17 August 2007

Post-EG Wrap – Final Bits & Pieces

This will be my final posting on the Egypt trip. But stay tuned…in another week or so, I’m headed to Mexico!

Shima wrote my name in my notebook for me in Arabic.

Remember that Arabic is read from right to left. A fact that’s handy for dual-language publications. The back half of the document is in Arabic (which starts with what we’d call the back cover and works right to left, back to front) and the front half is in English (which reads left to right, front to back). Both types of readers would automatically pick up the publication and read it the way they naturally would, generally not noticing that it’s a dual-language publication until they got to the middle where the two meet.

The script is used architecturally, also. All the mosques have verses of the Q’uran carved or painted around the outside and inside. Here’s an example of a window from a mosque with a bit of writing that is a small piece of the band that ran across the entire front of the building.

Arabic numerals are very different from what we use also. I was seeing signs that had characters that didn’t look like the letters and when I asked what they were, I was told they were numbers (phone numbers, usually). The letters are always connected together into a flowing sort of line. The numbers are made discretely so that they’re set apart individually.

Here’s the drawing of how a shisha (hookah) works that Tarek drew for me (and signed).

There were airport-type security gates everywhere…at the entrance to the hotels, the museum, the mall, parking garages, etc. pretty much any public space. You walk through the metal detector and hand the guard any bags, packages, etc you have for inspection.

For the most part, I think it was just for show, though. Or maybe it’s just that I looked harmless… When I entered my hotel (which I did at least a couple times per day) or pretty much any of them, I would start to hand the guard my purse or laptop bag or whatever and they would just wave me through. There was one (count ‘em, 1!!) time at the hotel where the guy started to open my laptop bag and actually do a search but then another, older guard came interrupted him and they had words in Arabic. The younger guy zipped up the bag and handed it to me without having actually looked in it.

Traffic… I’ve previously mentioned that traffic is crazy in Cairo. Pretty much every one of my shepherds said at some point, “There are no rules.” And it certainly seemed that way. The painted lane markers are obviously ignored, as are any traffic lights that are actually working.

The one thing that was completely over the top, though, was the time El Banna was taking Keith and me somewhere for supper and we were on an entrance ramp to a major highway. Traffic was slowing to a standstill and we thought maybe there was an accident on the ramp or something.

Then we discovered that there was no accident…it was a car about mid-way up the ramp that was trying to back down the ramp. Apparently, he’d decided he didn’t want to go that way after all… All the cars behind him were backing up, inching their way until the cars behind them would back up too. El Banna kept going forward, squeezing between cars and around the side and eventually, we got past the original backer and it was clear sailing the rest of the way up the ramp and onto the highway.

Also, while riding with El Banna, I learned another Arabic word… “matemshi” which means “Move!”

There were some odd sights on the streets…little donkeys pulling carts piled high with melons or sugar canes or people mixed in with traffic. I saw a 4-wheeled motorcycle…3 wheels in back and one in front. Basically, it was a standard motorcycle but with an extra wheel on either side of the back wheel and a long axle connecting them. A lot of motorcycles also had a spare tire attached somewhere; sometimes horizontally between the back tire and the seat, sometimes vertically alongside the seat in back.

Taxis are generally black and white. The main part of the car is black and the bottom half of the 4 quarter-panels are white. There were a very few that were another color; the vast majority were black and white.

I finally saw a pattern to the u-ey turns everyone constantly makes. It’s because you can’t make left turns. I think I saw one or two places where you might actually make a left turn, but they were very rare and never on a street of any size. Instead of making a left, you have to go past the turn, pull a u-ey around the median and go back, then make a right turn to where you want to go.

Oh, yeah, and one other traffic-related Cairo-ism. They don’t generally turn the headlights on at night. Headlights (day or night) are apparently for signaling that person ahead of you should get out of your way, or that they’ve done something annoying/stupid. Otherwise, you leave them off.

Here’s another unique vehicle I saw on the back streets by the bazaar.


A term of service is required after an Egyptian finishes college. For men, it’s military service; for women, it’s public service. The general term of service is 9 months. The military is often a career choice for men and that’s a different track than the 9 month thing. It’s a major employer since all the security guards, traffic cops and tourist/antiquities police come up through this service track. That requires a lot of people.

Here’s a GoogleEarth map of Cairo with some of the places I went marked. The on place that’s missing is the office where I did the training. GoogleEarth didn’t know the address and I have NO idea where it was to find it myself.

I know it's about impossible to see in much detail...the rightmost blue marker is the airport, then (heading down and left) is the hotel, the Egyptian Museum, the Pharaonic Village and the Pyramids/Sphinx. The Nile runs through, dividing Cairo proper from Giza. The museum and Village are on the river.