Home for a Visit
22 October 2010
We went home to the U.S. for several weeks.
The boat is in Turkey, and has been since August. We've drafted a couple of catch-up blogs, taking us from our last post, in Egypt, to the boat's current position, in Finike, Turkey, and we'll post those soon. We've been busy.
We've actually been home twice - the first time to comply with INS obligations with respect to Sima's Green Card, and the second time to attend a wedding of one of Sima's friends.
We also accomplished some other things while at home, including spending time with Paul's parents, and attending a baby shower. For Sima.
Yup, Sima is pregnant, due in the latter half of November. Our current intent is to see if the little tyke wants to come back to sea with us when we get back on the boat in, say, April.
Being home was mostly a joy. The entry the first time wasn't. We took flights separated by about four hours, and Sima, traveling by herself, was hassled by the Customs and Border Protection folks. They were not courteous.
Waiting for her at the airport, I learned that she had been sent to "secondary screening," and so went to the CBP window to find out about her status.
As with all first-time U.S. Permanent Residents, Sima had been provided with a temporary two-year probationary Green Card. At the end of two years, a letter was sent saying that the two-year probationary period was extended for another year, while USCIS reviewed and considered a supplementary application that we had submitted. While we were sailing, that supplementary application was approved, and a Permanent Green Card was sent to our home in the U.S.
As she entered the country at the airport, Sima had with her the temporary Green Card and one-year extension. Arriving home before her, however, I was able to get the new 10-year permanent Green Card at the house and had it ready at the airport as I waited for her flight, just in case someone wanted to see it.
When I learned (from a woman at the airline) that Sima was being detained, I went to the window, told them who I was, and that I had Sima's Permanent Card, if that mattered.
"Give it to me," said the officer.
Uhm. OK. "Could I find out why she's being detained?"
"She's not being 'detained.' We don't 'detain' anyone."
Right. Got it. "Could I find out her status?"
"No, you can't."
I see. OK. I'll just wait outside.
"She should have had this card already, "said the officer. "The issue [read- the reason that she is being retained] is probably that she's trying to get in to the country on an expired Green Card. This looks old to me," he said, holding the week-old card up to the light, as if some defect would thereby reveal itself.
"Well, no sir, I don't think that's correct. You see, her probationary period was extended for one year, and she has the official letter from USCIS on her person, which includes language that specifically allows her to travel, including this flight into the country."
Blank stare. Set jaw.
"Well, I'm going to wait outside. Would it be possible for someone to contact me if there is any sort of problem?"
I mean, there is just no reason for the surly behavior. I'm a U.S. citizen, for goodness sake. Sima is a Permanent Resident. It is important to protect the borders, of course, and even to be serious-minded about it. But there is no reason to treat people poorly.
Sima had an even bumpier ride. First she was stopped by the officer in the check-out line. "I don't see your extension letter on my computer." That was a bit misleading, as it does not appear that he would ever see such an extension letter on his computer.
Sima was asked to go to a nearby office, where she was interrogated by two officers after a wait of thirty minutes.
"Do you own property in the U.S.?"
"Do you rent?"
"Then you're not a resident here, are you?!"
"Well, actually, I am. I maintain a residence with the parents of my husband, in Lynn, pay taxes here, keep my finances in the U.S. and certainly don't have a permanent residence anywhere else."
"Oh, from Lynn!? Where did your husband's parents come from before Lynn?!"
[Now they've got her! They're probably from Vietnam or Cambodia or some Hispanic country, and not here legally themselves!]
"From Lynn. I'm pretty sure that they have been there all their lives, and certainly all their married lives."
[Actually, parts of my family have been in North America since before the American Revolution, and fought in that war and the War of 1812.]
There were some more such questions, and finally Sima was allowed to pass. Maybe the fact that she speaks completely unaccented English and was carrying a Harvard backpack played some role. Such interrogations must be especially difficult when one is not fluent in the language. There was an attempt to intimidate me, even, and our case is pretty clear cut.
