nothing one could do about it anyway. And many are finding spouses often have different, even profoundly different notions of the past and present like Reda and myself.

After 7 or 8 days of being house-bound, I some days ago ended the fight for the remote by retreating to the Internet once the daily deaths report was over. I think I mentioned previously that a good place to start is:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en

They started the flurry of independent press by setting a standard in print from 2004 that talked about things in a way that didn't result in arrests and shutdowns. Others followed suit, a real flurry. There now seem to be 20 or more different newspapers to choose from. I've not heard of any Egyptian newspaper closures and I think Iran's PressTV (English) would be glad to have reported on it if such had happened at all.

Reda and her sister Zuba keep their eyes glued to the official channels which is how I found them at about 6pm. Zuba fed me and then Reda and I went straight home where I had a 2 hour copy editing job waiting for me from Saudi Arabia. Reda jumped straight to the remote and began watching TV. I was in America 11 September 2001 and we were the same. I forget how long it was before the TV schedule got back to normal.

Between Tarek and Zuba's I had stopped at Ashraf the carpenter's shop because Reda's cousin cum brother, who introduced us two years ago, had called and said he was over there.

Assim owns a 22 room "Egyptian" hotel that's normally full at this time of the year. He's ruined, essentially, for the year at least, because of the current situation. There might be something for him after the summer, Egypt having few visitors other than Gulf and Saudi Arabs during the summer. But he had just a year ago, after 6 years of being back in business, expanded to the 6th floor from the 7th in his quiet Talaat Harb Square side street building. He had, by about 2000, put together enough money to open a backpacker camp in Dahab on the Gulf of Aqaba. Then certain terrorist attacks wrecked the visitor industry for long enough to make him have to sell the place he put together... for next to nothing, I suppose.

Now, in spite of the US/Euro recession, he has built up such a good name that he had few empty rooms when the head-on competition was often languishing a bit. Things were going so well that he finally got the car his wife wanted for so long... him, too, of course but a steady keel for the hotel came first. A new car, in fact. Now he's got three years of payments on the car which people like him in the visitor industry may just have to give to the bank, one would guess. He's at:

http://www.sarainnhostel.com/   --- the man in the middle of the two guests.

So his sympathies do not, for the moment, lie with the people who still occupy Tahrir Square.

He doesn't have the visceral dislike and fear of the police thugs that I do. Those who were on the world stage a week ago when they killed so many people. I've known of them for most of 6 years as I first stayed right on Tahrir Square when looking for a little flat to buy in 2005 and then saw them again and again since late 2005 when I first met Assim and since coming back in 2008 because the attempted demonstrations from 2005 began at Talaat Harb Square closer to Assim's hotel. I've not seen many protests. Not five, I suppose. But they all followed the same script...

The one attempted march whose organisers I later saw mentioned by name in an English language newspaper was a tiny little group who wanted to march from Talaat Harb Square two long blocks to Tahrir Square and hope the masses would join them. But they were kind of like the Socialist Workers Party in Australia... too small in number and too obscure in terms of the dozens of issues they had positions on for the average person on the street take any notice of them. I knew that the police "thugs" - coarse looking people all - were normally successful in dispersing them, chasing them back into the neighborhoods to the east and northeast of Talaat Harb Square before they got to Tahrir Square itself. Of course Assim and other visitor industry people were relieved, whatever their sympathies for the occasional issue they could identify with. The "masses" never joined them anyway, in terms of what I saw from 7th and 9th floors of hotels or otherwise knew.

And shutting down Tahrir Square, I used to calculate as I waited for red lights there and on the thoroughfares that led into it, would soon have hundreds of thousands of cars in gridlock, costing, how much would one guess, per hour, of a person making enough to own a car... not to mention the tens or hundreds of thousands of people stuck on buses and taxis... the numbers would drift through my mind. Millions of dollars an hour in lost time, perhaps.

I've been writing in recent days as if the police thugs were day labourers along with their ~10% Interior Ministry plainclothes supervisors but now I am not so sure.

I asked Assim early this evening what they were called.

"What?" he asked.

"The men with the blackjacks brought in to make crowds go away," I said.

"You mean the police?"

"Not the police. The men who come and beat the people trying to shut down Tahrir."

"Oh, the police who have never been to school... don't know how to read... don't know how to write... ?"

"Yes."

"Amnimarakazi," he said evenly and turned to other subjects (amni-mara-kazi [first syllable stress on each of those sub-parts]).

So perhaps they are full-time employees although various news agencies talked about "$17 a day" thugs at various times as well.

We all had our tea with Ashraf and departed to run errands before the 7pm curfew. Reda and I were waived through the barrier to Dobat. It was dark but we looked harmless, I suppose.

The men at Ashraf's were all sullenly relieved that some aspects of their lives would now begin to return to normal. Everybody is. But the young people still hold Tahrir and the pictures of it on TV when we got home tonight seem to show larger tents and impromptu structures that weren't there before today. There remain barricades the protesters made out of burnt vehicles and any big pieces of steel they could tear loose from fences and lamp posts and so on in the final days before the Army moved in and prevented the police from entering the area and killing people.

The traffic police were back to normal duties. They had disappeared from the street altogether after the many police murders of about 27, 28 and 29 January. All the police disappeared once the Army rolled into downtown and the neighborhoods. Other kinds of police will be welcomed back in neighborhoods along Faisal and Pyramids streets. The uniformed and plainclothesmen aren't just government spies. Many of them are what best practice recommends in terms of actually introducing themselves to new residents, getting a sense of developing feuds and friction between families or individuals, leading mediation on the street, etc. blending in to roles of respected elders from the churches and mosques. There are plenty of both them if there is trouble. In my own neighborhood off Tersa Street the only neighborhood trouble that I ever saw was between two teenage boys and their respective friends. I saw the one boy on the street below me one night apparently off to do battle alone, his sisters (I would guess) with their hands clasped about his wrists, trying to make him come home, had finally brought him to a halt just below my lounge room window. There was a police car parked at the end of the street with four uniformed officers the next morning and 24 hours a day for the next week. And that end of that. "Officer presence."

There was a wedding party inching along with the slow Faisal Street traffic as the sun was starting to get low. The wedding's sound system had been set up on a ute (pickup truck) to blast the standard wedding songs and the cars in that train were beeping out the standard wedding horn honking. A sight not seen for some time, perhaps, and people stopped to watch and smile.

I heard no laughter on the street as one might expect. The nation and its people are heading into uncharted waters and in our Pyramids neighborhoods are either solemn or angry.


Egypt is in no position to see the economy come to a standstill or even slow down. The visitor industry... just 6% of GDP, I think... is wrecked until September at least. And people will be holding tight to their savings in present circumstances slowing growth in consumer industries - whitegoods and new car sales first one would expect. The days the economy was paralysed amounted to a loss of two or three percent of GDP I'd estimate based on other kinds of reports I have seen or heard.

The economy is not very diversified but has been industrialising at a higher rate of late and jobs had been opening up for the migrants from Upper Egypt and the Delta where there is no further water from the Nile to open up more farming for the very large number of young people born fifteen and twenty-five years ago. Without economic growth, the numbers of unemployed will swell: illiterate youth, youth who are high school graduates, and, the young and higher educated unemployed as well. The ranks of unemployed youth will swell even more than they have if the current politico-economic cronyism doesn't morph into more freedom and diversity for entreprenuers. For the moment they, and Egyptians amongst them most of all, can be constrained by lack of personal contacts with the elites who can navigate business licenses etc. for them from an unresponsive bureaucracy - or rather one that in some instances only responds to "courtesy" of applicants.

The half or so of Egypt's population who couldn't really eat properly or at all without daily income couldn't see things go on as they had but now there is a bit of everybody getting their own way. The regime will not simply disband, on the one hand, like it slowly did in Tunisia but the protests will be allowed to go on, on the other.

I think I saw Hillary Clinton calling for Mabarak to leave soon or right away or something. But America is no place to be looking for leadership in the current situation as its government is largely responsible for the conflicted contraptions that Egypt has had to endure in its Israel policy which has so poisoned Egypt's relations with other Muslim nations, at least. For this and related reasons, there isn't much of an ear turned towards American government ideas at the present time, especially in the context of lingering notions that Israel or America started the uprising somehow.

But affection for America is not lacking. It is their beloved American Univerity in Cairo that filled so many upper-class student's heads with expectations of rights-based solutions. Following on those heels, Cairo University and the other Egyptian universities were then, perhaps, free to espouse similar principles. They all would have longer ago if the government wasn't forced into suppressing the moral indignation of what the American government was allowing and funding Israel to do in Gaza, the West Bank and East Jerusalem.

If the government of America wants to "help" in the current situation it must first do so by censoring Israel in the UN and initiating a process by which Palestine is given back to the Palestinians (for Israel to return to its borders before the 1967 war). To do this they will have to enter directly into negotiations with Hamas who remain the elected parliamentary majority in Gaza and the West Bank. Before the Hamas victory, the Palestinian Authority had become as lazy and comfortable and corrupt as Egypt's ruling party as it lived through decade after decade of American-imposed conflicted principles and stalemate with Israel. But it wasn't stalemate for Israel. It's government doubled then quadrupled their settlements' population since 11 September 2001 - the most basic cause of the attacks on America that day.

As I said a day or two ago, now that the Congress of the United States of America has had more experience with the cost and utter futility of a "security" based approach, maybe it will become more curious about a "rights" based approach. Since they presently lack such an approach, no one in Egypt is going to be looking to America for "help". They don't need it, they don't want it, they won't accept it and the Yank populace will go on, and on, and on... wondering what went wrong.

Thank you for your time,
Jeff

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07 February 2011 20:59 - Mon - From Cairo - an interesting government video

My friends,

A quiet day in Cairo's southwesternmost suburbs and all the others so far as I know. Protesters are sustaining large numbers in their little piece of "Liberated Egypt" (Tahrir Square).

Road traffic ratcheted up a notch or two through our neighborhoods but not to the level of what it was before the revolt began.

Since yesterday, at least, the very large trucks with flatbed trailers that transport the Army tanks and armoured personnel carriers have appeared and have started hauling the initial few away from Pyramids' major arteries.

Construction projects have been in full swing since yesterday - the labourers working the small, on site, concrete mixers furiously and noisily - 12 story apartment buildings on small lots in the neighborhoods at least. One of the last open air canal segments in the southwest of the Pyramids area floodplain is being dredged and a concrete structure  built into it that will have a concrete roof upon which outdoor cafes and park-like areas will then exist - the canal flowing underground in the concrete structures as those of Tersa Street and others now do. Something about the hydraulics of the Nile as it runs through town and its canals through the floodplain don't seem to allow just filling such canals in. All the water, after all, is going to irrigate the farms of the Delta in which 40+ million of Egypt's 80+ million people live. There might be so much of it in the canals still open or now covered that it would raise the level of the Nile where it flows through the centre of Greated Cairo.

If I will come to retain only a single memory of today it will probably be that of a TV channel my wife and her sister were watching. It will be that memory because of the visuals in a particular video collage of still shots that went on for many, many minutes: images of progress and prosperity - tons of pictures of factories and other elements of the economy and then tons of pictures of Egyptian family life - middle and upper class at least - everything from the dinner table to the beach - Egyptian flags all over the place blended with the pieces of the collage floating across the screen that kept changing with a sweet, melancholic male voice singing for the audio component of the video with full orchestration and a plaintive, comforting audio effect overall.

I was thinking it was a rally-round-the-past presentation but then the video's images shifted to Tahrir Square and well washed, dressed and rested protesters of all sizes, shapes, genders and ages, usually with lots of Egyptian flags in their hands, and it went on for a long time with appealing images of diverse, ardent demonstrators.

So it was put together to create a feeling that the protests are or will come to be embraced as a cherished piece of Egyptian life and history, too.

I was the only one watching at the time and I asked Reda, now that we are home, what channel it was and who owned it. She said the channel was El Masriya and it was indeed government owned and the piece broadcast during their news presentation El Saniya - the name in the upper right of the screen that I jotted down at the time.

For what it's worth,
Jeff

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08 February 2011 00:26 - Tues - Egyptian gov't television valourising revolt in general

Further to what I wrote some hours ago, Egyptian government television in general, on its many channels, now seems to be valourising the uprising and I will get back to the breadfruit revolution (see signature of this message).

I'm not really watching the TV much anymore and Al Jazeera and PressTV are going back to more and more of their regular programming.

I do check the TV once or twice a day to see how big the Tahrir Square crowds are and they remain substantial.

So, once again -

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en - "The Egyptian Day"

- has worked hard to be worthy of our trust in their reporting of days like these and I hope you have a look every day or two.

The American government and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee need informed criticism and censor - to your Senators and Members of Congress and Obama if you're a Yank... otherwise you always have the option of sending hate mail to your nearest American embassy... whatever.

Good night and good luck,
Jeff
www.jeffmarck.net/breadfruitrevolution.htm

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08 February 2011 21:16 - Tues - Pursuing the Tunisian model - Egypt's largest protester numbers yet

My friends:

I thought I would be done with missives until Friday which is to be the big protest day in coming weeks (and months?).

But the Tahrir crowds massed larger than ever today, some also surrounding the Ministry of the Interior and others the Parliament building. Old people, young people, children - people from every walk of life.

What is more significant to the average east-side Greater Cairo resident is less reported on Al Jazeera English and PressTV: this involves the occupation now, or at least inconveniencing of road traffic, at Ramses Square which, even more than Tahrir Square, perhaps, is the busiest intersection downtown and is 3 or 4 kilometres to Tahrir's northnortheast. And those rues lead out of downtown into the affluent suburbs of Heliopolis, New Cairo, etc. So more hundreds of thousands of cars and other road traffic are having to take seriously circuitous routes to their destinations.

Things now seem to be following even more closely the Tunisian pattern - the first demand of the Tunisian uprising was for the president to leave and now the Egyptian uprising is following suit - when that possibility was initially dismissed by the presidents, the result in both cases has been a considerable increase in the number of protesters. I guess the Google executive Wael Ghonim, who heads Google's Middle East and North Africa marketing divisions, visited Tahrir after his release Monday after nearly two weeks in custody, during which he was blindfolded (the whole time?) and interrogated. So that has also been mentioned as an impetus for more people to flow into Tahrir and stay longer when they do. More and more notables in Egypt's cultural and business world are stopping by as well.

The sage notions of Condoleeza Rice that the war in Iraq would result in a "blossoming of democracy in the Middle East" - by way of the security approach - is no longer just dead, it is being buried altogether by the Tunisian and now Egyptian rights-based approaches. Egyptian friends say it is spreading in Yemen and Jordan, at least, more than what English news sources available in Egypt are mentioning. I think they were saying specifically that the Yemeni president is simply going to resign and leave a transitional group to write up a new constitution, etc. I shall forever be quick to point out that the main result of the American government's security hysteria and Iraq War has been to drive Iraq into the bosom of Iran. Osama Bin Laden couldn't have dreamed of a better result.

Whenever an Egyptian pauses for a second, after mentioning Bush, and begins to specify which one, I chirp in with "Boy George?", which amuses even those too young to remember the gay British popstar by that name who was endlessly difficult to take seriously as an adult, a goal he somehow seemed to long for in the absence of any supporting evidence whatsoever that he would one day enjoy that reputation. Kindly spread the moniker.

So I've now had a couple days where I got away from the TV and put through some calls to AusAID Ghana and the Ghana NGO that may have the first Samoan breadfruit grant in Africa.

Good night and good luck,
Jeff

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09 February 2011 07:39 - Weds - On goes "The 25 January Revolution": Gems from AlMasry AlYoum

A really scary story of a man inadvertently "arrested" in the first couple days:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/content/arrested-al-masry-al-youm%E2%80%99s-day-anger-reporters%E2%80%99-diary-0

The youth of Tahrir issue a statement:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/opinion/message-tahrir-square

A biography of one of the young people murdered by the Ministry of the Interior:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/fallen-faces-uprising-sally-zahran

Netanyahu peeing in his pants for the day:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/egypt-can-crush-uprising-iran-says-netanyahu

Interior's fate in the provinces ("governates"):
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/protesters-attack-police-stations-several-egyptian-provinces

glory, Glory, GLORY - Tahrir Square 8 Feb 2011:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/news/day-15-tahrir-uprising-newcomers-swell-protesters-ranks


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11 February 2011 13:06 - Fri - Inspiring - short - NYT report about the uprising's leadership

The first clear, concise report on how it all started that I have seen:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/world/middleeast/10youth.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=world&src=me


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12 February 2011 15:34 - Sat - Cairo - 3pm 12 February 2011: whew

Hi All,

So Mubark's ignominious departure Sharm El Sheikh yesterday(?) and his resignation today are now history.

For me it came yesterday evening in the lounge room of "my" family when "Vice-President" (for ~10 days) Suleiman announced Mubarak's resignation. The home of my "brother" Magdy Ibrahim Selim. I had gone over there to pick up a fat little payment for my flat in that building. His ~30 year old daughter is buying it with her husband, their two little daughters home with grandma these days as Hoda has returned to the working world after the early years of motherhood. Her husband and youngest brother were at Tahrir when the news of Mubarak's abdication came in the midsts of the sunset prayers. Boy Wonder (Ahmad - Magdy's son who house-sat my little flat from when he got married in late 2006 or early 2007 - when I was back in Canberra 2006-2008 - and continues his climb in the ranks of the Semirames - Intercontinental Hotel reservations department) had come in from the next flat with his wife and two little kids and the room just exploded in joy when Suleiman announced that Mubarak had resigned and left the country in the hands of the military who will organise new elections. That neighborhood street was quiet immediately afterwards. People are apprehensive about what all this means and the "forge onward" enthusiasts seemed, all, to be downtown demonstrating and will now probably stay all night again tonight and continue their celebrations.

Last night at our home, Reda wandered as in a trance to the TV as they ran footage of the helicopter that carried Mubarak from the presidential palace to the Cairo airport... yesterday(?), that would have been, perhaps. Reda touched her fingers to the image of the helicopter, following it right to left across the TV screen as the camera panned to keep sight of it until it disappeared, having grown smaller and smaller by then, behind the tops of distant tall buildings. Then she turned and sat down on the lounge and just cried buckets... the designated successor of Sadat who was murdered for making peace with Israel... who was the designated successor of Gamal Adbul Nasser who implemented girls and womens education initiatives and came to her school when she was a little girl and shook their hands... they all gave her quite a lot.

It's too bad that the resignation of Mubarak occurred after full daylight. The video streaming out of Tahrir during daytime was giving such a lovely picture of well-scrubbed, colourfully dressed, attractive Egyptians of all walks of life who have joined the "Shabaab" ("a" as in "fat"), The Youth... a word I had never noticed before which has been, more and more, respectfully on the tips of tongues for days and days and days. It would have been nice to have seen them explode in joy in full sunlight. Collages of still photos we have been seeing on TV, taken in the darkness of the moments after Mubarak's resignation was announced, make them all look gaunt and exhausted, which of course those who have been there 15 days probably would have looked like in sunlight, too.


It was the ~35 year old Google executive, Wael Ghonim, who got all this going with 14 other people through an anonymous Facebook group:

http://www.nytimes.com/2011/02/10/world/middleeast/10youth.html?pagewanted=1&_r=1&ref=world&src=me

Known or unkown to him were the preparations of a parallel and more established youth resistence movement, the 6th of April Youth who had been planning and executing operations since 2008, perhaps even some of those I watched from hotel rooftops, not knowing who, exactly, they were:

http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-503543_162-20030485-503543.html
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/April_6_Youth_Movement

In any event, the two laid out a successful pattern of action once people in droves came to Tahrir looking for leadership. And both refused to be called "leadership" - they both seem to have trusted that once getting days and days of hundreds and hundreds of thousands of protesters out, things would take their natural course if their primary demand was the exit of Mubarak.


So we toasted the revolution with tea at "home" and then I left the Selims to go find Reda who had been at the market through the afternoon and had taken everything by toktok taxi to her sister, Zuba's.

I took our 22 year old nephew to my carpenter's shop to kind of celebrate the occassion but everybody over their was stunned to the point of speechlessness. After a cup of tea we went back to Zuba's to see what Reda wanted to do and she wanted to get home. We loaded the backpack and motorcycle with the groceries and putt-putted home. The traffic police had disappeared again... the police won't be disbanded, perhaps, but they are so detested as to be fearful for their lives, one would think, in the last couple weeks. One of them shot and killed somebody up around the Suez Canal's Med entrance yesterday and the whole town came out and laid siege to the police station until the policeman who had killed the citizen was, himself, dead somehow. Then the townspeople burned down the police station, leaving the other policemen to scatter in all directions as they might... the only story I know of score settling when one might expect millions more... but Egyptians really just don't overreact violently as a culture... albeit that generalisation diffuses into traditional systems of retribution in rural and small town areas that are still solidly or even just somewhat "tribal". And government relations with the often somewhat rural populations up towards Gaza and Israel, where the policeman killed and was himself killed yesterday, are exacerbated by those citizens' desire to help Palestine - and some are close to Gaza and do help with the smuggling tunnels, giving hospitality to Palestinians waiting for the Rafah crossing to open... whatever they can do - and the general "theatre" of Cairo doing what Israel wants in the joyless reality enforced by America, the American infatuation with Israel's "experitise" on "security" issues, the impossibility of achieving security without rights for all, etc. ad nauseum. Big, ambiguous, can of worms up there, to be sure.

Mubarak held on long enough, or perhaps one could say America and Israel held on to him well long enough, for 30 years of educational espousement of cosmopolitan democratic ideals to be firmly ingrained in the Shabaab who really do know what to do with democracy when given the chance. And instant messaging will now bring them and others downtown by the millions if the Army drags its feet.

So this is the end of Halliburton and the American government's "security" operations in the Middle East. Slowly, their "rights" based approach at the fore, the Shabaab of the region and others will lead an effort to throw back American militarism (but not America itself), contain Israel, and dismantle Israel's evil settlement project on the West Bank. I imagine Europe and others will help a great deal if the American government doesn't insist on getting in the way.

The Shabaab and the others are still downtown dancing for the joy of the day they were born.

In all the world the Cry of the Village is the same
"Do you see the Beauty of my people?
Do you know the Wonder of my land?
Can you imagine the Dreams in my heart for my children?
Come sit with me and let us speak!
Let us speak of what we might do together,
before that time our Creator,
calls us to ask what we have done
with our Day in the Sun."

 

The Mystic of Kilimanjaro

   


From our 5000 year old village
Death count "0"
Jeff
Pyramids, Egypt
"Mabruk Masr" - they're saying it to each other - "Congratulations Egypt"

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14 February 2011 02:25 - Mon - Mubarak's final hours - the "semi"-official story

So, state media are now singing tunes like:

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/5494/Egypt/Politics-/AP-Mubaraks-final-hours-witnessed-desperate-bids-t.aspx


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15 February 2011 - Tues - Postscript - The Last Barrier on Tersa Street

The barriers around Pyramids were hardly manned after the first five or six days of the Revolution, as escaped prisoners from area prisons had dissipated from or into our environs where they as well as local trouble-makers, where such existed, decided not to engage in mischief at such a time as this. Certainly it was five or six days before Mubarak resigned that I passed through my last barrier and it was in "my" neighborhood (Tersa Street at Ezzadin Omar (Al Arish)).

A tall thin man of 30 or 35 years waved me over and was a little taken aback when I took off my helmet and he saw that I was a Europoid.

I thought I would try my drivers license first, with which he was further taken aback.

"You live close to here!" he said in only lightly accented English. It still has the Tersa-Omda area address



"Yes," I said. "I live close to here."


"And you were born in 1949!!!"


"Yes," I said. "In 1949."


"You don't look..."


"Well, if you have oily skin when you're young, when you get older..."


He burst into laughter, waved me on and took some steps backward, his face falling into his hands in mirth. Perhaps his mother had once said it the same way as mine.


Reports are that the Army is aiming for elections in 6 months but that Shabaab representatives are talking to them now and asking for 9. 

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19 February 2011 04:01 - Sunset on Obama's day in the sun

I went downtown for about five hours yesterday. It was the first time I had been down there since doing some wi-fi work at Assim's hotel on the same day that Mubarak's regime shut down the Internet in the evening.

A few moments ago I finished sending the following comment to a raft of American, Australian, Egyptian and Israeli newspapers:

To the Editor:

In reference to "U.S. Blocks Security Council Censure of Israeli Settlements", NYT Friday 18 February, I am reminded of Ecclesiastes 1:9 What has been is what will be, and what has been done is what will be done; there is nothing new under the sun.

On the other hand, I was wandering the environs of Liberation Square in Cairo on that day, and - as a foreigner - politely staying at least 500 yards away. But even well far from the epicenter of the celebrations, I was rubbing shoulders with the hundreds of thousands or perhaps some million or two Egyptians in the environs. There were parents with small children too young to remember, later in life, that they were there that day, the parents' cameras capturing the evidence for them that they were.

Then I came home to Pyramids suburb where, after a long winter's nap, I woke up to the news of Obama's veto of the UN Security Council settlements resolution.

The senses have had a certain acuity during the dangers and exhilaration of the Egyptian Revolution and on the heels of that I suppose I shall never forget the contrast, today, in what the Egyptians have done with their Day in the Sun and what Obama has done with his.

Downtown I was uplifted. With word of the settlements veto I was revolted.


As I was when I left America for good in 2004, I am still of the opinion that the greatest threat to American decency and security is Israel and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC).


The contrast between what America was doing with my tax money and what the new government of Egypt will be doing with it brings a certain sense of solace.


Thank you for your time,

Jeffrey C. Marck

18 March 2011 12:00  -  Fri - This week in Egypt

Talk of Hamas and PLO rapprochement was vague but consistent through the week... and Netanyahu's trying to turn the spotlight towards the Iranian nuclear program, as usual. I don't think the new Egyptian government is going to have much to do with the PLO and will be opening up the Gaza crossing and dealing directly with the elected government of Palestine - Hamas.

So Netanyahu looks like a smaller and smaller writhing dag for the moment, America going on and on and on, filtering all they do through AIPAC.

Hillary was in town this week... but as I've said before, "There were no feasts in Cairo when Hillary was nominated Sec State." She was politely received but I don't think the new government here will looking to America for "Middle East" momentum.

The interim government already announced that the scandalously low prices Israel pays for Egyptian natural gas is under review... a bit gleefully because the graft that was presumed the source of very low prices Israel pays has been exposed and it was Mubarak's son who personally walked away with some millions or dozens of millions when the deal was made.

The Daily News Egypt (Herald Tribune affiliate) seems to have given the Hilary visit a few column inches but I can't find anything at all in the Egyptian owned The Egyptian Day. Now that I look closer, ED did have a note about her visit on Tuesday. 71 words. America is finally getting the attention in deserves in Egypt: very little.

Today, Egypt woke up to the happy news that the Security Council approved a no-fly zone for Libya.

Al Jazeera English had carried a rambling speech live by Ghaddafy late yesterday evening saying the conquest of Benghazi would occur overnight - house to house.

I had had the AusAID application for Samoan breadfruit to West Africa to complete and transmit to Pretoria for Tues and then Tues, overnight copy editing for a translation service client and then the same thing for another on Weds night - my sleep was out of whack right up to last night when I went to bed at 11, I think, and then I went off to bed with Ghaddfay's words ringing in my ears... fearing they might be true.

But Ghaddafy's troops didn't enter Benghazi overnight and now, perhaps, they never will. There was footage of the joyful Benghazi masses dancing in their town square and, a vivid memory to me, a older-middle aged man in very tribal dress speaking perfect English and beaming ear to ear thanking the outside world, mentioning America first... it had been many years since I had heard an Arab thanking America for anything.

There was much to celebrate in Egypt this week, too. The Army, The Youth and other trusted revolutionaries hammered out the constitutional amendments that will be voted on tomorrow.

That arm of Interior that was most despised - 100,000 secret police - was dissolved this week and they are now all officially unemployed.

The issue was forced through events in the far south, southeast of Cairo over the last couple weeks. In Helwan... a separate Governate ("province", or, as with Cairo, Giza, 6th of October City and Helwan, a city so huge it is, administratively, a province/governate).

There had simply been no police since some days before Mubarak fled to Sharm El Sheikh. They had just killed what was then known to be at least 350 revolutionaries and were totally discredited on the world stage. The Health Department is now documenting what may be as many as 500 such murders because police were using standover tactics in the hospital morgues through those days, forcing the doctors to submit autopsy reports giving false causes of deaths for many of the people so slain. But the doctors, in the main, filled out but refused to sign those false reports so the initial round of adding more police murders to the history of those days involves the fairly simple task of going through the certificates of death from those days and scrutinising those that don't have drs' signatures. Then there is to be another round, or perhaps somewhat in concert with the first, of examining all deaths due to trauma from those days that do have drs' signatures, added to the process of community members arriving to the responsible public records offices to make sure members of their family murdered by the police in those days are actually on the list of murders by the police from those days. The final tally will probably be fairly complete as those various methods of working backwards through it are pursued. And of course the health care professionals are very anxious to do that after being forced at gun point to develop those false records in the first place.

So nobody wanted the police back.

But then some weeks ago now a church was razed by fire in Helwan and Christian youth took to the streets in protest and the Muslim youth came out to protest the protest (it only takes one bad egg to burn down a church). It all got fierce because there were no police to separate the two groups, and 13 people were killed, about half Christian and half Muslim. The army did well in ending the violence over what seemed a couple days but then came the public realisation/acceptance that there would be more such situations developing if there was no return to normal officer presence... the Army people not able to operate as quickly - chain of command - or as knowledgeably - in terms of knowing the neighborhoods and their issues. So about that time the traffic police were suddenly back but it seemed to be just them for the moment. Then there was a continuing simmering and flaring of the situation in Helwan and I think the police were ordered or requested back to normal duties by the Army.

So then there was that "what police" question in everybody's face and within a few days news - midweek, this week - that the "security" police were no more and those employed as such are now simply out of a job. They've gone off the payroll. Perhaps some fraction of the 100,000 people involve will be absorbed into other Interior units but maybe not. Any action by the Army to legitimise anything out of Interior is viewed with enormous suspicion.

So other big news would probably start with the scheduled referendum for Saturday, 19 March - tomorrow - to approve the constitutional amendments. Reda, my wife, says the vote is on and she will be voting but there is the following datelined yesterday in AlMasry AlYoum (The Egyptian Day):

Some 2000 judges have threatened not to participate in the supervision of the 19 March constitutional referendum, citing procedural irregularities in the selection of judges.

The announcement comes as the Supreme Judicial Committee supervising the referendum urged all citizens to cast their votes in the poll on Saturday.

The judges threatening to boycott the referendum claim the committee used “favoritism” in choosing certain judges to supervise particular polling stations.

They also said the committee chose 52 judges who happen not to be working in Egypt, in addition to another 47 who are dead.

They further said the committee did not regard the principle of “seniority” in its selection of the judges.

So, a bit fuzzy around the edges for the moment. There is, however, now an Army internet page showing the polling places so it seems to be going ahead.

Distressingly, the Army is now doing the same kind of stuff as the police once they have people in custody. The following is also from The Egyptian Day:

Civilians who were detained by the military last week gave testimonials on Wednesday recounting the torture that they endured and saying that thousands of innocent individuals remain in military custody.

Families of detainees, some of whom received military sentences while others remain in detention with no charges brought, tearfully pleaded for their release.

Rasha Azab, a journalist who was detained on 9 March, said during the press conference that the people remaining in military prisons went on a hunger strike on Wednesday in protest at the abuses they have been subjected to.

Human Rights lawyers condemned the prosecution of civilians in military courts and the military's torture practices and called for public pressure for the release of the detained.

These were, I think, the two or four thousand people arrested early in the week who wouldn't leave Liberation (Tahrir) Square... who wanted everything "right now" and wanted to keep the square shut down to traffic 24/7 until they got it.

I'm not, actually, sympathetic towards those small thousands arrested - the routine is that one engages in civil disobedience, one gets arrested, and one's cause is promoted by the publicity, etc. There will be one million perhaps out again today as there will every Friday into the weeks and months ahead. One day a week is proving to be enough to keep the ball rolling for the moment.


But it's just amazing to me that they would be tortured by the Army and... some of them... already sentenced to 5 years in prison by military kangaroo courts. So the Army Supreme Command has some new issues about its credibility which developed, one would hope, from the Army's insufficient instructions to and supervision of their people "on the ground." Certainly the convictions will be judged basic habius corpus violations as the Army has no power to try civilians... and the pendulum is already swinging the other way - there was enormous reaction to all that.


So, in the shadow of Libya's civil war and Bahrain's use of foreign troops to subjugate and murder its own citizens, those are some of the highlights for the week from Egypt.


Thank you for your time,

Jeff

 

03 April 2011 – Golden Anniversary?

Hello my friends,

There was sizeable Friday gathering at Liberation Square (Tahrir) for the first time in three weeks. A news report - English newspaper web site, I think, rather than TV - spoke of tens of thousands. But I don't find anything in the online newspapers mentioning it tonight.

There's a piece about three weeks of Sudanese protests at the UN High Commission for Refugees and its closure on Thursday due to increasing aggression towards UN staff:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/383443

I think of the Sudanese as having a special status and I noticed something about this recently - certain jobs that are closed to all foreigners except Sudanese. I remember them protesting in 2005 as there was a persistent rumour in their community that the UN would give them passports "good anywhere", etc. The protests got more and more viral and the police stepped in. The press, at the time, discretely avoided mentioning that, as the above reports, "police ... killed at least 23 people, including children" at that time.

News about protests over the ignorant, hick-rascist pastor in Florida burning the Koran - UN personnel attacked in Afghanistan and seven killed:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/383805

"Head of Egypt's ruling Supreme Council of the Armed Forces Hussein Tantawi will meet with Palestinian President Mahmoud Abbas on Thursday to discuss efforts to reconcile Fateh and Hamas, Palestine's two leadership groups, said Egyptian diplomatic sources on Saturday:"

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/383610

The trial of former interior minister Habib al-Adly for murder, money-laundering, etc. is set to begin Sunday:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/383488?amp

Salafis destroying Sufi shrines in Alexandria (Sufism is kind of a Shi'ia thing and their saints and shrines repugnant to Sunnis and Salafis):

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/381918

Oh, here's the online report about Friday's protests mentioning "tens of thousands" (in Egypt as a whole) whose key demand was immediately prosecution of Mubarak for his very long list of crimes. A good long article in The Daily News Egypt where The Egyptian Day (AlMasry AlYoum) had nothing I could find:

"We came here to complete our revolution by bringing corrupt figures to court, to fully remove the regime by discharging governors and disbanding local councils," said Amr Masoud, a physician. :

http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/tens-of-thousands-in-cairo-alexandria-demand-prosecution-of-mubaraks.html

Whew... my eyes are going buggy with the small print they use. I wrote the following household report earlier (good-night):



On the family news side, Reda just walked in and told me to say hello to all of you.

About the time I met Reda - two years ago on the 15th of this month - there was a young bloke talking to me about a series of photographic expeditions of a week or so each that would take us to some of the far places around Egypt - the Mediterranean coast, the northwestern oases, and certain places around the Red Sea, the Gulf of Aqaba and Sinai for which, I, the photographer, would be paid well (but not handsomely).

The schedule came to change through the planning stages as I came to have plans to marry and we took stock of when Reda would be able to take time off and where she wanted to go as she would be able to accompany us and some of her expenses would be absorbed by the project.

Then the young bloke started drinking again and I heard nothing more from him. But a Pacific Islander dictionary project (the data entry, the computer processing, the typesetting) came my way and kind of saved us for most of the rest of the year.

About a year ago, as I recall, I had been named Director for East Africa in a government contracting newsletter service that was starting up. I left that outfit when the director made disparagingly comments to me in a staff meeting. I walked out three times and didn't come back the third. He emailed apologetically some months later and said they couldn't solve the problems he was so impatient about, either, and they gave up the start up.

So that was just as well but there was no dictionary project that came to the rescue in 2010. It was just kind of a tough year. I went on board with the translation service furthest southwest in Greater Cairo - the closet to our flat - which actually does little translation work and never, in that year, brought in a single English copy editing job longer than a page or two. But I did condensations of Dickens and Shakespeare for school children and it's just as well I read Tale of Two Cities which certainly helped me think about avoiding capricious dangers during the Egyptian Revolution.

I remember, too, starting up a Teaching English as a Foreign Language correspondence course and losing 5 kg due to stress. I'm not kind of plagued by the memory or something and hadn't thought about it for about 6 months. The course assumed a certain amount of training or experience in teaching and I haven't any of either and it was eating up a terrific amount of time in a situation where I wasn't make much even when I was working full time. I cut bait after eight or ten weeks. Just as well. I got some tutoring students through my web site before, during and after, and they were, in the main, shocked when I gave them homework and expected them to do it, and dissatisfied when they found out they would not be progressing very rapidly when the only effort they made was to have weekly or twice weekly tutorials. And I couldn't count on their keeping to schedule because they were so often business people out of town a great deal - and often didn't telephone in advance to say they wouldn't be in town. So I was declining to continue with some of them. I had a bit of a chat with someone who tried their hand at it, too, and gave it away as well.

At about that time the owner of the translation service came home from a pilgrimage to Mecca and could not pay his staff. I'd like to say I told him to call me when he could, but I stuck with it albeit with regular time off to cultivate stronger relations with translation services in the more upscale commercial districts of Giza (in Dokki and Mohandeseen) which sent me little work to begin with. But I expected that as they had said they would have to market the "native English speakers final copyediting" and see what happened. All three came good by the end of the year and I'm glad I didn't go out looking for more because just the three were enough to keep me busy from around the first of December.

Then came the revolution and business dipped a little but came back strongly in March.

At the same time there was this Pacific Island breadfruit varieties for tropical Africa activity and the sudden news, about the time the revolution started, that we were being encouraged to apply to a grant category with a $1 million limit in the context of much expanded Australian AusAID largesse to Africa. So the Ghana group that was coming to envisage a co-application with Sierra Leone just left it in my hands and we expanded the request to one of 27,000 little starter trees for "the coastal nations of West Africa from Senegal to Cameroon."

We find out as early as this week where we stand with that. As a practical matter the first fiscal year of the grant would involve just the Phase 1 Ghana and Sierra Leone plantings and the other seven national or international projects would have partners identified for activities beginning only in the second financial year of the two year grant. And the Ghana and Sierra Leone projects would just be starting Phase 2. So if I were in AusAid West Africa's shoes, I would be funding just Ghana and Sierra Leone to begin with and asking us to reapply next year for the other seven where we report our experiences in the first two.

Anyway, I'm just not, in the main, making phone calls to friends or family until we hear from them. I imagine babbling on about nothing else if I did.

Meanwhile, the Hunger Alliance of Ghana (HAG), the AusAID applicant, has made me their Chief Consultant and part of my income is out of their income from convening the new Ghana Parliament Hunger Caucus so I've been named Chief Consultant to the caucus as well.

So now I'm making the $24,000 a year I noticed that native English speakers with a BA can usually make around town when just looking for work and not necessarily a career. But, I'm making it at a much-less-than-full-time appointment as people were so happy with the breadfruit proposal. About which the Breadfruit Institute is just kind of amazed... asking me never to drop "Breadfruit Institute Volunteer and Liaison to Africa" from my letterhead, web site, etc.

They had no one to kind of put three to six months into developing a safe place to start ("safe" in the sense of probable plant survival) and now we're just all holding our breath for the coming days. They had no one with any Africa background to conceptualise a project and approach NGOs and help them with grant applications. So there I was with my African rural economies BA and 43 years of reading larger and smaller scraps of Africa news from the perspective of actually having been there and imagining fairly well what the story was on about. And 7 years with Jack Caldwell's African population health unit in Canberra. So all the mega trends and many of the national trends were more or less known to me up until 1999 and I was able to jump into it after a little catching up.

AusAID is different than any other aid agency in the sense that they most or all of them seem to know a lot about breadfruit and food security from their Pacific Island experiences... it's part of the ministry's corporate culture and they seem to know about it even if they haven't personally worked in the islands. I ran into an Australian diplomat on the Metro and he didn't need convinced at all. The Yanks and Europeans just kind of stare blankly past me when the subject comes up, like, "What's this... why haven't I heard of this?" - - - Australia's definitely the place to start.

