Monday, 3 October 2016


When I received an invitation to participate in and speak at a United Nations crime conference being held in Cairo, Egypt during part of June 1995, I jumped at the opportunity. Neither I nor my wife, Ayako had ever been to Egypt however, we knew in that year that it would be a fascinating country to visit—which it turned out to be. At that time, Egypt wasn’t in turmoil then as it was at the time of writing this article.

We first saw Egypt from the air as we flew over the Nile delta from Israel. I was amazed at just how green the land looked below us. However, only 3 percent (7 million acres, 12,500 square miles) of Egypt’s total land (386,660 square miles) is arable and most of it was below us as we flew over the delta. There are about six million acres of farmland in the Nile delta in which approximately 60 million people farm the land. The desert claims 96 percent of Egypt.

About an hour later, we saw the city of Cairo in the distance and within minutes, we were flying over that huge city. There were almost 13 million people living in Cairo when we were there so that gives you some idea of just how large that city is. It is the largest city in Africa.

As a matter of interest, 96 percent of the inhabitants of Egypt live in cities, towns, villages and its rural area which represents only four percent of the land and that is the delta of the Nile, Cairo and Alexandra, and the communities up and down both sides of the Nile.

While we were still in the air, we saw the pyramids below us at the western edge of Giza (which is like a suburb of Cairo) with the Nile River going between the two cities along  with two long but not so wide islands in the center of the Nile. We later learned that many thousands of inhabitants live and work on those two islands.

After our plane landed and we were processed through immigration and customs, we headed out of the air-conditioned terminal (which was not the terminal at the main airport but instead the terminal at the smaller Almaza Airport) into the warm air outside. We got into a taxi (in Cairo they are all black and white) and told the driver what hotel we wanted him to take us to.

I gave him the street number and the name of the street in English. What I didn’t know was that although the streets are named in English on the street map, they are in Arabic on the street signs. And considering the fact that I was probably mispronouncing the street name, the driver had a terrible time trying to find our hotel. He had to get out a few times and make inquires. He finally found the hotel an hour later and only charged us about $5 Canadian. That is 10 percent of what a middle class bank official made in one month.

It turned out that our hotel was on the El Gezira Island (one of the two islands in the Nile River which is approximately 14 kilometers, 8.7 miles from the airport) It was the larger of the two islands. It was approximately 3.8 kilometers—(2.3 miles) in length and 850 meters (slightly more than half a mile) in width. The southern part of the island is where the parks are and the northern half of the island is the one where most of the embassies are located and because of that, there was a soldier posted at each intersection of every street on that part of the island, armed with a rifle, 24 hours a day. I felt sorry for them because they had to stand, hour after hour at those intersections during their twelve-hour shifts before they were relieved. It must have been extremely boring and tiring for them.

Cairo is on the eastern shore of the Nile and Giza (which encompassed 80 former small towns and villages until it became a large city in its own right) is on the western shore, both cities separated by our island and the one south of us.

If you ask anyone how many people are in these cities, they will ask you "Day or night?" The question is a valid one because during the days, hundreds of thousands of people from the surrounding areas come into Cairo and Giza in the early dawn with their wares to sell and then at night, they take their buses and cars back to their towns and villages resulting in the roads being choked with the commuters. Thousands upon thousands of people (teachers and clerks living outside of Cairo and Giza) take the buses and subway into Cairo because they can’t afford the rent in Cairo or Giza. The subway (called the Metro) runs parallel along the Nile. Ironically, the rent isn’t that high but because they make very little money, they need to be prudent on how they spend it. Nevertheless, Cairo and Giza are overflowing with inhabitants. There are thousands of inhabitants per square mile in these cities. It’s a common saying among the Cairenes that if you faint in their apartment, you will do so still standing up. Of course that is an exaggeration but it’s not uncommon to have three generations of families living in each apartment, sometimes seven or eight people to a room. Thousands more live in row boats covered by tents of plastic or canvas, boats that seem to line the shores of the Nile.