We traveled together on our second trip home, and had only an initial screening, but the questions were similarly off-base.
"Do you reside permanently outside the country? It's OK, you can tell me."
But home we finally came, and spent some good time with Paul's family. Hours perusing genealogical documents with Paul's mom at the kitchen table. A nephew's soccer game. A visit to some work mates. A visit to Paul's cousin's new cheese shop near NYC. A wonderful wedding in DC.
My pop is getting older, and does not remember things quite as well as he used to. But he's still pretty sharp, and clever as ever, and a joy to spend time with.
Some friction has always existed between my Dad and me with respect to Dad's tendency to collect things. Is "hoard" too strong a word? In our basement, there are TVs and radios, some dating from the 60s (50s?) waiting to be restored. And lots of other things too. All of the Robertson boys have tried their hands at helping pop to clean up, perhaps none more earnestly than me, but dad's a tough nut to crack.
For many years, we had a motor boat in the yard. It was an old wooden boat, about 18 feet long, with a 35 horse power motor. We kept it for about 15 years, and I worked on it for a couple of summers in an effort to make it seaworthy. The task was too big for me, however, and the boat gradually rotted away in the driveway. Finally, Dad got rid of it when it was clearly beyond hope.
The engine, however, stayed put, taking up residence in the driveway with a couple of non-working lawnmowers, a snowblower, a cement mixer that hasn't been used in decades, and some other stuff. I had approached dad many times about getting rid of the motor, in particular, but pop wouldn't budge.
On this visit, like many, dad spent hours working in the front, side, and back yards. Fruits and vegetables abound in dad's garden, and, in season, we never want for tomatoes, rhubarb, squash, blueberries, cherries, peppers, and so on. And the yard does look good - neat and trimmed. But one must work around the collected things, and they'll not go before he does.
But who knows how many more visits I'll get with my dad? He's 87 now. And although he still works out for two hours a day, he doesn't travel quite as quickly over the same distance that he used to.
On the last day of our stay, as Sima and I finished packing our bags, Dad called me out to the driveway. "Could you help me move something?"
Sure I could. I put on a pair of gloves and followed him out to the yard. There he stood, over the boat engine, which had fallen over, with its stand, into the grass. "Help me pick that up, will ya?"
Of course. "What are we doing with it? Can we get rid of it?"
"No one will take it, will they?"
"I bet they will. Let's put it out, with a sign."
OK?! OK? Wow. I was having chills. Really.
I wheeled it out to the front of the house. "What about these four jerry cans? Get rid of them too," I asked?
"Sure," he said. He also let me wheel out one of the lawnmowers. This was a big day.
A pickup truck drove by. "Hey, are you tossing those things?"
"Nah, we're selling them, I said. "$20."
They threw the things on the back of the truck. I patted my dad on the back. He said, "you're something," referring to our quick profit.
I gave the money to him. "Nah, it's yours," he said.
"Let's split it," I suggested.
Egypt and Egyptians: Part 2
20 July 2010 | Endeavor Bay, Tawila Island, Egypt
Just as we have found some Egyptians to be genuine and warm while others are less so, some parts of Egypt -the ancient parts mostly - are stunning, while others - say, anything done after about 1000 B.C.- are less picturesque.
Cairo, for example, is no Singapore. It was, in fact, by far and away, the most trash-laden city we've ever been in. And we've been to some doozies.
We read that Cairo produces something like 13,000 tons of trash every day, but collects only a fraction of that amount, the deficit being left to pile about. The evidence of the running garbage deficit is everywhere.
As our train rolled into Cairo, it felt like the tracks had been routed through a garbage dump of unending length. The locals simply chuck their trash over the fence, where it collects in enormous piles, an approach taken not only along the railroad tracks but in open lots, highway underpasses, fields, and just about every other open space in the city. Goats are everywhere amidst this sea of trash, chewing through the plastic bags to get at the goodies underneath.
