12 August 2007

Aug 9 - Graduation Day

Just another work day in Cairo...

We got kind of a late start. Not long after arriving at the office, El Banna took Keith and me to meet the director in his office. He said Ahmed wanted a 10-minute meeting with us to meet and talk about how the training is going and what will be coming in the near future.

We get to the office and it is truly an office befitting the country director. We sat around a conference table after introductions and talked of many things...including the training.

Ahmed and El Banna are cut from the same cloth...both tall and thin, both energetic and driven, both very gracious and hospitable. Both are also due to retire in the next 5 years or so. They're working on training up young talent (referred to as "the barracudas" because Ahmed is an avid deep-sea fisherman) to take over when they move on, but that's going to be a tall order.

An hour and a quarter later, we head back to the training room to round up the students and start class. Almost all the trials entered the day before made it to the web so we had good data to report on.

We worked up until noon then Sherif and El Banna took Keith and me to a nearby mall for lunch. The mall is said to be the largest mall in the Middle East and is about 2 years old. We parked in the garage and went inside. Sherif guided us to a place called Cilantro on the 3rd floor (or thereabouts). It was basically a coffeeshop with upholstered couches, books in shelves around the walls and Wi-Fi. There were a lot of people sitting alone with a laptop, tapping away while sipping a beverage of some sort. There were also some small groups of people ordering lunch or coffee.

We got a table in a corner and ordered lunch. Sherif talked about his sport of choice...fencing, particularly with the epee. Apparently he's a fairly highly ranked competitor in Egypt. I found out a LOT I didn't know about fencing. 'course, that wouldn't take much, since I knew almost nothing about fencing before then.

We finished lunch then headed back to the office. to resume the final push of training. At the end of the day, we gathered all the students together (some didn't attend all 4 days) for "Graduation."

It's nothing elaborate... I make a little speech thanking them for the opportunity to meet and work with them in person and for the gracious hospitality I experienced. Then I give them some small gift as a token of the training.

My guidelines for the gift are that it has to be something fairly small and easy to transport on a plane, it should be uniquely American and can't cost very much. It gets to be a tall order!

However, this time, I found some sandstone coasters that were made from Arizona sandstone and had Native American petroglyphs carved on them. I thought that was just about perfect...Egypt is famous for the ancient hieroglyphs (which I expected to take home some samples of) so I thought exchanging glyphs would be a kind of cool thing. I had a couple sets of coasters, each coaster with a different glyph on it. I spread them out and said everyone could take any one they wanted. I also had a "key" of what the symbols were supposed to mean. It was kind of cool that people selected images that really kind of fit them to the supposed meaning.

Shima picked the sun symbol...which according to my key meant 'livegiver' and 'happiness''. She certainly has a very sunny disposition!

Sherif picked Kokopeli...the 'seed protector', which pleased him greatly as an agronomist.

El Banna picked the shaman...wisdom and healing.

I don't remember what the others picked but they were all appropriate.

Then, they presented Keith and me with some gifts. They gave me a silver cartouche necklace with my name in hieroglyphs as well as a papyrus (REAL papyrus...not the fake touristy stuff) painting of Nefertiti and a smaller papyrus with a stylized map of Egypt. Keith got a cartouche keychain with his name on it, a painting of the gold mask of Tutankhamen, and a map. I was overwhelmed! It was so generous and thoughtful.

After the ceremonies were over, Keith and I packed up our stuff, I said goodbye to everyone (Keith was staying for another week or two) and El Banna took us to the hotel to drop off stuff and get ready to go out for the evening.

Other evenings, we'd been dropped off after work and then picked up again around 8 for supper. However, since I was leaving to catch my plane in the wee hours and had to check out before 9:30, we were going to leave earlier so that we could be back by 9:30.

We headed downtown to the Grand Hyatt hotel on the banks of the Nile. The downtown area of Cairo has many, many high-rise and high-end hotels with a "Nile view" and the Grand Hyatt is one of the bigger ones. We got a table at an outdoor restaurant along the river and had drinks (I had "Egyptian tea"...basically tea that has had fresh mint leaves added to it while steeping) while waiting for it to be 7pm so we could order supper. Shortly after 7, we moved to a table right along the water where we could see up and down stream, watch the boats motor and sail past, and see the sun starting to set across the river.

My digestive tract was a lot better than it had been but still not 100% so I didn't want to order a lot to eat. I ordered some grilled shrimp and no appetizers or sides. They were huge...about the length of my hand...complete with head and tail fins but the main shell had been peeled off before grilling.

I pulled the heads off (I did not, as Ibrahim had done, then suck out the head case) and started a pile of heads, miscellaneous legs and tail fins on one side of my plate. The shrimp were very tasty and had some sort of marinade or seasoning on them that had just a hint of heat to it.

When we'd finished eating, El Banna took us back to the hotel. There was a big soccer match going on at the main stadium and we'd timed it so that traffic should be minimal when we were trying to get past the stadium. They were probably halfway through the first period as we drove by the statium and, sure enough, there was hardly any traffic.

El Banna said it was a big match between the Cairo club team and the club team from another governorate (a geopolitical area that probably corresponds to something like our counties or municipalities). He said there would likely be 120,000 people at the game.

We got back to the hotel in record time. As he dropped us off, I thanked El Banna again for everything and said goodbye. I checked out, finished packing and decided I could get a few hours sleep before it was time to take the shuttle.

I'd just set my travel alarm (and, for good measure, requested a wake up call from the front desk) when the phone rang. It was Shima wanting to say goodbye. We chatted briefly then she put Tarek on to say goodbye also. I knew he was following the soccer match so I asked him if his team was winning. He said it was tied 0-0. I thanked him for the CD of Arabic music he made for me and told him I might listen to it on the plane trip home, but certainly when I got home. We said goodbye and then I got in bed to try to sleep.

I think I slept a little over an hour then woke up and it was obvious that I wasn't going to go back to sleep so I decided to get up and start the trip home.