A great deal of the men and boys we saw on the streets wore plain or striped galabias (long robes) over their regular clothes but it was not uncommon to see women and men dressed quite smartly in Western garb.

Our hotel which was two blocks north of the main street crossing the center of the island we were on (26 of July Street) which our hotel seemed nice enough except that the elevator was always breaking down. We had a suite that comprised of a living room, (with TV) kitchen, bedroom and bathroom. Ayako and I went to a nearby modern grocery store and bought eggs, bacon, bread, margarine, jam, and soup along with some tinned fruit. We would eat our own breakfasts in our suite, our lunch at the Conference Center and a fine roast beef supper at the restaurant in the hotel. That meal came with the room each night we were there.

The next day, we checked into the Conference Center and were given identification cards that we were to hang around our necks at all times while in the center. The Conference Centre is one of the finest in the world. It is in the Cairene suburb of Helliopolis, approximately 5 miles from the centre of Cairo.

At six in the evening, (and every day) we left the Center and met a certain Egyptian taxi driver on the street near the main entrance who spoke passable English. For the next four days, he drove us to and from the conference center every day. He didn’t charge us too much. I think it was about $3 Canadian a trip. We passed the president’s palace on the way to and from the Centre and I kidded with our cabbie by telling him that we really knew that that magnificent palace was really his home. He smiled and responded, "No. No. My home not that good."

It was while he was driving us about Cairo that I appreciate why all tourists are advised not to rent cars in Cairo. The motorists tailgate and squeeze by other cars with an inch to spare and yet all the time we were there, we only saw one minor rear-end fender bender. I couldn’t believe how easy our cabbie squeezed in between cars on the narrow streets without once hitting one. No-one has insurance for their cars in Egypt and because of that, the drivers are extremely polite to one another and careful on how they drive. They wave other motorists to get ahead of them if that is the other motorist’s wish. Despite the fact that they rarely obey traffic signals, and even go through red lights even when the traffic cop is standing on the corner, we still didn’t see any accidents except that minor one. Of course if a tourists is foolish enough to rent a car, he or she would be faced with one major problem, finding a place to park it. There has to be a million cars in those two cities and they were either parked along the streets or being driven on the streets themselves. You would walk further trying to find a parking spot than if you merely walked to your destination, or so it seems.

One day our cabbie took us to a one-story building in Giza which was very modern both outside and inside. The store sold beautiful paintings which were painted on real papyrus paper. We purchased three, two small ones and one very large one and paid about two hundred dollars in Canadian money for them. The ones you can get on the street are not painted on real papyrus and they sell for about a dollar a piece. The young man that sold us the paintings told us that he is the son of the owner and that the owner painted the ones we were looking at. His father beamed when I praised his work and my praise was genuine because his work was magnificent. The son joked and told us that his father would punish him if he didn’t sell us one of his father’s works. I turned to the father and said, "If we don’t buy a painting from your son, he says he will be punished, is this so? The father looked at his big strapping son and smiled and then laughingly said, "Yes. I will turn him over my knee and spank him." I replied, "Well I don’t want this young man spanked so I will buy three of them." We all laughed. Buying the three works of art on real papyrus was well worth the money we paid for them and everyone who sees then in our home praises us for our selection.

We learned about an interesting custom that is prevalent in Egypt. When a taxi-driver takes you into a shop, he is seated and given coffee by the sales people or the owner and the tourists are given a cold Coke or Pepsi. It’s the custom. You don’t have to buy anything. It’s simply part of the Egyptian hospitality that is accorded to tourists and I suspect anyone else who shops in the stores. The Coca Cola and Pepsi companies must make a mint in Egypt.

One day our cabby pulled up to a small building and took us inside. It was on one of the main streets. It turned out that this was where the late Egyptian president Sadat and his wife were entombed. Both of their caskets were in two raised marble-like sarcophagus. Sadat had been murdered in 1981 by several of his soldiers who were Islamic Fundamentalists. Sadat was standing as his soldiers paraded by him and several soldiers jumped from their passing truck and ran towards him with their machine guns firing. Instead of hiding behind the barricade in front of Sadat, he remained standing and as such, was machine-gunned to death by one of the soldiers who managed to get up close to him. The soldiers were captured and later hanged.