Not that there is much open space into which to put the trash. Cairo has about 30 square centimeters of green park space per person, which is about the size of your foot, and somewhat less than the urban planning ideal of 15 square meters per person.
The air quality follows suit. Cairo is home to more than 4,500,000 cars (!), the majority of which are more than ten years old, and none of which are controlled by meaningful emission standards. Similarly, lead and copper smelters, and other unregulated industries, belch gases into the air. There is no real wind or rain to blow any of this stuff away, so it stagnates.
One can get used to this, right? Well, not really. We read one report that estimated that as many 25,000 people die in Cairo each year from air-pollution-related respiratory illness.
It may not change any time soon. Along water front promenades on the Red Sea, we watched workers clean walkways by sweeping the trash onto the beach below. At sea, we watched dive boats toss full bags of trash into the sea, doing so in the dark, pre-dawn hours of the morning to avoid detection by their overseas guests.
Some places, such as Port Ghalib, were comparatively clean, but this was the exception, and probably related to the fact that there were three workers for every guest at the under-populated resort. But as soon as you departed the resort itself and moved off into the dessert, you found the landscape awash in garbage, with each road-side scrub decorated with its own plastic bag collected from the wind. Some unlucky bushes had two or three bags. We'd seen the same thing in Sudan.
(Something needs to be done about plastic bags. When you buy something at a local convenience store - a piece of fruit, an ice cream, a can of ice tea - the local proprietors typically tuck it into a plastic bag or two. What can one expect but that, with so much synthetic wrapping being given away at no cost, a good amount ends up blowing around the city streets and surrounding desert.)
But once you step over the trash, duck under the smog clouds, and make it safely across the street and through the speeding traffic, another Egypt exists. And that is really something else.
The pyramids are even more impressive in real life than you'd think.
The engineering tolerances are simply amazing. The blocks weigh 2.5 tons on average, with those at the bottom heavier and the granite blocks used for the roof of the king's chambers weighing between 50 and 80 tons each. Yet the gaps between these blocks are typically less than a millimeter, and uniform across the block's length.
The bases of the pyramids are level, today, to 2 centimeters, and that difference may well be related to a shifting earth rather than a shifting pyramid. Each of the sides of the Great Pyramid is 230 meters in length, and they are identical to a tolerance of less than one centimeter. This was done without lasers or telescopic tools. Today, even using modern measuring standards, there is some argument that the differences in length are actually undetectable.
And if the pyramids look awesome now, at the time of completion they were even more stunning. The step-like blocks that make up the sides that we see today were originally covered with a limestone casing, still partially visible in places, so that pyramids would have sparkled the bright white of the U.S. Capitol or the Washington Monument. And most were topped by capstones, some made of gold, that would have gleamed in the sun or moonlight. They must have been something to behold.
When you enter the pyramids, and move along passageways that have not been exposed to the elements, the precision engineering becomes all the more apparent, with precisely squared corners in chambers made of blocks weighing tens of tons.
And all this was done not tens or hundreds but thousands of years ago, and the methodologies they developed were not understood until modern times. When one Arab sultan tried to dismantle a pyramid thousands of years after it had been built, he couldn't figure out how to do it, and threw in the towel after managing only to remove enough stones to scar one of the sides.
We also traveled to Luxor, which also knocked our socks off. (Actually, they were already off - It was H-O-T HOT! registering 45 degrees Celsius, or 115 degrees Fahrenheit on more than one day. And it felt even hotter in the sun. The good news, though was that we were typically left to ourselves, unmolested by the scores of tourist buses that usually flood these sites.)
In Luxor, we saw paintings and wall carvings that were remarkable for their craftsmanship, with paint still sticking to rock walls and still looking fresh three thousand years after it had been applied.