I had my first scheduling conflict this last week. HAG and one of my commercial clients wanted me to do about 20 hours of work each with only three days left in the week. Ultimately, I confessed to HAG that I was overbooked, so they cut me a little slack and then the commercial client was too busy with other things on Thursday to give me instructions for the weekend and suddenly my problems were gone. My first HAG project is history. It went off to them at about 4 pm Saturday.

I had asked HAG to officially put me on the payroll 1 April as I didn't know what I would be able to do for them before that, but also as a little personal joke on myself, looking back on where I was at this time of the year in 2010 and 2009.

So we're looking forward to life on my new salary just as Reda's salary ends - 15 April which is both her birthday and the day we first met. What she did/does with her salary I can only guess. She allowed me the dignity of supporting the household completely - she stretched whatever little bit I brought home - her salary hadn't gone for that. I just assumed it was going for her nephew, Mahmoud's, undergraduate fees at the very nice technology institute he attends.

But her gold from the wedding was, I began to notice, absent from view by about early summer last year.

Some month or two after I began to notice that - at our Ramadan gathering with her cousin Assim's side of the family that I wrote about before (the fake inquisition) - she and Assim and I were the only three at a four person table for a few moments and I took her right hand in mine, lifted it up and with my left hand I pushed her right blouse sleeve down towards her elbow and asked, "Fein el dahab?" (Where's the gold?) She made talk about it being at home and Assim said, "That's what they all say. Hannan (his wife) will keep asking for things I don't think are wise and after I get tired of hearing about it I get her gold and tell her, 'Do what you want with it.' They're all the same. And they know you will be ashamed if they don't have any gold so then you give them more again."

I never mentioned it to Reda again. But then in the weeks before the Revolution began I noticed she was wearing it again and mentioned it to her. She smiled brightly and fled the room. I mentioned it to Assim some days later. "What?" he said. "The gold," I said. "What she got from me when you took us before the wedding. She has the same gold back. The same pieces. She must have taken it to someone for money and then took the money back to them and got the gold back." "Good!" he said. "That means.... well it means you're a lucky man. They're not all like that... now she'll never... You're a lucky man."

"It disappeared about the time they renovated their mosque and they put badaghaz (natural gas pipeline) into all the apartments."

"The same gold... is back?"

"Yes."

"You're a lucky man."

And now it's gone again, "Hiding it because of all the escaped prisoners" is said to be the reason why. Maybe it's true.

They seem to have effectively put off her nephew Mahmoud's "request" for an expensive car or motorcycle so it's not that. I don't know what it is. Or if it is. I allow myself the dignity of pretending I'm not curious and her the dignity of not being cross-examined.

The night Mubarak resigned that I went out looking for Mahmoud and took him with me to our carpenter's shop. Assim and all his friends talk about how difficult it is to get finished work out of Ashraf and I never understood why they put up with it. But it turns out they are all childhood friends. They all grew up together when Assim was young and their father had them in school in Cairo while he stayed on the Red Sea coast where he was involved with construction projects long before the building boom of the last few decades. And to which Assim and his siblings went for the summer every year. So he and the other blokes that have taken me in to their lives all grew up together. Still, until now, he lives just 10 minutes on a bus from these other guys' shops and homes.

"You shouldn't be mad at Ashraf," Assim said to me one night, some weeks ago, translating to Ashraf as we had tea at Ashraf's shop ("mad" concerning the 15 months it took Ashraf to finish my office desk and book shelves - or rather not finishing them but releasing them to me unfinished because I had prepared a letter to the police concerning the matter). Only with the Revolution did I appreciate how much an Egyptian might dread any contact with the police.

"Assim isn't very smart," continued Assim. "He just wants to be friends." - translating again to Ashraf who, not looking downcast or anything, went to nodding "No, I'm not very smart" and then "Yes, I just want to be friends." Not very smart but enormously gifted in his craft.

I was a bit flush for some reason and the cafe's man had just arrived with a delivery of five or six cups of tea. I forget exactly how many of us there were, but they were all of this childhood mates mob. I pulled out 100 pounds (~$16) - I was accepting this little bit of further knowledge about the group as part of their continuing opening up of their group towards me. They had never let me pay for tea - still the guest more than 2 years after I got back and most of 2 years since I married one of their "sisters". I held the LE100 out to Ashraf and said, "Take this... for tea." At 50 piastres per cup for two years... probably I owed the group that much.

Well, the tea man grabbed the whole LE100 and the place exploded in laughter, they all just about died. Ashraf was keen to have the LE100 but, as was explained to me later, he owed the tea man LE300 and the tea man was suddenly in a position to grab some of it and he did. Ashraf, went on howling in frustration, the other men went on howling with laughter. It couldn't have been a more hysterical rite a little deeper into their lives. And people love Ashraf. He doesn't even lock the roll-down door when he leaves for the night. Granted it would be a noisy project for someone to try to open it in the real stillness of these neighborhoods in the middle of most nights. Except in summer when children sleep all day and play in the street all night. And wedding - which are as noisy as they want as late as they want.

It was kind of a rite of passage when I took Mahmoud to Ashraf's shop to be with the men the night Mubarak resigned. The first time we had ever gone out to do anything together that didn't involve requests from his mother or Reda. Only people acknowledged as adults by their families were out and about that night in our neighborhoods except some distance into our barrios where the children were out on the street playing as usual. But as I wrote of that night previously, the men at Ashraf's shop were dumbstruck. They were drinking tea but there was no conversation and Mahmoud and I didn't wait for the next round of tea before going back to his mother's flat.

Assim called me last night and asked that we meet at the office of a certain very rich private school owner with whom he is friends... a place he had taken me too several times before and I drove over there. Mahmoud was with Assim and I've noticed Assim taking him around recently since he (Assim) got a car, acknowledging Mahmoud as an adult.

I was a bit shocked most of two years ago when Reda was tearful and just howling when Zuba called again and again through the night saying Mahmoud wasn't home yet. He was twenty years old at the time and it was the first night he hadn't spent at home. He's had a pretty tough row to hoe at times. And again tonight or last night there was phone call after phone call because Mahmoud wasn't home by midnight. "He's 22," I said to Reda. "He can do what he wants." But Zuba and Reda are just utterly preoccupied at such times.

So I write for Mahmoud. Something for him later in life about what these years were to me as he rather quickly, now, is speaking a lot more English and we can converse in more detail about the things swirling about us.

Thank you for your time,
Jeff


13 April 2011 – El Kalaboos

My friends,

So these young revolutionaries have pretty good timing. They gave it a rest the Fridays two and three weeks ago but they had a very large gathering at Liberation Square (Tahrir) again last Friday specifically demanding that Mubarak and his sons be committed to detention and now they all are except Mubarak himself who is under armed guard in hospital and facing detention when he gets out:

http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/egypts-ex-president-and-sons-detained-for-investigation.html

CAIRO: Egypt's prosecutor general announced Wednesday the 15-day detention of the country's former president, pending inquiries into accusations of corruption and abuse of authority in an unprecedented investigation of a former ruler in the Arab world.

The announcement was the latest in a dramatic series of events surrounding the probes against top former regime officials, and came just hours after former President Hosni Mubarak, 82, was hospitalized with heart problems in the Red Sea resort of Sharm el-Sheikh.

(more)

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/398447

Dozens of people marched in the streets of 6th of October, west of Cairo, Wednesday, after hearing news that former President Hosni Mubarak and his sons are to be detained for 15 days.

They marched around al-Hosari Square, raising Egyptian flags.

Mubarak and his two sons, Gamal and Alaa Mubarak, face investigations on corruption charges. The former president is suspected of being involved in decisions to shoot at pro-democracy protesters during the 25 January revolution.

Thousands of demonstrators had protested in Tahrir Square on Friday, calling for prosecution of the Mubaraks and other former regime officials.

 

Reda had gone to the southeast suburb/city of Helwan on Tues to do more of her retirement paperwork (she retires Thurs so I'll be at her office through most of the day, too). And Tues I had gone downtown to get my last 3 month visa. By the end of the month I will have my Ghana contract to show them - my main income is from abroad - I don't need or want a work permit anymore - and then they will give me a 3 year multiple entry visa. But Tues Tahrir was packed with demonstrators again and I called Reda, who was done with her business and had downtown business for Weds as well, and we stayed at her cousin cum brother Assim's little hotel, Assim regaling all there, as usual.

We got going at 8am and it was a half hour early for Immigration to be open so I got a nice Yank cuppa at McD's and walked around Tahrir Square, seeing for the first time the parts of the sidewalks the demonstrators tore to pieces with their bare hands and with pieces of steel from fences and gates... mining the footpaths for stone to throw at the police who were killing them.

I went to Window 30 ("Residence - non-Arab Passport") as I always do. They sent me to Window 12 ("Tourist Visa") as they always do. Window 12 sent me back to Window 30, as they always do and Window 30 was set to send me back to Window 12 when I said in Arabic, "My wife's Egyptian. They say I should come here." Then I showed a picture of Reda and a colour photo of her and colour photocopy of her passport and everything was over in about 3 minutes, a rattling conversation ensuing about why we live in the city of generals (because Central Remaya is there and my wife works there) - and the fact that there are no street names out here - just building numbers and flat number - and then I came home again. To mountains of work for the Ghana NGO and parliamentary caucus and a heap of work from a commercial client. I just got done at 6 or 7 this morning and slept until 4pm. And now I am free, until Sunday, to think great thoughts about hunger in tropical Africa. There's a certain kind of non-degree granting Danish school for young adults that was instrumental in bringing literacy and good civic mindedness to rural youth after serfdom was abandoned in about 1850... and the Ghanaians are quite curious.

Oh, here's a piece on the Tuesday Tahrir protest that blocked access to Immigration - a continuous holdover from last Friday that finally saw the Mubarak's detained:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/398702

So people such as myself who were just plainly cursing the concommittant traffic snarls finally had reason to be glad for them.

The crooked Israeli natural gas deal that Gamal Mubarak (eldest son) closed, walking away, personally, with ~$12 million(?) is being renegotiated:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/398842

NATO bumbles along in Libya protecting "civilians only"... but one might hope...

The French have outlawed the veil in public and the first day it was in force there were thousands of women who hit the French streets wearing full veils in public. But our local English language papers aren't reporting that anything more happened last night or through the day.

Let's see... Mubarak got arrested and the value of the Egyptian pound started going up for the first time in yonks.

Mubarak's wealth has been estimated at $700 billion:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/396030

A group of lawyers believe they now have the evidence to prove that Gamal Mubarak order the police violence that saw what are now known to be at least 680 murders by police nationwide:

http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/lawyers-activists-accuse-gamal-mubarak-safwat-el-sherif-of-leading-counter-revolution.html

I can't find any editorials in the English language press here that are complaining vociferously this week.

The revolution has become institution.

Thank you for your time,
Jeff

20 April 2011 - "846" murdered in Egyptian Revolution

Hello to my friends of Palestine and others,

I have culled the papers daily for any good news for Palestine and generally find none. Little news on Palestine at all. It will be time before there is a government in place that makes what I hope will be monumental changes in Egypt's relationship with Israel and Palestine. A kind of aside is that Gamal Mubarak is now known to have personally walked away with over $150 million upon the signing of the cut-rate-natural-gas-for-Israel agreement of several years ago. I think it was in 2005 or 2006 when I was here in Cairo. Or perhaps it was 2006 or 2007 when I was back in Canberra and reading about it online. I wondered at the time who's hands got greased on that one at it turns out to have been Mubarak's son, Gamal (the "smart" one).

The news in the last week is more and more about "blood". Blood that was shed. And the blood that will now be demanded of the leaders of the old regime. Mubarak and his sons are in detention and... first things first... they are apparently going to immediately face murder charges for their activities during the revolution and there is a prevailing nuance in the press that this may result in death sentences for all of them.

The "final" report on regime murders during the revolution came out yesterday and puts the total at 846 with 6467 injured/wounded.

Al Ahram, the semi-official English version at least, that I so admired for their "opinion" on America with respect to Israel and Palestine (cf., www.americansincairo.org) is now in the process of frantically digging itself out of the hole they dug for themselves with respect to their, granted-compulsory, failure to report and opinionate on civil rights and political freedoms in the last decade and more. Something can be captured of their current transition in their main reports this morning:

[]
Egypt's fight against corruption has just started
Transparency International brings together a host of prominent actors in Egyptian civil society to identify the key steps needed as the country emerges from its corruption-laden years
[]
[]
Fact-Finding Committee releases report on the January 25 Revolution

The other English language on-line dailies have similar takes on yesterday's release of the fact finding commission and this "Battle of the Camels"  is especially held up as an example of the Mubarks' personal culpabilities and the dire consequences for the demonstrators in those days before the army was actually intervening:

Daily News Egypt:

Fact finding mission says 846 dead and 6,467 injured in Egypt's uprising


CAIRO: The official fact-finding mission investigating the death toll of Egypts revolution released on Tuesday its final report, saying that at least 846 were killed and 6,467 injured during the popular uprising that toppled the Egyptian regime and forced president Hosni Mubarak to step down in February.

According to a 30-page summary of the 400-page report, the revolution also....

AlMasry AlYoum:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/406169

Rather abbreviated compared to Al Ahram and Daily News Egypt but more than them, as usual, on the society-wide revolutionary scene:

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/echannel/News

including, that the Salafis are abandoning their "obedience to authority" here and in other countries, now that they won't get thrown in prison, and have weighed in on yet another ridiculous Egyptian Christian>Muslim/Muslim>Christian conversion saga:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/406490

and AlMasry AlYoum has the most detailed report of the continuing repercussions of the Armed Forces Supreme Command dismissing what seems dozens of governate (state/province) governors, and their dreary decision to replace them, entirely, with "new" members of the armed forces and police/security services (i.e., all the past governors have always been appointed by the president or something, they have always been career military or security people and the AFSC is in the process of dismissing heaps of them, only to replace them with "new" career military or security people - and Qena Governate is the only one is which these august decisions have been protested vigorously):

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/406318

29 April 2011 -

I got back from Friday prayers and my wife was still glued to the royal wedding.

"They’re married now," she said. "The ceremony is over."

"Now they will have sex," I said.

"They've already had sex," she said. "They're Christian."

 

My Friends,

Kind of a happy day for the pro-Palestinian American-Australian in Egypt... the front pages of Friday's English newspapers online are all a-buzz with:

http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/egypt-sending-team-to-help-realize-palestinian-deal.html -

CAIRO: Egypt will send a security team to the Gaza Strip to help implement a reconciliation agreement reached by rival Palestinian groups Fatah and Hamas, an Egyptian security source told Reuters on Thursday.

Restructuring and unifying security forces in Hamas-run Gaza is a key condition for the success of the accord, brokered by Egypt on Wednesday to overcome a rift that had stifled a Palestinian drive for independence.

"An Egyptian security delegation will head to Gaza to help settle and organise the internal security situation there, now that the reconciliation agreement is finally in place," said the security source, who declined to be identified.....

The others all present similar front page coverage:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/416559
http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/10994/World/Region/Egypt-sending-team-to-help-realise-Palestinian-dea.aspx
http://213.158.162.45/~egyptian/index.php?action=news&id=17643&title=Egypt%20sending%20team%20to%20help%20realise%20Palestinian%20deal

While Haaretz reports on Netanyahu's shrill demand that America have nothing to do with said rapprochement:
http://www.haaretz.com/print-edition/news/netanyahu-presses-for-u-s-action-over-fatah-hamas-deal-1.358706
and the Jerusalem Post headlines:

Lieberman: National unity deal partners Abbas with terror
http://www.jpost.com/DiplomacyAndPolitics/Article.aspx?id=218404

Other newspapers around the world were in the main concerned with the royal wedding in UK. Two billion people following it on TV already this morning... my wife included... utterly rapt... I tried to make conversation but she seems to have hung out the "Do Not Disturb" sign.

Bedou blew up the natural gas pipeline to Israel again a day or two ago :-D :
http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/repairs-on-arish-gas-pipeline-may-take-two-weeks-says-official.html

If there is any one thing that soon brings the millions back to Tahrir of a Friday, it will certainly be the "trials" of civilians in military kangaroo courts:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/414434
The Supreme Council of the Armed Forces (SCAF) don't really seem to understand where they are in space and time (and weren't selected by Mubarak, as the individual members were appointed over the years, because they were great, independent thinkers).

There are a lot of internal inconsistencies in the general revolution environment, e.g.,
Egypt backs Syrian regime, receives sharp criticism (jcm: they could have just said nothing)- http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/416758
- while at the same time - Government studies banning NDP members from elections - http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/416711

I went back to my www.americansincairo.org website for the first time since the revolution and see I last updated in October of last year as I had, sort of quarterly for about 5 years). It had presented nothing more or less than a chronicle of Al-Ahram "semi-official" opinion that had, for years and years, been deadly accurate about the utter senselessness of American positions on Palestine, why they were doomed, how long it would take them to fall apart, how they conflicted with rights-based approaches, etc. ad nauseam through decades when Mubarak was polite enough not to personally point out this stuff himself. Whatever Al-Ahram's domestic coverage, it would have been nice if the American presidents had been strapped into straight-jackets every Friday morning and been made to listen to someone read the stuff I linked if only for posterity.

I clicked forward, forward, forward from October and found that the old issues are still retrievable up to the last issue of 2010. They apparently elected not to continue to disclose, from the first week of January, being so oblivious to the upcoming storm of 25 January and onward.

These days their daily news "hot links" on page one are dominated by news of the national and international football scene as they cast about for a new image in their "real" reporting.

Digging through the week's reporting by all the English on-line papers for some notion of how life goes on in revolutionary Egypt for this last week, I link the following piece on Qena, the only governate (state/province) with the hutzpah to protest the replacement of the old governor, appointed by Mubarak due to his stellar military/police career, by another, appointed by the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces for his stellar military/police career: http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/qena-residents-divided-on-fridays-million-man-march.html

Thank you for your time,
j


30 April 2011 – Hamdullah

Egypt to throw open Rafah border crossing with Gaza: FM (in a matter of days) -
http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/egypt-to-throw-open-rafah-border-crossingwith-gaza-fm.html

14 May 2011 “Tens of Thousands Flood Tahrir for Palestine

 

[]

http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/tahrir-protesters-call-for-national-unity-show-solidarity-with-palestine-dp1.html
Tens of thousands of Egyptians flooded Tahrir Square to support the group that leaves for the Rafah Crossing Saturday with aid for Gaza and to make good on recent rumblings through the population and interim government to open the Rafah Crossing and normalise the comings and goings of people from Egypt to Gaza and people from Gaza to Egypt.

[]

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/435404
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/435327
http://english.ahram.org.eg/

Alexandrians marched by the thousands on the Israeli consulate:

http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=220426

The news from Bahrain was simply awful through the day yesterday. The government seems to have spent the week demolishing a lot of Shia mosques (as long as the Saudi army is there and they can do what they want), the Yank government (with its navy base there) saying nothing. Interviews with Bahrain hospital workers were broadcast by Al Jazeera detailing their detention and torture upon the beginning of the protests... forcing them to sign documents they had not read... presumably denials of receiving patients with gunshot wounds, etc.

There were more shooting deaths of Syrian protesters yesterday despite Assad's grant pronouncement that the army had orders to quit shooting the protesters.

Tomorrow is the anniversary of the 1948 Nakba and East Jerusalem and other flash points are heating up:

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/palestinian-teen-dies-of-wounds-sustained-in-east-jerusalem-clashes-1.361622

Obama's Middle East "peace" envoy has resigned (who wouldn't?):

http://www.haaretz.com/news/international/mitchell-quits-as-u-s-mideast-envoy-but-backs-obama-s-mission-for-peace-1.361586

There is no breaking news about the convoy to Palestine this morning in Egyptian, Israeli, or the Al Jazeera portals but Al Jazeera has a good summary article on the Egyptian Revolution for the week:

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/05/201151323296787604.html

Mubarak's wife has finally been arrested (for looting some of her charitable foundations, I think):

http://english.aljazeera.net/news/middleeast/2011/05/201151318265179790.html
http://www.haaretz.com/news/mideast-in-turmoil/mubarak-s-wife-hospitalized-in-intensive-care-after-arrest-1.361609

The Supreme Command interim military regime is to reconsider decisions of its kangaroo courts, especially 7 year sentences in 5 minute trials of protesters in March and April:

http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/human-a-civil-rights/scaf-says-to-reinvestigate-trials-of-all-revolution-youth.html
http://www.jpost.com/MiddleEast/Article.aspx?id=220459

Back to yesterday's, Tahrir events... secular groups in Cairo had been calling for a day of Christian/Muslim solidarity in the aftermath of another church burning and 12 deaths (6 and 6) when Salafis, accompanied or infiltrated by thugs with guns, marched on a church where a certain woman (rumoured to being there and held captive in the church) who seems to have converted to Islam so she could get divorced (there is neither civil marriage nor civil divorce in Egypt, essentially - one gets married in church or mosque and, if Muslim, divorced according to Sharia (but there is no divorce allowed in the main Christian denominations here)). So Salafis marched on the church, the thugs started the church on fire and a gun battle erupted between the thugs with the Christians defending the church... Christians in general taking to arming themselves for lack of intervention by security forces when thugs or gangs of Muslim youth start shooting at them. This is the first time thugs have shown up with Salafis anywhere.

If there is impunity, as there usually is when Muslims attack Christians, it doesn't bode well for the fate of the Christians during through the coming months of the interim regime, the thugs now provocateurs trying to get the populace to clamour for the old regime when Christians were "safer" and riot of any kind broken up faster.

There has been no report in the news outlets of whether the Salafis solicited participation by thugs or if the thugs, under pay of rich sympathisers of the former regime, paid them to watch for such opportunities and spread chaos. No "findings" yet by the interim regime's analysis of the events of that day. They were hired guns when part of the "security" apparatus and now they've shifted to these kinds of activities. In neither the old regime nor the present interim situation have they been held to account.

The dozens of Salafi satellite TV channels are now freer to comment on politics but there is the strange mix of their financing... generally wealthy Saudi and Gulf individuals... they have no other economic basis... which refrained from dissent/criticism and preached or implied obedience to the regimes (in which the billionaires who finance the various channels had great interest) and what they now see as an opportunity to dominate politics in Free Egypt and impose stricter Sharia, the source of all law presently (it is stated in the present constitution).

Cooler heads will prevail in the long run, given the general demographics, but the Salafis do constitute a force to be reckoned with for the moment, coming as they are, from illiterate migrants from Upper Egypt and the Delta (who feel like they are living in sin city) through a broad range of income and generations of residence in Cairo all the way up to highly educated professionals who simply never stepped out of the mould of mosques (usually small) obedient to the mosque's head imam, who they address and refer to as "Sheikh This-or-That"... the sheikhs having strong informal knowledge of and cooperations with others of their ilk... enough to "hijack" Tahrir yesterday in any event - the Youth having actually called for a Muslim-Christian solidarity day, wanting, essentially, to chastise the Salafi for marching on the Imbaba church mentioned above. So the first big pro-Palestine day at Tahrir has that dark cloud hanging over it and that should be kept in mind as the Palestine issue unfolds, the convoy to Gaza, involving general participation and not a specifically Salafi initiative, also being hijacked by the Salafi to some extent through association with a sort of launch from Tahrir yesterday.

So that is to take some of the news reports and commentary at face value. Viewing the video streams from Tahrir yesterday and the news agency photos of Tahrir today, I actually see few bearded men in galabea (the Salafi "trademarks") so maybe it isn't as bad as all that, the people with Palestinian flags for the day coming from all walks of life and not wanting to miss the first large pro-Palestinian day, the news agencies themselves, by Thursday, reporting that a great pro-Palestinian gathering was the theme for Friday more than they were announcing the Muslim-Christian solidarity theme.

Anyway, the pro-Palestinian Muslim Brotherhood and Salafi groups brought in the biggest PA system for the day and held the stage.

So life goes on in Egypt's Revolution of 2011.

Thank you for your time,
Jeff

17 May 2011 – Palestinian reconciliation

AJPP

I am very happy today to send AJPP the follow late-breaking news stories:

resumption of Fatah/Hama talks:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/440452

the day's outcomes:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/440653

and a long note in yesterdays press about Norman
Finkelstein's visit to Cairo, peace and blessings on his name:
http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/439292

Thank you for your time,
Jeff

28 May 2011 – Rafah opening permanently today

 

Hi AJPP friends and others.

Cross your fingers. The news is that:

Rafah opening boosts Hamas as Egypt adjusts
By Samer Al-Atrush/Agence France-Presse May 27, 2011, 4:57 pm

CAIRO: Egypt's decision to permanently open its border crossing with Hamas-ruled Gaza starting on Saturday signals an adjustment in its foreign policy that will boost the group despite Israeli objections.

The decision was first announced in April after Hamas signed a deal with its rival Fatah led by Palestinian president Mahmoud Abbas in the West Bank, ending a four-year rift that led to Egypt's closure of the Rafah crossing in 2007.

The crossing, where the Egyptians have eased passage since a deadly Israeli raid on a ship carrying aid to Gaza last May, will as of Saturday allow passage both ways between 0700 GMT and 1500 GMT every day expect Fridays.

People under 18 or older than 40 will require only a visa to pass, but those between 18 and 40 will still need security clearance, crossing officials say....

http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/rafah-opening-boosts-hamas-as-egypt-adjusts.html

14 June 2011 – Israeli spy and Copt-Muslim conflict

My friends,

Egyptian English language newspapers are rather cautiously reporting about an Israeli citizen now being held for 15 days for investigation of, amongst other things, having been involved in an evening of Copt-Muslim tensions that left 12 dead:

http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/detention-of-alleged-israeli-spy-may-raise-tension-says-analyst.html

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/467744

http://english.ahram.org.eg/~/NewsContent/1/64/14194/Egypt/Politics-/Alleged-Israeli-spy-sought-to-harm-relationship-be.aspx

http://213.158.162.45/~egyptian/index.php?action=news&id=19166&title=Alleged%20spy%20in%20Egypt%20immigrated%20to%20Israel%20from%20US

Probably a story that won't go away any time soon...

Best,
Jeff

03 June 2011 – stressed, stretched or ruined

Friday 3 June 2011

My Friends,

A great aspect of Egypt that has suffered in the revolution is its industry, optimism and enthusiasm. Some days it seems like everyone I see is stressed, stretched or ruined.

Growth July 2010 to June 2011 is expected to come in at "2.6%", the 25 January Revolution halting the accustomed to 5 and 6% growth in its tracks. But the neighborhoods are busy again with construction projects, the main thoroughfares of Faisal and Pyramids are getting busier day and night and the street sweepers and road crews are moving back towards normal operations.

The approach on all the Cairo thoroughfares involves individuals with brooms and small dust buckets holding a few litres of sand that is consolidated into loads for trucks and the whole operation just diligently nips it all in the bud when operating at full force.

And we began to miss them immediately.

Wind-driven dunes have formed in the absence of the sweepers. Little 6 and 9 cm dunes that emerged onto the streets from their kerbs, beyond the parking lane and onto the slow lane... or the fast lane, too, in the instance of a one-way thoroughfare. They begin growing immediately after about 1 February when public services retracted in various ways.

There were perhaps a dozen girls old enough to be wearing head scarves sweeping away at our neighborhood's mysteriously biggest dune in late February or early March. Mysterious in the sense of why it takes its particular location. No other place for blocks and blocks has such a big dune. It's at the foot of a retaining wall against which it is a meter high and spreads out into the street again rather quickly and rather deeply after being attended to. I saw the young ladies doing that just the once. At that time I supposed that young people of such an age in our neighborhoods were hearing small whispers of what momentous things were happening from their fathers in the Army. Anyway the sand dune has been getting very big, indeed, and I only saw street sweepers for the first time again in the last few days.

It all made for a different kind of town for the motorcyclist... the little dunes. I'll be glad when they've fought it back to the nipping it in the bud operation it was before the revolution.

Yesterday afternoon and evening I was out with 20 or 30 men from amongst the customers, mechanics and friends of my motorcycle mechanic. The event was perhaps the signing of a young mechanic's wedding contract. The street party aspect was over by the time I got there, the dozens of chairs for the women's area being stacked and a small Japanese ute/pickup, as they all are here, driven to the edge of where the chairs had been. It was loaded with furniture and appliances and then another and another until there were four utes standing there loaded two and three metres high with wedding gifts... some from friends and relatives, the rest from the groom himself according to what they agreed he would provide for the bride upon their marriage.

Then those of us on bikes made a great parade, accompanying the utes to the young couple's new home, which was some kilometres away. Mostly in heavy traffic.We left no friends behind. They brought the whole parade to a halt and closed off some rather large roads for brief periods, the parade all bunched together and blocking traffic while one or two motorcycle drivers did donuts, raising thick clouds of unswept sand that the cars and other vehicles at the parade's road blocks were then allowed the pleasure of driving through.

My drivers license and motorcycle registration are both expired. The bike rego because I didn't know we had to renew it each year. The drivers license because I'm about to get a 3 year visa and then I will get a three year drivers license. So I wasn't right in the middle of the roadblocks the parade was making.

No, I was normally parked about 100 metres away pretending I didn't know them. I was the only one wearing a helmet and would have stood out like a sore thumb if the police interfered. But it's traditional so I perhaps they don't stop them in normal times either. And there is no such thing as a police chase... on this side of town, anyway. Good times or bad. They create roadblocks at major intersection, perhaps, but do not try to chase in Faisal/Pyramids traffic. You'd just end up crashing into something, splattering pedestrians, etc.

I wear the helmet so the police are less likely to start up a chat but it's just as well. I can come and go without people noticing I'm not Egyptian. I'm welcomed warmly where people have known me since before the revolution but people are entirely different towards me where I'm not known. They do NOT like seeing a foreigner and even if they aren't frowning or simply withholding emotion altogether, they aren't curious anymore at all and don't strike up conversations. They just don't want to saddle up next to a new foreigner these days. Not at all.

But I had fun at the kofta shop some days ago. The young man at the maitre d desk who I've known for a couple years introduced a gentlemen of 60 or so as the restaurant's owner. We began bantering around and the young man gave me an Arabic newspaper as he stepped into the barbequing room for a moment and I showed the older man that I was holding it upside down as the young man was coming back towards us from the grill. Glad for dumb amusement the older gentleman brightened up and snorted.

The young man sat down in his desk's chair, I was holding the newspaper as mentioned, he noticed and began to speak but I flipped it so the top of page one was facing me right-side-up, widened my eyes in recognition and barked out the paper's name: "El Masry El Youm (The Egyptian Day)!", and shot it up to my face pecking it with a kiss... a standard sort of peck that brings laughter easily as I used the body motion of pecking unexpected money. The full routine is to touch the money to the breast, then give it the peck, then touch it to the forehead, making a rolling upward motion with the wrist as the hand with the loot moves away from the head. But if you peck perfectly and have thought to rock the head slightly backwards in joy and amazement immediately before the peck... well, it does the trick.

Then I cried out in excitement, "El Masri El Youm! El awwil gornal... (The Egyptian Day! The first newspaper that...)"... "Aywa, huwwa da! (Yes, it was)" said the older man (the first independent Egyptian paper of any consequence which has been braving the waters since 2004, something like 20 other independents starting up and following in it's wake). The older man was plainly joyous that I would know it meant so much to them.

The young man was delighted to see the elder man enjoying himself and said to me, "Huwwa abi (He's my father)."

"Mish kazaab (No lie)?" (There is resemblance)

An iconic expression to go with the preceding iconic gesture and they fell to pieces laughing just as my order came out from the grill and I left in triumph.

But for the moment, one is not received that way at all these days unless known to have been here from before the revolution. I guess I did alright at a pizza place I'd never been to before six or eight days ago. But it started off immediately with having them talk to Reda who placed the order over the mobile as soon as I arrived. That rather put them at ease. Then they found I could account for myself to some extent in Arabic and we conversed off and on as the pizzas were prepared and baked. Even the Australian passport is a worry in present circumstances because Israeli intelligence services so often produce fake Australian passports for their operatives. And there is some continuing disbelief that all that has happened internally and the notion that Israel and America were behind the revolution... and not from the liberal educations and internet organization of their youth... which in fact it was.

I'm now off the heavy schedule of the last two months helping to prepare the fiscal years 2011-2016 work plan at Hunger Alliance of Ghana. They are saying specifically that there will be little to do until late July as an August conference I may help with looms large on the horizon and I go down there for the first time. So I will now try to expand my client base with respect to commercial copy editing work for translation agencies.

Reda's retirement has seen little rest as she is going all over town getting her exit documents together for her pension and continuing health coverage benefits.

Just as all that had fairly well run its course, a large water pipe broke in the building she owns with her sister and they are gutting, entirely, the old plumbing on the five residential floors and redoing it with more modern stuff. They had done the same thing to their mosque on the ground floor last year. She was gone all yesterday and today. We talked last night and tonight about getting out of town for a few days but it won't happen until the plumbing's done. She just takes care of all this stuff herself... she and her sister, Zuba... I didn't know until tonight that it was emergency work and not something they had been planning before two days ago.

The revolution slowly grinds on. Nothing much happened at Tahrir (Liberation Square) this Friday. The army is said to control 30% of the economy by some measures. The interim Prime Minister is from Mabarak's detested party. The newspapers devote a lot of attention to secular groups as the general public is without such leadership and organization. I politely stay out of it as I did in Australia before getting citizenship.

Thank you for your time,
Jeff

10 June 2011 – a festive evening

 

My friends,

The wedding function I reported about a week ago... the gathering together of four utes full of furniture and appliances and their parading through miles of the neighborhoods with 30 odd motorcycles to the young couples' new home... went on to its logical conclusion last night... the actual wedding party. The function before the loading of the trucks a week ago may have been the contract ceremony... the young lady was in a kind of bridal gown, anyway.

But last night was the 5 hour, 200 decibel public event... a "street" wedding rather than a "club" (or hotel) wedding but of a certain sort where the largest vacant lot possible is hired and outfitted with 20 foot tall walls of fabric sort of like massive, decorated carpet-drapes special-made for such functions and their infrastructure. Then lights are draped in various arrays overhead and there was a large stage, perhaps 15 metres wide and 5 metres deep for the band. I didn't have my camera along because such events always have a full video crew anyway.

The empty lot was perhaps 40 metres wide and 60 metres deep and it was all lit up gaily, 2/3 for men and their tables and 1/3 on the other side of a low wall of carpet for women and small children, the bride and groom on display on a dais that I couldn't see from where I sat. I didn't see the groom all night except right at first because I arrived a little early while they were still setting up... about 9:30 I think it was. The groom never roams the men's area for more than a few moments and does not attempt to greet or converse with all who attend.

I took Reda's nephew Mamoud who is now speaking a lot more English and 22 rather than 19 and a half. He's got a tough row to hoe. No siblings. His divorced mother, Zuba's only co-resident, which will also be his lot when he gets married, doomed by custom and circumstance to be home by midnight or only slightly later to secure his mother's safety and virtue. Reda stayed behind with Zuba as she doesn't know the bride and the 3/4 of the seating usually set aside for the men is always explained as the main opportunity for the men of the bride's family to start rubbing elbows with the men of the groom's family. The groom's "women" don't, as I understand it, attend in large numbers.

The music is always too loud and continuous to allow much conversation so we just sat back and munched the grapes and plums and other things they brought us and watched the stage. A pleasant man of 35 or 40 was the only other guest at our table, we conversed in small bits and learned of mutual friends when the band had the occasional lull and his three gorgeous children between about 6 and 10 ran up to the table again and again through the evening to report on their adventures. His wife was perhaps on the women's side or perhaps did not come at all.

A young, dignified belly-dancer came on stage about 10:30 and the men took no special notice. But I glanced over to the wall of carpet that separated us from the women and all the women who were tall enough and up to about the age of 25 were stretched over the top of the wall, arms hanging over the top, studiously observing the young dancer, little girls pulling themselves up high enough to look over the top for short moments.

There's a kind of scarf that married women tie low around their waist and drape down over one hip or the other and put on in the bedroom and dance with before their husbands when they want sex. One can find them in shops downtown and most other places. They might have little disks of light metal and other things that make them clink and chime. And the woman goes through some period of time, securing it around her waist and then loosening it and holding it up around her shoulders and bringing it back down to the hips as she belly-dances and seduces her husband.

Apparently the young ladies at the wedding party were curious to see what the belly dancer might know/do that they didn't.

Shortly after midnight I noticed that the wall between us and the women was begin dismantled, the bride and groom were absent from the dais and the women, all in black by the way, were herding out the entrance and departing. At that moment the main rows of overhead lights on the far side of the men's area went dark and the sound system failed. Mahmoud and I watched the spectacle of workers standing ladders on top of tables and pyramids of them securing the ladders to heights of 20 feet while one of them climbed the ladder and attempted to deal with the power failure which they eventually resolved. By then all the women were clear of the entrance and Mahmoud and I departed, our motorcycle, one of three when we arrived, now buried deep behind 50 or 60 others... the guards and attendants extracting it for us... everyone quite chuffed... a perfect wedding party from their point of view and ours.

Thank you for your time,
Jeff

14 June 2011 – Israeli spy, perhaps?

 

My friends,

Egyptian English language newspapers are rather cautiously reporting about an Israeli citizen now being held for 15 days for investigation of, amongst other things, having been involved in an evening of Copt-Muslim tensions that left 12 dead:

http://www.thedailynewsegypt.com/egypt/detention-of-alleged-israeli-spy-may-raise-tension-says-analyst.html

http://www.almasryalyoum.com/en/node/467744

http://english.ahram.org.eg/~/NewsContent/1/64/14194/Egypt/Politics-/Alleged-Israeli-spy-sought-to-harm-relationship-be.aspx

http://213.158.162.45/~egyptian/index.php?action=news&id=19166&title=Alleged%20spy%20in%20Egypt%20immigrated%20to%20Israel%20from%20US

Probably a story that won't go away any time soon...

Best,
Jeff

23 February 2012 – Enta no enchanté…

 

I was glad to be asked by an Egyptian man who I respect what I thought best for the future of Egypt. I was glad he asked and had an answer ready.

 

“I’m quite certain,” I said, “that Egypt will do a lovely job of solving its problems without my help.”

 

He was glad for my answer and we went on talking about other things.

 

Every time I go into Faisal and Pyramids of an evening dozens of small things seem worth writing about with all my affection. Usually it involves tea with the motorcycle mechanics and at Ibrahim’s toktok (motorised tri-wheeled taxi) spare parts shop.

 

Assim, Reda’s cousin, is one of the last standing of the formerly numerous downtown hostels and I go down there, too. He says he can take the losses now and through the summer and will then take stock again in light of how “the season” begins October onwards. We see each other every couple of days at Ibrahim’s although I avoid the hostel a bit because diehard protesters close down a lot of the roads unpredictably right in town’s centre where it’s most convenient to pass when coming into downtown from Pyramids.

 

Jimmy Carter was here and declared the Parliament elections free and fair.

 

Like the Yanks, only 50% of Egyptians voted. In general Egyptians’ greatest concerns remain the same as before the revolution… continued economic growth, an end to patronage, cronyism and corruption, an end to American aid – 70% don’t want it anymore. American aid is now measured at about 1.6 or 1.8 billion USD. Egypt’s bi-lateral trade with Turkey was over $3 billion in 2010 and that’s just one country. Egypt has a multitude of trade partners and loosing the Yank money wouldn’t dent them up badly. But America has a card up its sleeve in the long term dependence Egypt will have on spare parts for its Air Force, etc.

 

Yesterday or the day before was meant to be the announcement of the verdict in the Mubarak trial according to people who mentioned to me beforehand or told me they didn’t want to go out that evening for fear of trouble. But it was announced that day that the verdict would be announced in June which is after the presidential election they recently rescheduled from June to May. Parliament is sitting and going through a period of establishing rules, procedures and protocols. There was a string of bank robberies that left everybody incredulous… worried about their own safety for the first time, many of them.

 

Pain relievers and anti-depressants are selling well in the context of the low level but constant fear of things getting deadly again or the economy not one day picking up again. We’re both taking headache tablets several times a week.

 

Reda said something… about what I don’t recall… but what she said was, “Enta no enchanté…” (“You [Arabic] aren’t very enchanting…”). Perhaps I belched. Yes, I think that was it but then we both laughed at the level of our language use. “Whatever does the job.” We’re just awful. And kind of enjoying it for the most part. “If you were marooned on a desert island with …”

 

I’m so glad to have landed here for retirement and to have lived the revolution together with Reda. Incredible, amazing history that it is. Wonderful spirit that she is.