One day our taxi-driver took us to see the pyramids at Giza. These huge stone edifices are about 8 kilometers from the Nile and the base of the largest pyramid of the three, the Great Pyramid of Khufu (the Greek spelling is Cheops) which was built around 2600 B.C. and is 230 meters (756 feet) at the base of  all four sides. Its height is 147 meters (482 feet) It is as high as a 42-story building. That may not seem high when comparing it with the immensely tall buildings around the world of today but considering the fact that each of the stones are 2.5 to 15 tons in size, (between the size of a small bus) and that there are 2.3 million of them placed in an area of 13 square acres and that there are enough stones in that pyramid to build a ten foot (3 meter) wall around the entire country of France and that the cubic area of the inside of that pyramid (which is almost solid stone) is so large that St. Peter's in Rome, St. Paul's and Westminster Abby in London and the cathedrals in Florence and Milan could be placed inside this pyramid with room to spare, one cannot help but conclude that this has to be history's greatest man-made feat as it relates to the building of structures. It took 70,000 men 20 years to build it.         

Incidentally, the workers were not all slaves. Most of them were farmers and when they had finished farming for the year, they worked on the pyramids for payment so that they could feed their families and buy more seed for their farms.

You have to stand at the base of one of the corners of the Great Pyramid of Khufu to truly appreciate its tremendous size. I think the only other two comparable awe-inspiring edifices in the world are the Taj Mahal in India and the Eiffel Tower in Paris. Up to the beginning of the Twentieth  Century, it was the tallest structure in the world and at that time, it was second only to the Eiffel Tower with respect to the tallest man-made structures.

My wife and I decided that we would like to go for a camel ride and ride around the pyramids. When I got on one, with coloured pompoms hanging around its eyes, it suddenly got up and if I hadn’t been hanging on for dear life, I would have been catapulted into the sand. Ayako then got on hers and then the owner of the camels told us that that would cost us 40 Egyptian pounds apiece. That was approximately $16.80 in Canadian money in today’s market. I figured that I could live with that. Then he asked if we were prepared to pay ten pounds for the horse. I told him that we didn’t need a horse as we were riding his camels. He replied that the horse isn’t for us, it’s for the guide. I said OK. This camel ride would cost us $17.00 American. I could live with that. After all how often does anyone in North America ever get to ride real camels in a real desert?

We started across the desert sands towards the pyramids and within a minute, a man appeared out of nowhere. He handed me an open bottle of orange pop and when I said no, he replied, "Please, it’s a gift." Well, I didn’t want to insult him by turning him down so I accepted his gift. A minute later, while he was walking along side of me, he asked for an Egyptian pound note. I looked at my guide riding his horse on the other side of me and I then implored, "If it was a gift, why is he asking me for money?" The guide replied, "He’s now asking for money because he is a beggar." My wife couldn’t stifle her laugh and she whispered with great glee, "Beware of Egyptians bearing gifts." I reached into my pocket and pulled out 100 piastas and gave it to the beggar and asked him, "Do you know what the English word SHOO means? He nodded his head in the affirmative and when I looked back towards him, he was gone, as was my 100 piastas. A couple of minutes later, a woman carrying what appeared to be a baby in her arms came out of nowhere and approached us and asked for some money. Do these people live in hidden caves buried under the sand? I refused to contribute again and talked myself into believing that the baby was in fact just a doll—which it probably was.

I didn’t realize how long it took us to go around the pyramids but by the time we were heading back, the sun had gone down and the lights of Giza were twinkling in the distance.