Most of the objects that have been found in the tombs and temples in Luxor have been removed to the national museum in Cairo. And boy, is that place a disaster. The building sprawls with artifacts, but there is little rhyme or reason to the collections, and index cards that were obviously typed before the advent of the computer age provide little interpretive guidance as to what one is seeing. The Tut collection is somewhat of an exception. It has been loaned out from time to time, and has thus benefited from the organization and analysis that came as a result. But the rest of the museum has the look and feel of a poorly organized rummage sale.
(Some explanation for this might be found in the absence of meaningful leadership at the top. We read an editorial in a local newspaper by Zahi Hawass, the supposed dean of Egyptian Egyptologists, and individual responsible for the direction of modern-day Egyptology in this country. We came to the conclusion that he is a bit paranoid at best, and off his rocker at worst. In the editorial, he railed against competing foreign Egyptologists, "who are just hungry for fame for themselves. One in
particular believes that I do not know him, but I am aware of everything he says." Hawass said that he doesn't need to take credit for the work of others, as he has been accused of doing, because "some of my archeological projects have become the most important in Egypt." You don't say! He continued about "another anonymous person [who] has said that my work is just opening holes here and there in the Valley of the Kings. I know who this person is and I think he should go see our excavations . . . to see the difference between our work and his, which people actually do refer to as holes." Go get 'em Zahi! What he should actually do is stop digging holes, or any merit, and give up the editorial writing for a couple of weeks, and organize the mess collected at the museum.)
But when we sifted among the treasures, we found truly amazing things. For example, we were awed by full-size carvings of a prince and his consort. They are seated, carved in wood, painted with accurate flesh tones and clothing colors, staring straight ahead, and looking as lifelike as could be. The craftsman did an especially wonderful job with the eyes, which sparkle with frank gazes. We spent 15 minutes in front of the pair, trying to understand the technical skill that went into their creation but mostly just unthinkingly appreciating how lifelike they were. We read (not in the poorly interpreted museum!) that when the tomb was first excavated and a light shone on the figures, the workers shrank back in fright, convinced that the prince and his consort where actually seated in front of them. We don't blame them.
Egypt and Egyptians: Part One
17 July 2010 | Red Sea, Egypt
We're in Endeavor Bay, on Tawila Island, Egypt, in the northern part of the Red Sea, just short of the Gulf of Suez; 160 miles from the entry to the Suez Canal, 215 miles from the Med, and about 550 miles from Turkey. We've been creeping up the Red Sea, sneaking out to grab a few miles when the forecast calls for the winds to moderate, often to find that they haven't really moderated. But we've broken up some of the brutal sails with some quality time on land.
We haven't written in a while. As Sima's friend Erkut once observed about our blogs, the rate at which we post seems to be inversely proportional to the pace of our lives. This has the unfortunate consequence that when we have lots to write about, there is no time to do so. And the stories get harder to tell: they risk getting scrunched together, watered down, and leveled out. Details fade a little bit with time, and collecting so much in one note can be difficult to digest, let alone record.
But maybe there are benefits to such collective posts, too. Events are seen in context and themes emerge. Certainly, when you post more frequently, the tempo can be livelier, but maybe by waiting the loss of pace is balanced against some small amount of perspective gained, and humor emerges from experiences that seemed less than enjoyable at the time.
We've had time to reflect on Egypt, having been here for something short of two months. In light of this time here, we are, of course, completely unqualified to make the following broad-sweeping generalizations, but if Bill Bryson can sum up a town based upon a five-minute drive through without ever leaving his car, surely we're qualified to take a shot at Egypt.
So here goes: Egyptian people are kind and big-hearted, capable of great warmth and astonishing acts of munificence. No, wait, they are untrustworthy and scheming, and wouldn't know the truth if it bit them on the leg! Of the country itself, Egypt, is a repository of stunning antiquities carefully preserved for thousands of years. But those objects that have been preserved are some small fraction of the things that the ancient kings actually left, and we have them only because generations of Egyptian tomb raiders couldn't figure out where they had been hidden.