 

From the land of Aussie 29 cent per litre petrol,

Jeff

 

07 April 2012 – Salafi or Suleiman, my dear?

My friends,

A longish note. The next to the last under the “Small Wedding” banner.

These “Small Wedding in Cairo” missives now add up to 65,000 words and I will end it all with a few final missives about the results of the two stage presidential election over the next nine or ten weeks.

Over the last couple years… I fell in with an Egyptian, Mohsen Rashad AbuBakr, whose novel about Cairo street vendors was a timely addition to the revolutionary literary scene. It exposes corrupt practices by the police and I don’t actually know if he meant to publish it before the revolution… which would have been rather bold. Free speech did eventuate more or less immediately after the revolution except some people, fewer and fewer now, still get carted off to jail for “insulting the armed forces”. Perhaps that will end after the presidential election. Perhaps it already has. What I’ve noticed on the topic lately has just concerned trials pursuant to arrests of months and months ago.

In any event, it was an educated Tunisian street vendor who set off the first Arab Spring revolution through self-immolation when a policeman tried to rob him of his livelihood… so, fortuitously, street vendors have a bit of a special place in people’s hearts these days. I don’t know how well Mohsen’s book is doing but I know he’s getting interviewed a bit on the Cairo satellite TV channels.

He wants his book translated into English and I want mine translated into Arabic, after Reda (my wonderful wife) and Assim (her wonderful cousin) censor it. I will then first see if there is any offence taken in the community here and then publish in English, too, if Egyptians seem to think it’s worth a read. Mohsen and I are to see each other in the next few days to talk about setting up a schedule for me helping with his translation to English and him helping me with the translation of mine to Arabic. We’ll see how it goes.

We won’t have stories to tell this year about Ashraf, the carpenter who Assim and the others of their group of boyhood friends are now shunning until he wins his wife back. I drove by Ashraf’s shop two days ago expecting the usual picture of neglect but there was a large project spread out onto the street so maybe the day will come.

Another of their childhood friends is General Alaa who lost his larynx last year or the year before (we all chain smoke). They all come from Faisal at a time when it was still mostly farmed flood plain and dominated by the fabled El Gabry family which now numbers 20,000 and has “lots of millionaires” from property development projects and deals, I suppose, for selling land that they are said to have owned in abundance and had previously committed to agricultural production.

Now the new families of 50 years ago are maturing and buying tens of thousands of the new apartments for their children and grandchildren. These neighborhoods used to be built up to six stories, square kilometre after square kilometre – thereby earning the area the highest population density in the world - but now its all twelve stories – so soon we’ll be twice the density of whoever’s second, I suppose). It’s nice in the summer as it means minimal direct sunlight and the neighborhood streets are cool canyons away from the sun-baked main streets.

I think I once was told whether General Alaa was a police general or an army general but I am inclined to let such information go fuzzy in my mind as I don’t want to be known for giving it much thought or attaching any significance to it, a habit Egyptians appreciate in such matters. I was a polite guest of Australia and didn’t say anything there, either, until I became a citizen. Then I limited my activities to just that of joining the Canberra pro-Palestinian group. Here I limit my activities to criticisms of America’s blind eye when it comes to the government of Israel’s rape of Palestinian land, life and liberty.

The majority of Israelis see no virtue in the settlements but the neo-Zionists contrive to force the government to require their support in coalition governments, etc. And the Israeli voters are like American voters. They vote according to “domestic” issues rather than “foreign” policy so things really are quite bad for the Palestinians these days. And there is, especially, just about zero reporting on the plight of Palestinians, Muslim and Christian, on the West Bank. Haaretz is an anti-neo-Zionist Israeli newspaper that gives a bit of the daily blow by blow. A good bit. It’s enough to make you sick and there are web sites that give the hour-by-hour, day-by-day incremental losses on the West Bank if you have the stomach for it. It’s obscene. Hamas is difficult to control. But it was Hamas, after all, that created an unmanageable situation for Israel in Gaza and made Sharon withdraw his obnoxious settlers. That withdrawal had nothing whatsoever to do with, for instance, the so-called Oslo “Accords”.

Assim, Alaa, myself and others start keeping track of each other from about four in the afternoon and do what we can to see our paths’ cross in the late afternoon or early evening at Ibrahim’s spare parts shop for toktoks. The toktoks (motorised tricycle taxis) first appeared while I was away 2006-2008 and by the time I got back there was an import ban on them because the general population of motorists thought there was getting to be too many of them. But they have their place in the neighborhoods now and observe, though not scrupulously, the ban on them where the speed limit is 60 kph or more. Larger vehicle drivers are more used to them now and the import ban was lifted in the last six months or something. And, indeed, their numbers are surging in the streets. So Ibrahim got into the right business at the right time.

Ibrahim is from Kuwait and we met seven years ago at Assim’s nightly soirées at his used furniture shop which was around the corner from Ibrahim’s shop at that time. We drank tea delivered by the coffee shop to Assim’s used furniture shop six and seven years ago and have been drinking tea at Ibrahim’s toktok spare parts shop next to the coffee shop since I returned in 2008, Assim having closed down his little used furniture place while I was back in Australia. Ibrahim has a tiny store front out of which he did his house interiors painting business until it went flat with the revolution and he turned it, perhaps a year ago, into a toktok spare parts shop. Now the construction in these neighborhoods is surging again but Ibrahim is more content with the toktok spare parts routine.

After seven years Ibrahim and I are finally able to talk to each other a bit without Assim as interpreter. I was surprised when his sister died in that neighborhood six or eight weeks ago. I didn’t have any idea that he had Kuwaiti relatives here. I asked him about it a couple weeks after she died and he told a general story of moving back and forth for 33 years… 20 here and 13 in Kuwait, during which time he built an apartment building a couple hundred metres from his shop. Six stories, I think they are on that street, his sister somehow coming to live on one floor, the other floors occupied by relatives of his wife who is Egyptian and perhaps other relatives of his, too.

Arab labourers move around as they like, to some extent. I think there were one or two million Egyptian workers evacuated from Iraq after Boy W. George’s coalition of the willing invaded Iraq and set into motion the series of events that now see Iraq nestling up to Iran. Then there were other hundreds of thousands of Egyptians working in Libya and millions, perhaps, still in Saudi Arabia, Kuwait and the others. Egypt is or was tolerant about Arabs from other nations working here. It is a fluid system, regionally, although less so now because of the civil wars, revolutions and the resulting economic downturns. I don’t know that there was ever much going with Syria, though. Egyptians hate the Syrian regime and government to government relations have been icy for decades.

Ibrahim’s tiny shop is on the “old contract” sort of lease where one, in essence, pays for twenty and thirty years of a property’s use up front followed by nominal rents during those twenty and thirty years… 50 Egyptian pounds (~$8 these days) a month in Ibrahim’s case. With toktoks growing in number, the street is sometimes lined up with five in a row, buying parts and installing them on the other side of the three or four metre wide street in front of Ibrahim’s shop.

We crowd, a bit, into his tiny shop for conversation (the coffee shop next door, like most others, having a TV blaring sports and not really suitable for conversation - but it is even more convenient to order tea from than when we met around the corner at Assim’s furniture shop and the coffee house brought our tea there).

Ibrahim, though we never see him do so, seems to be feeding a neighborhood cat which is pregnant and now seems to sleep full time at his shop. People in these neighborhoods don’t keep them as pets and they are all foraging critters, often tied to a particular place by a particular resource… a fish market about ten metres from Ibrahim’s shop, for instance, just as there is a similar band of thieves domiciled about ten metres from my motorcycle mechanic’s shop where they vie for chicken guts rather than the fish guts near Ibrahim’s shop.

They look like they’ve been around for generations in both instances. The cats that drag offal off the chicken butcher’s floor are all black and whites. The cats that drag offal off from the fish shop are all orange tabbies. They live well and I have no idea where any of them go when the chicken and fish shops close. Hunting rats on rooftops and sleeping there, as well, perhaps. Something keeps the rats and mice all but extinct. I’ve only seen one in the flesh in Cairo and I never notice droppings anywhere.

I once told the story of Reda’s missiles from the toktok (throwing her sister’s kitchen rubbish onto piles of rubbish as the toktok sped down the street – such then being foraged through by herds of sheep and goats that Bedou and other rural people bring through the next day). If you remember that story you might have wondered about vermin. But the only rodents or carnivores other than cats in abundance around town are a very small weasel and I wonder if the weasels and cats eat the babies of any rats and mice that live long enough to reproduce. The weasels are found in at least Cairo and Alexandria. I thought someone once said they are a kind of mongoose but maybe I imagined that after hearing that Egypt has a variety of mongoose. I finally went onto the Internet and had a look. It’s a very small weasel called “the least weasel Mustela nivalis” and is “native to Eurasia, North America and North Africa”. The Egyptian mongoose described in the literature is much larger than “the weasel, Mustela nivalis, which is found in Cairo and Alexandria” and the mongoose is perhaps more of a rural Egyptian dweller.

In any event, there have been no rats or mice, and no bugs or roaches, either, in any of the flats, buildings or neighborhoods I have lived in. Ants are even absent in our current apartment. Or are easily dosed to oblivion when they make their appearance as they did for the first time in our present apartment a few days ago. The weather is warming up (30s this week, ~15 at night). Perhaps that makes them move around more freely.

I now report on television viewing habits of Egyptian households that I am aware of. There are perhaps 20 or 40 state-owned TV channels broadcast by satellite. But when I returned in 2008 everyone was watching the new Salafi channels which offer, in the main, 24 hours of sermons. There was no reason to watch the government TV channels for news in 2008 as it was just government propaganda.

While an elected parliament (“People’s Assembly”) is now in place and the presidential voting will see its first round 23 and 24 May, the Cabinet and Ministers are still of the Mubarak era, they control these 20 or 40 government-owned channels and I can only imagine they’ve been broadcasting a lot of puppy poo. Reda has watched them fervently for 14 months and we never discuss politics so it was a great surprise to me to come home two evenings ago and see her watching Al Jazeera Arabic which was broadcasting live events from Independence Square (Tahrir). She was just rapt and amazed that the coverage was so different than what the government channels were broadcasting about the same events. But she looked at me briefly when I thought to try to break her out of her trance.

“Mish wahesh?” I had asked (“Not bad?”)

“La’a, gamiil,” she replied, incredulous (“No, it’s gorgeous.”), immediately turning her gaze back to the TV.

She has always held Al Jazeera, amongst other factors, responsible for the success of the revolution and departure of Mubarak, her beloved heir of Sadat, who was her beloved heir of her beloved Abdel Nasser who came to her school when she was a little girl, shook their hands and explained that there would also be opportunities for higher education for girls when they were done with Year 12 and he encouraged them to think about doing that, too, when the time came (and thus her electrical engineering certificate and career with Egyptian Telecom).

Since the revolution Reda has always called Al Jazeera “dogs”… “swine”, we would say in English. I sat down and enjoyed the occasion of her apparently watching Al Jazeera for the first time and then pulled out an A4 flyer I had from a very well organised presidential candidate’s effort that has seen some thousands of young men out at Metro stations and other public places in the last two weeks or so.

There is an empty billboard right on Faisal Street near Ibrahim’s shop and as I walked from the shop that night to get some cigarettes I heard a PA system blasting from right below the billboard and I swung around to approach it from its far side in order to backtrack along the street and play the passer-by. The billboard faces Faisal Street square on at a distance of about two metres and passing motorists can only see it fully for some ten metres or so from the westbound side of the road as they drive past. As I walked by… what to my wondering eyes did appear but a video of the well organised gentleman of the last few weeks, gray-bearded with shaved upper lip, being projected onto the blank billboard. I took one of the A4 flyers the young men offered me, the first time I took a flyer from one of these groups of young men I had been seeing around town (all of them black-bearded with shaved upper lip). I folded the flyer and put it into my jacket pocket.

I pulled it out as I watched Reda watching Al Jazeera and eventually asked, “Miin da?” (“Who’s this?'). Perhaps 30 percent of the A4 showed a portrait of the smiling candidate.

Distressed at the distraction she turned to take a quick look, but was then suddenly more interested in the flyer than the TV for a moment. “Huuwa wahesh!” ('He’s no good!'), said scowled..

“Salafi?” I asked ('Religious conservative?').

She brightened up and giggled. “Oh. Enta arif.” ('Oh. You know [about them].') I had always pretended I didn’t know the difference. After her amused distraction of some nanoseconds she turned suddenly serious and intent and returned her gaze to Al Jazeera Arabic’s live coverage and interviews with people at Tahrir Square.

So she’s apparently not voting Salafi even though her mosque (the little one she built with her sister Zuba) is used by Salafis and no others. A bit of a comment on the live and let live lifeway of most Egyptians, though not the 30% who vote Salafi and want to introduce Sharia law to Egypt. Maybe she’ll vote for Suleiman, Mubarak’s spy chief who announced his candidacy for president yesterday or the day before. That would go far to bring back the “good ol’ days”. There wouldn’t even have to be a change in the Cabinet. Or maybe she will vote Muslim Brotherhood which is now running a presidential candidate after promising for 14 months that they wouldn’t.

I wrote some weeks or months back that with the Muslim Brotherhood holding 40% of the seats in parliament and Salafis holding 30%, they would be able to do whatever they want. Indeed, they seem to have done precisely that in the selection of the 100 seats on the Constitutional Committee that parliament is to have. Almost no diversity beyond “Islamist” males. But there is still great hope, on my side. I don’t think the Muslim Brotherhood will stand for a Sharia constitution and they are loaded with technocrats who will prevent the damage to the economy that the relatively unschooled Salafi might want (and do, if they had their way, without really understanding their economic impact or, for instance, not wanting to understand other things’ civil rights implications).

Nobody expects a first round victory for any of the presidential candidates so I will begin a presidential election diary this weekend and send it out a few weeks after the final round in June or perhaps July with a post-mortem of those early days after the new president is chosen.

My AmericansInCairo.org website gives links only to the “semi-official” Al Ahram (The Pyramid) on-line English opinion pieces going back most of five years. There was substantial criticism of the government pre-revolution, although the opinion pieces I link are almost exclusively “semi-official” opinion about the uselessness of the American government in this neck of the woods… things the Foreign Minister would never say. But there was and is substantial Al Ahram criticism of Mubarak’s and now the military executive’s governments, too. It’s kind of a complaint department of the government itself - spotlighting senseless things some of the ministries, “governates” and municipalities do and was, perhaps, usually information that was otherwise prevented from reaching Mubarak or, now, the military executive, the government in general, by the time Mubarak fled and even now, only responding to pressure from the executive office and the Cabinet. So the strategy seemed to me one of giving them bad press when they deserved it. Then and now the ministries certainly wouldn’t have been responding to voter complaints without Al Ahram and privately owned newspapers embarrassing them but then and now the ministries, governates and municipalities have little to worry about and everybody is waiting to see what happens when the new president assembles his (certainly it won’t be a woman) new Cabinet.

Speech, by comparison, became rather free altogether after Mubarak fled, although I think I recall short incarcerations of press people about a year ago, of course, and even six months ago.. The only people who get that treatment these days are reporters or others who “insult the armed forces” whose top leaders are the executive for the moment. “SCAF”, it is called. The Supreme Command of the Armed Forces. A bunch of old guys who have never been in the public eye before. Amazing some of the ill-conceived things they do sometimes. But the press is free to complain about it and they do and there are, of late, no arrests for insulting them that I am aware of. It all lumbers onward while the economy attempts to recover in a fairly rudderless situation.

We’re a bit immune from what is now said to be 25% unemployment. Reda reached retirement age about ten weeks after the revolution started. My commercial copy-editing clients disappeared after the revolution and we lived last year mainly off the sale of the little flat I had and a bit of new debt. But now I’m on the American old-age pension (“Social Security”) which also allows me to make up to $15,000 a year (which I will eventually do in Ghana and beyond) before it starts to affect the size of my Social Security payments. Ghana’s first attempt to wire me money is currently frustrated by a botched merger of their bank with another. “20,000 accounts” have been corrupted in the attempt to merge the computer records of the depositors of the two banks. And one by one the 20,000 account records are being reconciled and restored to what they should be.

We limp along. One look at the pyramids makes me think of a lot of people over a long period of time that certainly had it worse than us, then and now.

Viva la revolution,

Jeff

 

 

XXXXXXX Malfunction Junction

 

XXXXXXX The lost property contracts

 

XXXXXXX The five year old’s funeral

 

 

A different kind of sequel

 

17 May 2012

 

My promised report upon the end of the second phase of presidential voting. The outcome is to be announced on the 21st, if I understood Reda correctly.

 

Ibrahim’s shop’s street remains lively up to midnight and past so I usually end up there at the end of any late drives about town on nights when Reda is staying at Zuba’s. We aren’t out together after 11pm for any reason as Reda refuses to be on the streets past that time (and she was the same way before the revolution). And I am always home by 11pm if she is there alone. The system provides her with a convenient excuse to spend a night with Zuba and Mahmoud if I have dawdled getting there and she hasn’t spent a night there all week. It provides me with some convenient flexibility if she is already at Zuba’s and I wish to dawdle. She just stays there all night which she is always glad to do if she hasn’t any projects going at home.

 

Her overnights at their place in Faisal have been frequent in recent weeks as they are finishing off the seventh floor which they built over the last couple years and are now also involved in topping off the building with a small watchman’s quarters. The traditional day-labourer construction system involves a property owner physically observing the work through the day or evening. And now that Reda is married, she rather enjoys being an overseer without the need for a chaperone… or suffering the workmen’s ill-temperedness over being overseen by an unchaperoned “girl”. Poor Mahmoud. The thousands of hours he must have spent since eight or ten years old, chaperoning his maiden auntie.

 

It is no longer Mahmoud that has Zuba tabӕӕn (“worn out, ill”), requiring Reda’s overnights for moral support. It is only the construction that requires it for the moment. Some many weeks ago Mahmoud got a nice laptop from Zuba upon my letting them all know that I would have some money towards such a purpose eventually. Especially in light of his need to do well in his final year at the institute and the lack of wisdom of putting further money into his old desktop, Zuba got him one instantly.

 

The second day of the final round of the presidential election is now past. A real presidential election leading to a future I would not attempt to predict.

 

I wouldn’t bother to guess or suggest what is best for Egypt. It is a stressed economic situation with a constellation of interests that I am only beginning to appreciate. Governates (states/provinces) which have always had chief executives appointed from the top echelons of the military and the detested security police. There was no democracy even at the municipal level. People’s voices cannot presently be directed to responsible persons or bodies at even a neighborhood level. The tranquillity of the neighborhoods speaks volumes about the Egyptian character: the streets mainly bustle serenely with every age, sex and colour of person because Egyptians, in such massive proportions, have a well adapted urban culture which seeks and produces mainly effective conflict resolution results at the neighborhood level. People walk the Pyramids and Faisal streets with an unselfconscious lack of fear… their demeanour unconsciously asks, “Isn’t it like this everywhere?” Actually, they well know they are a bit special.

 

Or do they? There was Sillah, the Sierra Leone policeman on holiday to Cairo from doing UN duty in Darfur, who I took deep into the neighborhoods south of Pyramids Street and then south of Tersa Street where we went to my motorcycle mechanic for a cup of tea. After perhaps an hour of using our minimal Arabic when the conversation began to lull, I asked him if he would like to go anywhere else he replied, “No. Thank you. I feel…”

 

“Safe?” I asked.

 

“Yes,” he said. “Safe. I’m happy here.” It’s something I’ve heard of Christian Egyptians saying about there own situation here… that although they are well and truly discriminated against in law and, I would add, there seems to be some mutual shunning, they do feel, “Safe.” The exceptions have been horrific in just the few years I have been here, but those exceptions, by the occasional Christian comment, are indeed exceptions.

 

 

Independence Square was again flooded with people for days on end recently. The traffic police were absent. For fear of being overwhelmed amongst people with no affection for the Ministry of the Interior and, too, we all suspect, due to selective directives to be absent where, in the instance of traffic police, absence makes the heart grow fonder.

 

We didn’t talk about any of it at Ibrahim’s, tonight. We never do.

 

Assim and his gang are still shunning Ashraf as he has yet to win his wife back. General Alaa is going to Hamburg the first of August to see what they can do about restoring some voicing function for him. The visitor industry is affected by broader regional issues such as the mess in Syria. No one is coming to Cairo although the Red Sea hotels were running along with about 60% occupancy through the late winter and spring. The summer visitor industry is usually dominated by Arabs from hotter nations coming to Egypt where it is rarely over 40o C. That trade is much diminished in Cairo this year.

 

 

If there is a sequel to this book, it seems it may involve a different kind of life for us.

 

I am involved as a facilitator in a large commodities sale and there may be more. It seems it will be a matter of only a few more days before the first “tranche” goes through.  It isn’t certain that it won’t all fall through but this is how I will remember the days of the presidential election… fostering the deal along and praying that it doesn’t fall through.

 

So suddenly I may have some initial million of dollars with which to secure our retirement and ratchet up the West African Breadfruit Revolution. I would be giving young Ahmad Magdi an MBA scholarship to the American University in Cairo which he will do in three or four years rather than two so he will have time to continue and hone his long suffering efforts to dissuade me from financial misadventure.

 

It was with sober joy that I emailed him the evening of the 16th:

 

Hi Ahmed,

 

Great to see you earlier tonight.

 

My accountant brother said, with regard to sales, “Psychologically, you have assume a sale is not going to happen but you still have to go through the motions of doing what is necessary and planning for what’s next if it is successful.”

 

So on the matter of you getting an MBA at AUC, the time of the year kind of requires that you take action about enrolment for September, I suppose it is, when the new semester begins... I don’t actually know.

 

Don’t spend any money until I have money to reimburse you... I’ve got exactly nothing for the moment... but try to get an interview for admission in September and take all other (no cost) steps necessary to prepare to start courses in September. And, of course, I will let you know when I am in a position to reimburse and make the larger kinds of payments personally.

 

I have estimated your scholarship to cost $35,000 in tuition and fees and something like $100,000 for four years of what would be a combination of salary for the Ghana and other Africa work and a living stipend for you and your family. That is the most expensive it would be if the breadfruit projects’ demands on your time make the MBA something which could only be done properly over 4 years instead of two or three.

 

So could you please prepare for success by mapping out a three year and also a four year plan in terms of your course requirements and which you would want or have to do first in terms of requirements and those that will be waived due to your accounting BA, and in terms of what courses would be most interest you and be most relevant to my general needs.

 

By the way, you do fulfil their requirement to have completed three years of post-BA work using your undergraduate degree. I think I recall that as being an invariable requirement.

 

I only know what their web site says. The most relevant pages seem to be:

 

http://www.aucegypt.edu/business/grad/mba/Pages/Home.aspx

 

well... I guess that is the only page I bookmarked but there are some things I downloaded and I attach them.

 

Your big assignment for the moment is to find out about taxes on the kinds of commissions I would receive if these deals start going through and to find out if some of those taxes would be relieved if some of that income is directed to a registered Egyptian non-profit foundation (what I will call the Africa Breadfruit Endowment).

 

And to be really prepared for success, let us contemplate the low housing market, the large number of empty units very near AUC – New Cairo, and the wisdom of buying one that you and your family could use while you do your MBA and the large profit that might result from its sale in three to five years.

 

Inshallah,

Gafar

 

There are professors who have the joy of writing such letters several times a year through long years in a department. I am glad to have had just the one.

 

21 June 2012

 

The election results were announced today and I shall express no particular opinion about the result. The Egyptians voters have, above all, stepped out in large numbers and participated in a vote that matters.

 

But I am, on the other hand, free to announce that the first commodity deal went through and we are suddenly a bit wealthy, especially with respect to what we want or need in our life here in Cairo.

 

So now our honeymoon picks up where it left off. Maybe we will start with Dahab where “there wasn’t a single serious thing to do.”

 

We will travel a bit more than that. Me to Ghana to work on the breadfruit revolution and also some public health issues. Both of us to Australia and beyond.

 

We hope to see you soon.

11 July 2012 – Gulliver’s Travels

 

Sweet memories of Pyramids and now Faisal and Dobat Remaya continue to grow. I see new stories to tell every night but they vanish from my mind on the way home to do commercial jobs or Ghanaian breadfruit farming and processing, micronutrient and breast feeding grant applications and projects.

 

I’m happier here than doing long stretches in Ghana. I prefer to ride a bicycle or motorcycle so I don’t much like the rain. We have had none that I remember so far this year.

 

My four little books for middle school students have been printed for the mid to late summer sales season before school starts. Dickens’ David Copperfield and Oliver Twist, and the Lambs’ Tales from Shakespeare in two volumes, all 120 pages or less with glossary. And now I will do Gulliver’s Travels for better pay and younger children. I’d do better in Arabic. I know only baby talk, more or less.

 

The USA consulate in Jerusalem takes care of people in Egypt towards whom the American old age social security system has obligations… rather slowly… I applied in January. Jerusalem seems to be understaffed. We’re still awaiting an initial payment from them and I am to call the social security desk at the USA consulate here in Cairo tomorrow to see if there is any news of what could possibly be wrong this time. They wait in line for answers from Jerusalem, too. But then it is set up to flow conveniently once it starts… into our personal US dollar accounts in Egypt. They told me to get the required kind of account in February which I did, and there it still awaits their attentions.

 

22 May 2013 - The revolution wanders on

 

So. Hello, all. From revolutionary Cairo.

 

I’ll leave it to you to check out the latest on the revolution. There’s only one online English daily left, I think: the “semi-official” government Al Ahram (The Pyramid) Online:

 

http://english.ahram.org.eg/

 

A little bit less official these days. It has always been in the hands of progressives in a certain sense so there is a different set of tensions with the new president. But pretty measured stuff that always avoided certain topics and now avoids certain others.

 

There are laws against “insulting” people or perhaps just public officials here and, perhaps, in most Middle Eastern nations. It has rarely been invoked in the past but has recently become popular with certain plaintiffs. Recent articles on that and some of the other lighter aspects of the revolution abound.

 

But it is no joke. More and more people are out of work and I don’t think it’s clear to anybody that the Muslim Brotherhood has an economic plan. And it isn’t clear that the legislative and judiciary would cooperate even if there was one.

 

I should probably read up on the “insult” laws to see if they also protect foreign officials.

 

From Israel and America, for instance.

 

People rarely comment on Al Ahram pieces. I just assumed they never published comments because they had not previously published any of mine and I had never seen any others. I gave up after two or three tries a year ago or more.

 

But the new Secretary of State of the United States of America, John Kerry, was in town some weeks ago, and I spit some venom and submitted it, assuming it would just vanish into the ether as the others. But much to my surprise, Al Ahram vetted and posted it. It’s still there:

 

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContentP/4/66318/Opinion/Perspectives-on-John-Kerry%E2%80%99s-visit-to-Egypt.aspx:

 

The horsie Kerry rides around upon

 

Good luck to John Kerry as he deals with the North Korea situation but a pox on him and the horse he rides around upon in the Middle East. He is not welcome in the Middle East beyond America’s wayward colony, Israel. Netanyahu, after all is a Yank and a violent and racist Yank at that. And all the Middle East knows that. Now that the American president has abandoned hope of staring down Netanyahu, it is time for Sec. Kerry to cut the shinola and quit talking about “the” peace process. The peace process will only begin when Israel withdraws it settlers from the West Bank and East Jerusalem. And why not? The French “settlers” had to withdraw from Algeria fifty years ago even though some of their families had been there 100 years and more. Israel and AIPAC imagine they are buying time. They are only buying hatred in the context of American fiscal bankruptcy at home and fewer and fewer welcome mats in the Middle East. And I might add, it is disingenuous of the US State Department to be sending roving ambassadors to Cairo to complain about the treatment of Egyptian Christians when American’s great friend, the government of Israeli, treats Palestinian Christians is just as badly as it treats Palestinian Muslims. History will spit on the memory of AIPAC, the cowered American political establishment and the government of Israel through these present decades. (end comment)

 

I changed “cowered American political establishment” to “cowered American political class” in another complaint about Kerry on another day and they published that, too. But I didn’t make a bookmark of the webpage address and I forget what it was. But I have noticed since that they do publish comments on public health articles, for instance, and other matters of civic concern and opinion.

 

And then the published another one of my comments yesterday or the day before; a comment on a article in which they were whinging about Kerry again:

 

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/72140/World/Region/Kerry-back-in-Israel-for-peace-push.aspx

 

My comment that they published, copy edited properly where my submission to them was not:

Kerry's "limits"

 

Haaretz called Secretary Kerry "a naive and ham-handed diplomat who has been acting like a bull in the china shop," and did so because that is quite precisely what he is. The chances of Kerry irritating the American Israel Public Affairs Committee or Mr Netanyahu are certainly non-existent. Jimmy Carter is quite irritated with people of Kerry's ilk as he (Mr Carter) favours a rights based approach which seems nowhere on Mr Kerry's radar screen. If America, President Obama, specifically, won't bring him out of the wilderness and put Mr Carter to good use, perhaps Egypt should. (end comment)

 

Otherwise, I have, as usual, limited my political commentary to simply linking Al Ahram complaints about America on my website, www.americansincairo.org, as I have at least monthly since 2007.

 

It’s not much of an “org”. I think it takes two or more people to be prosecuted for conspiracy under American law so I just do it by myself. I haven’t made a personalised posting to it since 11 September 2011. I’ll leave it there for posterity but keep adding links to Al Ahram opinion.

 

Al Ahram calmly keeps letting the outside world know what is wise and what is not and the Yank administrations go on and on casting that good advice to the wind. Kerry, for instance, casting aspersions on Turkish Prime Minister Erdogan over his plans to visit Gaza. Maybe that was the article where Al Ahram published my more or less duplicate “Kerry’s horsie” comment… yes, it was, I just found it:

 

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/2/8/69830/World/Region/Hamas-denounces-Kerrys-call-on-Erdogan-to-delay-Ga.aspx

 

I had forgotten what it might have been. And speaking of lost and found… Kerry’s a fish out of water in this neck of the woods. He has no sense of himself being the idiot when he comes to these places. To the Egyptians, he’s just another fumb duck wandering through the neighbourhood like Hillary was. Hillary who couldn’t understand why Oslo fell apart before the ink was dry. She also, personally, plants trees in Africa so she is not without her merits. But seeing beyond American Israel Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC) buzz words and mythology doesn’t seem to be one of them. I was glad to see her silent rage at the UN a year or two ago when action on Syria was vetoed by Russia. Now she knows what 1.5 billion Muslims and a lot of other people felt like when her State Department vetoed measures favouring Palestinian humanity in the Security Council.

 

The government of Israel’s rape of Palestine, Christians as well as Muslims, goes on unabated and Hillary and now John Kerry didn’t and now won’t do uck fall about it the Security Council.

 

And Obama gazes out his window and sees nothing to be done when luminaries like Kerry and the Clintons can’t think of anything else to do. The bottom line is that Obama is just another Yank without much knowledge of the outside world.

 

So off they go to Asia/Pacific to find new pastures for their trillion dollar a year military. Possibly they’d get assassinated like John F. Kennedy if they didn’t.

 

It’s worth watching the recent movie “Thirteen Days”, to remember how Kennedy wrested a war in Cuba out of the hands of the American military leadership.

 

And it is also worth knowing that Vice President Johnson was already signing new war orders for Vietnam on the plane that carried him back to DC from the Kennedy assassination.

 

History will not forget that it was Texans who dragged us into major commitments in Vietnam, Afghanistan and Iraq; an especially dumb one with a “patriotism” trump card, in the end. Boy W. George. The Great Connector of Dots. He declined Bill Clinton’s parting advice to take Al Qaeda seriously and made up for it with two wars after consulting with Vice President Halliburton.

 

In any event, Egypt’s years of “friendship” towards the American government have run their course and I have the pleasure of crawling off my motorcycle and shocking the socks off Yanks still here who spend a lot of time worrying about their movements, etc. I just dress in pointie-toed shoes and go where I wanna, wanna to and do what I wanna, wanna do.

 

60,000 km on the mean streets of Cairo, now. I’ll get that new bike after we know more about this new copy editing income.

 

Ninety-five per cent of Egyptians are said to want little to do with the government of America in the future. Which would mean at least half the Egyptian Christians feel that way, too, if they were part of the demographic surveyed.

 

Since the administration of Jimmy Carter, the American government has simply never done one thamn ding to clarify natural justice issues at the level of the government of Israel’s rape of Palestinian land, life and liberty… the paramount Arabic measure of what America is or isn’t doing in the neighbourhood, although the Yank government gives no evidence of having noticed. Reagan never followed up on Carter’s initiatives. Bush the elder was a single term president so we don’t really know what he might have done if given a second term. Clinton’s Oslo hopes were from Lala Land.

 

There is presently an immensely thorough and disturbing four part Al Jazeera documentary series on Zionism since the 19th Century airing these days (Al Nakba):

 

http://www.aljazeera.com/programmes/specialseries/2013/05/20135612348774619.html

 

Tony Blair turns out to simply be true to his nation’s history rather than just a religious nutter.

 

I saw King Abdullah of Jordan being interviewed on TV briefly by an American reporter several years ago, a young woman. “Why do your people care what’s happening to the Palestinians?” she asked most sincerely and curiously, well amazed at what people around Jordan had been saying during her whirlwind tour.

 

King Abdullah didn’t even try. He knew there wasn’t the smallest thread with which to help such people begin unravelling their misperceptions. “It’s hard to explain,” he said quietly. “They care a lot about it.” And then he changed the subject.

 

So today, there’s nothing like John Kerry fumbling around the neighbourhood to remind me of America’s misdirected “defence” spending. The last person I talked to when leaving Australia for Cairo in 2008 was a Yank engineer of some sort at the Sydney airport. He was on his way home after doing some business in Australia. He was shocked that I was going to live in Egypt and gleeful over the persecution of the Palestinians. It was the Book of Revelations come to life. Jesus will come back if we help the government of Israel treat the Palestinians badly enough. “It’s the Rapture,” he said. I was very glad he was going his way and I was going mine.

 

I’m not sure what kind of small holidays to Reda’s relatives we’ll be taking to Upper Egypt. But now that I pause to think about it, we’ll probably be alright if I wear a galabea and we just speak Arabic without the pidginised prattling that we use around the household.

 

There’s something called “the 200 basic word list” in linguistics and we’re ploughing through the verbs, albeit without much of a horse or whip. It will be our first book together. I’ve been out of touch with the geriatric language learning literature and there are a lot of new methods that have me curious and seem to be working.

 

Reda is at their apartment building full time these days. After most of 25 years she and her sister Zuba have finished the sixth floor apartment, built a half apartment on the roof and are populating it by way of some serious chicken and duck husbandry. Other people have goats on the roofs all through The Pyramids. They and the chickens and the ducks eat the organic scraps and cuttings that would otherwise flow into the trash disposal system of Greater Cairo. Eighty-five per cent of Cairo’s rubbish is recycled. The highest rate in the world, if I recall correctly. All by freelance individuals and networks. It doesn’t, perhaps, cost the government a penny so far as I know. At our buildings they even sweep the street and footpaths clean when they are done loading the rubbish onto their trucks or donkey carts. Plastics recycling, etc.

 

It often amuses me that my www.americansincairo.org is such an old address that it ranks #1 on Google searches when asking for “americans in cairo”, “americans in egypt”, and some of the other variations. And I have a visitor tracker that just gives the city of the visitor and the rank of my listing. And it is “#1” all over the world.

 

The American embassy has to pay for a placement advert to get to the top of the page above me. In any event, Al Ahram has provided me with things worth reading for most of ten years. I regret that I only have about 7 years of links. It saves be time when trying to remember at precisely what time the government of the United States of America was involved with precisely what vicious or senseless blunder.

 

The Yanks would be better off giving Jimmy Carter the Middle East desk and doing exactly what he said. I saw him interviewed on TV a few weeks ago, speaking rather sternly to a 35ish American media dude who seemed to belong to the AIPAC Fan Club or something. America needs Jimmy Carter as Secretary of State or its Middle East czar. The sooner Netanyahu has a stroke like Sharon, the sooner the world will be a lot better off. Having someone like Jimmy Carter who would stare down Netanyahu and tell America why… it would just be heaven.

 

Revolutionarily, these days are a lot like Saipan at the turn of the decade 1979-1980 and thereafter. People finally got to elect their own governor and the legislature was no longer constrained by an American “District Administrator” who could veto their legislation. But they elected one party’s candidate as governor and elected the other party to a majority in the legislature. And the legislature and executive spent the next four years trying to block whatever the other wanted to do. In Egypt today is a rump, old-guard upper house. There is a vacant lower house. There is an old-guard judiciary. And there is a Muslim Brotherhood president.

 

The story of new democracy around the world in the last 50 years and more has often been a story of disappointment to all. They so longed for the day they could speak freely. But, of course, it didn’t always occur to them that no one might listen. And they so longed for a vote that would matter. But it doesn’t mean they will like the result. They’re like the Yanks for the moment in the sense that they don’t vote in great numbers unless. Thirty-five or forty per cent in the lower house election that the judiciary nullified, as I recall. The Australians vote in much larger numbers because they get fined if they don’t.

 

But look what they get. A Prime Minister and Foreign Minister who are starting to vote against Palestinian humanity in the UN like the Micronesians. For American military favours in both instances. When I was in Micronesia in the late 1970s the Federated States negotiators (FSM: Yap, Chuuk, Pohnpei and Kosrae) told the Yank negotiators that, “If you give us $500 million a year, we won’t let the Chinese military use our ports.” And these were the years when the Cultural Revolution had only just been abandoned.

 

Well, it worked. The Yank negotiators believed them and gave them the $500 million a year. So that’s the history of FSM, Marshall Islands and Belau voting with America against Palestinian humanity in the UN. And now something similar is the story of Australia coming on side in those UN votes in return for visions of new American military bases in Australia.

 

So, my long strategy of first letting people know I’m from Australia is now met with some disdain due to the recent UN votes. My concealment of my Micronesian connections remains rather complete. But more people are starting to know that I was originally from America and there are coming to be occasional uncomfortable situations. Fortunately, no one has any occasion to wonder about my ancestors who are entirely Danish but for one Swedish great grandfather.

 

I was in Cairo in 2005 when Jyllands-Posten published the fabled Mohammad (PBUH) cartoons. Flags from Danish visitors immediately vanished from the downtown curio shops. At the larger supermarkets I saw whole dairy cases emptied of their predominately Danish products overnight.

 

This has often left the present household bereft of rokfort (blue cheese) which Reda loves even more than I. We were occasionally finding some nice German stuff for two or three years at a certain supermard but then I brought home what they had a couple weeks ago and it was just heavenly. Beyond doubt, the best since 2005.

 

Reda mentioned that there was a new batch at home when I went to see her yesterday evening at their place in Faisal. The men who are, after 25 years of bit by bit construction, now finishing the building are doing the stairwell with a cream-coloured granite stone over the “temporary” roughly poured concrete steps of the last 25 years. They work from about 11pm to 5am when no one needs the staircase and use some kind of white, quick-drying mortar. It’s really gleaming and looking spectacular. Muhandisa Reda is the construction supervisor through those long hours then sleeps there until early afternoon when I go over to visit. So last night she tells me there is more of the blue cheese in the fridge and I came home and ate all of it as I wrote this missive through the night.

 

I wanted to remember the brand name so I just looked through the trash. There was some microscopic writing on the back side of the foil wrapper. I couldn’t read it so I scanned it into the computer and enlarged it. There, more or less surreptitiously, were the words: “Made in Denmark”.

 

01 March 2013 – Fifth Anniversary in Aswan

 

This was 2014 and in May or so as I recal… check emails actually sent

 

 

14 April 2014 - Small Wedding in Cairo – Fifth Anniversary in Aswan

 

So tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the day Reda and I were introduced – and her birthday as well – and I then began these missives.

 

The last thing I wrote about six months ago was so dark I regret pushing the send button and waited for a day or preferably period of time when things were going better all round and lately, indeed, they have been.

 

We are in the middle of a week in Aswan celebrating and there is much to celebrate as a household. I’ve been a steady Five Star with the outsourcing service I’ve been with for about year or most of a year. They have a mixed system where jobs may be on a fixed fee or hourly basis and it seems to be our hourly totals that give us more visibility to clients who want to find their own freelancer rather than post the job description to the freelancers as a whole. The hours climbed upward and upward and are finally doing me some good as most of my jobs now come from direct offers from potential clients. A couple letters I wrote are appended below that cover most of that ground.