Suddenly I heard the guide’s voice in the darkness. "You do intend to pay for my services as your guide, don’t you? What was I going to say that wasn’t in agreement with him? After all, he and the small boy holding the ropes to our camels were our only way back to Giza. When we arrived back at Giza, I ran into the shop where the camel owner was seated and complained most bitterly about the additional charge. He poured us some wine and said, "Perhaps you will feel better if I tell you that the extra ten pounds ($1.48 Canadian) will be given to the boy who walked all that way through the desert as he led your two camels." I asked the owner to call the boy in and when the boy entered the shop, I smiled at him and handed him the ten-pound note. The boy gave me a nice thank you and ran out of the shop. I hoped the guide didn’t take it off of him but I suppose that was too much to hope for. In any case, the camel owner felt bad in not disclosing every aspect of the costs to us before we went on the ride and as a result, he gave Ayako a small bottle of perfume. The camel ride cost me $21.50 Canadian. We left all smiles around although my smile was in a fixed position all the while since my smile was sardonic but by then, I learned an important lesson. Always ask up front what the costs are going to be no matter where you are.

We spent about twenty minutes standing about listening and watching the sound and light show in which the pyramids and the Sphinx were lit up. The pyramids were hardly noticeable but the Sphinx really stood out against the black sky. It’s quite close to the road running between Giza and the pyramids.

I learned from some Egyptians I met later that if the camel owner and I had agreed on an amount and we shook on it and he tried to raise the cost after that, I could refuse to pay it and then ask a nearby tourist police (they are everywhere) for assistance. The police officer would send us on our way and then when we were out of sight, the police officer would give the camel owner a severe beating and tell him that next time there was a complaint, his place would be shut down. I learned that because tourism is a big thing in Egypt, the government lets the tourist police have free rein to make sure that tourists are not hassled or hounded and especially, not cheated. Just say the words, "tourist police" and then stand back and watch how nice the sales people are to you and how the beggars will flee from you.

During our drive back to our hotel, we passed the many nightclubs that are on both sides of Pyramids Road that leads from the pyramids and carries on through the city of Giza.

The next day, our taxi driver brought us back to the pyramids so that we could spend more time around the big one. We also spent an hour looking at the Sphinx and the repairs being done to the base of it. From what we were told, the Sphinx was built at least a thousand years earlier than the pyramids.

The day after that, our taxi driver took us to Saladin’s Citadel that was about 4.5 kilometers south-east of our hotel. This huge stone Arabian complex was built on the top of a small hill overlooking the city. It was built by Saladin, the same man who fought Richard the Lion Heart during the Crusades. We entered the fortress about half way up the hill and walked to the top and wandered around the complex. The view of the city to the south, west and north of us was magnificent. To the east, we could see the steep Muquattam Hills nearby.

At the very top of the Citadel is the Muhammad Ali Mosque with two very high minarets beside it. There were very big windows in the walls of the Mosque that made it possible to see inside it. It was in the Citadel that former rulers ruled Egypt. Incidentally, this is a good time to tell you that if you intend to use a toilet in public tourist places in Egypt, bring your own toilet paper because there are none in the stalls. Of course, there is always a woman with a roll of toilet paper outside the washrooms that will give you some toilet paper for a few coins. I discovered this while we were in the Citadel.

Prior to that, we spent an hour in the area of the huge Rifai Mosque which is at the base of the hill the Citadel is situated on. We didn’t go in because the men were at prayers and infidels can be in real trouble if they enter a mosque when the men are praying. I did want to go in however and see the green marble sarcophagus that the last Shah of Iran (Pahlavi) is buried and visit the tomb next to it where the last king of Egypt (Farouk) is buried. I later was friends with the man who was the general who was the head of Farouk’s body guards. He was living in Canada when I met him.

There was also a market area nearby where there were many small stores and stalls selling gold trinkets and chains and we spent an hour browsing through them.

Our taxi driver then took us to the Northern Cemetery  which is called the City of the Dead which is one of two huge cemeteries along the south and eastern part of Cairo which has thousands of domed mausoleums in which over a quarter of a million inhabitants of Cairo have moved into them because of the housing shortage. Officially they are not supposed to live there but the authorities have turned a blind eye because to them, it’s probably better that the homeless inhabitants live in the cemeteries than on the streets. The government even supplies them with water and lights. The inhabitants aren’t even considered as squatters anymore. Of course some of the mausoleums are guarded by the police and /or watch men because past rulers are entombed in them. We visited one that was fairly large and well guarded.