Sure, our conclusions are based upon anecdotal experiences only, but many of the anecdotes are fun, and so we share. Here we'll talk about the people we met, and cover the places we have seen in a subsequent note.
We had last written after arriving Port Ghalib.
Port Ghalib is a "starter" resort city on the coast. A wealthy Kuwaiti family picked the area to develop a modest resort on the scale of, say, Disneyland, in a desolate part of the Red Sea Coast, making something out of nothing in the desert. Maybe more on the idea of Las Vegas, actually, than Disneyland, as the latter actually had some people living nearby before work started. There was nothing here before but dust.
The Egyptian coast of the Red Sea is covered with many such ventures. Some of them, like the city of Hurghada, have flourished. Hurghada has grown from a several thousand residents to more than 150,000 in a twenty-five-year time span, all based on the tourist trade. Those numbers are not an exaggeration.
But for every Hurghada, there seem to be a dozen projects almost as grandiose in conception and perhaps equally spectacular in their failure. Certainly they provide that image collectively. To sail along the coast is, in parts, to be reminded of those old Westerns where cowboys trundled through one-street ghost towns, except that there are no tumbleweeds here. But there sure is at least as much dust!
In Port Ghalib, they dredged a small, shallow marsa, converted it into a giant, labyrinthical marina, and then set up a number of sharp looking hotels, clubs, restaurants, pubs, and parks around the water's edge.
It'll be quite nice when complete, and even now is a pleasant place to be. But it is also a bit like a theme park in the moments before it opens in the morning. Everyone is in place and ready to go: ticket takers at the gate, costumed characters with permanent smiles affixed, ride operators ready to send folks wheeling into the sky, cotton candy vendors spinning their first treats. Except with Port Ghalib, the crowds never actually show up, and the workers - dozens of them, from waiters to shop keepers to hotel clerks and so on (although there weren't really any costumed characters nor cotton candy vendors . . . .)- nonetheless go about their days as if the place WERE full. It feels a bit like the Truman Show, with everyone there just for you. We're overstating this a bit, but not by much. We'd see some other people from time to time, and big crowds came once each week when new tourists came to join the live-aboard dive boats and the previous week's divers sat about waiting to decompress - literally and figuratively -- before they flew home. In general, however, the place was about as far from crowded as you can get.
But we rather enjoy the absence of crowds, and so it was a relaxing stay, and relatively inexpensive to boot. So stay we did, hemmed in by adverse weather anyway. And we came to know some good Egyptians, and some not so good ones too.
We had chosen Port Ghalib as our entry port because it is meant to be the smooth handle by which to grab the reportedly deceitful Egyptian officialdom. It turned out to be a good choice.
We had busted tail to get to Port Ghalib in time for the U.S.'s opening World Cup match against England. We arrived at 4 p.m., providing us, we thought, a sufficient cushion for the 9:30 p.m. game.
As we coasted into the marina, we were directed to stop at the customs dock, which is about a baseball's throw away from several bars where the game would be shown. But we were told that the boat couldn't leave the customs dock until we finished the clearing in process.
(Lest some of you harbor the misguided belief that it was only PAUL that sought to make it to the game on time, you've got it wrong. Sima is as much a fan as Paul, and with Turkey not having qualified, she became a dyed-in-the-wool U.S. fan. She kept track of ALL the games on a scorecard, was upset when we were late to important matches such as, say, New Zealand versus Slovakia, and when the U.S. doesn't perform well, it seemed to take Sima longer to recover than Paul. In fact, this was an actual conversation:
Paul: "Who else is in the group with France and New Zealand?"
Sima: "Slovakia and Italy are with New Zealand. But France isn't in that group. The third team is Paraguay. What are you asking about? France's group or New Zealand's?"