 

I told Reda today that the next time we get a room at a hotel I want one that comes with a donkey to carry back all the stuff she gets at the market. She really loaded me down a couple days in a row and yesterday I told her I wasn’t going to be carrying any big piles of stuff back to the hotel… that she could get a taxi or whatever she wanted but it wasn’t going to be me anymore. She gaily assumed I was kidding… but thence got to carry back the six or eight kilos of bread she got for 80 cents and then had to spend yesterday and today giving most of it away as it is more or less impossible for two people to eat that much bread before it goes off. But the overarching issue is now deceased… we’re up to our weight limit for the flight home so there won’t be any more 2km walks from those markets with 10kg of the special dates they grow here, etc.

 

There are only about two days of touristy things to do in Aswan… the magnificence of the high dam and one of the monuments they relocated to higher ground. We did that two days ago and then today we did the other standard tour which is to a sparkling Nubian village across the river and a fantastic botanical garden on an island in between. There are no bridges across the Nile except for up at the old dam and the newer high dam which are far enough away that they haven’t been a causeway for Aswan city to the other side of the Nile and there the desert and traditional living begins at the shore

 

 

 

14 March 2014 – To Andrew and Malcolm

 

[a letter to Andrew Pawley and Malcolm Ross]

 

I think the creative writing bias in the late 1960s really kind of hurt us at the University of Iowa.

 

The English composition teachers in our Freshman English mandatory courses were graduate students, often from the world renowned International Writers Workshop (Kurt Vonnegut and others, as I recall; I just looked up Vonnegut and the Workshop on Wikipedia... there are photos of Vonnegut and I recognized him instantly from around the campus although I didn't know at the time that it was him).

 

All I remember is our TA's instruction in creative writing... if there was a grammar of English textbook we were never told to open it.

 

So the first Canadian copy editing outsourcing people noticed that I couldn't get everything done right on their demanding schedules and relegated me to large works that occasionally come to them with long time lines. There, from about a year ago, I put to good use their online manuals of the rules of written English and the variances by major dialect.

 

And now I am a consistent five star with a larger but less lucrative outfit. I attach a list of major works proofed or edited.

 

We were able to pay off all our personal debt from the revolution by the end of last year and are now attacking the pile of pfennigs I owe the CBA  -  and we will celebrate the fifth anniversary of our small wedding in Cairo mid-April in Aswan. The anniversary of our introduction, actually - which was on Reda's birthday. The wedding party and going home together for the first time was mid-May and registration with the ministry was in June or July.

 

In Aswan I will still have work coming in but we will be there a week which is twice as long as needed to see most everything. There I will use my shirttail relationship to the UI Writers Workshop to put out another "Small Wedding in Cairo" missive. I was so distressed at how dark the one last one was that I have been waiting for months to find myself in a better mood. That comes and goes but there really hasn't been much news. The revolution lumbers on...

 

I append some of the Wikipedia statements about the UI Writers Workshop. It has a great pile of kudos that I was hardly aware of.

 

The great copy editor,

Jeff

 

 

 

"The program began in 1936, with the gathering of poets and fiction writers under the direction of Wilbur Schramm. Graduates earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in English; Iowa has the oldest program in the country offering such a credential.[2]" (Wikipedia 20140314)

 

"Iowa Writers' Workshop alumni (most recently Paul Harding in 2010) have won 17 Pulitzer Prizes, as well as numerous National Book Awards and other literary honors. Four recent U.S. Poets Laureate have been either graduates or faculty of the workshop." (Ibid)

 

"In 2003, the workshop received a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was the first medal awarded to a university, and only the second given to an institution rather than an individual.[3]" (Ibid)

 

"Faculty and graduates affiliated with the Iowa Writers' Workshop have won 28 Pulitzer Prizes, including 16 won by graduates since 1947, and graduates and faculty of the University of Iowa have won over 40.[4]"

 

22 March 2014

 

Jeffrey C. Marck                  PhD Linguistics (The Institute, Australian National U.)

Box 96, Remaya 12572; mobile 01068407394, answering machine 3377-7077; jeff@jeffmarck.net

22 March 2014

RE: Copy-editing Intern Announcements, Ahram Online

 

Good Morning Ahram Online,

If one Googles "english copy editing egypt" the first three unpaid hits are your announcements of 9 May, 2013, 8 July, 2013 and 3 December, 2013. The fourth is mine. It is five years old.

With two and six month intervals in your placing such announcements I wondered if there might be another one coming up sooner or later and if I might resubmit an application for your files.

I first applied in person to Mr Hani Shukrallah in the weeks when your operation was being set up some four or five years ago. He might well remember. I badly flunked the test, "...both in terms of the time taken and the quality..." As I did at The Egyptian Day as it was called at the time.

Since then I have been wandering the wilderness and honing my skills. I am now a Five Star proof-reader with the world's largest outsourcing web site, www.oDesk.com, with a money back guarantee (which is guaranteed by oDesk in a beta undertaking utilising their top performers).

One can go to the oDesk address and search for "Jeffrey Charles Marck" for my profile and evidence of my Five Star rating and oDesk guarantee.

4.92, actually... one two star from an aggressive youngster in Beirut with a "translation company", disappointed that her $10 didn't go further than it did. And one four star from a disorganised client in the UK, disappointed that I said I was going to have to shift her from per-task to hourly because she didn't appreciate what all the changes in the wind at her end were costing my time.

I am a trained linguist with a PhD (The Institute, Australian National University) but trained in descriptive and comparative linguistics rather than formal English grammar. That I learnt rather lately. I'm from the oft Pulitzer Prize winning Writer's Workshop atmosphere of the University of Iowa. There the creative writing MFA students tutoring our freshman year English composition courses told us not to concern ourselves with textbooks.

The change came after I had been accepted into service with the Canadian powerhouse copy editing outfit, Scribendi something over a year ago. They fired me shortly but not before I had downloaded their entire Rules of English Composition for the Major Dialects course materials.

These rules I have steadfastly applied to the works whose titles I attach which came from oDesk starting about a year ago, from business coming in due to my abovementioned web page, and from certain Egyptian, Qatari, Saudi and Lebanese translation services.

I wish to intern with you for some time, as needed, to focus on dealing with shorter works and time frames.

I have had occasional comments accepted by Al-Ahram Weekly since about 2007 and Ahram Online since 2011, though they were often poorly proofed spits of rage as I limit my comments in the Middle East press (and society generally) to topics concerning the utter barbarity of the government of Israel and the utter uselessness of the government of the United States of America in the region.

We will be away from Cairo 10-17 April celebrating the fifth anniversary of our marriage. She is Reda Mohammad Mahmoud Hassan El Masry, lately retired from Egyptian Telecom, Remaya Central.

 

Faithfully yours,

Jeffrey C. Marck جعفر

 

23 March 2014

 

So Cairo will remember a snowy, wet winter. Snow during the storm that left a meter of snow on Jerusalem, and regular rains for several months. Some years there is not a single rain and some years just two. And of course it had been 120 years since there had been snow.

 

For the motorcyclist and other drivers it has meant a kind of mud of the finest sand which isn’t in the least slippery. But it coats the vehicle which then needs washing. That same sand on a dry day coats the car every overnight and during the day. But the vehicles don’t get washed. The sand is wiped away with any kind of cloth and clings to the cloth rather scratches the finish. The most expensive cars in Cairo wake up to this same kind of treatment.

 

My friends were appalled that I didn’t get the bike washed every day but we are going to Aswan 10 April and would rather spend the money there.

 

Although I got all the learning Arabic books the American University bookstore had when I came back six years ago, there has been one that I found amongst them which has been especially useful of late. Reda has never understood my questions… she can’t produce the first person male verb conjugations unless reporting the speech of a male.  I gave up trying to get her to do so. It interrupts her view of the TV to which she has been glued throughout the revolution. There are dozens of channels putting their own spin on it. She watches the state channels and looks forward to a military supreme leader heading the nation. One who got elected and will have to stand for re-election.

 

When people ask if she helps me with my Arabic I say, “No. I think she is waiting for God of come down and…” that’s about all it takes. People begin shrieking with laughter.

 

The Arabic teaching is in many places but it isn’t so much in the province of Giza. It’s all on the Cairo side of the river. So I’ve never considered that.

 

Reda and I soon learned to get the job done around the house. The only change in the last five years has been the book I mentioned previously and she helps me with my pronunciations as I practice the paradigms.

 

When people ask me about how much Arabic I speak, I start mentioning familiar foods: “fasolia (a middle thickness bean soup – named after the particular bean perhaps), molokhaya (prepared into a slime – non-Arabs gag when eating it for the first time but learn eventually learn to focus on its taste) bamia (okra), hobs (the generic word for bread) wa ersh (the Egyptian favorite bread – round, flat… two layers baked together  as disks and are the handheld sandwich variety) wa fattah (ersh that has gone dry and is broken into pieces and rehydrated and warmed like oatmeal on a cold winter’s day),” … with those words they know that I live in an Arab household and become quite gay.

 

26 March 2014

 

I didn’t get a new motorcycle 1 August as the copy editing business was slow through the summer. And there was no birthday party for my motorcycle’s fifth birthday and no lecture to the young blokes about wrecking their bikes and bipeddling again. I never meant to.

 

 

23 March 2014 – Cold Winter

 

So Cairo will remember a snowy, wet winter. Snow during the storm that left a meter of snow on Jerusalem, and regular rains for several months. Some years there is not a single rain and some years just two. And of course it had been 120 years since there had been snow.

 

For the motorcyclist and other drivers it has meant a kind of mud of the finest sand which isn’t in the least slippery. But it coats the vehicle which then needs washing. That same sand on a dry day coats the car every overnight and during the day. But the vehicles don’t get washed. The sand is wiped away with any kind of cloth and clings to the cloth rather scratches the finish. The most expensive cars in Cairo wake up to this same kind of treatment.

 

My friends were appalled that I didn’t get the bike washed every day but we are going to Aswan 10 April and would rather spend the money there.

 

Although I got all the learning Arabic books the American University bookstore had when I came back six years ago, there has been one that I found amongst them which has been especially useful of late. Reda has never understood my questions… she can’t produce the first person male verb conjugations unless reporting the speech of a male.  I gave up trying to get her to do so. It interrupts her view of the TV to which she has been glued throughout the revolution. There are dozens of channels putting their own spin on it. She watches the state channels and looks forward to a military supreme leader heading the nation. One who got elected and will have to stand for re-election.

 

When people ask if she helps me with my Arabic I say, “No. I think she is waiting for God of come down and…” that’s about all it takes. People begin shrieking with laughter.

 

The Arabic teaching is in many places but it isn’t so much in the province of Giza. It’s all on the Cairo side of the river. So I’ve never considered that.

 

Reda and I soon learned to get the job done around the house. The only change in the last five years has been the book I mentioned previously and she helps me with my pronunciations as I practice the paradigms.

 

When people ask me about how much Arabic I speak, I start mentioning familiar foods: “fasolia (a middle thickness bean soup – named after the particular bean perhaps), molokhaya (prepared into a slime – non-Arabs gag when eating it for the first time but learn eventually learn to focus on its taste) bamia (okra), hobs (the generic word for bread) wa ersh (the Egyptian favorite bread – round, flat… two layers baked together  as disks and are the handheld sandwich variety) wa fattah (ersh that has gone dry and is broken into pieces and rehydrated and warmed like oatmeal on a cold winter’s day),” … with those words they know that I live in an Arab household and become quite gay.

 

14 April 2014 - Small Wedding in Cairo – Fifth Anniversary in Aswan

 

So tomorrow is the fifth anniversary of the day Reda and I were introduced – and her birthday as well – and I then began these missives.

 

The last thing I wrote about six months ago was so dark I regret pushing the send button and waited for a day or preferably period of time when things were going better all round and lately, indeed, they have been.

 

We are in the middle of a week in Aswan celebrating and there is much to celebrate as a household. I’ve been a steady Five Star with the outsourcing service I’ve been with for about year or most of a year. They have a mixed system where jobs may be on a fixed fee or hourly basis and it seems to be our hourly totals that give us more visibility to clients who want to find their own freelancer rather than post the job description to the freelancers as a whole. The hours climbed upward and upward and are finally doing me some good as most of my jobs now come from direct offers from potential clients. A couple letters I wrote are appended below that cover most of that ground.

 

I told Reda today that the next time we get a room at a hotel I want one that comes with a donkey to carry back all the stuff she gets at the market. She really loaded me down a couple days in a row and yesterday I told her I wasn’t going to be carrying any big piles of stuff back to the hotel… that she could get a taxi or whatever she wanted but it wasn’t going to be me anymore. She gaily assumed I was kidding… but thence got to carry back the six or eight kilos of bread she got for 80 cents and then had to spend yesterday and today giving most of it away as it is more or less impossible for two people to eat that much bread before it goes off. But the overarching issue is now deceased… we’re up to our weight limit for the flight home so there won’t be any more 2km walks from those markets with 10kg of the special dates they grow here, etc.

 

There are only about two days of touristy things to do in Aswan… the magnificence of the high dam and one of the monuments they relocated to higher ground. We did that two days ago and then today we did the other standard tour which is to a sparkling Nubian village across the river and a fantastic botanical garden on an island in between. There are no bridges across the Nile except for up at the old dam and the newer high dam which are far enough away that they haven’t been a causeway for Aswan city to the other side of the Nile and there the desert and traditional living begins at the shore

 

14 March 2014 (April?) Letter to my thesis supervisors

 

[a letter to Andrew Pawley and Malcolm Ross]

 

I think the creative writing bias in the late 1960s really kind of hurt us at the University of Iowa.

 

The English composition teachers in our Freshman English mandatory courses were graduate students, often from the world renowned International Writers Workshop (Kurt Vonnegut and others, as I recall; I just looked up Vonnegut and the Workshop on Wikipedia... there are photos of Vonnegut and I recognized him instantly from around the campus although I didn't know at the time that it was him).

 

All I remember is our TA's instruction in creative writing... if there was a grammar of English textbook we were never told to open it.

 

So the first Canadian copy editing outsourcing people noticed that I couldn't get everything done right on their demanding schedules and relegated me to large works that occasionally come to them with long time lines. There, from about a year ago, I put to good use their online manuals of the rules of written English and the variances by major dialect.

 

And now I am a consistent five star with a larger but less lucrative outfit. I attach a list of major works proofed or edited.

 

We were able to pay off all our personal debt from the revolution by the end of last year and are now attacking the pile of pfennigs I owe the CBA  -  and we will celebrate the fifth anniversary of our small wedding in Cairo mid-April in Aswan. The anniversary of our introduction, actually - which was on Reda's birthday. The wedding party and going home together for the first time was mid-May and registration with the ministry was in June or July.

 

In Aswan I will still have work coming in but we will be there a week which is twice as long as needed to see most everything. There I will use my shirttail relationship to the UI Writers Workshop to put out another "Small Wedding in Cairo" missive. I was so distressed at how dark the one last one was that I have been waiting for months to find myself in a better mood. That comes and goes but there really hasn't been much news. The revolution lumbers on...

 

I append some of the Wikipedia statements about the UI Writers Workshop. It has a great pile of kudos that I was hardly aware of.

 

The great copy editor,

Jeff

 

 

 

"The program began in 1936, with the gathering of poets and fiction writers under the direction of Wilbur Schramm. Graduates earn a Master of Fine Arts degree in English; Iowa has the oldest program in the country offering such a credential.[2]" (Wikipedia 20140314)

 

"Iowa Writers' Workshop alumni (most recently Paul Harding in 2010) have won 17 Pulitzer Prizes, as well as numerous National Book Awards and other literary honors. Four recent U.S. Poets Laureate have been either graduates or faculty of the workshop." (Ibid)

 

"In 2003, the workshop received a National Humanities Medal from the National Endowment for the Humanities. It was the first medal awarded to a university, and only the second given to an institution rather than an individual.[3]" (Ibid)

 

"Faculty and graduates affiliated with the Iowa Writers' Workshop have won 28 Pulitzer Prizes, including 16 won by graduates since 1947, and graduates and faculty of the University of Iowa have won over 40.[4]"

 

22 March 2014 – Al Ahram Application

 

Jeffrey C. Marck                  PhD Linguistics (The Institute, Australian National U.)

Box 96, Remaya 12572; mobile 01068407394, answering machine 3377-7077; jeff@jeffmarck.net

22 March 2014

RE: Copy-editing Intern Announcements, Ahram Online

 

Good Morning Ahram Online,

If one Googles "english copy editing egypt" the first three unpaid hits are your announcements of 9 May, 2013, 8 July, 2013 and 3 December, 2013. The fourth is mine. It is five years old.

With two and six month intervals in your placing such announcements I wondered if there might be another one coming up sooner or later and if I might resubmit an application for your files.

I first applied in person to Mr Hani Shukrallah in the weeks when your operation was being set up some four or five years ago. He might well remember. I badly flunked the test, "...both in terms of the time taken and the quality..." As I did at The Egyptian Day as it was called at the time.

Since then I have been wandering the wilderness and honing my skills. I am now a Five Star proof-reader with the world's largest outsourcing web site, www.oDesk.com, with a money back guarantee (which is guaranteed by oDesk in a beta undertaking utilising their top performers).

One can go to the oDesk address and search for "Jeffrey Charles Marck" for my profile and evidence of my Five Star rating and oDesk guarantee.

4.92, actually... one two star from an aggressive youngster in Beirut with a "translation company", disappointed that her $10 didn't go further than it did. And one four star from a disorganised client in the UK, disappointed that I said I was going to have to shift her from per-task to hourly because she didn't appreciate what all the changes in the wind at her end were costing my time.

I am a trained linguist with a PhD (The Institute, Australian National University) but trained in descriptive and comparative linguistics rather than formal English grammar. That I learnt rather lately. I'm from the oft Pulitzer Prize winning Writer's Workshop atmosphere of the University of Iowa. There the creative writing MFA students tutoring our freshman year English composition courses told us not to concern ourselves with textbooks.

The change came after I had been accepted into service with the Canadian powerhouse copy editing outfit, Scribendi something over a year ago. They fired me shortly but not before I had downloaded their entire Rules of English Composition for the Major Dialects course materials.

These rules I have steadfastly applied to the works whose titles I attach which came from oDesk starting about a year ago, from business coming in due to my abovementioned web page, and from certain Egyptian, Qatari, Saudi and Lebanese translation services.

I wish to intern with you for some time, as needed, to focus on dealing with shorter works and time frames.

I have had occasional comments accepted by Al-Ahram Weekly since about 2007 and Ahram Online since 2011, though they were often poorly proofed spits of rage as I limit my comments in the Middle East press (and society generally) to topics concerning the utter barbarity of the government of Israel and the utter uselessness of the government of the United States of America in the region.

We will be away from Cairo 10-17 April celebrating the fifth anniversary of our marriage. She is Reda Mohammad Mahmoud Hassan El Masry, lately retired from Egyptian Telecom, Remaya Central.

 

Faithfully yours,

Jeffrey C. Marck جعفر

 

23 March 2014 – Wet Winter

 

So Cairo will remember a snowy, wet winter. Snow during the storm that left a meter of snow on Jerusalem, and regular rains for several months. Some years there is not a single rain and some years just two. And of course it had been 120 years since there had been snow.

 

For the motorcyclist and other drivers it has meant a kind of mud of the finest sand which isn’t in the least slippery. But it coats the vehicle which then needs washing. That same sand on a dry day coats the car every overnight and during the day. But the vehicles don’t get washed. The sand is wiped away with any kind of cloth and clings to the cloth rather scratches the finish. The most expensive cars in Cairo wake up to this same kind of treatment.

 

My friends were appalled that I didn’t get the bike washed every day but we are going to Aswan 10 April and would rather spend the money there.

 

Although I got all the learning Arabic books the American University bookstore had when I came back six years ago, there has been one that I found amongst them which has been especially useful of late. Reda has never understood my questions… she can’t produce the first person male verb conjugations unless reporting the speech of a male.  I gave up trying to get her to do so. It interrupts her view of the TV to which she has been glued throughout the revolution. There are dozens of channels putting their own spin on it. She watches the state channels and looks forward to a military supreme leader heading the nation. One who got elected and will have to stand for re-election.

 

When people ask if she helps me with my Arabic I say, “No. I think she is waiting for God of come down and…” that’s about all it takes. People begin shrieking with laughter.

 

The Arabic teaching is in many places but it isn’t so much in the province of Giza. It’s all on the Cairo side of the river. So I’ve never considered that.

 

Reda and I soon learned to get the job done around the house. The only change in the last five years has been the book I mentioned previously and she helps me with my pronunciations as I practice the paradigms.

 

When people ask me about how much Arabic I speak, I start mentioning familiar foods: “fasolia (a middle thickness bean soup – named after the particular bean perhaps), molokhaya (prepared into a slime – non-Arabs gag when eating it for the first time but learn eventually learn to focus on its taste) bamia (okra), hobs (the generic word for bread) wa ersh (the Egyptian favorite bread – round, flat… two layers baked together  as disks and are the handheld sandwich variety) wa fattah (ersh that has gone dry and is broken into pieces and rehydrated and warmed like oatmeal on a cold winter’s day),” … with those words they know that I live in an Arab household and become quite gay.

 

26 March 2014 – No new motorcycle

 

I didn’t get a new motorcycle 1 August as the copy editing business was slow through the summer. And there was no birthday party for my motorcycle’s fifth birthday and no lecture to the young blokes about wrecking their bikes and bipeddling again. I never meant to.

29 July 2014 - The tale of the dead bunny rabbit

 

Jeffrey C. Marck <gafarelmuzaffar@gmail.com>

11:16 PM (0 minutes ago)

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Hi All, 

We’ll be in Australia 12 September to 6 December to sort out my pension details. We’ll be wanting to see Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in addition to Canberra. I’ll turn 65 about two weeks before we come back to Egypt. And it will be enough, with the American pension, prorated to my adult years in the US, for us to live in the manner to which we would like to become accustomed.

Reda’s rooftop barnyard is growing a little faster than I would like. This summer has been busy with copyediting and she tends to announce, post facto, the arrival of new species and varieties that all need their own houses or cages. Just today we have been finishing off yet another project about two weeks or a month after the new critters arrived. She takes from the growing pile of materials originating from abodes dismantled after new construction and makes due temporarily, over-optimistic that I will one day begin to do these things immediately upon need. But last night and more again tonight I saw the depth and breadth of her new acquisitions and the results of multiple duckling broods and a dead rabbit that I would guess was the result of heat and over-crowding. I guess I’m supposed to better understand the urgency of these situations with the dead bunny paraded around before me.

Reda tripped up on the roof and caught her fall with her right arm whereupon her shoulder was dislocated. The x-ray looked like roundish cartilage from the top of the humurus had slipped out of position or something and a bit of internal bleeding has now drained down to around her elbow and above. She has a good bit of pain but soldiers on up on the roof. And she makes such small temporary hovels for some of the species that I can’t get inside to give them fresh water so they don’t have to fight for it out in the yard with their competitors.

We were going to sell the motorcycle when we left for Australia and get a new one when we came back. But I think Reda’s motorcycling days are over… the rooftop accident showing just how little it takes to injure her. The bike will be six years old on Friday and still only costs $3 a day for all repairs, fuel and licenses. Up from $2.50 a day before they quit subsidizing fuel so heavily. The revolution hasn’t seen enough power plant expansion and we were having daily blackouts, neighborhood by neighborhood, totaling about four hours a day between the afternoon outage and the evening outage. But then from about four weeks ago people started getting their new electricity bills reflecting the first round of cuts in home power subsidies. The effects have been immediate. Some days have no outages and some days there is just one for half an hour or so. The roads and other utilities kept up with the growing demand through these past three and a half years. The main thoroughfares have all been resurfaced in the last year. The roads are plainly dangerous when it is delayed too long. Or at least for a motorcycle as long ruts develop in the direction of travel, trapping the motorcycle with no opportunity to find a way out of the ruts when traffic around us shifts slightly to the left or right.

I’m at my friend Ibrahim’s paint shop where Reda’s cousin Assim and I take our tea from the café (“qahua”) next door. Ibrahim’s youngest child, a teenage girl, just popped her head in, scarfed in hijab. It reminded me to tell a little bit of her story. She’s very tall. Not 185mm or six foot tall but the tallest female on these neighborhoods’ streets. She’s very skinny and blossomed last among her friends, only a few months ago. Her former status, “girl”, in the neighborhood is a comment on how deeply such concepts penetrate into all behavior on the street. Until she wore hijab full time she used to walk the three blocks to her father’s shop in her long-sleeved pajamas and I think she’s about 14 now… and this was up to just a few weeks ago. No man or boy harassed her or even followed her with their eyes. She was just a girl and they just didn’t/don’t.

Something on the way here tonight made me want to spin another neighborhood yarn. There was a thud and then a restraining force on the transport box from its location on the back of the bike and I knew it must be one of the four or five boys I had just passed going the other way. I slammed on the rear brake and put the bike into a slide so as to turn it about 180 degrees. One of the boys I just passed stood out because he was right behind and now right in front of the bike. His eyes went big, his jaw dropped and he took off with a start running down the other side of the road, a small median strip between us. I drove the wrong way on my side of the road, bellowing out, “El waled!!!” (“The boy!!!”). Shopkeepers and passersby began walking onto the road and into his path, slowing him down and saying two or three words that I couldn’t hear. With a very few of these obstacles and their words, the boy stopped, turned my way and began walking towards me. “What is your name?” I demanded. He told me obediently… a name I had never heard before and can’t remember. “Ley keta?” (“Why (are you acting like) this?”) He had no answer and I turned the bike back to my original direction of travel and drove away. I guess the shopkeepers were telling him, “You’re going to have to talk to him,” or something of the sort. It made me wonder, as I often do, what a thief would face. The obvious, I suppose… dozens of people sounding the alarm and seizing him.

So those are my Tales from Pyramids for the evening. But not to forget the story of a new young friend. He is 25 and from England and staying at Assim’s hotel. He went with me to Pyramids yesterday and he got a bit of a tour and about eight hours of chicken coop construction up on the roof. I think we finished at 2am or perhaps it was 2am when I got him back to the hotel. He really threw his back into it and in the end Reda installed her overcrowded rabbit apartment cages in the coop we made and announced that she would need a different, additional, home for the chickens. The saga continues...

j



--

Jeffrey C. Marck PhD
Cairo, Egypt

www.jeffmarck.net/breadfruitrevolution.htm

"The safest ecoforest is one that is also a treasured source of carbohydrate."
"Breadfruit! You can have your ecoforest and eat it, too!"
"Money doesn't grow on trees but a certain kind of bread flour does..."
"You don't see the Pacific Islanders cutting down their ecoforests! It's all breadfruit!"

Breadfruit Institute Volunteer and Liaison to Africa
Ghana Alliance against Hunger and Malnutrition (HAG), Chief Consultant
Ghana Parliamentarians Caucus against Hunger and Malnutrition, Chief Consultant
Jeff Marck Native English Copy Editing and Proofreading, Proprietor

+20-3377-7077 answering machine
+20-1068-407-394 mobile
jeff@jeffmarck.net
www.jeffmarck.net
www.youtu.be/xxn_O2byX9s (Samoan breadfruit trees arriving to Ghana)
www.wsamoa.ws/index.php?m=25&s=&i=9924 (Samoan breadfruit trees in Ghana in the news)
www.GhanaHungerAlliance.org
Breadfruit Institute:
www.ntbg.org/breadfruit/
Global Breadfruit:
www.globalbreadfruit.com/

www.jeffmarck.net/breadfruitrevolution.html
www.jeffmarck.net/marckcopyediting.htm

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29 November 2014 - A rainy night in Georgia

 

High all. We are back in Pyramids feeding the rooftop fowl. The rabbits all died when we were away so Reda bought into a new duck variety and they took over the rabbit run.  Reda’s father was an iron worker, making huge entry gates for villa properties and such, just as her Alexandria El Masry cousins do today. But like Reda’s oldest sister, her mother was a farmer. Women own their own farmland or rent some and choose their own crops. They lived in a small cluster of buildings in a rural area near El Minya , the men like her father with a trade and the women like her mother farming and then, of course, the men who farmed and the women who worked in shops or taught… that and nursing the main female professions much things were in America when I was growing up.

 

In any event, Reda’s just awfully happy to have some farm animals to be fussing around with and is still over there long days and evenings waiting for tradesmen to show up as they are now finishing the interiors of their sixth and seventh floor flats that they will now be renting out sometime soon.

 

Her female cousins through their mother’s sister were in the first generation of women MDs when a more of them were moving into general practice. That existed previously among the fabulously wealthy but moved en masse to the population of average people during Abdel Nasser’s presidency when so many universities were built or expanded and became free to those who placed high enough in the entrance examinations.

 

And once again I’ll tell the story of Reda through those times. Like legions of 35 year old Egyptian women today, she got a good education, she got a good job, and she never got married. Before the revolution it was sort of a national press pastime to review the parents’ angst when having a 35 year old daughter still living at home and the unsuitable suitors they paraded through her life year after year. That kind of jovial writing disappeared immediately upon the beginning of the revolution.

 

I wouldn’t know for the last year or more. Al Jazeera so bemoaned the removal of the “legitimate” Muslim Brotherhood president that I got cheesed off and quit watching it. And since that was the only news I watched I’ve just been getting out of touch. It was disgusting to watch the AJ reporters hyping the “legitimacy” pitch with respect to the deposed, and looking all the time like they either didn’t believe what they were saying or were afraid to be saying what they were saying;  the coup d’état government eventually arresting three AJ journalists who were hardly the worst, trying them and sentencing them to years in prison.

 

They’ve been in jail for right about a year now, AJ doing hourly postings on how many days they’ve been in jail. I’m finally condescending to tune in for an hour or two every day, benefiting from their world news and feature stories, and wandering off to the Internet when they begin their hand-wringing about their jailed staff. What did they expect? Only the 25% of the population who are Muslim Brothers would be thanking them. They lost their other 26%, the Salafi religious conservatives, after the Salafi got the Muslim Brotherhood candidate elected… only to see the MB discard their Salafi advisors soon after the election, through the drafting of the new MB constitution, and all the way up to the time the MB president was deposed.

 

In the Egyptian judicial system the AJ reporters haven’t had a trial yet that must consider evidence – or lack of it. The three have just had a preliminary hearing, really, whose often outrageous convictions and sentences are overturned on first or second appeal. Evidence counts for little in the initial trial. It’s the appeals courts that actually begin to consider evidence. But the hatred for Al Jazeera now runs deep in Egypt and the judiciary may drag it out through several rounds of appeals. They may drag it out longer than the initial sentences if AJ doesn’t do a better job of taking the pulse of Egypt.

 

In the meantime Qatar, AJ’s parent country / government, does a lot of things to keep the Egyptian government afloat financially. Go figure.

 

For myself I spent the last year and more expanding my good reputation at www.oDesk.com

 

I did well enough last year to pay off a good chunk of our revolutionary debt and this year looks better. Although there is now more debt. I telephoned the pension office was told that I qualified for the Australian aged pension so we flew off to Australia for my 65th birthday to make the required personal appearance. I flunked due to question #1: residence (in Egypt). They knew during my queries that I was living in Egypt. Possibly they assumed that I knew there are “agreement” countries. If, for instance, I was living in Greece or the United States I would get the Australian pension but not if one is living in Egypt or the UK. This would flunk the “equal protection under the law” principles in the US courts but Australian citizens apparently don’t have that same guarantee.

 

Oh, well… it was time to get back anyway. It had been over six years. And the prices have risen massively and cured Reda of any notion of spending extended periods of time there. Probably our next trip will be to both Australia and America such that we catch my high school graduation 50 year reunion in 2018. The rejection of my Australian pension application was a massive shock but Australia gave me education and opportunity and I’m finding it hard to feel bitter.

 

A couple days ago I was up to 6 am copy editing a piece on Muslim Georgians emigrating to Turkey in the late 19th Century. I was really engrossed as I knew nothing of the kind of stuff hundreds of years ago that led up to the current Crimea crisis, etc. I woke up at 2 pm and drove into town amazed that all the water mains had burst. How could there possibly be enough pressure in the system to do that? But there were great pools of water all over the roads under which the mains run. And down the small side streets that I take to meet Reda’s cousin Assim every day or two… unpaved and muddy. The tea arrived and someone asked me what I thought of the rain. It hadn’t even occurred to me. I don’t know that there was a single day of rain in the twelve months before. There are some years when there just isn’t any. So what can I say? I missed the first rainy day in yonks because of working past midnight with materials on Georgia. It’s had the song, “A Rainy Night in Georgia” pushing its way into my consciousness ever since.

 

Happy long Thanksgiving weekend to all the Yanks.

 

Jeff

 

 


29 December 2014 - The Great Leader

 

Then there is the story since we got back from Australia of a much older boy, twenty or twenty-five-ish who seemed to think he was going to be king of the castle. Before we went to Australia, I had told the young men who work at the grocery store and fruit and vegetable stand on the ground floor that if the bike was still here when we got back, I would give them 500 Egyptian pounds to share among themselves (~75US$). Well it was right where I left it and they got their 500 pounds. So when the 20s-ish boy mentioned above did some of the things he did, the shop crews were all on my side, which probably would have been true anyway. The twentyish fellow was very big. Taller than me and looking strong enough to do damage and with the new kind of haircut where they cut the hair close around the sides and back and grease and comb what’s left into an apex up on top.

 

I first saw him one morning as I was walking down the front stairway as he removed himself from the seat of my bike where he had been sitting, me watching as I walked past him holding up my right index finger, ticking it from right to left as the Egyptians do rather than saying, “No,” or “Don’t”.

 

Same story the next morning when I spoke to him for the first time saying, “Da min beytak?” (“That (bike) is from your house?”) “La’a,” (“No,”) he answered, looking sheepish for an instant but then seeming to have a thought or word that he kept to himself. On the other occasion he was gone when I returned from a shop across the street and down 100 yards. On this occasion he had apparently remained and had something up his sleeve because when I returned from the other shop this time one of the young army conscript policemen in their special uniform came running towards me from across the street. “So that’s it,” I thought. “The young punk is present and up to no good.”

 

I nodded my head to the policeman and signaled him, “Let’s go,” with my hand and arm. He fell in behind me and when we turned the corner towards the stairwell past the grocery shop there was the big young bloke under discussion standing on a wide part of the first step up with another large youth and four or five more were standing on the entrance landing five steps higher. He had apparently called them to join him on his mobile and meant to announce to me that this was going to be their hangout from then on or something.

 

They weren’t from our building. From the moment I saw him I walked directly at him, and with the policeman nanoseconds behind they all stood still and held their peace. When I reached the donkey’s pituey under discussion, I remained on the pavement below the first step he was on, looked up at him, and said plainly, loud enough, matter of factly, and quickly, “Inta mish gai tani fil amara hena,” (“You’re not coming to this building anymore.”) No other words seemed necessary so I walked up the steps and entered the building leaving the policeman to deal with the formalities. He apparently did so and I’ve never seen the little shit in question again. Nor has the bike been tampered with or anything (it’s always parked right next to the grocery store which is open 24 hours a day).

 

This was my only encounter with that kind of trouble or any other after living in Egypt for most of seven years or something like that… but for the disappearance of a large box of Reda’s clothes when we were changing apartments about five years ago. Possibly the police went to his home and told his parents or something. The policeman who accompanied me is part of a shifting landscape of personnel who I may or may not ever see again. Perhaps the young men who man the shops below know and perhaps I will ask them one day. For the moment I amuse them upon request with recitation of what exactly I said to the would-be gang leader. They didn’t want him hanging around, either.

 

 

20 January 2015 - Fascinating remote sensing of ancient Egyptian cities

 

New road works and paving Tersa street neighbourhoods

 

http://www.algemeiner.com/2015/01/08/el-sisi-becomes-first-egyptian-president-to-attend-christmas-mass/#widget-zoom-video-cat-2

 

HoHos

 

AJ in America – even raise the volume for the adverts – have never had adverts before

 

Didn’t have ANZAC Day gathering last year – ambassador’s wife two years ago

As far as I know, neither Australian nor New Zealand held the annual Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) commemorations at the British CAIRO WAR MEMORIAL CEMETERY

 

 

Power Outages as public information announcements

 

The Banana Man and Zuba’s reorganizing projects – loss and return of property titles

 

In the mid-1950s there was the Captain Kangaroo television show for those of us growing up in America, an apparently old gentleman in a kind of captain’s uniform with big pockets, the source of his name – huge pockets on each side of his coat like the pouch of a kangaroo. Looking to Wikipedia for some context as I was too young to appreciate that it was becoming a national institution, the show ran from 1955 to 1984. So our kids grew up with it too. I wouldn’t have known as I was away from America so much and the later years entirely escaped me, Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo)  being much younger than the grandfatherly figure he played from the early years on.

 

I remember one of his regular guests quite well. He had a single routine which just seemed like magic and it would go on for five or ten minutes. He was the Banana Man (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et6Jt2YX44o) and at the age six and seven I used to watch him closely as I thought there was some illusion I was missing… that was tricking me… as his routine involved filling a sting of cars in a train that he pulled one out of the other, each one just smaller than the next, which all fit inside the biggest one which was about the size of a large sea chest. He filled all the chests from things he carried in his coat pockets and I couldn’t believe it was possible that he could fill his coats with such a quantity of things and that I wasn’t quick enough to see where it was all really coming from.

 

Reda’s sister’s bedroom is a bit like the Banana Man’s garments. She brings stuff out onto the lounge room floor for organizing that is of such quantity, individually, that it’s difficult to believe it all comes from the same room after seeing her cycle through what seems like five and ten such projects every month or two. Clothes… which is what is has been this last week due to the change of weather… boxes and boxes of personal papers which is the case on a seasonal or other cycle of some sort.

 

One year she decided to downsize her archives when a community service gamea (non-profit… informal in most instances) came around asking for reading materials for school children. She had a lot of relevant materials and teacher’s manuals as well, saved from here career in Saudi Arabia which made her rich enough to begin construction on the apartment building they are now finishing after building it floor by floor for 25 years and more. But she also sent off a folder that contained their property titles for some small plots of land they own here and there. Most of it so far from the town center that paved roads still don’t reach them. They take Assim, the patient cousin who introduced Reda and myself, to view the properties from time to time rather than me. Or rather, he takes them when they ask every few of years.

 

So Zuba sent off all the property titles five years ago or more when the gamea requested any type of reading material. So the next time Zuba went looking for them she realized what she must have done, she still had the mobile number of the gamea member who came to pick up the materials she had set aside for them, it was still a working number, and they got Assim to take them to a sort of a warehouse where the gamea kept the donated materials. Assim described it as a very, very large facility in the sense of ever finding their own contributions in such a mass of shelves of materials. So they gave up hope of ever seeing them again and have been content to visit the properties concerned every year or two to make sure no one else is building on them… which has never been found to be the case… and they had no other records of the properties’ parcel numbers… so they’d not gone down to the land office to start the process of getting duplicate titles. Or rather certified duplicates of the bills of sale which is what the land office actually holds. They don’t issue titles in the sense of what I am familiar with from America and Australia. And they were saying something to the effect that they would not have gotten the certified copies unless they got a release from the person from whom they had bought the land… some kind of deception-prevention measure… so they would have had to find all these people from whom they had bought the various plots who in no case did they personally know… and many or most may be dead by now… so they stuck with the occasional visits to the properties to see if anybody was messin’ with ‘em.

 

Parenthetically, yet another system is how a lot of Palestinians are losing their land on the West Bank. The old Ottoman Empire system was still in place up to the time of the 1967 war. Land belonged to whoever was paying taxes on it. They were rights of usage. People could go to the government in terms of farmland for their children or their own expanding needs and request that some unused land they were aware of be allotted for their use and as long as no one else was paying the taxes… and then as long as they paid them, it was theirs to use. So Palestinians today in some instances have 200 year old olive groves and such that their ancestors and themselves have been paying taxes on through the Ottoman then Jordanian generations and the Israeli government comes in with bulldozers and rips out their orchards, saying it didn’t belong to anybody anyway. Al Jazeera had an interesting series of episodes a couple years ago about Israel’s young people who pack up and leave Israel after doing military service there… traumatized by the things they were made to do to such Palestinians by the Israeli government.