It was unfortunate then that there was a 20 percent unemployment rate however in Cairo in 2016, it was 12.5 percent. Many of the Cairenes in Cairo or Giza held then and probably hold now, only part-time jobs. Sidewalks were teeming with unemployed youth who held their hands out in hopes that some small service on their part will result in a small token of appreciation being placed on their outstretched hands. Small children, some with missing limbs, sitting on the sidewalk with outstretched hands, are hard to ignore even when they can’t offer a service to the tourists. 

This is a city of odd jobs; where both young and old wash cars, hawk imitation and real papyri, act as impromptu tour guides. (ask where a street is and be prepared to drop a coin in an outstretched hand in return) Of course, no steady work means no marriage which results in decade-long court ships in which the partners long for privacy in which they can be intimate. Of course being intimate in the privacy of one’s home in Cairo is akin to an ant having a private room in an ant hill.

We decided to spend the weekend in Luxor which is 400 miles (643 kilometers) south of Cairo as the conference wasn’t having proceedings going on over the weekend. There are really only two ways you can go to that city that is on the east bank of the Lower Nile—by air or by train. Forget going by bus. The train leaves around eight in the evening and arrives at six the following morning. I paid several hundred dollars Canadian for the two of us for the return trip with a sleeper. You have to make the reservations well in advance so I made them before we even left Canada. I picked up the tickets at the train station which is situated beside one of the major thoroughfares in Cairo. (Ramses Street) Two days later, we caught the train but before we did, we switched hotels because the elevator in ours was still not working. We chose the Presidential Hotel on the island and they reserved a room I picked out for us for the following Monday and the rest of the week.

We arrived at the train station around eight in the evening and climbed aboard. Our sleeper had a upper and lower bunk, and a toilet and wash basin so for the entire trip, we had the privacy of our sleeper. When Ayako and I were sitting on the soft seats of our air-conditioned sleeper on the train, I looked out of the large window and saw a train sitting beside us. It must have been third class. Its windows were open and people sitting on the seats were trying to fan themselves with newspapers. It was extremely hot outside. I was glad that Ayako and I weren’t going south on that train. As our train slowly pulled out of Cairo and headed south, I looked at the apartment buildings that were very close to the tracks as our train was passing them. None of them had glass windows. Why would they need glass windows? All the time we were in Egypt, we never saw one cloud. The sky was always blue until the sun went down. Moments later, the sky was black. The reason is because with no clouds in the sky to reflect the setting sun, once the sun goes over the horizon, the area you are in turns black within minutes if you are outside a city or village.

Our train arrived in Luxor around 6:00 in the morning and it was still dark outside. The cabbies were out there waiting for us and a young cabby and a friend of his who was in the cab with him, drove us towards the hotel I had chosen earlier to go to but on the way there, the cab driver took us to a different hotel. I insisted that he take us to the one I told him to take us to in the first place and he complied. When we arrived at the hotel’s front desk, I paid him for the trip. He asked for additional money because he took us to another hotel first. The man at the front desk told him to get the hell out of the hotel before he threw him out. If he didn’t throw the little cheat out, I was going to.

The hotel was a three-story hotel and was built in the earlier part of the century. As it turned out, my wife and I were the only residents in the hotel that day. Two days later, a huge contingent of tourists arrived. There was a large swimming pool outside and it was the only swimming pool in Luxor and because of this, sometimes customers of other hotels nearby would pay several Egyptian pounds to our hotel for the privilege of swimming in our pool. The hotel is just half a block from the main street and that street (in the area of the hotel) borders the eastern shore of the Nile River.