 

But the El Masry sister’s needn’t have worried. They live amongst kinder, gentler people. They got a phone call in the middle of last year. The gamea to which Zuba had given the teacher manuals, other books, and property records pass on the materials they can’t use to other people who look through them for things that might interest people they know and one of them came upon land contracts, i.e., Zuba and Reda’s copies of the land office records. One of them got Zuba and Reda’s purchase contracts and found Zuba in the land line phone book. That gentleman called her up to ask if she had any need of them. So it was a happy day when they called Assim to ask if he could take them to the gentleman and pick up the documents… all things come to he who waits… perhaps not… but in Egypt they sometimes do.

 

The mirror of Aristide

 

 

29 July 2014 - The tale of the dead bunny rabbit

Jeffrey C. Marck <gafarelmuzaffar@gmail.com>

11:16 PM (0 minutes ago)

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to bcc: barakasillah, bcc: ella17, bcc: esut, bcc: GeorgeHorton, bcc: hindy, bcc: Malcolm.Ross, bcc: twisted_firest., bcc: Victor.Pawley, bcc: Andy, bcc: Ann-Maree, bcc: Anna, bcc: Antony, bcc: George, bcc: Gunter, bcc: Harry, bcc: Iva, bcc: jamie, bcc: Jeffrey, bcc: John, bcc: Kevin, bcc: Meredith, bcc: Michael, bcc: Neil, bcc: sonja, bcc: Susanne

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Hi All, 

We’ll be in Australia 12 September to 6 December to sort out my pension details. We’ll be wanting to see Sydney, Melbourne and Adelaide in addition to Canberra. I’ll turn 65 about two weeks before we come back to Egypt. And it will be enough, with the American pension, prorated to my adult years in the US, for us to live in the manner to which we would like to become accustomed.

Reda’s rooftop barnyard is growing a little faster than I would like. This summer has been busy with copyediting and she tends to announce, post facto, the arrival of new species and varieties that all need their own houses or cages. Just today we have been finishing off yet another project about two weeks or a month after the new critters arrived. She takes from the growing pile of materials originating from abodes dismantled after new construction and makes due temporarily, over-optimistic that I will one day begin to do these things immediately upon need rather than continuing with my schedule of servicing copy editing commitments properly. But last night and more again tonight I saw the depth and breadth of her new acquisitions and the results of multiple duckling broods and a dead rabbit that I would guess was the result of heat and over-crowding. I guess I’m supposed to better understand the urgency of these situations with the dead bunny paraded around before me.

Reda tripped up on the roof and caught her fall with her right arm whereupon her shoulder was dislocated. The x-ray looked like roundish cartilage from the top of the humerus had slipped out of position or something and a bit of internal bleeding has now drained down to around her elbow and above. She has a good bit of pain but soldiers on up on the roof. And she makes such small temporary hovels for some of the species that I can’t get inside to give them fresh water so they don’t have to fight for it out in the yard with their competitors.

We were going to sell the motorcycle when we left for Australia and get a new one when we came back. But I think Reda’s motorcycling days are over… the rooftop accident showing just how little it takes to injure her. The bike will be six years old on Friday and still only costs $3 a day for all repairs, fuel and licenses. Up from $2.50 a day before they quit subsidizing fuel so heavily. The revolution hasn’t seen enough power plant expansion and we were having daily blackouts, neighborhood by neighborhood, totaling about four hours a day between the afternoon outage and the evening outage. But then from about four weeks ago people started getting their new electricity bills reflecting the first round of cuts in home power subsidies. The effects have been immediate. Some days have no outages and some days there is just one for half an hour or so. The roads and other utilities kept up with the growing demand through these past three and a half years. The main thoroughfares have all been resurfaced in the last year. The roads are plainly dangerous when it is delayed too long. Or at least for a motorcycle as long ruts develop in the direction of travel, trapping the motorcycle with no opportunity to find a way out of the ruts when traffic around us shifts slightly to the left or right.

I’m at my friend Ibrahim’s paint shop where Reda’s cousin Assim and I take our tea from the café (“qahua”) next door. Ibrahim’s youngest child, a teenage girl, just popped her head in, scarfed in hijab. It reminded me to tell a little bit of her story. She’s very tall. Not 185mm or six foot tall but the tallest female on these neighborhoods’ streets. She’s very skinny and blossomed last among her friends, only a few months ago. Her former status, “girl”, in the neighborhood is a comment on how deeply such concepts penetrate into all behavior on the street. Until she wore hijab full time she used to walk the three blocks to her father’s shop in her long-sleeved pajamas and I think she’s about 14 now… and this was up to just a few weeks ago. No man or boy harassed her or even followed her with their eyes. She was just a girl and they just didn’t/don’t.

Something on the way here tonight made me want to spin another neighborhood yarn. There was a thud and then a restraining force on the transport box from its location on the back of the bike and I knew it must be one of the four or five boys I had just passed going the other way. I slammed on the rear brake and put the bike into a slide so as to turn it about 180 degrees. One of the boys I just passed stood out because he was right behind and now right in front of the bike. His eyes went big, his jaw dropped and he took off with a start running down the other side of the road, a small median strip between us. I drove the wrong way on my side of the road, bellowing out, “El waled!!!” (“The boy!!!”). Shopkeepers and passersby began walking onto the road and into his path, slowing him down and saying two or three words that I couldn’t hear. With a very few of these obstacles and their words, the boy stopped, turned my way and began walking towards me. “What is your name?” I demanded. He told me obediently… a name I had never heard before and can’t remember. “Ley keta?” (“Why (are you acting like) this?”) He had no answer and I turned the bike back to my original direction of travel and drove away. I guess the shopkeepers were telling him, “You’re going to have to talk to him,” or something of the sort. It made me wonder, as I often do, what a thief would face. The obvious, I suppose… dozens of people sounding the alarm and seizing him.

So those are my Tales from Pyramids for the evening. But not to forget the story of a new young friend. He is 25 and from England and staying at Assim’s hotel. He went with me to Pyramids yesterday and he got a bit of a tour and about eight hours of chicken coop construction up on the roof. I think we finished at 2am or perhaps it was 2am when I got him back to the hotel. He really threw his back into it and in the end Reda installed her overcrowded rabbit apartment cages in the coop we made and announced that she would need a different, additional, home for the chickens. The saga continues...

j



--

Jeffrey C. Marck PhD
Cairo, Egypt

www.jeffmarck.net/breadfruitrevolution.htm

"The safest ecoforest is one that is also a treasured source of carbohydrate."
"Breadfruit! You can have your ecoforest and eat it, too!"
"Money doesn't grow on trees but a certain kind of bread flour does..."
"You don't see the Pacific Islanders cutting down their ecoforests! It's all breadfruit!"

Breadfruit Institute Volunteer and Liaison to Africa
Ghana Alliance against Hunger and Malnutrition (HAG), Chief Consultant
Ghana Parliamentarians Caucus against Hunger and Malnutrition, Chief Consultant
Jeff Marck Native English Copy Editing and Proofreading, Proprietor

+20-3377-7077 answering machine
+20-1068-407-394 mobile
jeff@jeffmarck.net
www.jeffmarck.net
www.youtu.be/xxn_O2byX9s (Samoan breadfruit trees arriving to Ghana)
www.wsamoa.ws/index.php?m=25&s=&i=9924 (Samoan breadfruit trees in Ghana in the news)
www.GhanaHungerAlliance.org
Breadfruit Institute:
www.ntbg.org/breadfruit/
Global Breadfruit:
www.globalbreadfruit.com/

www.jeffmarck.net/breadfruitrevolution.html
www.jeffmarck.net/marckcopyediting.htm


29 November 2014 - A rainy night in Georgia

 

High all. We are back in Pyramids feeding the rooftop fowl. The rabbits all died when we were away so Reda bought into a new duck variety and they took over the rabbit run.  Reda’s father was an iron worker, making huge entry gates for villa properties and such, just as her Alexandria El Masry cousins do today. But like Reda’s oldest sister, her mother was a farmer. Women own their own farmland or rent some and choose their own crops. They lived in a small cluster of buildings in a rural area near El Minya , the men like her father with a trade and the women like her mother farming and then, of course, the men who farmed and the women who worked in shops or taught… that and nursing the main female professions much things were in America when I was growing up.

 

In any event, Reda’s just awfully happy to have some farm animals to be fussing around with and is still over there long days and evenings waiting for tradesmen to show up as they are now finishing the interiors of their sixth and seventh floor flats that they will now be renting out sometime soon.

 

Her female cousins through their mother’s sister were in the first generation of women MDs when a more of them were moving into general practice. That existed previously among the fabulously wealthy but moved en masse to the population of average people during Abdel Nasser’s presidency when so many universities were built or expanded and became free to those who placed high enough in the entrance examinations.

 

And once again I’ll tell the story of Reda through those times. Like legions of 35 year old Egyptian women today, she got a good education, she got a good job, and she never got married. Before the revolution it was sort of a national press pastime to review the parents’ angst when having a 35 year old daughter still living at home and the unsuitable suitors they paraded through her life year after year. That kind of jovial writing disappeared immediately upon the beginning of the revolution.

 

I wouldn’t know for the last year or more. Al Jazeera so bemoaned the removal of the “legitimate” Muslim Brotherhood president that I got cheesed off and quit watching it. And since that was the only news I watched I’ve just been getting out of touch. It was disgusting to watch the AJ reporters hyping the “legitimacy” pitch with respect to the deposed, and looking all the time like they either didn’t believe what they were saying or were afraid to be saying what they were saying;  the coup d’état government eventually arresting three AJ journalists who were hardly the worst, trying them and sentencing them to years in prison.

 

They’ve been in jail for right about a year now, AJ doing hourly postings on how many days they’ve been in jail. I’m finally condescending to tune in for an hour or two every day, benefiting from their world news and feature stories, and wandering off to the Internet when they begin their hand-wringing about their jailed staff. What did they expect? Only the 25% of the population who are Muslim Brothers would be thanking them. They lost their other 26%, the Salafi religious conservatives, after the Salafi got the Muslim Brotherhood candidate elected… only to see the MB discard their Salafi advisors soon after the election, through the drafting of the new MB constitution, and all the way up to the time the MB president was deposed.

 

In the Egyptian judicial system the AJ reporters haven’t had a trial yet that must consider evidence – or lack of it. The three have just had a preliminary hearing, really, whose often outrageous convictions and sentences are overturned on first or second appeal. Evidence counts for little in the initial trial. It’s the appeals courts that actually begin to consider evidence. But the hatred for Al Jazeera now runs deep in Egypt and the judiciary may drag it out through several rounds of appeals. They may drag it out longer than the initial sentences if AJ doesn’t do a better job of taking the pulse of Egypt.

 

In the meantime Qatar, AJ’s parent country / government, does a lot of things to keep the Egyptian government afloat financially. Go figure.

 

For myself I spent the last year and more expanding my good reputation at www.oDesk.com

 

I did well enough last year to pay off a good chunk of our revolutionary debt and this year looks better. Although there is now more debt. I telephoned the pension office was told that I qualified for the Australian aged pension so we flew off to Australia for my 65th birthday to make the required personal appearance. I flunked due to question #1: residence (in Egypt). They knew during my queries that I was living in Egypt. Possibly they assumed that I knew there are “agreement” countries. If, for instance, I was living in Greece or the United States I would get the Australian pension but not if one is living in Egypt or the UK. This would flunk the “equal protection under the law” principles in the US courts but Australian citizens apparently don’t have that same guarantee.

 

Oh, well… it was time to get back anyway. It had been over six years. And the prices have risen massively and cured Reda of any notion of spending extended periods of time there. Probably our next trip will be to both Australia and America such that we catch my high school graduation 50 year reunion in 2018. The rejection of my Australian pension application was a massive shock but Australia gave me education and opportunity and I’m finding it hard to feel bitter.

 

A couple days ago I was up to 6 am copy editing a piece on Muslim Georgians emigrating to Turkey in the late 19th Century. I was really engrossed as I knew nothing of the kind of stuff hundreds of years ago that led up to the current Crimea crisis, etc. I woke up at 2 pm and drove into town amazed that all the water mains had burst. How could there possibly be enough pressure in the system to do that? But there were great pools of water all over the roads under which the mains run. And down the small side streets that I take to meet Reda’s cousin Assim every day or two… unpaved and muddy. The tea arrived and someone asked me what I thought of the rain. It hadn’t even occurred to me. I don’t know that there was a single day of rain in the twelve months before. There are some years when there just isn’t any. So what can I say? I missed the first rainy day in yonks because of working past midnight with materials on Georgia. It’s had the song, “A Rainy Night in Georgia” pushing its way into my consciousness ever since.

 

Happy long Thanksgiving weekend to all the Yanks.

 

Jeff

 

30 November 2014 - Alaa

When you have occasion to ponder polygamy, kindly remember the story of our friend Alaa (ęlęę). It isn’t an everyday story but neither, in Pyramids, is polygamy; so lend an ear.

 

Alaa was married for about forty years to a woman who bore no child. And from about fifth and certainly the tenth year there were two clear options. Divorce because female infertility is grounds for divorce. And the second, of course was to take a second wife… or a third, so the law goes. And for thirty years and more friends and acquaintances pointed out those options from time to time.

 

He did neither. And he outlived her. She died some three or four years ago and he remarried a year or two later… and has a son of about two years who is now let out on the street to share the day or evening with his father who is more of a gentle grandfather, of course. Whose delight is immeasurable.

 

Where I sometimes wonder about the virtue of playing the hearts card game on the computer for two and three hours a day, I have only to think of Alaa, who works on crossword puzzles about three hours a night, sitting in a chair outside the door of his school supplies shop, across the three or four meter wide street and one property to the right from Ibrahim’s paint shop where they bring us tea from the café next door to the left, Alaa joining us once an hour or so for a cup of tea. To say Alaa is well respected is too weak a compliment but I can think of none better at the moment.

 

29 December 2014 - The Great Leader

 

Then there is the story since we got back from Australia of a much older boy, twenty or twenty-five-ish who seemed to think he was going to be king of the castle. Before we went to Australia, I had told the young men who work at the grocery store and fruit and vegetable stand on the ground floor that if the bike was still here when we got back, I would give them 500 Egyptian pounds to share among themselves (~75US$). Well it was right where I left it and they got their 500 pounds. So when the 20s-ish boy mentioned above did some of the things he did, the shop crews were all on my side, which probably would have been true anyway. The twentyish fellow was very big. Taller than me and looking strong enough to do damage and with the new kind of haircut where they cut the hair close around the sides and back and grease and comb what’s left into an apex up on top.

 

I first saw him one morning as I was walking down the front stairway as he removed himself from the seat of my bike where he had been sitting, me watching as I walked past him holding up my right index finger, ticking it from right to left as the Egyptians do rather than saying, “No,” or “Don’t”.

 

Same story the next morning when I spoke to him for the first time saying, “Da min beytak?” (“That (bike) is from your house?”) “La’a,” (“No,”) he answered, looking sheepish for an instant but then seeming to have a thought or word that he kept to himself. On the other occasion he was gone when I returned from a shop across the street and down 100 yards. On this occasion he had apparently remained and had something up his sleeve because when I returned from the other shop this time one of the young army conscript policemen in their special uniform came running towards me from across the street. “So that’s it,” I thought. “The young punk is present and up to no good.”

 

I nodded my head to the policeman and signaled him, “Let’s go,” with my hand and arm. He fell in behind me and when we turned the corner towards the stairwell past the grocery shop there was the big young bloke under discussion standing on a wide part of the first step up with another large youth and four or five more were standing on the entrance landing five steps higher. He had apparently called them to join him on his mobile and meant to announce to me that this was going to be their hangout from then on or something.

 

They weren’t from our building. From the moment I saw him I walked directly towards him, and with the policeman nanoseconds behind they all stood still and held their peace. When I reached the donkey’s pituey under discussion, I remained on the pavement below the first step he was on, looked up at him, and said plainly, loud enough, matter of factly, and quickly, “Inta mish gai tani fil amara hena,” (“You’re not coming to this building anymore.”) No other words seemed necessary so I walked up the steps and entered the building leaving the policeman to deal with the formalities. He apparently did so and I’ve never seen the little shit in question again. Nor has the bike been tampered with or anything (it’s always parked right next to the grocery store which is open 24 hours a day).

 

This was my only encounter with that kind of trouble or any other after living in Egypt for most of seven years or something like that… but for the disappearance of a large box of Reda’s clothes when we were changing apartments about five years ago. Possibly the police went to his home and told his parents or something. The policeman who accompanied me is part of a shifting landscape of personnel who I may or may not ever see again. Perhaps the young men who man the shops below know and perhaps I will ask them one day. For the moment I amuse them upon request with recitation of what exactly I said to the would-be gang leader. They didn’t want him hanging around, either.

 

 

15  January 2015 – Banana Man

 

Fascinating remote sensing of ancient Egyptian cities

 

New road works and paving Tersa street neighbourhoods

 

http://www.algemeiner.com/2015/01/08/el-sisi-becomes-first-egyptian-president-to-attend-christmas-mass/#widget-zoom-video-cat-2

 

HoHos

 

AJ in America – even raise the volume for the adverts – have never had adverts before

 

Didn’t have ANZAC Day gathering last year – ambassador’s wife two years ago

As far as I know, neither Australian nor New Zealand held the annual Australian and New Zealand Army Corps (ANZAC) commemorations at the British CAIRO WAR MEMORIAL CEMETERY

 

 

Power Outages as public information announcements

 

The Banana Man and Zuba’s reorganizing projects – loss and return of property titles

 

In the mid-1950s there was the Captain Kangaroo television show for those of us growing up in America, an apparently old gentleman in a kind of captain’s uniform with big pockets, the source of his name – huge pockets on each side of his coat like the pouch of a kangaroo. Looking to Wikipedia for some context as I was too young to appreciate that it was becoming a national institution, the show ran from 1955 to 1984. So our kids grew up with it too. I wouldn’t have known as I was away from America so much and the later years entirely escaped me, Bob Keeshan (Captain Kangaroo)  being much younger than the grandfatherly figure he played from the early years on.

 

I remember one of his regular guests quite well. He had a single routine which just seemed like magic and it would go on for five or ten minutes. He was the Banana Man (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=et6Jt2YX44o) and at the age six and seven I used to watch him closely as I thought there was some illusion I was missing… that was tricking me… as his routine involved filling a sting of cars in a train that he pulled one out of the other, each one just smaller than the next, which all fit inside the biggest one which was about the size of a large sea chest. He filled all the chests from things he carried in his coat pockets and I couldn’t believe it was possible that he could fill his coats with such a quantity of things and that I wasn’t quick enough to see where it was all really coming from.

 

Reda’s sister’s bedroom is a bit like the Banana Man’s garments. She brings stuff out onto the lounge room floor for organizing that is of such quantity, individually, that it’s difficult to believe it all comes from the same room after seeing her cycle through what seems like five and ten such projects every month or two. Clothes… which is what is has been this last week due to the change of weather… boxes and boxes of personal papers which is the case on a seasonal or other cycle of some sort.

 

One year she decided to downsize her archives when a community service gamea (non-profit… informal in most instances) came around asking for reading materials for school children. She had a lot of relevant materials and teacher’s manuals as well, saved from here career in Saudi Arabia which made her rich enough to begin construction on the apartment building they are now finishing after building it floor by floor for 25 years and more. But she also sent off a folder that contained their property titles for some small plots of land they own here and there. Most of it so far from the town center that paved roads still don’t reach them. They take Assim, the patient cousin who introduced Reda and myself, to view the properties from time to time rather than me. Or rather, he takes them when they ask every few of years.

 

So Zuba sent off all the property titles five years ago or more when the gamea requested any type of reading material. So the next time Zuba went looking for them she realized what she must have done, she still had the mobile number of the gamea member who came to pick up the materials she had set aside for them, it was still a working number, and they got Assim to take them to a sort of a warehouse where the gamea kept the donated materials. Assim described it as a very, very large facility in the sense of ever finding their own contributions in such a mass of shelves of materials. So they gave up hope of ever seeing them again and have been content to visit the properties concerned every year or two to make sure no one else is building on them… which has never been found to be the case… and they had no other records of the properties’ parcel numbers… so they’d not gone down to the land office to start the process of getting duplicate titles. Or rather certified duplicates of the bills of sale which is what the land office actually holds. They don’t issue titles in the sense of what I am familiar with from America and Australia. And they were saying something to the effect that they would not have gotten the certified copies unless they got a release from the person from whom they had bought the land… some kind of deception-prevention measure… so they would have had to find all these people from whom they had bought the various plots who in no case did they personally know… and many or most may be dead by now… so they stuck with the occasional visits to the properties to see if anybody was messin’ with ‘em.

 

Parenthetically, yet another system is how a lot of Palestinians are losing their land on the West Bank. The old Ottoman Empire system was still in place up to the time of the 1967 war. Land belonged to whoever was paying taxes on it. They were rights of usage. People could go to the government in terms of farmland for their children or their own expanding needs and request that some unused land they were aware of be allotted for their use and as long as no one else was paying the taxes… and then as long as they paid them, it was theirs to use. So Palestinians today in some instances have 200 year old olive groves and such that their ancestors and themselves have been paying taxes on through the Ottoman then Jordanian generations and the Israeli government comes in with bulldozers and rips out their orchards, saying it didn’t belong to anybody anyway. Al Jazeera had an interesting series of episodes a couple years ago about Israel’s young people who pack up and leave Israel after doing military service there… traumatized by the things they were made to do to such Palestinians by the Israeli government.

 

But the El Masry sister’s needn’t have worried. They live amongst kinder, gentler people. They got a phone call in the middle of last year. The gamea to which Zuba had given the teacher manuals, other books, and property records pass on the materials they can’t use to other people who look through them for things that might interest people they know and one of them came upon land contracts, i.e., Zuba and Reda’s copies of the land office records. One of them got Zuba and Reda’s purchase contracts and found Zuba in the land line phone book. That gentleman called her up to ask if she had any need of them. So it was a happy day when they called Assim to ask if he could take them to the gentleman and pick up the documents… all things come to he who waits… perhaps not… but in Egypt they sometimes do.

 

The mirror of Aristide

 

1 February 2015 – The little weasels

 

 

21 March 2015 – The Nurses of West Pyramids

 

Zuba, Reda’s sister, broke her arm about ten days ago and Reda had been over there continuously. We’re all getting a bit old. Reda’s broken shoulder six or eight months ago from a small fall and now Zuba’s broken arm for the same reason.

 

Then I was suddenly housebound from about five days ago for fear of getting too distant from a toilet. Then I (quickly) went to emergency at 3am Thursday due to discomfort, worsening general gut pain, and concern. They gave me a certain treatment and told me to come back at 10am. But I went to sleep and didn’t wake up til noon. They were doing end of the day clean up by the time I woke up and arrived.

 

So Reda came home and took care of me until we went to the hospital together this morning. I had taken antibiotics over the Friday day of rest for and they eliminated my fever. But other issues remain and I am to have several tests in the coming days and be seen again a week from today. They charged me nothing for the visit to emergency visit two days ago and $6 for the 5 minutes with the specialist today. The only new medication I began taking today costs fifty US cents a day. One other medication recommended by our pharmacist yesterday had already eliminated most of my symptoms by this morning.

 

Reda went back to take care of Zuba and I went to bed after the hospital this morning. The seventh anniversary of our introduction is April 15 and we both consider it a momentous occasion that led to great happiness in difficult times. We’ve talked about it quite a bit in the last few days.

 

My little brother, the accountant, paid off most of our revolutionary debt, or perhaps his wife did mostly… she of the Edison laboratories’ John Kreusi’s clan. His name is still on the door of his office in what is now the Menlo Park Museum in Detroit. I’ve seen it myself. My father was also from Detroit and all the Marck kids saw it in the 50s and 60s when our parents took us there again and again.

 

Next year we will have paid off the rest our evolutionary debt by 15 April and will be making small purchases of gold again. For Reda. Arab men don’t wear gold, I probably mentioned some years ago.

 

So Reda went back to take care of Zuba tonight and I was full of energy for the first time in about a week. So I went to see Ibrahim the painter who was at home and in bed.

 

The eczema on his hand palms really doesn’t seem much better after four months though he always says it is improving. It’s really massive and seems an enormous discomfort for him. And he’s just had abdominal surgery of some sort. Prostate, perhaps, because he talks about a condition extending back 20 years, but I don’t have the vocabulary to grasp the whole story. And I’m six or eight weeks older than him. It gives one pause.

 

One story about Ibrahim I want to tell involves a ~30 year old ADD man in his neighbourhood. He is short and “busy” and was just out of jail when I first met him at Ibrahim’s shop three or four years ago. In the years since Ibrahim has given him several cups of tea a day, listened to his endless babble and quietly turned his life around. Irregularly, Ibrahim finds painting work for him and the young man glories in it… but of a consistent mood and deportment… kind of intense whether there is anything going on or not. But he has settled down with respect to fitting into the neighbourhood with a bit of invisibility like the rest of us in the sense of being on anybody’s “keep your eyes on him” list. Ibrahim has put hundreds and hundreds of hours into this. And it worked. God bless Ibrahim.

 

The West Pyramids nurses were busy today. As Reda and I left the hospital there was a flurry of activity outside the building and news of a large emergency involving many deaths along the Ring Road in its course hugging Muriutea Canal as it runs through the neighbourhood… the skyway that runs above it. Some passenger vehicle capable of carrying 12 or more and perhaps others were involved, for there were 12 persons later said to be deceased. It is all licensed equipment at that level with good tires and springs. And it wasn’t necessarily that vehicle’s driver at fault. We may never hear. Whatever, the nurses of West Pyramids certainly had a sad day today.

 

For pasting elsewhere

 

To say precisely where we live in terms of roads, we are on the southwest quadrant of the intersection of the Cairo-Alexandria Road, where it starts in its south; and the Fayum / Upper Egypt Road where it starts in its north. The Alexandria road heads west and soon north. The Fayum Road heads south and the first right goes up to hill to our place, as does the second, and first main road to the right goes into Sixth of October City. A great circle of a road takes traffic from them Pyramids Street where it begins at the Pyramids, and Faisal Street about 120 degrees farther east then north on the great circle. The Pyramids are across Fayum Road from us. The New Egyptian Museum is being built some few hundred metres off to the right of our buildings up the hill here by the boy’s high school at the top.

 

7 July 2015 – Children?

 

 

In about 1962 or 1963 my father came home very excited.

 

The state government had given Lutheran (Christian) Social Services the contract to close all the orphanages... all the group homes for children with no mother and father.

 

And he found homes for all those children.

 

The were hundreds of such children even in our small state.

 

So when you speak of getting a child from the orphanages...

 

Our father was involved in such work 50 years ago.

 

And it seems to me a good thing to do.

 

And I worked in recreation programs in the late 1960s...

 

And learned that you can turn bad boys to good very easily if they are less than 12 years old.

 

After that they are very hard to change and often end up involved in crime.

 

So these are the things I think about when you talk about a child from one of the orphanages.

 

But now that the orphanages are closed, decades of experience in church and state foster homes shows that the children who are raised in such care don’t fare much better as adults than children raised in orphanages and reform schools. I forget what exactly I read on the matter recently, but it was something to that effect.

 


In about 1980 - The Sirens of Titan

 

www.twoloverspoint.com/legend.htm

When I was wandering around Guam in about 1980 I heard a sound I had never heard before. It seemed an atmospheric sound. A deep “Wuu-wuu-wuu-wuu…” One “Wuu” every second or two. It was so mysterious and I was drawn to the sound as if the spirits of the island would allow me no other direction of travel. The direction from which it came was the sea and there was no mechanical object in the sea that would make such a sound. Mystified, I kept walking towards the sound and it seemed it was coming from the Two Lovers Point area. The place from which the Chamorro Romeo and Juliet embraced, tied their hair together and lept to their death. A small, dispersed cluster of people were standing off to the right of where this Internet picture was taken looking down to the sea. Motionless. Speechless. None of them conversing. Just an occasional hushed word or two it seemed. The area to the right of this picture is said to be 368 feet above sea level and I walked over and joined them.

 

The most astonishing thing was then before me. From the sea’s surface two upside down tornadoes extended upwards towards something like 400 or 500 feet. They were stationary but rotating cones, large at their base in the sea and diminishing to nothing at the height I just mentioned. They seemed alive, a bit of swirling of the hips and shoulders… as if they were dancing. They were part of a larger area in which we were standing where the air was saturated with moisture. I had no camera and it didn’t seem the time or place to be asking the people who did if they might get me a copy when they had them printed. But they were like me. In awe of being present at one of the great wonders of the earth and I didn’t notice anyone taking pictures. My main thoughts were eventually about the possibility of the two cones getting bigger and coming my way so I didn’t linger long but was enraptured while I lingered.

 

I never mentioned it to anyone in the 35 years or so since except my sister Sonja recently. She seemed glad for me having told the story so now I’m telling it to you. But not without some research first. I had walked away from that place at that time thinking, “My God, the Sirens of Titan can be seen as well as heard.” But that was a combination of having 1) seen the Kirk Douglas Ulysses movie (1962) where the hero has himself tied to the mast of his ship because he wanted to hear the Sirenes singing. The lore of those Greek islands was that there lived on that island Sirenes whose song would enrapture and drive one mad. Ships’ crews plugged their ears when passing it on ships so as not to meet their death, and 2) I had developed the misperception that they were called the Sirens of Titan as the author of a popular book by that name had just left the University of Iowa Writers Workshop after a two year fellowship. His book by that name was still on everybody’s lips the following academic year when I first arrived to the campus. I didn’t read it myself. I didn’t read anything I didn’t have to until I was about 35 and my astigmatism was first diagnosed. Long hours of reading had always given me something like a migraine through a BA and two MAs prior to getting my first set of glasses in that year.

 

So on I went. Never telling the story because it was too fantastic and kind of a private memory. A few days ago I was wondering how to tell the story if ever I began to tell the story generally and got on the internet. It turns out that “waterspouts” are observed with some frequency and that they do arise from the sea. But I couldn’t find any pictures with two of them together, any of them that didn’t rise into the sky or any of them where the base was wider than the top which was just the tip of a cone. They were the greatest natural wonder I have even seen.

 

 

 

 

 

 


9/11 2015

 

5am plus. I just got back from Prague a day late. Had some upbeat story on the tip of my tongue… what was it???  Then the date gave me pause as I began to give this episode a name.

 

Yes… now I remember. The last man doing all the checks at customs and immigration. I walked up to him and said, “I have lived here seven or eight years. Omuha mirauti min El Meenya [My wife’s mother is from El Minya.] Abuha mirauti min Skandrea [My wife’s father is from Alexandria].

 

“You are welcome,” he said, looking at me closely for the slightest moment.



[1] Although I looked into it more closely at a later date and there are some places in the Delta and edge of the Sinai where they have more water than they can use. It varies by local geography and historical (and prehistorical) canal construction, etc.

[2] Lutheran Church in America.

[3] American Lutheran Church.

[4] Cf. http://www.feps.edu.eg/en/departments/statistics/graduation/2011/2.pdf

[5] Retired the site and the address in 2015.

23 January 2010 – An unfortunate experience

 

Today’s notes concern a strapping young steer who had an unfortunate experience. He got eaten.


My neighbor’s middle son at the flat I own, Ahmed Magdy Selim, is kind of a self-made man who I have mentioned before and there are perhaps some hundreds of thousands like him in Pyramids. This young bloke went to government schools and then did accounting at Cairo University, working part time as a house painter, and has just now, at the age of about 26 or 27, been promoted to chief or other upper level supervisor of reservation personnel or something like that after only three years at the Intercontinental Semiramis mega hotel on the Nile downtown. He, at least, seems on his way to being a little bit rich.


When he finished a Berlitz intensive business English course after his accounting BA and military service four years ago, I took him on a bit of a hike to meet Assim. We found him at the used furniture store he, at the time, owned and operated evenings close to his home in Faisal. Assim talked to Ahmed quietly and a bit privately and the few words spoken that I understood suggested that Assim was asking about Ahmed’s education. After some further lounging in front of a cup of tea at the furniture store, Ahmed and I started out on the long walk back to Tersa/Omda (the nearest well-known cross-street on Tersa).

 

“He hired me,” Ahmed gasped as soon as we were out of earshot from the furniture store. “He hired me to help with the bookkeeping and the evening shift.”

 

So that was that. I went back to Australia a few short days later and received nothing but reports of love and admiration in Assim’s emails about Ahmed and Ahmed’s emails about Assim for the two years I was back in Australia. And it was the two of them together who picked me up at the airport almost exactly two years later when I came back for good.

 

It’s fun to watch over time as I hang around and do a little work at the hotel... Assim’s kind of well-known for training and then launching young people on to bigger things. A great mentor, we would say in English. A bit of a sheikh to the young people who received their start in life from him.


By the time I left to go back to Australia in 2006 I was content with the flat I had bought and content that I would work, live and die with my friends in those neighborhoods when I retired from full-time employment in linguistics in 2008. I’d never really dropped my anchor before.


I decided by about 2007 back in Australia that I would also die praying with them and told Assim and Ahmed in phone calls that I wanted to go to mosque and declare my faith upon getting back to Egypt.


They wasted no time when I returned, April 2008, and the first day I was first looking well rested after returning they explained that Assim would take me to a particular sheikh/pastor and that another man would be there as well.


It was the sheikh from that first night at mosque, Sheikh Asfor (“Sparrow”), who came to my sister-in-law Zuba’s house two or three evenings ago... two or perhaps three days after she “sacrificed” a cow in honor of my marriage to Reda eight months ago.


I’ve been a great disappointment to Sheikh Asfor as I will mention presently.

 

As Assim now tells the story, Zuba told Assim, after he had introduced Reda and myself to each other, “I’m gonna kill a cow if she marries this guy (“sacrifice” – no precise English equivalent of an Arabic word that seems to imply either “kill” or “sacrifice” [“sacrifice” animals as in the Old Testament – they actually then consumed the animals as Jewish and Muslim people do today]). I promise to God I will kill a cow.” Assim was glad to let the comment be forgotten for a time but he has recently begun to tell me that story saying that he has been recalling it more and more to Zuba… “You can’t promise to God to do that and then not do it…”[here]


So the cow story started some days ago with a two or three km motorcycle ride from Reda’s sister’s house up to where the farms start in northwest Pyramids/Faisal directly west of Dokki (and then extend north and beyond 26 July Corridor and then into the Delta). Not far at all from Reda and Zuba’s building – there are vast agricultural lands there still being cultivated. The city now surrounds that huge part of the Nile’s west bank farms, which is on the Nile flood plain. The east bank, Cairo proper, has a bit of elevation and was the earlier city in its entirety. As mentioned before, the west bank flood plain only became available for residential use after the Aswan Dam was finished and that area quit flooding every spring.


At the southwestern edge of that remaining farm land, Reda paid for the cow under the date palms with money Zuba had given her and then we slowly putt-putt-putted back to Zuba’s place, one of the Upper Egypt kind of guys who sold us the cow walking along behind us in his galabea, leading the cow, followed by another motorcycle putt-putt-putting along with two butchers in galabea on it bringing up the rear. The “cow” was a two year old steer which looked very clean and healthy. They slaughtered it in their apartment building’s entrance/foyer because there was a drain on the floor for the blood.


When I got back some hours later, Reda and Zuba were finished with the butchering which they had done in an apartment in their building they are renovation after the men slaughtered, skinned, gutted and quartered the cow downstairs and brought the pieces up to them. They had it all in a big pile of black plastic bags of perhaps 5-10 kilos next to a gleaming white pile of bones.


Zuba gave me perhaps 10 kilos to take to “my” family (Ahmed Magdy’s parents, specifically). Reda and Zuba then distributed much of the rest around Zuba’s neighborhood over the next day or two, the biggest bags to the poorest families, and Reda and I brought armloads, perhaps 25 kilos, home for ourselves which went into the freezer with perhaps 3 kilos for our building’s doorman.


Sheikh Asfor came to Zuba’s place a few nights ago to do what imam’s do when someone sacrifices a cow. I went to his mosque many Fridays immediately after my conversion. But that soon came into competition with an equally conservative mosque very near my little flat where I was living (while Sheikh Asfor’s mosque was more like a 4 or 5 km hike through the streets of our neighborhoods).


A mosque near my flat took an interest in me once they noticed I was wandering off for the noon prayers in galabea every Friday at about 11 am. I was visited at home by three men, one of them a locally famous sheikh who has spent most of the last 20 years in Los Angeles with a growing mega-mosque. Actually someone came up from Magdy’s flat who said there were some men at Magdy’s house who would like to talk to me – and I went down to see what it was all about). Sheikh Mahdy speaks an unaccented American English and told me in a friendly, welcoming way that the men with him would help me get started in reading the Koran at a nearby mosque.

 

So it was Sheikh Mahdy at my brother Magdy’s house. Surely I will think of tongue twister with which to tell future versions of the story.


Sheikh Mahdy’s invitation soon became rather more appealing than Sheikh Asfor’s mosque because that small mosque – very small mosque – which Sheikh Mahdy directed me to is very close to my house – very close – and doesn’t pray Gomah (“1. the Friday midday prayer; 2. Friday”). Like many of the small mosques on our streets over around Tersa/Omda, everybody goes to a certain large mosque on the main street, Tersa, for Gomah. There the “Dr.” imam speaks rather softly for about 20 or 30 minutes while Sheikh Asfor always speaks for an hour and a bit… in a great bellowing voice over a loud PA system... to a good-sized gathering I might add. Very popular with Upper Egypt migrants. Of course I never understood anything of what either one of them was saying in their sermons so I was glad for a shorter walk to a shorter talk. I wore galabea to the Tersa Street mosque for a while. But it didn’t seem to be the most common thing to do so I then usually didn’t unless I was just feeling kind of happy and wanted to go to mosque as Muslims did 1,000 years ago and more, wearing galabea and sandals, my eyeglasses and wristwatch left at home and nothing in my pockets but my house key and prayer beads.


By the end of a year and a month back in Egypt, almost precisely, I got my first flat with Reda in Dobat. Here I go to a large mosque on the other side of the school from our flat. People at that mosque are pleasantly oblivious to me, as they were at the big mosque on Tersa Street, except that one or two people a month may walk up when they notice me somewhere in the neighborhood, and introduce themselves, saying they’ve seen me at mosque, and welcoming me since I seem to be new. They don’t necessarily assume that I am a foreigner. They just occasionally and pleasantly welcome anyone new to a mosque. An Egyptian might be a white, white Europoid (although very, very few have anything but jet black hair unless they are Syrian) or a black, black African.


I had learned by the time we married and moved out here that neither Sheikh Asfor’s mosque nor the small mosque I was directed to in my old neighborhood by Sheikh Mahdy are highly regarded by the main of the larger community. And... surprise, surprise, surprise... certain members of the one small “Sunna” mosque even made disparaging comments about the other.

 

There is mild disdain towards those Upper Egypt people who cling to their rural ways on the part of older Pyramids families and there is the same resentment towards fundamentalists in general that so many of us have in America and Australia. Jesus will come back if we help Israel steal more land from the Palestinians (America and even a bit of that in Australia). The rich people who don’t want to pay for my ten kids’ education will burn in hell (Egypt). But it means something to Assim and Tarek to attend Sheikh Asfor’s mosque so we talk about Islam quite often and I don’t say anything about Sheikh Asfor’s presumed disappoint with me.


And of course the fundamentalists are delightful when you meet them individually.

 

So there we sat the other night, Sheikh Asfor and myself, at opposite ends of my sister-in-law’s dining table on the day they butchered the steer, kind of lightly sparing with each other... a glance and a frown on his part, a glance and a smile on mine. The Keeper of the True Religion and the Comfortably Less Than Pious.


He had arrived with 5 other men on three motorcycles, the youngest about 20, the oldest about his age... 40 or so.


I had declined an offer, from the youngest, of a miswaak (sticks the size of a toothbrush, the blunt ends of which they use to ritually clean the teeth). He kept trying to give it to me after prayers at Reda’s mosque (the one she and her sister built into the first floor of their apartment house). I just didn’t want it and I especially didn’t want him to think I was interested in all their many overt acts of piety. Prayers were done, we were still kneeling where we had prayed and I refused it three times and then got up and moved to another part of the mosque when he poked it at me a fourth time. The Palestinians are not going to get their state etc. if I use miswaak. Which is, essentially, what fundamentalists of this type believe. Like Jerry Falwell, who came flying out the door September 11 and blamed the attacks on American homosexuals and others, Egyptians became more religiously conservative after the 1967 war because they believe God would not have let Israel win if they, the Egyptians, had been living right. Women, for instance, started wearing head scarves again… and still do.


So afterwards we were sitting at the dinner table, Sheikh Asfor “harumphff-ing” slightly whenever our eyes met, the 40-ish guy with the biggest zabibah (see Wikipedia) glowering at me again and again until my amused smiles made him give up, the young bloke a bit upset until he saw by my constant smiles that I wasn’t mad at him. Neither Asfor nor any of the others tried to converse with me as they speak no English that I know of and perhaps assumed that since I wasn’t taking an interest in the True Religion I also was not learning any Arabic. Or maybe I’m on their “to be shunned list”, though I don’t know. They’re generally friendly towards us in the neighborhoods when Reda and I are out and about. Anyway, I kept my peace and just kind of enjoyed the situation and did not, at Sheikh Asfor’s table, try to converse.


I don’t remember anything else of consequence from that night except that after the meal Asfor had each of the other five go into all the rooms of the house and then, as if at the mosques around the neighborhoods, sing out the call to prayer, the Adhan, loudly at slightly different starting moments. They were all experienced muezzin, their calls filled the house and it was really quite thunderous and pleasant to all of us to hear.


Assim, Reda’s nephew Mahmoud and I then walked the six of them down the five flights of stairs to the three meter wide street and they climbed onto their three motorcycles (in their galabeas). I had been saying “Shokrun” again and again as we went down the stairs and then poured out onto the street. Then as they started to pull away I called out good and loud, over the rather quiet motorcycle noises, “Shokrun tani! Miraati mabsuuta awi!” (“Thank you again! My wife is very happy!”). They exploded in embarrassed laughter. I don’t know why. Perhaps they then assumed I had understood everything they had been saying through the evening.


So that’s the report from Pyramids of a Saturday evening. I only found out a week or ten days ago that the spacious, gardened clubs of the rich keep lists of people offering native speakers’ English tutorials and that patrons of those clubs are used to paying $30 an hour for these services. So tonight I’ll be getting the names and phone numbers of these places on the Giza side of the Nile gathered together off the internet and start calling them tomorrow. A couple I previously knew of already have my details. I have a copyediting application in limbo with an Arabic language newspaper that is working towards launching an English edition (which they have already done in Beta ~ provisionally on the internet). The editor in chief says she can’t get the business office to cut loose with the funds for my position at the moment and I know independently that they are behind schedule on the launch of their English hardcopy version whose advertising revenue and the eventual addition of advertising to the web version being, one would guess, the source of funds for the copyediting position. But I have a little income from work at Assim’s hotel... and more if I want it. And my first pension check arrived a few weeks ago from one of my old trucking companies in America. So we’re some months away from crisis mode, financially, and Reda’s cheerfully frugal in the meantime.

 

 




Actually, there has been only one. And it was an $8 ticket. Which I could have paid on the spot (and left with my driver’s license). But I didn’t have $8 with me (flat tires are only $4 for tube replacement and I think I had $5 or some similarly 27 February 2010 – a moving experience

 

Whew. We just spent the day moving (from Apt 54 to Apt 44 in the same building).


We’re done for the night and fairly well brain dead. The apartments are identical so by the time we got about half done I kept having trouble remembering if I was supposed to be taking stuff out or bringing more stuff in as I wandered back and forth with armloads of things. Kept going downstairs instead of upstairs when leaving 44 as well (one can only go down from 54 and I was walking out of 44 on autopilot or something). Lots of small differences, mostly negative. This flat only has one electrical outlet per room except for the kitchen. No fly screens in this one, either, so we’ll have to do something about that. The main breeze comes from the French doors and it isn’t easy to add fly screens to them if they weren’t built that way in the first place. I don’t quite know what we will do.


It didn’t rain at all the first year I was back but we had a real hot week from about ten days ago and then it turned cold again and it rained and hailed and the wind blew like crazy last night. And we’ve had rain several days already this winter. And me... the motorcyclist. It didn’t rain once last year and only two or three times the year before.


The English language newspapers that wanted to hire me couldn’t get their financial offices to cut loose with a budget to do so but then someone helped me look into tutoring intermediate school students and also adult business conversation people.


By two or three weeks ago I found I was having trouble getting on English tutoring lists at some of the “shooting clubs” and expensive “international” (rich people) English schools because I don’t have a Teaching English as a Second Language certificate. I found out I could do a correspondence course for $200 or $300 but wasn’t that keen to be teaching or tutoring as I have very little teaching experience and no tutoring experience at all.


So I let my fingers do the walking and found out there are 36, I think, translation services in the Yellow Pages for greater Cairo. Not wanting to blow all my leads at once I emailed five with a resume/brief about the kind of work I was looking for – seeking to do “A native English speaker’s final light editing”. They all gave me work and one of them has me all day, every day. I’m condensing Charles Dickens novels to an upper intermediate, early high school English as a second language level (when there is nothing else to do). And it is also the closest translation service to home so that’s been a great bonus.


And then, thanks to Google, the Dutch embassy found my home page (which doesn’t say “Israel Stinks” anymore) and they are now preparing a contract for me to do about 10 hours of work at $38 an hour... their suggestion of a reasonable price, not mine. So, all up, it looks like we’ll have a car and be saving for a house (apt.) by the end of summer or so. I’ve only had two employers, really, in the last 20 years, Linguistics – RSPAS – ANU and an Omaha trucking company, so I’m not used to seeking work. I didn’t know where to start but it all came good.


We took a two year lease on our new place upon Reda expressing her desire to do so. She wants to spend 15 April 2011, the day she mandatorily retires, until about two years from now looking for a place to buy. We’re happy in the burbs for the moment but we miss the barrios where everything is just out the door and life on the street is so invigorating. No idea what we’ll do. The newer developments and even the 20 or 40 year old development we live in aren’t half full and even when they do eventually fill up, they just don’t have the density for the neighborhood markets and street life we both miss out here.

 

 

12 March 2010 – recycling etc.

 

I starting writing these notes a few nights after I met Reda 10 months ago saying, retrospectively in a preface I added at a later date:


“Within 30 years, Delta and Upper Egypt migrants and their descendants will account for some large portion of Cairo’s peoples, a status they hold even today. But in 30 years they will be Cairo’s pre-eminent constituency.”


Learning more since about the demographics – 20 million live in Cairo, 20 million live in Upper Egypt and, my goodness, 40 million live in the Delta.... over half of Cairo’s 15% annual population growth is due to young singles and families arriving from Upper Egypt and the Delta. I am told, literally, there is no more water in the Nile to further expand farming in either place.[1] Family size is down but youth unemployment is high because of much higher birth rates 18 years ago and more. Not all these young people arriving to Cairo are literate. There is often a ground floor room or couple rooms designed into buildings where the doorman lives with his family... commonly illiterate Upper Egypt men in their 30s and their wife and children. But their children do go to school and so onward the generations march through time.


I thought for some months that both Reda’s parents were both from El Minya in Upper Egypt but Reda’s father turns out to have been from Alexandria. So she’s immediately related to people from the emerging constituencies of both Upper Egypt and the Delta as well. And typical of how they intermarry in Cairo... with each other or anyone else they feel leads an upright life. It’s twice the fun for us. We’ve been to the farm in El Minya and will soon be in Alexandria again where her cousins’ children are mostly in their 20s and have moderate numbers of children to bounce on our knees.


A Reda story that I thought I’d tell tonight is about the night she lost something off a toktok (tricycle motorcycle taxi - Latin orthography “toktok” sounding more like “tuktuk” sometimes because there is no difference in Arabic) after we were married but before she started riding on the back of my motorcycle.

 

We were on our way home from visiting her sister and she had armloads of plastic bags full of fruit and vegetables. We walked, me pushing the bike, to the thoroughfare where she got on a tuktuk with all this stuff and I got on the bike and followed along. About a kilometer away from her sister’s place one of her plastic bags about the size of a deflated basketball fell out of the tuktuk and I stopped and picked it up. It was wet and slimy and smelt like the alcoholic who died in my apartment house in Copenhagen over one Christmas. He had the heat turned up in the flat and his body wasn’t found for a week or two. Another bag kind of flopped off the tuktuk and onto the street’s sand and dust about 100 meters later and I shook my head and drove on. She was dumping her sister’s kitchen rubbish.

 

What happens to it in that particular place, and through much of Pyramids, is that Bedouin shepherds bring their sheep and goats through the next day and all the organic stuff is removed as the herds forage through the bags people have pitched since the herd was last there. Then self-employed trash collectors come through looking, by individual specialization, for cardboard or plastic bottles or empty tins. There are perhaps dozens of specialties. Some just drive about on the carts calling out, “Bikiya” (second hand) and dismantle things for parts or other recycling. They start very young when their parents take them out of school to help. They know no other life or work and are, perhaps, mostly illiterate. In this and other ways, over 80% of Cairo’s trash is recycled... a testament to the government’s effective fostering of informal solutions to things they don’t have a budget for and, also, a different kind of testament to using a soft hand with urban or rural poor people who take their children out of school to work. On the matter of Reda’s missiles onto the curb, nothing is left but tens of millions of, mostly white and shredded, empty plastic bags blowing through the neighborhoods like snow in a northern winter, invisible to the eye of the residential beholder.

 

I was up to a friend’s place on the 10th floor of one of the area’s grand new apartment buildings, standing on the balcony smoking a cigarette, and called to my friend, saying that “a very wealthy man is walking down the street.” He came to look and I pointed to the man leading a flock of sheep down on the street. He laughed merrily and said, “Those sheep belong to the man with the new car business” (around the corner). I had assumed all were Bedouin doing well in the city.


We got moved into our new flat some days ago. Then just as we were sitting around huffing and puffing from our exertions of the day, the old landlord telephoned and asked us if we’d like to move back in to his flat again. His son is still getting married but is being posted overseas so the flat isn’t presently needed by his family after all. I don’t have time to move again due to favorable volumes of business coming in for my native English speaker copy editing work. Reda will moan for three months, her cousin Assim predicts, because the rent in our new place is about $30 higher. But for a dollar a day... I ain’t gonna move again. But I’ve designed the fly screens for our new flat, which has none, and am going to buy the tools and put them in myself. Reda’s endlessly intrigued that both my grandmothers grew up on farms and attributes anything I can make or fix to those good influences.


“Badaghaz” (bottled and piped natural gas or perhaps, I am now wondering, the name of the stove itself) hookup came 10 days or two weeks after we moved into the new flat. So now Reda is again cooking the last of the cow parts she froze… which I can no longer identify. But that’s a story previously told.

 

13 June 2010 – meet Ashraf


A week ago made right about fifteen months since I gave my carpenter LE4000 ($800) towards an LE6000 project to do a major office desk and bookshelves project for my own little flat that I then moved out of when Reda and I got married and moved into another, and now another, place. The following is pasted from a letter I drafted to the tourist police telling the story.

---------------
Submission to the Egyptian Tourist Police

Pyramids Monument Station

Pyramids, Giza Governate

 
by Jeffrey C. Marck

Egyptian Drivers License Number: 02070000472631

Australian Passport Number: M9223627

 
53 Abdullah El Bahar Street (via Omda)

Pyramids, Giza Governate

and

Apartment 44, Building 38

El Remaya City

Pyramids, Giza Governate


Sometime between the end of February and the end of March, 2009, I deposited LE4000 with Mr. Ashraf for the construction of a large desk and office set for my home on Abdullah El Bahar Street. The total cost was to be LE6000 and LE2000 would be due upon completion of the work.

 
But in April 2009 I was introduced to a woman, we decided to get married and were married in May, moving into Building 38, El Remaya City.

 
The LE6000 project was to be custom built for a particular room in my Abdullah El Bahar Street home. I went to Mr. Ashraf upon moving to El Remaya City. Actually he was present when we signed the lease. I informed him that the LE6000 project was too big for our new home. I then asked him to build a smaller project. I asked if he could build it to about the same size as a LE3000 project he had done for me in about three months’ time the year before. With him in the new house we measured the place the desk would go.

 
He had done nothing to start the LE6000 project so this was no inconvenience to him. We agreed that he would build the LE3000 project and that he could keep the other LE1000.

 
There was never any receipt from Mr. Ashraf nor any contract. There had been none for the project the year before. But a mutual friend, Assim El Sersy, was witness to conversations surrounding the two projects as they developed. He witnessed these conversations at Mr. Ashraf’s shop, at my home, at Mr. Assim’s hotel and other places we met. Mr. Ashraf came to my wedding. There were various places we met and Mr. Assim talked with Mr. Ashraf and myself about the nature of our agreements. I think we can expect that Mr. Assim will provide evidence if Mr. Ashraf wishes to complain that I have said something untrue.

 
There is now a big problem. Mr. Ashraf did not start the project for about a year. Various pieces of the project have now simply been lying around his shop for several months, are becoming damaged and have never been completed. And now Mr. Ashraf, and Mr. Assim saw Mr. Ashraf do this, has begun asking for an additional LE1000 to complete the project.


---------------

I had the letter translated by Mr. Ibrahim who owns the translation service I’ve been working with for some months now. He printed it on his company’s four color letterhead, stamping the translation as certified with two different kinds of stamps at the bottom. This was about ten days ago on a Thursday.


The translation service is two turns down side streets from a major U-turn junction on Faisal Street and the carpenter’s shop is two turns down side streets on the other side of the U. We generally wander away from the office at about 4:15 pm (mine is thus a seven hour day which begins at about 9:15 am as I wait until 9 am to leave our house, the traffic being quite wretched up to 9 and quite lovely immediately afterwards).


So upon leaving the office just after 4 pm a week ago last Thursday, I folded the letter into thirds, put it in a nice envelope, put the envelope in my shirt pocket and motorcycled to the U-turn in the median and across, going the wrong way down the last 40 metres of Faisal Street, as cyclists do, and turned onto the first side street. I didn’t have to turn down the second because Ashraf, the carpenter, was at the falafel shop right where his shop’s side street intersects with the main side street. He tried a bit of hail fellow, well met, but I was immediately occupied with getting the bike turned around and pointed back at Faisal Street, gave it a shot of gas, lurching towards him, slammed on the brakes as I came up to him, pulled the letter out of my pocket, handed it to him with a snarl, and blasted off, showering him with gravel from my spinning rear tire.

 

He had been served.

 

This was 4:20 pm.


At 5:20 pm I was at home and there came a call from “General” somebody at Ashraf’s shop.

“Aii-iiy-wa (Ye-e-ess)?” I said, unruffled. We rent our home from a general. Our last landlord was a general. Our apartment building is full of generals. The building super is a retired general. If Ashraf wanted me to talk to a general, I guess I could get a few generals to talk to him. But better save them for another day.

 

The general on the phone could apparently think of nothing more to say and Assim, my old, old friend who owns the hotel and married me off to his cousin Reda, came on the line and said, “Ashraf is saying to pick up everything on Sunday.” I thanked him and Reda called Ashraf for me on that Sunday to sus it out. It would be ready, “tomorrow” and “tomorrow” was the word again the next day, Reda gaily conversing with him a bit extraneously each day to sustain the fiction that it was a friendly phone call.

 

On Wednesday I drove by his place after work, passing the shop and ignoring Ashraf’s beckoning me to stop and talk, making a U-turn about 20 meters down the street. The pieces of my desk and book shelves were all completed and sitting against the buildings on both sides of the road. Probably he didn’t have the money to send it all to the paint shop for lacquering or whatever it is he usually does, and I called out to him as I drove back past his shop that I would return after 10 pm with a truck.


Reda and I motorcycled back to that neighborhood at about 10 pm and started looking for a truck. It’s the city that never sleeps. Trucks for hire congregate at nearby bridge over the Mariotea canal nearby. Some were too big for Ashraf’s side street, some were too small for the load, some were too expensive, some drivers looked just a little bit crazy and on we went, Reda bargaining at last for one that had a driver and an extra man.


When the deal was made there was then a long conversation about how to get to the shop, when finally the men said, “Oh, Ashraf. We’ll see you there.”


Reda and I took some wrong way street shortcuts on the motorcycle to Ashraf’s while the men made a legal trip with the truck, all of us arriving at the same moment, as it turned out. It was all sweetness and light, we got the stuff loaded, down the road and up the hill to our house, up four flights of stairs, into the guest room/office and off to bed before midnight. I’ll stain and varnish it myself, who knows when?

 
I’ve worked over 1000 hours, 1500 perhaps, at home with boxes stacked on each other for a desk since giving Ashraf the LE4000 15 months ago. I didn’t really want to go on for another 15 months checking twice a week to see if it was all inching along or something.

 

The power of the press. Perhaps I shall write more letters to the Pyramids Monument Tourist Police Station in the future... that I never deliver to them. It was a sufficient threat this time around.

 

26 June 2010 – interested parties


Well, my monthly charges at the bank went through yesterday without overdrawing anything and I thought I’d give pen to certain... interested parties.


Yesterday also firmed up some new arrangements with a new customer for ATS translation where I work. It is a customer I found. He had Googled for “native English speaker copy editing Cairo” about six months ago, lining up his ducks for services he would be needing as he prepared to crash into forming an Africa infrastructure news service (for international construction companies, technology companies, etc. wanting to know about government tenders around Africa).


As it does today, or even Googling just “copy editing Cairo”, my website came straight to the top six months ago. And also, “native English copy editing”, for which I continue to be number one in the world. I’d be a little bit rich if I could tell people how I did it but I don’t actually know why it is tops in the whole world. Anyway, it only brings in about four or five large assignments a year.


Quite unexpectedly, I loved my Peoples of the Pacific Islands elective and Introduction to Archaeology courses in about 1973. Between the two the whole direction of my studies changed entirely. I struggled with the idea of leaving African economic studies... leaving that “investment” behind... but it was a particular repressed insight on a particular day at a particular hour at a particular moment that burst out of my subconscious and calmly said, “The Pacific is full of wonderful small peoples with wonderful small problems, with a romantic prehistory and... besides... the population of Africa is going to double twice by the end of the century and the economies will not.” It was those precise words. I will never forget them.

 

I finally faced it. I simply didn’t want to watch those unhappy African stories unfold for the next 40 years. And suddenly I was free. I was gone. That’s the last moment that there was any inner conflict and suddenly I was in graduate school studying language in prehistory in the Pacific Islands.

 

I never lived in a huge city where my various lives keep proving useful as they do presently.


I was on Saipan for some years when it hardly had an economy.


Then I was back in the American Midwest from the mid-1980s just in time for a long recession.


Then I was in Australia just in time for “the recession Australia had to have” but insulated from it by a large scholarship and certain university employment in a different department.


Then I was back in America just in time to watch the neo-con bubble inching towards the wreckage that would surely come. I saw it before in the Savings and Loan excesses when they were neo-con deregulated in 1980s and wondered how it was materially different than the subprime bubble – but the scale this time was of an entirely different order.


But then there was Australia again and the dreamy grant Andrew Pawley and Malcolm Ross had... finishing up things I hardly imagined 30 years before that we would see completed in our lifetimes. It has taken and continues to take me into a lot of studies on matrilineality... an unexpected result because few MalayoPolynesian societies in the Pacific are still matrilineal... but they were as they migrated into the area 3500 years ago (Hage 1998, Hage and Marck 2003, Marck 2008). Similar results for Bantu and other Niger-Congo speaking prehistories in Africa: matrilineal migrants. I’m looking to get to Brussels again and the Africa library there in the coming years.


Anyway, I was able to watch the neo-con wars, the neo-con economic implosion and the neo-con oil spill from afar.


I’m in this vibrant economy – six percent annual growth again this year – that seems set to give me the kind of retirement I imagined when I bought my little flat here in 2005. Really hard work this year, but more like picking and choosing next year, and more so the next, and the next...


People work hard here and life gets better, at least a little bit, for most people most years and seems set to go on like that for a while. America was influential in encouraging the economic liberalization that’s behind it. The Yank government isn’t always wrong about everything Middle Eastern. And when it is the Egyptians blame the American government for poor leadership rather than the American people for poor followership. Still, few people know I’m also American and I never bring it up in conversation. And it is always my Australian passport that accompanies me to driver’s license renewal, etc.


It was a stroke of luck when one of the young people in the neighborhood loaded a copy of “Australia” (Nicole Kidman in the northern desert) onto my computer and Reda and I watched it one night. “That’s Australia?” she asked. “Yes,” I said without qualification. “When can we go?” she wanted to know.


Reda’s had cataract laser removals. Or I guess it’s ultrasound but here they call it “lazer” in colloquial Egyptian. One about 40 days ago and one about 15 days ago. They turned out just great. The phone company seems to pay for everything on their health plan. 50% of Egyptians have health insurance somehow. I’d never have guessed that but now I’ve noticed that figure mentioned in two reliable sources. And hers continues after retirement, Mr. Ibrahim tells me.

 

She came home one day with a purchase order from her health plan with a lot of medications on it and “cataracts” on one of those lines. That was the first I heard about her cataracts. I only knew that she kept rather bright lights on in the hallways at night. She said she’d like me to take her to the hospital the next day. I assumed it was for a consultation but it was for the surgery itself and we were there all day, me dozing off in the waiting room and she getting quite upset about it as had the guys at the motorcycle mechanic’s place the night before. I had been working 60-70 hour weeks for a couple months by then and finally… I did it. I dozed off in public. Twice. And really offended everybody.

 

Live and learn.


Anyway, she’s been off work all of the last 40 days or something and sleeps a lot during the day and rattles around the house into the wee hours. So I do, too. I knocked back to 35 hours a week before starting the English teaching certificate work 5 or 6 days ago. I’d been running short on sleep for several months and finally just really wasn’t sleeping at all. So I’m feeling a bit refreshed these last many days.


Reda and I are both still just terrible about language and it’s still all kind of pitiful baby talk between us. But there’s a lot of trust and joy and it doesn’t seem to matter much to either of us. And when it does Google Translator remains our faithful companion. We get a lot of mileage out of well-planned jokes and surprises, too.


I come home to find her working on the English CDs for a week or so and then I get into the Arabic CDs for a while but then she finally says, one day, “I don’t remember any of this stuff,” and I say, “I don’t either,” and I guess one just really doesn’t so much anymore at our age. But we find ourselves going back to the CDs every few months and have another go at it. She has more and more vocabulary coming back to her from rote memorization in secondary school. I have the immersion advantage. We both have each other. We’re just kind of happy and don’t care. And there is progress, however slow.


Mr. Ibrahim (BA English, Grad Dip Linguistics), his wife (BA English Education) and Reda and I are planning out a book of Cairo Arabic verbs. The most common ones. Which, as in any language, are the most irregular. It will force me to go over it again and again and again. And this book of verbs will be designed to get the user accustomed to the pronouns, prepositions, common juxtapositions of people, places and things, etc. and not just the verb tenses etc. There isn’t anything quite like what we’re planning on the shelves of the American University in Cairo Bookstore and they routinely stock everything on Egyptian Arabic so they’ll probably stock ours.


I’ve looked for lexicography projects since I got back in 2008 (that I might volunteer on and similarly force myself into a book, again and again and again going over the same material, even at the level of data entry and proofing) but I’ve met most of the “real” (theoretical) linguists in town... there aren’t many of us and we meet once a month on Saturdays... and no one knows of any dictionary projects, etc.


16 July 2010 – irrigation on the floodplain


Reda and I were up the Nile in El Minya overnight, leaving just after I got home from work on Thursday.


I didn’t see the kind of activity on the floodplain, as we drove in yesterday evening, that I saw this morning coming back.


As we drove the Nile floodplain on its main roads coming back late this morning in the Peugeot 504 station wagon bush taxi with six other passengers and the driver, I saw some hundreds and hundreds of men by ones and twos on donkey wagons but mostly by twos on small motorcycles hauling their little petrol-powered irrigation pumps and sort of nine to eighteen foot, 6 or nine inch diameter pump hoses to the fields. The taxi driver was just great... always slightly under the speed limit and taking every kind of sensible precaution with oncoming traffic, etc. I relaxed and enjoyed the sights.


Some significant portion of water use is unregulated at the level of the individual farmer. If you have land and there’s a canal running by... you can pump from it. But of course the canals are thousands of years in the planning and making and it’s all pretty logical, according to the engineering assessments, of how to make water available to the whole floodplain... districts thereof, actually.


What is now regulated is the making of new farms fields, as I understand it. For millennia and millennia people just expanded the farms and canals as their families grew. But now, as I’ve mentioned once or twice over the months, there are at least some areas where the area as a whole is using its quota of water running into its district’s canals, there can be no more water allocated to the district, and no one can open up new land (i.e., prepare more floodplain for irrigation) and one, especially, cannot pump onto land not registered as irrigation land. But as a practical matter, I suppose they don’t extend the canals into those areas, anyway. So it’s all pretty simple at that level and these guys sort of burst out of their residential compounds and onto the roads all at once as if police in cruisers coming onto the streets from their station for their day’s shift. It made me wonder if there was a specific time they knew that the water level of the canals would rise. They live in grander and lesser villages and settlements and not in the middle of their individual fields like the Yanks or Aussies... all off at 25 kph on motorcycles (always a second man to carry the pump and hose) or donkey carts (often, or perhaps usually, with just one man) to their fields outlying a few healthy kilometers away.


I wondered at the scale of the retail donkey cart business and where they are manufactured. They have nice, sturdy springs and wheels as on light to mid-weight family cars. They were all small wagons today that a single donkey can pull when full. Somewhere they have larger two donkey carts but none were in use for this morning’s purposes.


I wondered again if our driver would make ample adjustments for this traffic but I needn’t have. He was once again a dream and assiduously kept his speed down and gave a wide berth as we progressed through one vast expanse of fields and its flurry of irrigation equipment transport, through village areas, and then on through more fields and small equipment on the road.


It’s as flat as south central Manitoba and Minnesota/Northern Iowa. It’s the height of summer and all the floodplain was green with one thing or another unless something had just been harvested and was only stubble. There were no bundles of fodder from these cuttings laying around as one might imagine a neighbor or perhaps more distant districtman might be glad to liberate anything left overnight.


I saw grape fields close up for the first time. Or took good notice for the first time because they were bearing fruit and I finally knew what they were. They grow the plants in little bushes of about three feet in height and diameter... no climbing sticks or wires for vines, no nothing that I saw... and we’ve been having the lovely purple and white fruits for what seems like months now. I think they were 80 to 110 American cents a kilogram this year, the white ones less, and the purple ones more, where I didn’t know what they cost last year... I just never noticed because they were so cheap. They were half the price and less 5 years ago, I remember clearly. But now perhaps they are said to have gone more onto the international markets and doubled in price due to export competition/pressures.


It’s not currency inflation that’s driving those particular prices up. The Egyptian pound is steadily, year after, year... right at 5.4-5.7 per American dollar. Australia’s currency exchange rates fluctuate with the Egyptian pound, but only when the Australian currency is having its own ups and downs. Over any appreciable period of time the Aussie dollar comes back to 90 US cents and 5.0 Egyptian pounds.


So, this stuff is kind of rolling through my mind, the grape prices, the end of farm expansions, and, more personally, the recent increase of cigarette prices by 40 cents a pack because they finally started taxing them in the past month or so. They cut back petrol subsidies a bit at the same time, I’m told. A lot of second hand information and guesses perhaps. I didn’t notice.... driving the motorcycle and buying whole guinea (pound, LE) amounts of “benzene” so I can pay and depart instead of waiting for them to come back with change. I just heard about this but don’t know if I’ll be able to take notice and make sense of it next time I get fuel. I can never remember what, in a sense, the unvarying price was before. It was 1.75 guineas a liter for one octane level but I never noticed if that was the one I always got or not. One price was always around 1.75 and the others were always some odder number I never committed to memory. So, previously, it was about 1.25 a gallon, American and 35 cents a litre, Australian... the 1.75 guinea per liter stuff.


The road rose eventually where the floodplain and its farms ended and we rose not fifty or one hundred feet to a kind of low plateau or former floodplain of undulating, very low rises. I first, as we came towards the edge, noticed six very tall, thin smokestacks sticking up out of nowhere over the edge of the rise where the floodplain ended. I had noticed these for the first time yesterday evening and wondered what they were. It occurred to me in El Menya that Reda and I were communicating well enough now that I could ask her what they were and I did so as they came into view on the way back. First I saw four so I was trying to get her to focus on the number four and that there were four things I wanted to know about standing up like fingers on the horizon, holding four fingers up very straight and still. But by that time there were eight or ten so we had to have another go. Then, all at the same moment, she realized what I was asking about and a broad graveyard came into view with five or ten of the smokestacks seeming to stand in the midst of the graveyard and I made a faint noise of comprehension, thinking for an instant that they were smokestacks of crematoriums, smoke belching out of every third or fourth stack of a Friday morning. But then the small size of the surrounding population occurred to me, dozens more of these smokestacks were appearing to the right and to the left. And I then realized that I had never heard of Muslims cremating, and I was uttering a little noise of deflation and misunderstanding just in time to rescue myself from the opinion of the other occupants of the taxi. My little noise started just an instant before their little groans over my initial misperception. No. Muslims never cremate, I was told, eventually, after asking Assim when we got back home.


They turned out to be the smoke stacks of brick kilns which I saw as our aspect rose a moment later and then there was some further elevation that exposed kilometers and kilometers of them right at the edge of dry side up from the floodplain, desert edge, Reda gaily noting that I figured out what they were, with some helpful pointing on her part. There they obviously had the best of both worlds. A clay kind of substance to mine from the surfaces of the low hills and valleys right at the edge of the floodplain’s high water table. I didn’t see any surface water pipes at all and wondered if they mustn’t simply drill shallow wells down to the porous soil of the water table.


I wondered what hundreds and hundreds of trucks it might take to haul all their industry to Cairo, just as we had seen hundreds and hundreds of “big trucks” (semis/lorries) waiting to be loaded with fruit and vegetables along the larger canals where there are always substantial paved roads. I’d not seen anything like those hundreds of trucks out in the fields since trucking, myself, into and out of the American West Coast and Southwest desert “truck farms”.


Then came a beautiful sight. “Cairo” was only “140 km” away and our home was about 15 km before Tahrir Square in Cairo proper, to which the signs always refer. The drive was now through the desert where it is cheaper and more convenient to build a superhighway and there would be only a few tiny villages and too many, really, sparkling but empty modern petrol stations. We were dropped off with the Pyramids to our right and our home up the hill on the left and walked home. Which was a great deal easier than catching these taxis and nice passenger vans to El Menya. They’re always full by the time they get to our part of town. They muster 15 km deeper into the city so when we left yesterday we first had to city-bus 15 km in the wrong direction.


We had been talking about going to El Menya for a couple weeks because this week was the first anniversary of Reda and Zuba’s sister’s daughter’s death (a 40 year-old) after many years of battling Hepatitis C. Even in Australia, that battle is rarely won. Or such was recently so.


But then there could be no further delay, because, tragedies of tragedies, the very woman’s 45 year-old sister and her husband were killed in a motoring accident. Almost a year to the very day after the other one had died. We went to Zuba’s house before we left where she gave us money and other gifts for their sister whose only two daughters were now dead.


We went straight to El Menya and straight to the sister’s house where I soon passed out in the bed they made available to us. I hadn’t expected the trip until the next day and had worked all night on my teaching certificate the night before. When I woke up this morning it was with the knowledge that Reda had not come to bed all night and when I went out into the lounge room she, the dead women’s mother, and her son, Khalid, were right where I had left them 12 hours before. They had talked all night and they all looked just terrible. Reda was ready to go. She was too disheartened to come up for the funeral the day before and didn’t tell me until we were suddenly leaving yesterday, why we now had to go. The rows of funeral chairs were stilled filled by men yesterday evening when we arrived.


Khalid had told me last night that his sister and her husband had been driving, the car rolled into an irrigation canal upside down, and they had both died there. He sadly walked us to the main road this forenoon and took us to one of the utes/pickup trucks in the settlement’s main street on the other side of the canal, the ute driving us, and picking up more people along the way, to the mustering point for the Peugeots and passenger vans to Cairo.


We didn’t talk about family business in the Peugeot but as we walked up the hill to our home on the Giza Plateau after getting out of the taxi, she explained that there were four children. Three are in university and will stay there. The fourth is Mohamed who I met last night at his grandmother’s house. There it was explained to me that he was the youngest child of the deceased couple, was still in secondary school, and would now live with the grandmother (where he will be innocent, obedient, industrious and loved).


Reda had about just enough energy to feed me, tell me those further details of the situation, and no more. She went to bed and I went off to the mechanic near my old neighborhood to see about getting my oil changed but he was too busy until tomorrow. So I went off to find Assim to see about further details of the deaths and to talk about a few other situations I might clear up with him.


Assim expressed his anger with the dead couple. All their anger. The mother, the aunts, the surviving brothers. All of them. “They didn’t have to leave us like that. They should of been more careful. God knows!” What they specifically believe is that God knows, for all the eons ahead of us, what people there will be, what, minutely, they will do of their own free will, and what will happen to them in every detail just as he knows all such things for all the people who have come before us and those of us alive today. We will have our own successes and failings, they will, in the main, be of our own free will, but God knows what they will be and where they will lead us from even before the time we are born.


Assim was able to tell me a bit more than Khalid did last night. Khalid teaches French and also speaks wonderful English but I didn’t want to sort of sit there and grill him about the death of his second sister in a year. Assim had been talking to Zuba the last two days and the crash was a single vehicle event on a deserted road. Perhaps veering to avoid a stray cow or something... they overturned... and slid into the canal upside down. Did they drown or were they already dead? Why would I ask? Why would he spontaneously say? I didn’t and he didn’t. I don’t even know if it was day or night.


There were happier things to talk about. I had decided to work with adult business English conversation students for my $30 an hour when I get my TEFL certificate in coming weeks (5 or 10 I’d say). People in the industry say this is a sensible and possible full time aspiration. Mr. Ibrahim at the translation service has a 12 year old daughter, Nada, who has been coming to the office twice a week and I have been tutoring her. Practicing my TEFL lessons on her. And I know enough, generally as a linguist and in the evidence of my self-taught foster daughter, Iva, that if you can catch kids and work on their hearing of a new language, the benefits in terms of their pronunciations of the new language just kind of naturally flow with small amounts of coaching and exercises. But this natural ability quickly fades from about 13 on up. Except in Iva, who went off to New York City for some months recently at the age of 30 and came back to Australia talking like a Yank. Yes, Ivancica! I noticed. How rude of me to mention it now....


So, I’m learning how fast 12 year olds grab on to good instruction, how quickly they pick up the specific new sounds of the target language, and how quickly they forget if I don’t have the right kind of exercises to send home with them. So Assim’s daughter, Maria (Mariam) is also 12 this summer but a bit further along to begin with and it is now that I want to bring her in on these twice a week sessions with Nada. Well, she just about died and went to heaven when she heard this and then there was the question of how to show her where the office is. I would come at 11 am Tuesday and take her on the motorcycle, or we could take the bus or we could take a taxi (just the once). Maria said she wanted to go on the bus. But her mother said, “Take her on the motorcycle. She’s afraid to do it. Make her do it.” It was all very gay and after Maria and I exchanged mobile numbers I went home, Reda was still sleeping, and I worked on www.AmericansInCairo.org, a web site I own, and then turned to this missive at about dawn.


I had told Assim about midnight that I couldn’t teach his older kids... he had asked about that, too... because I have to specialize and that I’m going to have the two: adult business conversation and children under 13 who need tutoring or small group work in hearing and pronouncing English correctly. I told him, “I have to get serious. I have to be making $20,000 within a year. Reda retires in a year and gets a lot of free doctors, and operations and medicine. People say it will still be free after she retires. Is that really true?” (This all comes with her phone company employment).


“Yes,” he said. “But the Ministers have been telling President Mubarak that there isn’t enough money. And he told them, ‘We can’t stop doing these things for the people.’ And the Ministers told him, ‘We can’t go on doing all these things for the people.”‘

 

Assim is very grateful that I never want to talk about domestic politics. And I sincerely don’t want to. I never said “boo” about Australian domestic politics or foreign affairs until I was a citizen and, in the same way here in Egypt, I am a grateful guest of this nation as I was in Australia and even then I never got involved in politics after citizenship except in the area of Palestinian rights (and Israeli wrongs). But there are times, such as this night, when I need to know what’s going on and Assim has the most eloquent way of distilling it into the folk knowledge of the moment and I always accept it without a word except, “Thank you.”


It’s well past dawn and Reda was up at 7 and left to take a bus to a (free, for the moment?) doctor’s appointment having to do with persistent colon problems. “I’ll take you on the bike,” I said. “I don’t understand this colon problem at all. I want to come along and talk to the doctor.”


“I’ll get the doctor to write you a letter.”


“Hmph,” I said, lying essentially, and secretly glad for the chance to now sleep all morning. The doctors at the phone company’s clinics don’t like the husbands coming along. And Reda probably took one look at me and knew I’d fall asleep there, repeating my previous offences aAs I mentioned some weeks or months ago, falling asleep at the motorcycle mechanic’s shop one Sunday after a long weekend of overtime into the wee hours. They’re all still upset. Though less so every time I see them. Egyptians can get very completely indignant and do hold on to it a bit. But they are also completely forgiving, or at least completely forgetting, of all my faux pas so far... given a little time.

 

There are reasons to rejoice, these days.


For all of Cairo right down to just about every single person I know.

 

The price rises and ratcheting down of subsidies comes at a time when most of Cairo is sharing in Egypt’s 6.5-7.5% growth (and more) for the last many years and last year and this year as well.

 

It’s the first time I’ve missed an American or Australian recession in 40 years.[here]


The US/EU neo-con recession hasn’t caused any hardship here. One of the most significant effects came most of two years ago when computer components fell in price by over 2/3. Every teenager in Cairo seems to know how to build a computer. But this fall in components prices meant that, in Cairo, a new computer, with completely new parts fell from about $600 to about $120. The only people who suffered were the internet cafes because by the end of six months or a year of the new, low prices so many households had computers that their members were no longer filling up the internet cafes.


Which is huge to families with teenagers in school that need lots of computer hours to muscle up their skills for the job market. And the major appliance megastores are all packed from the moment they open to the moment they close – this is Cairo and, yes, one occasionally exaggerates... but I think that helps paint the picture. Things are terribly upbeat and I especially take notice of the closest major appliance store whenever I drive past it and indeed, it is simply packed with people all the time.

 

Another measure is what must be tens or hundreds of thousands of wonderful $500 150cc Chinese motorcycles in Cairo, the rural areas and small (upper) Nile and Delta cities. Just like mine… these bikes. Mine has 23,000 km on it in 23 and a half months and has cost me $2.10 Yank a day over those months, an extra 79 cents a day if I were to depreciate the whole thing in one fell swoop. The modern world, computers and motorcycles, have come to them. They won’t all have to come to Cairo and Alexandria to find them or earn the money for such things. They’ve taken a lot of the money the Yanks give them and have world class farm to market roads, rural electrification and sewerage systems.

 

The young people who want to buy my little flat were thoroughly befuddled and then embarrassed when their “deal” with a bank “for the first week in June” turned out to be only an offer to look seriously at the application once the woman achieved the current-job-longevity-requirement in the first week of June. So the first week of July they finally fessed up and said they were having problems they didn’t understand.


“No worries!” I said (lit.: “No problem.”). “In Australia we apply to five or six banks and they all say the same thing. Either they all say, ‘Yes’, or they all say, ‘No.’ If they all say, ‘Yes,’ then we take their offers to a good accountant who can read their offers and tell us which one is giving us the cheapest deal with the least hassles and potential problems.”

“But isn’t that sneaky?” they asked.


Noooo, it’s like buying a new car. They expect you to. You go to five different places who have the same new car and see who gives you the lowest price. It’s just like buying a new car. They expect you to shop around.”


So every couple of days since then I get a merry call from them at yet another bank where they are being treated courteously and the loan officers are glad for the application etc., etc. It’s been such a great lift because I’ve really been suffering for them, not to mention myself and my creditors. Other potential buyers are appearing in the wings and the young couple will accept this as all that can be done at this point in their financial lives if all the banks decline. I specifically want to sell to them because then the whole building will be owned by one family again, “my” family, who can parlée  it into... well that’s another story.