The first thing we did was visit the Valley of the Kings in the Theban Hills which is on the west side of the Nile. We went across the Nile on a small ferry boat with a tour guide who had been called by our hotel on our behalf. He was a young Egyptologist earning extra money giving private tours. He met us at the hotel and we walked the short distance to the ferry. After we crossed, he walked us to an air-conditioned van-like vehicle and the driver drove us to the Valley of the Kings.

The Valley of the Kings is not really a valley but rather it is a small rocky canyon of which the 60-odd pharaonic tombs were carved out of the rocky walls of the canyon in which a number of Pharaohs were buried. Some tombs were even carved out of the valley floor. It is the place where King Tut’s tomb was found. We visited his tomb (one of the smaller ones) and stood about ten feet from where his sarcophagus is located. We visited one other tomb in the ‘valley’ and walked quite some distance into the actual burial chamber after passing through its winding passageways. The few tombs that were open to tourists are lit up to some degree by overhanging lights or floodlights and the electric fans blow some air inside them so it isn’t too hot inside the tombs but quite frankly, I wasn’t all that excited having the hieroglyphic text on the walls explained to me in inch by inch detail of the postmortem rituals which at best are icky. There is a modern building near the tombs where tourists can cool off and have cold soft drinks. I was more anxious to be there. I needed to cool off and quench my thirst as the heat in some of these tombs can be unbearably suffocating.

Before we left the area, I observed some workman doing some digging nearby so I went over to see why. Their foreman told me that they were looking for a tomb. I jokingly pointed to another area on the valley floor and said, "You are digging in the wrong place. The missing tomb is over there." We laughed and went our separate ways. Two years later, I learned that the missing tomb was finally discovered and it was found exactly where I pointed. No. I will not be credited with the discovery. However, that wasn’t the first time I forecasted an event. I can’t explain it but my mother did it a couple of times also.

Our tour guide then took us to the famous Temple of Queen Hatshepsut. The structure looks imposing enough. It comprises of a series of three broad terraces with many colonnades on each.

Two years and a half years later, on (November 17, 1997) six men who were members of the Islamic Group, an Egyptian Islamic Fundamentalist terrorist organization called Gama’a Islamiya, massacred 4 Egyptians and another 58 Swiss tourists who were getting off the bus at the site. Some of the victims had their noses cut off. The terrorists were hunted down a few hours later by the police and all of them were shot to death.

The sun was extremely hot (115 degrees Fahrenheit, 46 Celsius) and it was a five-minute walk to the shade of the temple. As soon as we arrived, a beggar came out from behind a colonnade and fanned us with a piece of paper and then demanded payment of one Egyptian pound. I had enough of this and blessed him and then waved him away. "SHOO!"

As our young Egyptologist tour guide was painfully deciphering the hieroglyphics and I was feeling faint, I stopped him and pointed to another area of the inscriptions and said , "I too can read Egyptian hieroglyphics. Here, let me show you." I pointed my finger towards the inscriptions and said, "Canadian tourist is very hot and is melting in the sun and needs to get out of this heat." He began laughing and said, “You’re right. I couldn’t have transcribed it better than that. Let’s get out of here and into the shade.” We moved into the nearby air-conditioned building where the restaurant was.

On the way back to the ferry that was to take us across the river to Luxor, we stopped to look at a rather large statue of some Pharaoh and marveled at how it whistled when the wind blew around it. Our guide then took us to a small local tomb (I can’t imagine why) and then to the ferry that was to take us across the Nile to Luxor. He spent about four hours with us and his fee was $60.00 Canadian which he came by the hotel later to pick up.

Luxor (whose population then was approximately 159,000) is not only a stopping place for the Nile cruises but it is famous for its two temples. The smaller temple is right in the middle of the town. It is simply called, Luxor Temple. It covers an area of about three city blocks. It’s right next to the street that runs along side the Nile. At night time, it is lit up by amber floodlights.