So now I will leave off by slapping in a few paragraphs that haven’t found a home in these missives previously. It’s about “residence”. And the subject at the moment, has, indeed, been residence. Therefore:

 

“I married Ma’adi. We live in Ma’adi.”

 
I heard this said in Cairo in 2005. It was a 30ish man replying to the question of where he and his wife had made their home upon marriage, she being from Ma’adi.

 
This was some weeks or months after I was looking for a flat to buy and my new acquaintance, also 30ish man, mentioned that their flat was near his wife’s parents and that it was part of the neighborhood into which I was buying, if I was happy with the area he would show me, and the “house”, as flats are called in Cairo English, that he knew to be for sale. He and his wife of similar age were expecting their first child and they were happy to think that the young woman’s mother and two sisters were nearby.

 
Of course these kinds of stories occur in a wider society where the male prerogatives, concerning residence, are essentially absolute. A normative kind of statement that can be made is that the wife, when living with her husband’s family, seeks to isolate her husband’s resources from his family that surrounds them, seeking for herself, her children and her parents and extended family all that she can in the face of constant small pressures from his family. I guess that same normative statement can be made when they don’t live anywhere near the husband’s family, but of course when they do it is all amplified.

 
There are accommodations of various sorts. Two brothers in their mid and late 20s married two sisters in their early and mid 20s and took them to live in the men’s father’s apartment building. I have watched the young ladies become each other’s partners in microscopic passive resistance conspiracies and they are endlessly glad for each other’s company. Some small group of men, perhaps two or three, was discussing the young men’s circumstances with me one night and there was a certain question of resource distribution in the air in that patriarchal homestead.


“Well, what are their wives thinking of all this?” one asked, because it involved an element of competition between the young men.


“Their wives are sisters,” I said.


“What?” a second asked. Neither he nor the first speaker seemed to expect me to know of such patterns.


“Their wives are sisters,” I said.


“Well....” they both sighed, much astonished. “Then there’s no problem,” one of them said, completing the thought both had begun to speak.


Just guessing at the time, whoever won the father’s favor would then be under pressure from his wife to receive some share, she would divert some of the resulting resources to her sister, who would present them to her husband, ameliorating her husband’s hurt at not winning the prize outright. In fact, I wondered if the father wouldn’t transfer the resources concerned to the son who would play all this out the most elegantly... which he… eventually… did.

 
Outright matrilocality – which, for Cairo purposes, I would define as renting or buying in the bride’s mother’s building or neighborhood (bride’s father’s building or neighborhood if still alive and still cohabiting with the bride’s mother) – is common enough that one young engaged couple’s residence was undecided and the subject of some gossip in an office I visit occasionally. “It’s a crazy man who makes his wife live somewhere she doesn’t want to,” I said lazily. As the office was entirely friends of the bride, one of the eldest men looked a bit ruffled and then said, “Yes, but we can’t say that.”

And my talk was cheap. I have no relatives in Cairo and we would, just naturally, as we have done, live nearest my wife’s family as do most men who have migrated here and marry women with local extended families. Convenient to her place of employment, in our case, but not inconvenient to her family or even “mine” on short motorcycle hops. Which is similar to another kind of success story for the bride: the groom marries the girl next door. Then she’s in heaven. Her mother will be right there.

 

04 September 2010 – Ramadan 2010

 

It’s 1:30 am and Reda just called the landlord, one “General Sami”, to arrange payment of the rent for tomorrow some time. I was amazed and mentioned that I don’t call people after 9 pm at all unless it’s someone I know who turns off their phone when they’re sleeping.


“No one’s asleep this early on a Friday night during Ramadan,” she said, taking my hand and walking us out to the balcony. There she swept her arm grandly across the panorama of the immediate neighborhood and indeed the lights of every lounge room and most of the other rooms were shining where all but two or three are normally off by this time of night.

 

“There’s no light in that one,” I said, pointing to the single flat that wasn’t lit up.


“They’re not home yet,” she said.


Perhaps our memory of Ramadan this year will always return first to a really wonderful evening Assim had for us at his hotel with his oldest brother, Ahmed, and his wife – who I had never met before.


Ahmed’s 15 years older than Assim and, technically, it would have been him watching over the brother-less and divorced (Zuba) and maiden (Reda) female cousins all these decades in Cairo (their mothers were sisters from El Menya) – but Ahmed was away those many years with an illustrious career in the Gulf… all his kids got PhDs, etc. And then there was a sister of Ahmed and Assim at that big Ramadan meal, a medical doctor, who I wasn’t seated close to and didn’t get a chance to converse with much. But the star of the evening was Reda because something amusing had happened at our house that Assim exploited for the occasion.


It was just a few nights before that Zuba had telephoned. She no longer tries to boss me around but I occasionally remind her of the days when she did… by teasing her... which is what slowly made her give up trying to tell me what to do all the time after Reda and I first got married.


If the home phone rings at 3 am, I know it’s Zuba so when the call came I thought I’d do what I might do to rile her and picked it up, myself:


“Hallooo”, (the English is used to answer the phone in Egypt).


“Salam aleikum, fein Reda?” (‘Hi, where’s Reda?” – i.e., why didn’t she pick up the phone, it being 3 am?).


“Mish mawguta,” (‘She’s not here.”)


“Eh?” (‘What?’)


“Mish mawguta.” (Reda had arrived to the phone and was watching, amused that I would mislead Zuba).


“Ley?” cried Zuba. (‘Why?’ – the only answer would be the hospital or something – Reda’s always either here or at Zuba’s at 3 am).


But the answer was:


“Fii ręęgil tani.” (‘There’s another man.’) Reda’s face lit up in delight and she started pulling her right hand across her throat as if holding a knife and cutting her throat.


“Eh?” Zuba said, shocked and mystified.


“Fii ręęgil tani.”


“Eh?” Zuba cried loudly.


Now Reda was just flatly laughing, and reaching out to take the phone. A little revenge against the sister who had authority over her for decades?


“La’a, aana kizęęb,” (‘No, I was lying.’) I said before Reda got the phone away from me with her left hand, still making slicing motions across her throat with her right.


After the phone call Reda picked up right where it had started and told me quite happily and excitedly that now her family had to cut her throat.


Without knowing it, I had said the magic words. I attempted to convey Reda’s amusement to Tarek, the great composer, a few days later. But he simply froze as I said the specific words I had spoken. Suspended animation. I attempted to continue with the story but, he was so disappointed that I knew those words that decided I’d best act like I hadn’t spoken them and changed the subject. There is a particular phrase in Polynesian languages and another in Micronesian, both ancient we think, going back to the time of Christ and before, having to do with men sneaking around at night with their girlfriends. Young men would run from my office, screaming with laughter, to hear them spoken (and the old and the proper are mortified to discover that a foreigner knows them – I had seen Tarek’s sort of suspended animation when an Islander or reacted, crestfallen, to my knowledge of such things in Egypt or the Pacific Islands).


When I next saw Assim, I mentioned the phone call. He was instantly amused but attempted a frown, saying:


“You can’t say that!!! Now Zuba has to tell us all!!! And we have to make an investigation and ask everybody in the family to swear what they know!!!”


He let it go at that and since he was amused rather than concerned I let it go as well.


But the inquisition did come. It was on the day of the Ramadan feast at his hotel that I began this story with.


It was in a guest room perhaps 7 meters by 7 meters. The one my sister, Jana, stayed in, come to think of it.


Tables from the dining room had been brought in for the meal and I had been seated next to Ahmed, Assim’s (much) older brother, and we had some interesting chats in English during the course of the meal.


Everybody finished eating and we were spreading around the room a bit. To the couch along one wall. Pulling our chairs away from the table. Ahmed’s large wife laying down on the double bed with Assim’s 10 and 12 year old daughters sitting on the other side of the bed.


Eventually, there was a lull in all the conversations all at once and Assim, stood up, taking a central position in the room, saying, as he swept his arm widely around the room until his hand was pointing at me, something like, “Huuwa olti, ‘Fii ręęgil tani.’” (“He says, ‘There’s another man.’”)


The slouching young girls’ spines went straight as arrows and their eyes went huge as they looked at Reda and then Ahmed’s wife and then their mother, Hanan, as the latter two exploded wildly in utter mirth.


Reda was instantly beaming demurely and squirming in her chair like a naughty school girl caught out about something.


The inquisition was on.


Assim formally and loudly called to the various blood relatives in the room, one by one, asking if they knew anything about this while I chirped out again and again that I had been lying and Ahmed and Assim’s wives (and Assim’s sister, el doctora) laughed on and on, wiping tears from their eyes, Reda beaming happily and making a motion of a knife slicing across her throat every time our eyes met, the little girls incredulous and only gradually understanding the accusation and that it was a joke. They sat through it all, each with all eight small fingers her mouth, which spread their mouths wide, their teeth clenching down on their fingertips, their aspect darting from person to person as Assim, and the others, one by one, spoke.


Goodness. Everybody was so amused… and Assim, surprise, surprise, the great maestro of those moments, was finally mock mollified and sitting down… the conversations from before picking up where they left off. A cherished memory of the day for the family.


Twice since, I think, I’ve been talking on the mobile to Reda, catching up on where to meet later and there was to be some delay at her end. Both times I said, with a light inquisitional voice, “Mafish ręęgil tani?” (‘There’s no other man?’). And twice the reaction of her and the people around me was the same. She happily protesting that her family would get a knife and cut her throat if there was anything like that going on. The people around me amused that I would know that phrase and amused that I would play the jealous husband to my wife (there were no children present). “Knife.” “Sikkiina.” Finally, perhaps, I shall finally remember the word.

 

The next couple of times I stopped at their house, Assim’s little daughters greeted me with speechlessness, eyes as big as the moon and smiles as wide as when they had eight fingers in their mouths at the hotel dinner. I didn’t known it was possible for the mouth to stretch that wide unassisted.


Otherwise there are these nascent language services accounts from the rich side of town that my ATS boss once didn’t want me to have on a freelance basis (but now finds some of them bringing in not just native English speaker copy editing work but then translation of the completed work into Arabic – which pays him more than other aspects of the total job pays me). Not a great change in income but I have to kind of put on the brakes and make sure these new clients are getting taken care of properly before I go out and look for more. Sometimes two at once want something done overnight. My rates are low with the understanding that they will rise to the going rate by about this time next year.


Otherwise, still, I’ve been drafting grant proposals to get some of the Pacific Island’s most productive breadfruit to tropical Africa (the present Pacific Island breadfruit in Africa comes from the time of Captain Bligh, his crew’s mutiny to some extent due to the pregnant girlfriends they had on Tahiti after six months of carousing while waiting for the right time of the year to prepare breadfruit cuttings for the West Indies [and transferred to West Africa in the 1840s]). What is now being shipped produces two or three times the Tahitian variety of tree already there.

 

The world’s great Breadfruit Institute (in Hawai’i) turned all their Africa contacts over to me because with the American recession they have neither the resources to help write grant proposals nor do they know enough about Africa to be of help in all the necessary areas. So I’ve learned a lot quickly about the science of breadfruit and have found it fairly easy to get NGOs in Ghana started on applications as 1) I did an African rural economies BA and visited Ghana in 1971 and 2) I lived with breadfruit cultivation for 10 years in the Pacific Islands.


Diane Ragone (rah-goh-neh), the Breadfruit Institute’s founder and director writes overnight that US-AID might fund African initiatives (we missed, 31 July, the deadline for the Australian grant that would have been most appropriate as we were just, at the time, first pulling information together). She’s to go to the mainland and meet with them in DC. And I’m her guy in Africa.


I don’t think they need my participation on any of the grants’ actual activities though I help quite a bit with the bona fides of the African groups. So I’ll just be staying here growing my language services accounts.

 

Still, quite an honor to be helping the Diane Ragone... and the African NGOs. I’ll always be the guy who emailed or telephoned out of the blue... the guy with the magic wand.


Samoa has licensed the genetic material to Diane and Diane has licensed that genetic material to Global Breadfruit (Cultivaris) and they clone, in layman’s language, and produce as many tens of thousands of “germs”, I think they call them, as one wants, and raise them up to 6 inch plants with nice little root balls. At $10 each, FOB Germany. We’ll probably be speaking of 500-1000 plants in the Ghana proposal (as much as $50,000 all up – $5000-$10,000 for the plants, ~$5000 in shipment costs, and then 3-6 months of central nursery care before they are made available to farmers).

 

Samoa’s foreign aid program to 300,000,000 tropical Africans, one Samoan variety having ultimately come from tiny Rotuma.

 

Thousands of islands over thousands year. And rare incidents in prehistory that one of the crossbreeds resulted in super-producing seedless varieties. And there are some Micronesian super-producing varieties. The most bountiful breadfruit in the world. They out-produce the present African varieties 2 to 1 and 3 to 1. They even out produce Belgium by dryweight when comparing to grains and Belgium is the largest producer per hectare in the world. Two varieties are shipped that fruit at complementary times of the year – good for people who want to eat every day. Good for factories that want product every day.

 

Prehistorically, the Samoan varieties concerned were, perhaps, the source of or a destination for the breadfruit I was around in Micronesia. I didn’t know there was any breadfruit in the world that out-produces certain Micronesian varieties. Western Polynesia and Central and Eastern Micronesia kind of stayed in touch after they were settled two and three thousand years ago so I assume the best from the one place would sometimes have made it to the other. I’ll find out over time.

 

This first grant that the Breadfruit Institute will write a letter of support for goes to Ghana. It will test my ability to find NGOs that, in turn, have or find agricultural stations where plant survival is most likely to be up around 100%, as it was among Global Breadfruit’s first of its kind shipment in history to Jamaica – where it is the national food and where the shipment perhaps arrived to some fanfare. The second shipment went to Honduras and was apparently met with suspicion by agricultural inspection teams at the airport who delayed the release a number of days and there was significant plant mortality. And there are no “valorization” issues in Ghana. Breadfruit saved tens and tens of thousands of people, hundreds of thousands, perhaps, from starvation or aid dependence in the 1983-1984 famine when all their other crops failed and their Tahitian variety breadfruit trees kept producing.

 

15 November 2010 – seeing double


Well the Muslims are celebrating Eid (‘festivity’ – there is only this one a year plus the Eid that ends Ramadan) and the Yanks are all set to celebrate Thanksgiving... the national starting gun for Christmas shopping.


Interesting work keeps coming in and I am transitioning to those in fits and starts with the security of my children’s books production activities for which hours are available to me any time I want to do some of that work.

slim surplus). So they kept my divers license and told me where I could pick it up for $10. So "within a week" I had paid it off at a facility that didn’t have long waiting lines, etc. But it was $20 – an extra $12 for not paying on the spot. Not just an extra $2. And I didn’t have it. I had the $10 and the standard don’t-go-anywhere-without-$5-for-a-flat-tire. But some guy standing at the next window paying some dozens and dozens of slips for a trucking company pulled $10 off the top of his LE50(=$11) stack that looked about 9 inches high... and I was off and on my way.


The motorcycle continues to be an enormous source of convenience and continues to cost about $2 a day – petrol, parts, service and licenses. And fortunately none of my friends, rich or poor, have cars unless their work requires one. Assim, Reda’s little-bit-rich cousin with the small downtown hotel doesn’t even have one. Which is a great asset when Reda asks about when we might get one. I’d say ‘Never. Lots of taxis are still cheaper than a car. And you don’t have to park a taxi.’ Kind of moot points, though. We always take the most dangerous-looking junky-looking bus before we take a taxi.


There has been one traffic ticket. It was an $8 ticket. Which I could have paid on the spot (and left with my driver’s license). But I didn’t have $8 with me (flat tires are only $4 for tube replacement and I think I had $5 or some similarly slim surplus). So they kept my driver’s license and told me where I could pick it up for $10. So "within a week" I had paid it off at a facility that didn’t have long waiting lines, etc. But it was $20 – an extra $12 for not paying on the spot. Not just an extra $2. And I didn’t have it. I had the $10 and the standard don’t-go-anywhere-without-$5-for-a-flat-tire. But some guy standing at the next window paying some dozens and dozens of slips for a trucking company pulled $10 off the top of his LE50(=$11) stack that looked to be about 9 inches high... and I was off and on my way.


I was at the motorcycle mechanic tonight. I’ve been around there a bit lately as the return spring for the brake pedals age and give out after a couple years – those factory-fitted from a couple years ago. But there’s a massive supply of poor replacement springs in town and the shops are just kind of replacing them once a week until they are all gone or a better supply shows up or something. Now there’s the same problem with the rear brake-shoe retractor springs. So possibly I’ll be stopping by the mechanic 8 times a month instead of 4. Or maybe they’ll just replace both at the same time once each week for the duration.


I was sitting in one of the chairs at the mechanic’s place reflecting on such things when my eyes drifted over to the interior wall on which his tools are hung. He now has two of everything... spanners, screw drivers, socket sets... everything. Not just one. For the two mechanics who now make their living there... not just him. Life’s kind of doubled up for him in similar ways. Two years and three months ago he had a few Vespas (‘fesba’) that he rented out. But then people like me started showing up with these new Chinese motorcycles he bought two, renting them out, then a third and a fourth and perhaps now a fifth and a sixth. And since all that was doubling nicely he got a 14 seat passenger vehicle and has personally started plying the highways and byways of Greater Cairo – they don’t try different things every day, although they may be free to do so. They run regular routes, experimenting a bit with others, to see how they might keep their van loaded most of the day for the highest price. So his young brother-in-law, who he has been the second man for two years or more, is now running the shop and training others and so on it goes.


Not so different than Assim who added the 6th floor of his building most of two years ago where the hotel/hostel was just on the 7th floor for the first five years he had it open. Double the fun. Double the income.


The property situation is perhaps well out of hand now but it hasn’t yet crashed like it did in America and Dubai and when it does it will involve speculative luxury villas and apartments rather than the apartments most of us live in. Too many in the far west of Cairo and too many in the far east. Perhaps tens of thousands of them empty. As is true of middle and low income housing but those have the thronging millions coming of age or immigrating to Cairo to keep that market rather better balanced out. Reda and I hope for our savings to intersect with the luxury stuffs’ prices’ demise on a two to four year basis.


Some of the sleepy old kinds of businesses are going under. But there are abundant examples of the world of consumerism coming to Pyramids and finding a hearty reception: Arab and American fast food, car dealerships, appliance super-stores, computer shops.


Otherwise, I have become the Breadfruit Institute’s ‘lead man’ in Africa. Which pays for nothing… except for the sins of my past. See link below:

 

www.jeffmarck.net/breadfruitrevolution.htm




06 January 2011 – Egyptian icebergs


Six or eight months ago – yes, June it was or perhaps May – I told Reda and various friends that I would then most earnestly begin seeking freelance work from area translation agencies to do native English copy editing and that it might be the end of the year before it came to much good.


I had been working since March or April at the closest translation service to our house. But southwest Pyramids is not the place to be looking for work touching up Arabic to English projects. I don’t know if I’m the only "European" living in Pyramids but at that agency it’s all English to Arabic – equipment manuals, doctors’ reports – things at a personal or small business level that brings the outside world to them. So my time at the translation office has been spent exclusively – not almost exclusively – precisely exclusively – condensing Dickens and Shakespeare for Egyptian middle school students.


I have a pronounced astigmatism which wasn’t diagnosed until I was 35 years old. Long afternoons reading on the beach etc. resulted in sick headaches up to that time which was when I first got glasses of any kind including all through my school days and through a BA and two MAs. Consequently. Before the diagnosis and first pair of specs I had little interest in reading for pleasure or purpose, but did so laboriously when circumstances required.


So, with three different kinds of reading glasses I started reading Dickens for this guy in Faisal (Pyramid’s northwestern most district) in February and, to me, it was thrilling. Dickens’ use of verbs not normally associated with the action described so often created a good bit of inner laughter. Adjectives not normally associated with the noun in question. Same thing.


The Dickens was just delightful.


But though it was "a far, far better thing than ever I have done", it paid almost nothing so by about May I was looking for a polite way out and it was handed to me on a silver platter by the translation service owner himself, Mr. Ibrahim.


He went to Mecca in May, and made the minor pilgrimage which is the same as the annual Haj except you get less "credit" for it... but can do it in less crowded circumstances. It was also a bit of a business trip for him, selling elementary level books for learning English. The Egyptian and Saudi curricula are similar to some extent and Dickens and Shakespeare are a safe bet in Egypt because such condensations are required reading in the public schools and the private schools as well. So in a town of 20 million people you can do what you like and try to sell it to the schools for their (4-6 million?) students. It’s all out of copyright and Shakespeare, too, which isn’t actually Shakespeare. Every last public and private school in town is required to have their students read Charles and Mary Lamb’s 1810s prose summaries of some of the dramatic works, simplified for middle school second language students.


Never was there one single copy editing job. By April I was looking for a graceful way to branch out.


The opportunity came when Ibrahim didn’t pay me when he came back from Mecca around the first of June. And he hadn’t paid the phone or DSL or light bill before he left which were going out one by one and I had started staying home to do my work for him.


"You can’t pay me?"


"Not yet."


"Assim just got back from Mecca, too. He took his whole family. He couldn’t pay me either so he sold his car." Which was true but involved his 10 or so employees at his hotel, not just me.


"You think I should sell my car?”


"Yes. I do. I’ve got to pay my rent and feed my wife."


He said no more and I left for the day. Whether it is some sort of special license to all returning pilgrims or just him... I now had the excuse to go out to look for freelance copy editing assignments from other translation outfits. Ibrahim and certain others (partners in his school book operation) had insisted that I not freelance when I came to work 7 hours a day for them. But there had not been a single copy editing assignment which is what I applied for (its higher pay, specifically).


So, with neither income from copy-editing, nor, especially, getting paid the little they owed me on time, I let my fingers do the walking, found the three or four next closest translation services, sent them CVs by email, and walked in a few days later, a new one each day for several days, next-to-cold-call-fashion. They were like Mr. Ibrahim. They were delighted to meet me in person and all offered work as they had occasion to receive appropriate commissions. I had seen this with Mr. Ibrahim and by about that time I was beginning to understand what it was.

 

They had all seen the big commission slip out of their grasp because they knew no native English speaker doing copy editing work. So that was my entree to all these places. The big one that got away. They were all just delightful, as was my current "employer" when I first met him. But I was beginning to wonder by then what good it could do if they would then advertise "native English speaker copy editing" as they all proposed to do.


Look for yourself. Do it now. Google those words and yes, it is moi meme who is numero uno in the world, right below the two to five paid placement outfits. And this was true at the time I was making these forays last June. It took me two or three months from about February to move to the top. But it results in very little business. Nor had it helped my initial potential benefactor, Ibrahim of Faisal, to bring any new English copy editing work to his west Faisal service. We both have services that report to us about visits to our web sites and I, El Numero Uno de la Monde on Google, gets hardly any visits at all and just five, as I recall, actually retained me (and all paid when I was done, thank goodness).

Mr. Ibrahim’s web site visits are most predominantly from people linking through upon finding him listed in the online Yellow Pages – which has no dedicated "copy editing" category.

My breaks began to come from two men I hadn’t heard from much since visiting them in June. One had a major corporation’s web site for me to copy edit some time during the summer and thought he would give me a try. His client was quite happy but no word from him came again until about October when he and another agency started getting in touch quite a lot and then, too, a quite wonderful man with an agency in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia started sending me editing and proofing as well. I asked the gentleman from Jeddah how he found out about me and it wasn’t my web site. It was someone he knew in Cairo, who he didn’t mention by name, who knew of me somehow and that, perhaps, is the heart of the story on how people seek such services as well – referrals from other clients.


Meanwhile, back at the ranch, I had moved on to A Tale of Two Cities and it was a joy to get paid to read it. Condensation ran much the same as with Oliver Twist and David Copperfield – getting rid of 8 page adjectives etc. and just leaving Dickens’ other magical words alone. A Tale of Two Cities was approached as with the others but it was a shock to see we would need 1700 definitions in the glossary when we ran the software to see what was in there (that is, 1700 words beyond the 2500 most frequently words seen in English late elementary curricula). I think it was 400 or less for the others.

 

I’m not an educator and hadn’t really noticed the difference but Dickens was using a whole different level of vocabulary in Tale of Two Cities (Oliver Twist and David Copperfield were first serialized in newspapers or magazines and only appeared as books afterward).


Then there was the Shakespeare work and Charles and Mary Lamb’s ~1810 "retelling" which was just that much different than Dicken’s English of the 1830s to 1860s that it isn’t accessible in the same way. It had to be heavily edited and then to-ing and fro-ing between using more glossary items, getting rid of a lot of their words with modern synonyms when they are a bit archaic. A tougher row to hoe than Dickens.


The work will always be there if I want it. And I do. I worked at Mr. Ibrahim’s office 52 hours in October, 50 hours in November and 52 hours again in December. I had a difficult master’s thesis to copy edit over the past eight days. A guy in a certain regional government ministry who needed a formatter and typesetter more than he needed a copy editor. So I haven’t seen Mr Ibrahim for a week except when he called me to come collect my pay for December.


We had a good laugh late last month. His wife had their car and was at the school where she teaches and the battery had gone flat. We went down there on my motorcycle and between my on board motorcycle tools and some nicer stuff he had in his car we started working on the situation. But then his daughter got out of the car and closed the door and his wife’s keys were then locked inside. So I scrambled over to his apartment on my motorcycle to get his car keys from the baby-sitter and got back rather quickly. The rush hour was closing in on us and we were all laughing as one thing we did and then another had no effect on the stubborn starter.

 

Then I saw Ibrahim was some yards away on the main road flagging down a three-wheeled taxi ("toktok" – from India) and assumed he was off to buy a new battery. But then he and the toktok driver drove straight to the car and Ibrahim pointed to the battery under the driver’s seat of the toktok. It was the size of a car battery so for $1 we took out the battery, hooked it up in his car, and the car started right away. The toktok driver got his battery back in place and blasted off to make money in the rush hour and we got the car’s old battery back in place and blasted off in our different directions, laughing, to see if we could get to our destinations before the rush hour had the streets backing up badly. We’re pals, now, I guess.

 


Reda and I are still fairly pitiful when trying to speak the other’s language... getting better glacially. Her more than me because her secondary school English is coming back in bits and pieces. I’ve got my spoken Arabic CDs and she’s got her spoken English CDs but we’re both about 60 and don’t retain much when rote memorization is involved. We have better luck spending time sitting together with the dictionaries working back and forth on vocabulary we want to know or want the other to know. Spelling out the Arabic word with the Quranic diacritics and, for the English, the symbols of the International Phonetics Society helps me most in terms of memorizing and trying to pronounce words when practicing them on my own without an Arabic speaker at hand.


So life involves a lot of good faith, a lot of Google translator and a lot of jokes and surprises. The utter failure of tonight’s surprise is what inspired me to sit down and write a small wedding missive.


The man on the ground floor who sells salted fat and sugar to the students from the boys’ high school across the street had been cleaning up the empty shop next to his sundries shop and suddenly, yesterday, the unit he had cleaned up was filled with shelves and counters and display racks of fruit and vegetables. And he seems to be set to stay open 24 hours a day as most fruit and vegetable shops do. Which is great for a lot of reasons. 24 hour security for my motorcycle which is locked to the lamp post 20 meters away, for one reason. And something besides Borios (an Oreos copycat) for when I’m ready for a snack and a walk – which might be at 3 am because some of my copy editing work involves largish overnight jobs.


I noticed yesterday that he had iceberg lettuce which I had noticed at a very few other produce markets though more so lately now that I think to look for it. I had been feeling low in a not-enough-veggies way for a number of days and it was like a dream come true to see this guy’s shop open up. And everything is in season now, though less so for some fruits. The tomato crop has been fabulous as well as for cucumbers, capsicum and a number of other things I like but don’t know their names. And there’s too much of all of it. The tomatoes are 20 cents (AUS/US) a kilo, vine ripened, picked yesterday, etc. and about half of it rots before it’s sold. Getting a little overripe in the farmers’ fields, I guess. I can’t imagine how little the retailers are paying for them. The trucks coming from the farms can be seen driving the neighborhoods begging the retailers to take them.


The produce shops have a pleasant way of just piling one’s small bits of this and that onto their scales and charging a "salad" price per kilo. Today it all cost me $2.50 after adding a kilo of bananas to the salad stuff. If I really want to make Reda feel she’s living a glorious life, I bring home bananas, milk and sugar. But today it was all about salad and I contrived to be in the kitchen chopping it all up as she came home from work. Well, she arrived and just felt invaded. Big disaster. And she thought it was a plainly crazy idea to be using iceberg lettuce for salad when everybody knows it’s for mashi (the rice wrapped in grape leaves one sees at Lebanese restaurants and Arab weddings... grape leaves, iceberg lettuce leaves, cabbage leaves, stuffed into small hollowed out eggplants – dozens of ways to make mashi, perhaps).


[here]So she fought the iceberg lettuce away from me, stuffed it into the fridge, and then came over to the counter where I was cutting up the tomatoes and started trying to grab the knife away from me because, as I understood her to say, I obviously didn’t know how to cut tomatoes.


Egyptians will simply grab things from you or grab your arm and, with what force they can muster, drag you away from something they don’t think you should be doing. Well, I was not going to fight over a knife and came in here to the office to write this instead.......

We’ve just had dinner this half hour later or more and there were tiny pieces of iceberg lettuce in the salad. And they say contrition is puppy poop. Anyway, she’s brightened up... which is what everybody says about her: "Kulliyom mabsoota." (She’s always happy.)

We’re in a new flat again. This last general kicked us out early, too, saying we had violated the lease by getting a land line telephone. And he only gave us 5 days to get out. I wondered aloud to my friends as to whether he had an adult child who would be taking it or if there was someone offering to pay more. "No," they all said. "Nobody wants you to put a phone in their house. Or to get the electric or gas in your own name. Did it say in the lease ‘no phone?’" "Yes, but why?" "Because some people will get those things in their name and after 5 years go to the land office with the receipts and say they bought the place but lost the papers. They never win those cases. Or in some cases you can’t figure out who’s lying. But you can’t touch them and it might take 5 years for you to get them out... all the time getting no rent... all the time preventing you from selling it if that is what you want to do... all the time wondering if the son or daughter you bought it for is going to want to get married before you get rid of the other people. Nobody wants you to get a phone in their house."


So here we are. Five weeks in our new place. Our concession to a legal system that uses a soft hand when poor people or others make the aforementioned kinds of claims. Many of them are illiterate but prove, in the end, that it was the landlord who was trying to pull off a dirty trick. Actually our phone was never associated with that flat’s address in the phone company records. It was a line thrown down from the roof by people Reda works with at the phone company. But it was a general telling us to go... so off we went. Up the hill in the same "city of generals". Renting from a woman who bought the place from a general years ago. Here the phone line already came down from the roof and through the office window and there isn’t any "no phone" clause in our present lease, anyway.


The move would have been a disheartening financial blow if not for this recent blossoming of relations with the accounts that I developed last year. When we decided not to take the general to court and simply move out as he was demanding, we sat down to look at what our moving expenses would be. All up it was going to be about $1000 which we didn’t have. The new landlady was going to cut us some slack until January or something but that wasn’t the half of it. But we just kept putting one foot ahead of the other and going through the motions when two days later I got a large, short-time-schedule copywriting project and then another and then another. I worked flat out at the computer for five days while Reda field marshaled the house moving. My computer was the last thing out the door and the first thing made serviceable at our new place here. And the jobs I had by then finished paid $1100. $100 is huge money in this part of town. Our "profit" from those days. $1100 in 5 days. But it’s feast or famine. I probably won’t see that again for a while.


The flat is a mirror image of where we lived before. I was, for a lot of days, walking out of the office and into the bedroom rather than taking a left towards the kitchen and the coffee urn.


The snow storm in Jerusalem in the middle of December was a big howling sand storm here. It took days to clean the house up. We were protected from strong winds better in the previous flats but we’ll be glad for any smaller or larger improvement in the breeze through the summer at the top of the hill here we are now.


Reda makes the occasional comment of late about buying the place, but at the same time gets excited every time she sees a banner advertising a vacant flat on the bustling main street near the apartment building she built with her sister. The air is much fresher here. The flats are bigger for less money. There would be a place to park a car if we get one. But I do love the life in town, too, and the new places going up on the empty lots in our old neighborhoods all have basement car parks. We shall see what we shall see.


Reda’s got 96 days to retirement, she tells me. She acts like it and has ever since her cataract surgeries in about June. Really took the wind out of her sails. She takes a lot of sick days, now, that she maybe doesn’t need, and I notice her office now has four desks instead of three and hers is no longer the big oak desk for the manager of that unit to preside over (she got that job only a year ago or so, "Yes," she said. "Madame Noor turned 60 and retired. And when I turn 60, I’m going to retire." She patted a small pile of papers on her office desk that she was working on and said quite happily, "We have to."


Ours is a Muslim marriage contract. There are no civil unions under Egyptian law. One is married in church or mosque or synagogue and divorce (which the main Christian denominations don’t allow) is also defined and implemented according to the rules and practices of one’s faith. In a Muslim marriage contract the man always signs up to "take responsibility" for the woman "from" her family... her father or oldest male relative signing her away. I’ve never asked about her income or what she does with it although I suppose her nephew Mahmoud’s undergraduate tuition is a big part of the story. Last year was just plain tough financially but whatever little bit I brought home she made it last and allowed me the dignity of being the household’s sole source of support.


She talked recently about wanting to continue to work somewhere after her retirement from Telecom. Maybe she will. The nephew Mahmoud has another year at the institute after this one. But I brought up to her a general vision of traveling quite a lot. "We could be in Damascus for six months... anywhere. My work comes by email. It doesn’t matter where we are." So that was news to her. We’ll go to Mecca first. If we went anywhere else outside Egypt first she would just want to be in Mecca anyway.


At the electronics and IT institute Mahmoud is fast learning to use the English he was only taught to read K-12. And he’s settled down to studying and other better priorities than a year (?) ago when he was demanding an expensive motorcycle or car and just plainly couldn’t understand why his mother and Reda wouldn’t buy him one. Danish kids start buying all their own clothes when they are 14 and move into their own flat when they are 18. Which was also true of the Yank-Danskers as I was growing up. Such questions of whether that is better for the youth are moot. Young people don’t generally have any way to make enough money to live independently here in Egypt.


I procured a 10-20 weeks Teaching English as a Foreign Language Internet course in about June. A respected outfit and the certificate from that course would have opened lots of doors. But – OH – sick headache. The course rather assumed that one would either have other teaching experience or be prepared to supplement, on a self-starter basis, one’s preparations through readings of certain theory and practice of education stuff. I could see myself slowly slipping behind on a 10 week schedule, then a 20 week schedule. I didn’t see how I could get it done within the 6 month limit. I was 5 weeks into it and had lost 5 kilos from stress (plus the 20 kg I lost, on purpose, when I came back from Australia in 2008 – I was beginning to look like Uriah Heep). The 20 kilos went by way of a lot of walking. Most of 10 km per day for 3 months. The 5 kilos in 5 weeks was from stress and loss of appetite from the course so I cut bait.


But it all came good. I’d rather work at home doing the copy editing. The work is very absorbing, time flies and I finish up, usually, the day I get the assignment or the day after. I email it off and that’s it. I walk down to the cafe and by the time I get there I can’t always remember the project’s topic, even if it took several days. Don’t care. Don’t have to care. The client agencies do all the marketing and billing. They pay within 30 days and before that if I ask.


When I hear the phone beeping with a text message it’s almost always one of the agencies as my friends are all too old to fuss with texting much and it’s a bit of a thrill to hear the phone beeping upon the arrival of a new SMS.


My PhD thesis supervisors probably think it’s a big funny joke that I would be copy editing anything. But I do it at a level that seems to strike a comfortable place in the clients’ hearts. And I do. Yes, I do, feel like I’m in a Bourne movie when a text message comes to me at a cafe and I have to blast off on my motorcycle down desert roads to get to my computer and send a quote off or, alternately, just sit down and do the job immediately because the agency’s already promised a client that "their" guy would do so.


The motorcycle – 28,000 km on the mean streets of Cairo in 29 months. We are, indeed, enjoying our second childhood together. We will go to the far side of town tomorrow to look at sewing machines. But we will take buses and subways. We won’t leave until after the noon prayer after which one has an hour or two to drive around town quite easily but then we would be driving back 20-25 km through full-on weekend traffic by the time we were done looking around the markets. Not a place for the faint-hearted. We don’t even go to her sister’s house 5 km away between 5 and 8 pm on work days. It’s not so much dangerous as it is very slow going and hard on my hips to balance two on the bike when we are at a standstill.


It’s the Coptic Christmas Eve tonight and we just finished watching the midnight mass on TV. Pope Shenouda seemed to be wiping away tears, as well he might. And the congregation looked gravely terrified. Perhaps 20 Christians were murdered in a bombing outside an Alexandria cathedral as they left a New Year’s Eve mass. I only heard about it a couple days ago. I finally had time to get the TV set up with its dish that day and the first thing that came on was a Middle Eastern Christian funeral with two or three caskets being passed over people’s heads into a cathedral. The sound wasn’t working yet so I didn’t know where it was. I had heard Christians were being bombed again and again in Iraq in recent days but only yesterday came to know that the funeral I saw on TV was more probably for some of the people in Alexandria.


If the God-damned Yank Congress and presidents would cry like this when Israel cluster-bombed civilians in Lebanon and phosphorus-bombed civilians in Giza maybe they would stop saying naughty-naughty to the Israelis and start telling them to withdraw the settlements and fucking well behave themselves.


Europe is united. There the people believe that the biggest threat to world peace is Israel. Except for the UK people who think the biggest threat to world peace is America.


People no longer stand up when American ambassadors enter the room. Not in Europe or the Middle East, anyway.


I just yesterday pushed the "Confirm" button on the Internet payment that involved what I expect to be the last taxes I ever expect to pay to the United States of America.


I shall never be helping to fund its violent adolescence on the world stage again.


Why didn’t I know about the Alexandria bombings sooner? Because nobody even talks about anything having to do with America and Israel. What difference would it make? They don’t. I don’t. I’m glad to never give it any thought at all... except upon seeing the tears of Baba Shenouda.


Fuck America. Fuck the horsies its Congress rides around upon.


Thank you for your time,


Jeff

 

27 January 2011 00:45 – long johns and hippie chicks

Egyptians wear long johns through the winter. They make all the difference between enjoying Cairo at this time of year as opposed to often wishing one were somewhere else. All my friends wear long johns. My wife wears long johns. Her sister wears long johns. Our nephew wears long johns. Everybody wears long johns. You don’t even have to ask.

 

I joined the legions and got some long johns for myself towards the end of my first winter in Cairo in 2006, finally taking the Egyptians’ advice a month or two before returning to Australia 15 April. I left for Australia feeling like I had discovered an entirely different city. I no longer got cold in the outdoor cafes in the evening when the breeze picked up a little. I no longer shivered through the evening and early morning working hours as I rattled around the house. People don’t heat their apartments in Cairo. Not in Pyramids, anyway. We all wear long johns.

 

I’m not the first Des Moines Luther Memorial Church person to have retired to Cairo. My parents’ great friends, Wilber and Cleo Williamson wintered here, as I recall, more often than not after they retired. Or perhaps it was somewhere else in Egypt and not Cairo.

 

As an undergraduate African economies student, I had been to Morocco, Algeria and Tunisia in 1968 and first came to Egypt after West Africa, East Africa, Ethiopia, Eritrea and Yemen in 1971.

 

I was a student in Enok Mortensen’s confirmation classes about 1962-1964. He was in Des Moines for a year or two, half time as pastor of Luther Memorial, and half time gleaning bits of Danish American history from the archives of the Evangelical Danish Lutheran Church in America Grand View College. I knew then that he was writing a history of the Danish Lutheran church in America but it was only within the last year that I learned of his many other books and I sent off for some of them.

 

Enok spoke to us briefly about something special one Saturday morning, our small confirmation class meeting in the parsonage just west of the Danish old people’s home, Valborg, and across the street from the Grandview College women’s dormitory, although I don’t know what the latter is now. He spoke to us of something he did when he was 17 or 18. He had come to America with his family when he was 16. When he finished high school he got himself to San Francisco, rode steerage to Japan and, from the Asian coast somewhere, had taken the Trans-Siberian Railroad to Moscow at the height of the Russian Revolution in 1917. He never said more about it than just those basic facts. But it got my mind turning as to the things he might have seen and heard when taking that route at that time and going onward to Denmark from Moscow. By 1968 when I finished high school I had also met Bob Shreck who went on to be a famous cancer doctor in Des Moines. Bob’s tales of his Middle Eastern travels when he was about 20 and I was about 15 also got me thinking I might do well to go out and see a bit of the world.

 

I had come back to Cairo in 2005 to see if I might like to retire here and I stayed the better part of a year. I was here in 2005 when Jyllens Post published the Muhammad cartons. I saw the Danish products immediately disappear from the supermarkets – yards and yards of empty dairy cases around the neighborhood more or less immediately. I came back in 2008, retiring from academics and getting on with my new life here. The Danish products had not come back. Nor have they today. So neither can I comfortably tell people that I’m American nor, since 2005, mention that my family was entirely Danish before that. I had been living in Australia through the 1990s and have been a citizen of Australia since 1999. So even before 2005 I had a more useful nationality to mention than saying anything about America. Egyptians don’t often speak English and when they do they don’t seem to notice differences in English dialects and they commonly assume that I’m a native born Australian. I’m careful not to disabuse them of that impression until they are aware that I am pro-Palestinian and have been for a long time.

 

Ever since hitch-hiking from one Mediterranean youth hostel to another in 1968, I had been witness to the common European opinion that these settlements Israel was establishing in the Occupied Territories were a cause for great concern. We young people in the youth hostels in 1968 swore oaths to never visit Israel or buy Israeli products until the settlements were abandoned, an oath from which I have never strayed. Charles de Gaulle, the French President, had put it succinctly the year before: [Israel] is organizing, on the territories which it has taken, an occupation which cannot work without oppression, repression and expulsions… and if there appears resistance to this, it will in turn be called “terrorism”. He was president of a nation which had just seen over 100,000 people killed due to its colonial project in Algeria – a project which France, in the end, had to abandon.

 

So there I was, late summer, 1968, properly concerned about the settlements. But I was going home to where I had learned to swim at the Jewish Community Center, had a very few classmates who were Jewish and had seen a Jewish girl at our high school play Anne Frank most worthily some months before in the drama club’s spring production. Enok had taken our confirmation class to a synagogue the year he was in Des Moines. A pleasant rabbi spoke to us and showed us around. My siblings and I were all aware of the Danes getting the Jewish people of Denmark safely away to Sweden during the initial Nazi occupation. I’ve had Jewish people point out to me that those Danish Jews had to pay well for the help they received getting to Sweden… but so did one of my mother’s cousins in Viborg when he went onto Nazi arrest lists after he and another boy or two stole some of their troops’ rifles while their owners were eating lunch.

 

From 1968 I’ve always had comfortable friendships with Jewish people starting from that fall when I began university. I have never felt it was difficult to separate Jewish rights and humanity from Israeli government wrongs and inhumanity. I remember, especially, having lunch with three Jewish people in Australia in the mid-1990s. There was an Israeli-Australian who was glad to do long university years in Australia. One’s time owed to Israeli military service was calculated according to how much time one spent in Israel and how much time one spent in other nations where one had citizenship or permanent residence. He was a lieutenant, I think, in the Israeli army… and was called to service but little because he lived in Israel but little. The second was a UK-Australian Jewish woman doing a PhD. The third I can’t remember specifically except that it was a young woman and that I was the only non-Jewish person there. It was all of them glaring at me for a moment… me the American… when the subject of Israeli government excesses came up. It was America that gave the government of Israel its license to steal what it wanted from the Palestinians, not those Jews at that table or their families or their nations.

 

I went back to America 1999 to 2004. I had not looked for a pro-Palestinian American organization to join when I was back there previously, 1986-1991. But I certainly went looking for one in September of 2000 when Ariel Sharon ascended Temple Mount under armed guard. By doing that he symbolically proclaimed that there would never be an end to The Occupation, there would never be an end to the settlements, there would never be a Palestinian state and that East Jerusalem would never be its capital. Was he wrong?

 

Instantly there was the uprising in the Occupied Territories and a good pro-Palestinian organization came looking for people like me in those days. It was by way of the picture of the little Palestinian boy holding his arms out as if with hand flags – or perhaps he did have little flags – as he stood in front of an Israeli tank, blocking its progress as it advanced into the little boy’s Palestinian neighborhood. It was the picture the American-Arab Anti-Discrimination Committee (ADC) splashed across America in full page newspapers advertisements some weeks or months into the rebellion. I immediately joined ADC and, with their help, I began searching out Palestinians in the Omaha and Council Bluffs area where I was living and working at the time. I found few Palestinians who could suggest anything useful to do or say. Most of a year after Sharon’s fabled foray up Temple Mount, I finally wrote to my senators from Iowa – Tom Harkin and Charles Grassley… I don’t recall and response from Harkin. But I know it was Chuck Grassley who did because I remember that he did reply by way of a forgettable six page corporate letter. Had he come around to read it to me out loud, it would have sounded like a person speaking with a mouthful of rocks. I marked up his letter with bits of red ink and sent it back to him.

 

Then a few days later there was September 11th. I was one of those 14% of American citizens or residents said, at the time, to believe that we brought the attack on ourselves. Double dared them too many times, in my opinion, then and now. Just asking for it. My blood pressure shot up 30 points and only came down slowly over the next six months, I was so enraged to have watched us do that to ourselves. I began to plot my escape and worked especially hard on some Pacific Island prehistory topics that might take me back to the Australian National University, a development that eventuated in 2004.

 

I had been a polite guest of Australia 1991 to 1999. I was a Meals on Wheels volunteer and a foster parent but did not get involved in political issues… a spectator in “the recession Australia had to have” and other politico-economic issues while comfortably ensconced at the national university. But when I went back in 2004 it was as an Australian citizen thinking of the future and I joined the Australian Capital Territory’s Australians for Justice and Peace in Palestine (AJPP). Or, now that I think about it, I only found them after returning from my 2005-2006 residence in Cairo. Once again, a good pro-Palestinian organization found me. This one through a poster on a pillar that I noticed when whiling away some moments standing in a line for an ATM. I worked with AJPP for most of two years and then came back to Cairo where I was going to have to plan out a cheap retirement. I hadn’t had the consistent academic careers of Wilber and Cleo Williamson.

 

I remember the years 1999-2004 back in the United States in many ways but one memory that made me proud stands out. I was visiting Joel and Karla Mortensen in Minneapolis. I was reading one of the Church and Life issues from their coffee table and, like those in my mother’s (Anna Marie Marck) home in Des Moines, it had some very useful observations on the plight of the Palestinians. I mentioned it to Joel and he said it was our parents’ good friends Thorval Hansen and, perhaps, Marvin Jensen writing up those articles. I remembered my father, Arthur Krog Marck, mentioning that LCA[2], or perhaps LCA and ALC[3] jointly, had ongoing relief programs in Gaza. That conversation was in the late 1960s or early 1970s. I was glad to read the Church and Life articles, to recall my father’s words and to think that one or both of the old synods had kept some support going to Palestine and may have continued to do so after the merger.

 

There were no feasts in Cairo when Obama nominated Hillary Clinton as secretary of state. The Clintons didn’t even understand why the Oslo accords immediately unraveled – they were either oblivious to the settlements issues or felt that they didn’t have the political capital to deal with them head on. Obama seems the same. His address to the Arab world in Cairo is only remembered here for the inconvenience of having him in town for the day. Every major road in Greater Cairo was closed. Obama’s speech was just more “naughty, naughty” if he talked about the government of Israel’s culpabilities at all. I don’t remember a word of it, actually. In any event, since that time, there has been no effective American government action to reel in Israeli Apartheid whatsoever. There is even the current fear that Obama will veto the UN Security Council resolution concerning the settlements.

 

I’m older than Benyamin Netanyahu and I hope we both live long enough to see the settlements and West Bank abandoned to Palestine as they should be. That will be the price of America regaining some respect around the world. For the moment the US government is kind of like mosquitoes in the summertime or something. One can’t completely get rid of them so one makes certain accommodations.

 

I never complained about the Afghanistan project but wondered how America could possibly prevail when the Soviet Union and colonial Britain before had failed to do so before. Thrice with respect to the UK. Afghanistan was a failed state from which we had been attacked. But Iraq was a failed state that had neither done us wrong nor had any relationship with Al Qaeda except to keep it out. And where was the American government’s moral capital to be mucking around in the Middle East, anyway? The Protector of the Shah. The Funder of Apartheid Israel. Etc.

 

Boy W. George. The Great Connector of Dots. Conqueror of Baghdad and Fallujah… Instrument of the Messiah… I’m not paying taxes for it any more. Literally. A very few days ago I pushed the “Confirm” button on the Internet payment that involved what I expect to be the last taxes I ever pay to the United States of America.  I shall never again be helping to fund its violent adolescence on the world stage.

 

My wife and I watched the Egyptian Coptic Christmas Eve mass on TV about the 6th or 7th of this month, as we did last year. The congregation looked gravely terrified. Pope Shenouda seemed occasionally to be wiping away tears… as well he might. More than 20 Christians were murdered in a bombing outside an Alexandria cathedral as they left a New Year’s Eve mass. I only heard about it some days later. I finally had time to set up our TV dish that day, as we had recently moved house. The first thing I got the dish to pick up was footage of a Middle Eastern Christian funeral with two or three caskets being passed over people’s heads into a cathedral. The sound wasn’t working yet so I didn’t know where it was. I had heard Christians were being bombed again and again in Iraq in previous days but only the day after setting up the TV dish did I come to know that the funeral I saw on TV was more probably for some of the people in Alexandria… the deadliest such incident in over 20 years.


If the Yank Congress and presidents gave it a think when Israel cluster-bombed civilians in Lebanon and phosphorus-bombed civilians in Gaza maybe they would stop saying naughty-naughty to the Israelis and start telling them to withdraw the settlements and jolly-well behave themselves. But I doubt that the recent murder of scores of Christians around the Middle East made Congress want to do anything more than what it is already doing… slogging on with their “War on Terror.” Is that one up to a trillion dollars yet? Is the “War on Drugs?” I don’t take much notice anymore.


Europe is united. There the people believe that the biggest threat to world peace is Israel. Except for the UK people who think the biggest threat to world peace is America. For myself, I think the biggest threat to American security is the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee (AIPAC). They have successfully lobbied Congress to ignore questions of right and wrong for a number of decades now. September 11 was just the beginning of the price America continues to pay… the slow-motion knee-jerking that had Boy W. George invading Iraq, for instance. Ignorant, violent, unreconstructed alcoholic that he is. Spending trillions in the Iraq war and “War on Terrorism” whose most significant effect will be remembered as that of driving Iraq closer to the bosom of Iran.


Why didn’t I know about the Alexandria bombings sooner? Because nobody I know in Egypt ever talks about anything having to do with America and Israel. What difference would it make? They don’t. I don’t. I’m glad to never give it any thought at all... except upon seeing the tears of Baba Shenouda.


TO HELL with the horsies the American Congress rides around upon. A president who wanted to do right by the Palestinians wouldn’t be allowed to do so by Congress.

 

It is one of the difficulties the Egyptian government faces with its own population: the failure of the Egyptian government to complain about Israel in any effective way. But the government is constrained by Sadat’s Camp David agreements with Israel and both governments have promised not to interfere in the affairs of the other… although Israel is scrambling to do so now that President Mubarak may soon be taking a permanent vacation in Saudi Arabia.

 

Egypt has at least 5000 years’ experience in distancing itself from events in the Levant. But it leaves the government of Egypt in the constant position of suppressing the moral indignation of its citizens who want to ask why no one is doing anything effective about the government of Israel’s theft of Palestinian land, life and liberty – and the question of why the government of Egypt should continue such a cozy relationship with the American government, a government which just goes on and on and on exacerbating troubled Middle East situations.

 

The reason falls into the collective American lap, as the Jewish people I was to tea with in Australia 15 or more years ago implied. The government of Israel’s license to kill and establish Apartheid is a specifically American Christian, ever faithful to AIPAC, license to kill.

 

The New Year’s Eve bombing of the Coptic cathedral in Alexandria and the current flurry of email I receive from Australia and America – about getting Obama to vote against Israel in the UN Security Council showdown on the settlements – has me thinking about all this when usually I don’t.

 

 

On a happier note, I married an Egyptian woman a couple years ago. And she retires from the national phone company in April. A product of President Gamal Abdel Nasser’s education reforms 50 years ago and more. Reda did a two year electrical engineering certificate in an institute Abdel Nasser opened up to women.

 

He personally visited her elementary school and encouraged female education in what he said to those children and shook their hands, as mentioned some weeks or months ago. So when I kiss her hand I kiss… It isn’t a story the middle and especially upper middle class likes to hear. It was all kind of Soviet and a lot of private land and production resources were appropriated by the government without compensation for their full value and, at times I am told, no compensation at all.

 

Reda mainly wears pants and capes and ponchos with her headscarves.

 

It is almost certain in our Pyramids neighborhoods, that almost any woman – or, especially, group of women – without headscarves is Christian. I was telling this to a young Nigerian-American man who I took on a brief tour of Pyramids suburbs some nights ago. “Oh, really?” he said, his head darting about looking for Christians. There was one directly ahead of us by about 20 yards. She was coming up to the bottom of the stairs up to the Metro platform and he kept his eyes on her as we walked along in that same direction. I had swept my arm to the south as we were walking a couple hundred yards from the municipal bus we had taken from our home to the Metro station bus stop and said, “There’s a big cathedral and other churches beginning on the next large cross-street down there. Mostly the Muslims and Christians just kind of comfortably ignore each other.”

 

“Look at that woman,” I said, raising my head and pointing my nose at the possibly Christian woman his eyes had been following. “Nobody’s bothering her. Look at the way she walks. She’s not worried about anything.”

 

Egyptian Muslim city women were progressively giving up the head scarf up to the time of the 1967 War. Then, like Jerry Falwell on September 11, who came bursting out the door and blamed the attack on American homosexuals and others. Many Egyptians couldn’t imagine that God would have allowed what had happened to them in the 1967 War if they had been living right just as Falwell imagined it was failures in American values that caused God to allow the events of September 11. Here, from 1967, the women began to return to their head scarves and the nation withdrew into greater religious fundamentalism, just as America has in the last nine years or more.

 

Now there are some Muslim women giving up the head scarf again. A very few and they are a bit like hippie chicks in certain ways – seeking a more international education, world view and identity. Legions of more and less educated young women are entering the work force and do not marry, and do not marry, and do not marry and then they get to be about 35 and there is the question, their embarrassed families’ question most prominently, of if  (no longer “when”) they will ever get married. In most instances they continue to live with their parents before marriage… even up to the age of 35 and beyond. They’re supposed to and often do in any event.

 

I read some astonishing statistics about the number of never married Egyptian women aged 35[4] and some equally astonishing figures on the number of divorced women aged 35 who had never remarried. But then in that same, highly independent and highly respected newspaper, I read an unquestioned quote of a well-educated and well-connected woman. She, in the context of an increasing religious conservatism (or “fashion” – did they call it “fashion” rather than “conservatism”) discussion, said that ninety or ninety-five percent of Egyptian women were now wearing the veil – which was certainly off the mark by forty or fifty percent – an Egyptian proclivity for exaggeration that I am coming to appreciate a bit more as time goes on. It’s as if people are surprised if you don’t exaggerate when making a point… as if one isn’t doing a very good job of it.

 

So maybe not all the women without head scarves in Pyramids are Christian. And if their husbands’ wedding rings are gold, that is the clincher. Muslim men wear no gold. Just silver. But it remains a good rule of thumb. Probably my wife never went around without a head scarf before 1967. She grew up amongst observant Muslims in an Upper Egypt city where she would have worn a headscarf from her early teens or so. But like the legions of poorly censused professional women of 35 years of age today who have never married, she hadn’t married by that age either and never did until she married me.

 

This was all turning over in my mind as we walked mile after mile in the sprawling suqs of Ataba the other day, looking for a sewing machine and buying clothes. She picked up a few largish pieces of fabric that she said were to become ponchos. I began to notice only about three months ago that she’s the only woman I know or see on the streets who wears ponchos. Hippie chick or something.

 

I asked her wonderful cousin, Assim, who introduced us most of two years ago, what it would have been like for her to go to work for Telecom with her electrical engineering certificate when she was young. “Forty years ago?” he said. “They would have put her in the lowest job and kept her there.” When we got married we rented an apartment near an area telephone exchange that she’s assigned to so she could walk to work. She was punctually out the door and on her way to work at 7:45 am on every working day until June of last year.

 

Then one June day she came home with one of the phone company’s health care purchase orders. Fifty percent of Egyptians are said to have employment-based or other private health cover. Upon the advice of Yanks, I imagine. One wouldn’t want, for instance, to be giving national health insurance to one’s unemployed youth – or would one?

 

Egyptian economic statistics are quoted with greater precision than social statistics (e.g., never married 35 year old women estimates) and I have assumed that the “50%” with health insurance that I read about is roughly accurate. So Reda (“warm satisfaction” – a both male and female given name) showed me, last June, a Telecom purchase order with the normal list of arthritis and other medications. But there was also a line that said “Cataracts” which I had never seen on the forms before… a condition she had never mentioned at all. She asked me to take her to the eye hospital the next day and I said, “Sure,” assuming it was for a referral or check-up.

 

Off we went on the motorcycle – I got it four or five months after coming back from Australia in 2008. Twenty-nine months and twenty-nine thousand kilometers on the mean streets of Cairo. But it turned out that Reda wasn’t at the hospital for a check-up. She was there for the first of two cataract removal operations that would have her on sick-leave through the next 45 days or more. It kind of took the wind out of her sails with respect to enthusiasm for her job. With only six or eight months left until retirement after her time off for the cataract operations, she began taking more sick days for less convincing reasons and was sent home without pay one day owing to her late arrival that morning – which was becoming routine.

 

So she is well and truly ready for retirement and I’m drifting into a routine of doing native English speaker copy editing for a few Egyptian and Saudi Arabian translation services – work I get through their to-ing and fro-ing email of all information and documents to my home. I will be able to service those accounts from any place in the world with Internet connections once Reda retires and we will start traveling.

 

Reda had no brothers and had never married before. Meaning she, as an Egyptian women of her age, has never traveled abroad for lack of suitable escorts. So we will be seeing the rest of the Middle East in coming years. We think nothing of it. Fathers  take their sons to church and mosque and teach them right from wrong. The murder rates in Cairo and other Middle Eastern cities are as low as in Tokyo and Amsterdam. Except when people bring terror to those they think would collaborate with Apartheid Israel and its guarantor – The Failed States of America. The tears of Baba Shenouda. Any Christian becomes a target. My memory of Christmas 2010.

 

I would have peppered this piece with more facts and better spellings about Danish American Lutherans, American Christians and Jews (do you follow Forward – a lovely, highly regarded American Jewish newspaper?), Israel (do you follow Haaretz – a lovely, highly regarded Israeli Jewish newspaper?), and Egyptian Muslims and Christians. But the Internet was down through the night.

 

Following on the heels of the Tunisian Revolution of recent weeks, Egyptian young people have been doing what they can to shut down traffic in central Cairo for several days (10 or 12 kilometers away on the other side of the Nile). A big push was being organized for today again, after a relatively quiet day yesterday, and since all this is organized over Facebook, etc., the authorities have shut down the Internet and cell phones altogether. I will email this missive when email becomes available again, as is. Written from memory and from the heart.

 

Egyptian birth rates are getting well lower than in the past but of course youth unemployment has to do with birth rates fifteen and twenty-five years ago and they were still very high at the time. So many young people without higher education or without useful higher education are without work or, at least, without well-paying work. And they’ve been busy for a day or two trying to shut down central Cairo road traffic. Even 40 and 50 years ago when President Gamal Abdel Nasser was asked what worried him most, his reply was “3000 new Egyptians a day.” It is perhaps more like 4500-5500 new Egyptians born every day now and something like 3500-4500 young Egyptians, on average, coming onto the job market every day.

 

We were up all night, napping off and on, watching the developments downtown on TV. The Friday noon prayers were called some moments ago and I’m sitting at my desk at home where I can hear the sermon from the large nearby mosque’s outdoor loudspeakers. Reda just now came into the room, curious that I hadn’t left for mosque. But I told her there was trouble downtown and it was better that the Egyptians go to the mosque, listen to the sermon and talk it over afterwards without any foreigners.

 

Egyptians ask me about my past and why I retired here and why I became Muslim. I’m fond of pointing out to them that I grew up in a Lutheran church. There no book or person told me that Muslims were going to hell or that there would be any way of knowing who was going to heaven and who was going to hell. And that since I imagine I will one day die in Egypt, I wanted to do so praying with them because their life here is so wonderful. They find that quite astonishing. “Come on down.” They’re anxious to meet you.

 

The summer is too hot for all but the most intrepid visitor (but you get very good price). October and November are nice as are March, April and May. And December, January and February are also lovely (if you bring your long johns).

 

Addenda - 2 February 2011 13:11

 

So we’ve got our Internet connections back.

 

I’ve been wondering if you’ve been watching the news of Egypt these last many days.

 

Tell me the Egyptian people aren’t magnificent!

Tell me these young people aren’t pretty!

Tell me Obama doesn’t now have all the ammunition he needs to fire Hillary Rodham Clinton and the American Israeli Public Affairs Committee!

Tell me Obama shouldn’t be listening instead to that wonderful ex-US Senator Mike somebody who spoke on our TVs from San Francisco on about 31 January!

Tell me America wasn’t blindsided by the “rights” approach while it poured more trillions into the military approach!

Tell me Enok didn’t show us how to open our eyes without telling us what we would see!

Tell me these gorgeous Egyptian young people didn’t learn a lot from studying the non-violence of the American civil rights movement!

Tell me the Egyptian upper classes and their children weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like at their beloved American University in Cairo!

Tell me the Egyptian lower classes weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like in public schools that use American models of civics!

Tell me this isn’t the beginning of the END for Halliburton and the military-industrial “complex” General Eisenhower warned us about!

Oh, glory… Glory… GLORY!!!

 

Tell me what you will –

 jeff@jeffmarck.netwww.jeffmarck.netwww.jeffmarck.net/index-old.htm

 

27 January 2011 - night I had come home from food fight with the Sara Inn ADSL/WiFi system

 

0.5 days lost finding out if the bill had been paid (it had)

2.5 days lost trying to get the password (which only(?) Assim could get – but Mr Monsour did)

0.5 days setting up new ADSL modem

2.5 days trying to get the WiFi working

1.0 days waiting for neighborhood EEs to come look at it who suggested LE450 modem

0.5 days of panic thinking the problem would never be solved

0.5 days real panic as it first occurred to me that old modem may have been OK and it might have just been the power supply (and praying no one had taken it out of the trash and figured out my mistake)

1.0 day home sick in bed

1.0 days trying again but using an old Chinese laptop to test what I was doing (the old laptop not able to hold on to a signal, anyway) – partial victory in the end when someone on the far side of the hotel got a good signal but couldn’t log in – reprogrammed a little and went home, not knowing if that last burst of activity had any useful result

1.0 days trying to switch home and hotel modems (we don’t use WiFi at home but it has good WiFi functionality) – end of the day Ahmad Salah, the evening shift manager, told me the same story as Mr. Monsour (which I assumed was a misunderstanding) that Ahmad’s laptop was able to hook up through WiFi at a good high speed – but hotel modem was at home which meant it would all spill into another day – ISP network goes down.

1.0 days with the home modem back at home and waiting for ISP functionality and then configuring back to settings for home – five or ten minutes hooking the hotel modem up again at the hotel – worked instantly – wrecked the rest of the afternoon fooling around with “access points” that I was mucking up because I had forgotten how. Rearranged access points (little boxes with antenna) to put the one with the biggest antenna directly above the reception area, next floor up, where it also spilt nicely into the dining room – finding old modem in computer room (someone had rescued it from the trash – took it home – power supply tested function – unit was not functioning)

1.5 hours lost getting home as there were pro-Tunisian sorts of demonstrations all along my normal routes and we were detoured all over the place by the riot police.

28 January 2011 - Fri - Bastille Day - Egypt 27/01/2011

3:35 pm 27 January 2011

Well, it all broke loose after the Friday midday prayers across the northern cities in the country.

I've seen little distressing violence on Al Jazeera English or the Persian English channels which we might not have for long.


It isn't Tiananmen Square. The police are not shooting the people at the moment and the army isn't yet involved at all. The police seem to be retreating and regrouping rather than trying to fight their way into the crowds. They are massively outnumbered. Or perhaps you know that from watching Al Jazeera or PressTV, feeds from those two or coverage from Western news outfits.


The scariest thing I saw on TV involved occasional footage of civilians being hauled off down side streets by three and five other "civilians" who are not plainclothes police - they are thugs and day laborers for the plainclothes police - and can, at least in the past, do what they want with people they abscond with during demonstrations. In recent years, something like five (?) years, 2000 Egyptians have disappeared into the hands of such people and their higher-ups in the Ministry of the Interior and have never been seen or heard of again.


The Internet was shut down, nationally, overnight and now the mobile phones don't work.


Reda left, taking the municipal bus for her sister's house more than an hour ago perhaps. The land lines are working and she's not at her sister's house yet so I'm well worried although the demonstrations are most of 10 km away and the ebb and flow of the day seems to be going on as normal in our immediate neighborhood.


We don't have long distance on our home phone, by the way, so for the moment we are incommunicado with respect to telephoning beyond the greater Cairo area code.


Al Jazeera reports that the Internet is working sporadically so I'll get this going as kind of a diary of the day and try to send it every hour or two.


4:07 pm - Reda just called from her sister's house. Whew. She had lost an hour or two going to their largest area market. It was crowded with people stocking up on staples so they don't have to leave their homes for basics. But Reda didn't want to elbow her way through the crowds and went on over to her sister Zuba's place.


Police have retaken a main bridge over the Nile in the last 20 minutes or so... the 6th of October Bridge. Al Jazeera and the Persian channel are saying, however, that the protesters now have the momentum at Tahrir (Liberation) Square. They report that some kind of massive government concessions will eventually be in the offing if the government is to survive at all. When I first switched on the TV at about 1 pm I thought they were saying that the Parliament building was already occupied but I haven't heard that again and may have misunderstood.


Footage of Alexandria seemed to have the sound of automatic weapons going off at one point. Alexandria is especially incensed with the regime these days. Right about the time of the fake election two Alexandria policemen went into a cafe, dragged out a prominent journalist and beat him to death on the footpath in front of the cafe - right out in the open for all to see. Those two policemen were never charged with murder or lesser crimes over the incident so far as I know.


The October Bridge was retaken by the police with what seemed hundreds and hundreds of volleys of tear gas rather than rubber bullets or worse.

I thought I heard the thumping of gunfire in the distance here in our neighborhood but I stuck my head out the window and saw it was just a nearby woman beating carpets on her balcony. My senses have lept to a certain unwanted level of acuity. This is history and I'm very glad I'm here to observe it.


4:22 pm - The protesters have taken the bridge again. Surging from the Giza side of the river, perhaps.


The networks are talking about the regime having signed its own death warrant with the last election... which was a big, complacent, evil joke. I don't think any international monitors or whatever showed up, it being understood by the U.N. and the others beforehand that it wasn't something would call an election anyway. It was just a couple months ago... if that long. And then there was the Tunisian Revolution. The sun is getting low on this winter afternoon. I'm wondering if more people will pour into the streets now that they see the government is using non-lethal methods to try to clear the people from the main squares, etc.


5:01 pm - The TV is saying police commanders are no longer present on the streets of Alexandria and the outnumbered foot police are being left to their own devices, handing over their weapons and shields to protesters and walking away.


Protesters are burning armored police cars and such other police vehicles as they gain control of. But I've seen no footage or heard any reports of private property being destroyed. This isn't a general riot and they're not targeting private property.

"They" are young people who put all this together on Facebook and Twitter. Entirely without acknowledged leaders or notables. Joined now by both men and women of all ages. They have no way of communicating with each other for now but perhaps they're ducking into small hotels and shops, viewing the situation on the TVs and reacting accordingly. They don't seem to have moved around in groups much. Staying where they were just after the noon prayers and holding their ground as individual projects.

5:15 pm - I had worried about the regime making good on its promise, today, to confront the protesters with "overwhelming" force by which I assumed they meant the army. But then the international TV networks emphasized that the military is highly respected and would not sully its reputation saving the regime. And, indeed, what seemed to be an armored vehicle of the army showed up outside the Hilton from which Al Jazeera is streaming the 6th of October Bridge Battle and the protesters, who are looking to the army to protect them from the regime's police, ran cheering to the army vehicle and everyone started shaking hands.


6:30 pm - A curfew was announced at about 5:30 for 6pm-7am. So Reda's stuck at her sister's place for the night. Not that it would matter. All the shops stayed open and children are playing in the street in this city of generals that we live in. Nobody's observing the curfew.


10:30 pm - I slept for a few hours after sunset . The neighborhood is still ignoring the curfew and I called Reda again on the land line. I said I could probably go over there and bring her home but I'd rather not have to talk to the police for any reason on a night like this, although the uniformed police have been very restrained through the day. It's the plainclothes police and their day labor thugs who have been a problem through the day... when there have been problems. I think about five people have been killed in the last 24 hours... three in Suez City (where there are always more fatalities for some reason) and two here in Cairo, both, I think it was said, from getting hit on the head by tear gas canisters rather than bullets, bludgeons, knives, etc. The army has separated the police from the people and will now watch the city sleep. The protesters, I suppose it was, have managed to set alight the large national headquarters of the National Democratic Party, Mubarak's mob, which is right next to the Egyptian Museum.

12:40 am Saturday January 28 - Well, President Mubarak just spoke for about ten minutes on state television talking useless drivel so I suppose the demonstrations will be larger after sunrise and we will once again have no mobile phone or Internet service. I'm going to bed. Queuing this to "Send" when we get our Internet back.


Good night and good luck,

Jeff


02 February 2011 - Weds - 13:11 - Internet is back

 

So we’ve got our Internet connections back.
I’ve been wondering if you’ve been watching the news of Egypt these last many days.

Tell me the Egyptian people aren’t magnificent!
Tell me these young people aren’t pretty!
Tell me Obama doesn’t now have all the ammunition he needs to fire Hillary Rodham Clinton and the American Israel Public Affairs Committee!
Tell me Obama shouldn’t be listening instead to that wonderful ex-US Senator Mike somebody who spoke on our TVs from San Francisco on about 31 January!
Tell me America wasn’t blindsided by the “rights” approach while it poured more trillions into the "security" approach!
Tell me these gorgeous Egyptian young people didn’t learn a lot from studying the non-violence of the American civil rights movement!
Tell me the Egyptian upper classes and their children weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like at their beloved American University in Cairo!
Tell me the Egyptian lower classes weren’t taught what democracy is supposed to look like in public schools that use Americo-European models of civics!
Tell me this isn’t the beginning of the END for Halliburton and the military-industrial “complex” that General/President Eisenhower warned U.S. about!

Oh, gloryGlory… GLORY!!!
Tell me what you will – jeff@jeffmarck.net
 
02 February 2011 18:55 - Weds - Protesters hold Tahrir Square

 
Hi all,
 

About half of you wrote back immediately while I was out for the afternoon.

I dropped Reda at her favorite Faisal neighborhood outdoor market and went to the motorcycle mechanic.


He took care of a small problem and I then stopped at my carpenter's shop near Reda's sister's place where she was to go by toktok after shopping.


The men at the shop were glued to the TV where street fighting was seen from Cairo for the first time since things heated up a week ago. They asked me what I thought so I asked, "Who will come after Mubarak? Gamal (Mubarak's son)? This is Korea? The father. Then the son. And then the grandson...?" I started plotting out a map in the air showing where Korea was and that it was North Korea that I was talking about but I needn't have bothered. They knew exactly what I was talking about and were glad to have that answer for the tips of their tongues.


I saw two bands of sociopaths in our Pyramid neighborhoods today - 10 or 12 men each - men the Ministry of the Interior hires to do their Cairo thug work - one small band on Tersa Street in my old neighborhood. One small band moving down one of the main avenues - Faisal or Pyramids, I forget which. They had placards and were chanting slogans that they seem to have learnt imperfectly - all of an age, 35 to 45, and wearing the same weathered coats, pants and shoes they wear when they have disrupted peaceful demonstrations downtown over the years. The people in the cafes etc. were just ignoring them.


But if you have a member of congress or parliament who might lend an ear it is worth telling them immediately that this has been the pattern of suppression for many years. True, otherwise unemployable sociopaths with black jacks and sometimes knives - and the fired red bricks that magically appear when they do. These guys leading the counter protests are simply the same sociopaths Interior has hired for decades to suppress any gathering of opposition groups. Over 2000 people have disappeared into their hands in recent years. Hauled off and never heard of again, just as you may have seen in the first days of the protest on TV. It's Interior ("undercover" police, secret police, etc.) that cooperate with American style disappearances of people and committal to torture chambers, etc., not the Army, as I understand the situation. It made my skin crawl when I saw those kinds of men on TV, hauling off young people down side streets, etc.


I've heard not terribly distant gun fire every night but one.


But the networks are reporting no persons missing from downtown - but who would know under the circumstances - or persons killed by gunfire in the neighborhoods. If you're able to watch Al Jazeera English or Iran's PressTV you know as much about it as me. CNN would seem to be staffed by corporate zombies for the moment.


The protesters held Tahrir Square, night is setting in and there are, one would hope, few people in the outside world who watched it all on TV and believed the attempt to dislodge them was anything but choreography out of Interior. But the numbers of young protesters at Tahrir now seems very small. If their parents called them on the phone and ordered them to come home for fear of a deteriorating situation... well... there's that aspect in all this, too.


I stopped by Reda's sister's place and picked up the groceries. She stayed there so we don't have to fight over the TV's remote tonight.


The main checkpoints/"barriers" are getting more sophisticated and the youth seem to have brought in police they trust, who are in plain clothes but obviously savvy, to help them with their procedures and decisions. The leader at the check point at the 1st Dobat entrance even wore the kind of jumper police wear - of that style but not the Interior issue itself. I was a distressing case to those polite citizens since I couldn't produce anything with my Dobat home address on it. But they had routinely checked my backpack, knew I had only groceries and the older ones left it to the younger ones to talk to Reda on the mobile and see if she was telling the same general story as me.

I wondered before all this what it would mean for us to be living in one of the City of Generals (Dobat or Zobat Haram (Remaya/Pyramids)) if things came to something like they have in the last week.


But it's Army generals who bought these flats, not police generals, and everyone loves the Army this week and always has. The barriers within Dobat had been manned all night by the youth up to about middle aged men, grandfathers in lawn chairs on the sidewalks or nearby patios. Around here last night, well inside our little town, they were down to one or two bored young men last night. There's little amiss, apparently. The nearest mosque is some three hundred meters away and has been broadcasting information to us from their outdoor loudspeakers during recent days when we didn't go out at all. Escaped prisoners - many prisons simply emptied out, one way or another - were moving through the area and perhaps the gun shots I heard through those nights were simply a rouse to discourage the escapees from coming in this direction.

Much army heavy equipment - tanks and armored personnel carriers - is parked at the bottom of the hill we live on where they are at the ready to dash down Faisal Street or Pyramids Street where there is other heavy equipment and their associated troops. Nobody with nefarious purposes has any way to get into our development without passing the main checkpoints where our two main streets come up the hill from Fayoum Road, the initial leg of the national highway to Upper Egypt. We haven't heard any heavy Army equipment scooting around this high on the hill since the first night they were here, three or four days ago. The bored youth of Dobat finally have purpose, patriotic purpose, in their quiet evening gatherings at the development's larger and smaller internal intersections.


So I will spend a quiet night, home alone. Reda's sister's place is deep into the barrios and it's just the grandfathers watching the streets from chairs at their doorsteps. The goon squads would simply be accosted by area men and the goons don't have any reason to go into those streets, anyway.


Reda was watching "counter protests" on government television last night but it was so obviously staged and the same 50 sociopaths playing up to the cameras hour after hour. No women or children as there have been amongst the Tahrir Square multitudes. All the fake counter protest men of an age - 35 to 45 - their signature, really.


I just went into the lounge room and watched TV for a few minutes... they were talking about "counter protesters..." the young people making citizens' arrests of these people when violent in their midsts and finding, when they turn them over to the Army, that their national IDs show actual employment with Interior in many instances.

Mostly we've just been at home fighting over the TV remote... switching back and forth between Al Jazeera and Persian TV English broadcasts and the pro-government Arabic broadcasts Reda prefers to follow. To her, Mubarak is the designated successor of Sadat who was the designated successor of Abdel Nasser who gave her education, opportunity and a career. All gave her quite a lot, actually, and she burst into tears last night when Mubarak said he would not be running for election again later in the year. The world, as she has known it, is about to change. We had never talked politics before. No one ever did. Best not to until only a few days ago, actually.

 

Breathlessly,

Jeff



04 February 2011 21:30 - Fri - From Cairo: no protester deaths today?

 

My friends,


I dug into catching up with some neglected favors owed through last night so I might have the utter weariness to sleep through the afternoon as things started up for the day again. I went to bed just as the midday prayers were over.


Very hard to sit in front of the TV and watch protester bodies hauled off day after day. But still, the toll now is said to be under 500 and perhaps as low as 300 and I've now been rattling around the house for a couple hours and there don't seem to have been any deaths of protesters or any others through this day so far.


The killers are paid Ministry of Interior employees, actual employees. And their $17 a day temp workers. True sociopaths that they are, they will quit killing when the money for doing so dries up. And they all disappeared even quicker when the Army rolled in a few days ago. It was the Army that stopped the police killings.


Now that the American government has more familiarity with the costs and futility of security-based approaches, and from Iraq to Pakistan their security "partners" have been more or less telling them to bugger off in the last many days, they might take note of the Egyptian uprising's rights-based approach, its economies and its possible relevance to Israel-Palestine.


Netanyahu and the others just seem to be pooping their pants. The little shit, anyway (I'm older than he is). I hope the little dag is just writhing. Picture it. A writhing little dag. I hope he has a stroke like Sharon and they both wake up in ten years to see the settlements have all been removed to the Negev.


That's been one side of it that's just as well but for the many deaths we've been counting day to day for what now seems a very long time.


Will Bush and Blair now politely drink hemlock and wander off to their rightful places in the history books?


Probably not nor will certain other people who might well politely do so, too. But their sins, after all, are not so great and were committed in the context of America's conflicted and overpowering "principals" which had been imposed on them.


Totally amazing to me is that Blair is still the "lead man", is it called, for the "quartet", is it called? Who only a few weeks ago said that if there was a two state solution Israel would get to keep the settlements and Palestine "will get, ah.... ah…. what's left." That is, precisely, what I saw him say on TV less than a month ago.


We still have much to do... foremost of which is to scream bloody murder that Blair is the "lead man" of the "quartet" who, presumably, awaits the nod of Washington before he does anything. Hopefully, Obama will continue to be as irrelevant to the rights-based approach as he has been in the past and American, security-minded influence will essentially end in the region, the Iraq War now seeming to have driven Iraq into the bosom of Iran.


But there will still be Israel... and Netanyahu's soiled knickers.


This is just great. And it was the Egyptian young people, who I love, who did it on the Tunisian model. Apartheid Israel's settlements may be removed to the Negev before I'm dead and gone after all.


I was approached by a middle-aged, somewhat portly plainclothesman in front of my apartment building yesterday in this City of (Army) Generals (Dobat, Pyramids, Giza) and asked to accompany him in his car. We hadn't actually picked the right horse or anything. My wife works just down the street at Remaya Central, the central telephone exchange for Dobat and Hadaba, I think it is called, and we live here so she can walk to work. I really never asked questions about what kind of generals we were living with - sustaining the fiction my wife and I lived with that such things didn't matter. It was an enormous relief, some days into the uprising, to learn that they were Army generals all. I didn't ask directly. No police generals. I forget how, exactly, I found out.


So the plainsclothesman approached me yesterday and asked where I lived.

I pointed to the building in front of us.


He asked if I had a car.


I pointed to the motorcycle chained to the lamp post behind him.


He asked if I didn't know any better than to be out taking pictures at a time like this.


I said, "I wanted one to show my house at the barriers. They don't all know what the building numbers mean and then I have to call my wife and it all takes a lot of time." He had witnessed me taking a picture, the last in a series that I was taking - pictures of all the rooms in our house (built to the same plan as all