The second temple is something else again. It is the largest temple in the world. It was the backdrop for that famous movie, Murder on the Nile, the mystery written by Agatha Christie. It’s a 15 minute ride by horse-drawn carriage from the town and both at night and during the day, it is a sight to behold. Actually, it is a series of temples, built next to each other over a period of 13 centuries. It is called, the Great Temple of Karnak. It covers an area of sixty-two acres and is surrounded by high walls. The 134 columns in 16 rows in one part of the temple (Great Hypostylic Hall) are so huge; it takes quite a few people holding hands to encircle each of them. It is the largest columned space in the world. And the irony of this is that these many columns are quite close to each other so one is forced to ask, why so many columns in one small area? Walking among them is akin to walking on a giant chessboard in a land of giants.

We first visited this temple at ten at night to watch and hear the light and sound show. As we were led through this temple which was entirely enveloped in darkness except for the small areas that were lit up on occasion when that area was being described, (though loud loudspeakers hidden in various places in the temple) my wife told one of the guides that she had to go to the toilet. This meant that a guide would have to take her because without a flashlight, it would have been impossible to see her way out of the temple as it is pitch black when there are no lights about. The public toilets were just outside the main entrance.

When we got near the end of the show, we were all led up some steps and seated on rows of benches on a small mound that overlooked a small lake to our left and the temple to our right. The lights in and around the temple lit this huge edifice up in glorious amber and then a voice from the area of the lake in which there were hidden speakers said in a booming voice, "And then the great architect asked his Lord Pharaoh, ‘What is there left to build?” Before the speakers hidden in the temple had an opportunity to reply, I yelled out loud enough for everyone to hear, "More toilets for the tourists." Well, the tourists exploded in laughter. I don’t think anyone heard what the Lord Pharaoh had to say in reply after that, in any case, whatever it was, wouldn’t have brought the house down like I did with my line.

Our carriage driver took us back to our hotel by driving through the main street of the town which, much to my surprise; was very busy at this time of night. It was after midnight and yet despite that, the streets were packed with people of all ages, black-clad women giggling as they dodged the horse pulling our carriage, young and old men, some in their galabias, others in Western garb, standing on street corners talking. Even small children were playing on the streets.

The next day we visited the Karnak Temple again so that we could see it in all its spender in the light of the day. That night, we ate at one of the restaurants in town and the food wasn’t that bad. As we walked along the street bordering the Nile, some young men pestered us trying to sell us their cheap paintings on imitation papyrus. I turned to one of them and asked, "Do you speak English?" He replied, "I speak good English." I asked, "Can you tell me where the nearest tourist police are?" He replied, "No, No. No need to see them. We leave now." And the young men turned and headed back in the opposite direction we were going. Wow. Those two words work miracles in Egypt. They can make pests disappear within seconds. David Copperfield, the illusionist who makes 747 planes disappear should see what the words "tourist police" can do in Egypt.

The next day, we spent part of the day swimming in the pool in our hotel and some of the afternoon sleeping in our room and the rest of the evening shopping for trinkets.

I remember the last night we were in Luxor with fondness. There was Egyptian music in the background.  My wife was in my arms as we sat on a park bench overlooking the waters of the Nile with its cool breezes coming off of the river.  We watched the many feluccas (sail boats, each with one sail) plying up and down the Nile, their sails silhouetted against the setting sun which created the orange sky just above the hills in the distance, its light reflecting off the water looking like thousands of bright orange sparkles, it was an experience to relish forever.

Later that night, we caught the night train back to Cairo. We arrived at the Cairo station at 6:30 in the morning. As we headed along the platform towards the main entrance, our cab driver was there waiting for us. He took us to our new hotel, the President Hotel.

At first, there was some confusion when we arrived at the hotel. They were going to rent our room to someone else but I prevailed and we got the room the hotel promised us before we left for Luxor. The room was on the tenth floor, the same floor that their dining room was on. Our room was quite big and had a very large patio which from which we could see some of the Nile River and much of the city below us.

Very early in the morning, we were awakened by what sounded like wailing of some sort. As we stood on our patio, we realized that the sounds were emanating from the many minarets all over the city. Hundreds of loudspeakers were blaring throughout the city. It was the religious leaders admonishing the faithful to prayer. The calls went on for a few minutes and then all was silent again. This happened every morning at about four.

While I was attending the conference one day, my wife visited the main museum which is close to the Nile just south of the 6 October Bridge that crosses the Nile to get to the island and Giza and I later met her in the front of the building and went into the museum by myself to see it for myself while she waited outside under the shade of a tree. Quite frankly, I was rather disappointed. It’s dingy inside and all you really see is sarcophagus after sarcophagus and the only real exhibit worth seeing is the one of King Tut. 

I did get to pull off one of my practical jokes (of which I am renowned) when I was in the museum. I asked to see the curator and was taken to his office. I told him that I understood that if a tourist wanted to take an  antique out of Egypt, it first had to be appraised by him and if approved for removal from Egypt, he would sign a paper authorizing its removal. He said that was true and asked me what I wanted to take home with me. I reached into my pocket and pulled out one of Egypt’s dirty, grubby ten-pound notes and showed it to him. I said, "That has to be very old." He looked at it, smiled, showed it to his assistant who responded with, "The gentleman is right. This one goes back a very long way. At least twenty years." The curator handed it back to me and said, "There is no need for my written authority to take this out of the country. I have seen notes that are even older than this one." I asked, "Have you ever seen a new one?" Both men smiled and shook their heads in the negative. I smiled and said, “If you get your hands on one, I am sure you will want to make it as an exhibit that will have to be placed behind bullet-proof glass.” The brought more smiles to their faces.

It was unfortunate that a few years later, Islamic Fundamental terrorists murdered 18 Greek tourists and wounded 21 more (thinking they were Israelis) who were getting off of a bus in front of the museum on April 18, 1996. I understand that this terrorist group has since decided not to murder tourists any more, or so they said.

Ayako and I went up to the top of the Cairo Tower which is in the middle of the Island we lived on. The tower is surrounded by park land. I had to pay several Egyptian pounds to get permission to take my video camera to the top. Ironically enough, I discovered to my great disappointment, the video camera wasn’t working at that time so I paid that money for nothing. The view at the top of the tower is awesome. The tower is quite high and from the top, you get a splendid view of Cairo, Giza, the islands, the Nile and the pyramids in the desert.

The last night we were in Cairo, we went to the eastern shore of the island we were living on and rented a small boat and driver and he took us along the Nile as the sun was setting behind the buildings on the island. We passed the huge El Gaziera Sheraton with the opera house close by. The lights of the city twinkled as banks of light in what was now black buildings silhouetted against the orange sky to our west and we could hear the murmur of voices, the sounds of car horns and the general soft din of a busy city in the background competing with the sounds of the slapping of the water against the sides of our small boat.

We later walked across the 26 July Bridge and walked along the western side of Cairo in the narrow park-like setting that borders the eastern shore of the Nile. When we got almost to the 6 October Bridge, a carriage and driver pulled up alongside of us and asked us if we wanted to be taken somewhere. We smiled and said no and continued walking towards the bridge. He offered a price and we still shook our heads. He dropped the price again and still we wouldn’t accept his offer. He lowered it again to a really low price and it was too good to turn down so we agreed. We then went on a twenty-minute ride through the various streets of the island leading to our hotel. We gave him a tip because we knew that without it, the ride wasn’t a moneymaker for him. I guess he counted on us tipping him.

We were fascinated by the wonder of this interesting country. The people were extremely friendly and not once did anyone attempt to rob us nor did we at any time see anyone fighting with anyone else. We realized that begging in Egypt is a way of life. Practically everyone had his or her hand out. But considering how poor the people are, it is easy to see why. That’s why it is necessary to keep plenty of coins with you when moving about Egypt. Despite that, it is still a great country to visit and it is one that is hard to forget nor would you want to forget it, once having visited it.

However at the time of this writing (September 2016) Global Affairs Canada advises against non-essential travel to Egypt due to the unpredictable security situation. When things cool down, then by all means visit that fascinating country.                   

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