Paul: "Never mind. ")
On the dock, we were greeted by a junior port official, and officious he was, a good warm up for some of the others we were to meet. We turned over our paperwork, and then told him of our hope to complete formalities in time to see the game. "We should be able to get you finished by 10 p.m.," he said, as if he hadn't heard our request or, if he did, as if he didn't really care. That might not work, we said, because we'd have to move the boat after we cleared in, which would take about 45 minutes, and that would be 10:45, which would mean the game would be over.
There's not much he could do, he shrugged, and explained that immigration officials would have to come from the airport to review the paperwork, that they make a once-a-day visit to the port at about 8:30 p.m., and that after that, the paperwork would have to be sent to the airport, and then be returned. After the third time he explained this, each version a little different and making less sense, we gave up trying to understand, and asked politely if he could do the best he could.
Then we asked, "If the papers do get back here as late as 10 p.m., could we leave the boat on the customs dock for the night and make the short walk over to the bar to watch the game? He looked at us coolly: "If the boat doesn't move, neither do you."
Captain Sharif Fawzy is the Manager for the marina at Port Ghalib, and he has a sterling reputation among cruisers for integrity and candor. We'd been emailing him in the days before we arrived. Now, we called him at his office in the nearby customs building, and, without repeating our exchange with the junior officer, asked if would be at all possible to get cleared in by 9 p.m., so we could watch the game? I don't see why not, he said.
With his guidance, clearance was completed in little more than an hour; we parked the boat, and watched the U.S. hang on for a 1-1 tie against England.
And so began a lesson that was repeated many times during our stay in Egypt. There doesn't seem to be any middle ground - people were either warm, genuine, kind, and generous to a fault, or officious, lazy, incompetent, and dishonest.
From people that we met at the less agreeable end of the spectrum, we started a list of the top ten lies we were told in Egypt. We soon found we would have trouble limiting it ten. Here are some examples:
Pinocchio No. 1: A sign in the lobby of our Hotel in Luxor read as follows: "Tonight: USA vs. Algeria! 5 p.m. Terrace Bar." During the day, we confirmed with reception that the game would be shown. And so at 5 p.m, we arrived at the Terrace Bar with a handful of other Americans, to see that the England Slovenia game was being broadcast. What about the U.S.? "We're so sorry," said one of the wait staff earnestly, "We don't get that game here in Egypt." A crowd of several other of the service staff gathered, chiming in. "You might as well come here. Eat. Drink. England will be a good game!" Not playing anywhere in Egypt? "Yes, we are sure. But there will be regular update of the other game on this channel. Come, sit down!"
We didn't. We headed out into the street, and the first coffee-house that we came to was showing the U.S. game, filled with Egyptian men watching intently and smoking their water-pipes. We went back and collected the other Americans from the hotel. (The hotel also had each of the games on the TVs in the rooms, but disabled the relevant channels at game time in an attempt to get people out of their rooms and downstairs to the bar.) The hotel staff shrugged as we exited.
Pinocchio No. 2: At the pyramids, a stern faced ticket-taker asked for our passes. This seemed odd, as we were already produced our passes when we entered the gates, but we hesitatingly handed over our tickets again. "These are insufficient for this part of the pyramids," he said, waving vaguely into the distance. "To go in this next area you must pay an additional 20 Egyptian Pounds." It seemed somewhat credible, as at some sites in Egypt there are additional entry fees for special places, such as King Tut's tomb at Luxor. But we smelled a rat, snatched our tickets out of the man's hands, and calmly but deliberately walked by him, even as he initially blocked our path and then shouted in our ears as we passed. "Hey, where do you think you're going!? You must pay!" he yelled angrily. "It's forbidden. What are you doing?!"
He was a fraud.
After we'd gone twenty paces, he gave up, and we heard him approach another group of tourists and sternly demand to see their passes.
(That was another thing about many Egyptians. It was seldom "May I seat you?" or "May I speak to you please?" but more typically a command: "Sit here!" from the waiters. "Come here!" from the marina staff. And "Tell me where you are going!" from passing taxis. And there was a constant and aggressive pestering by taxi drivers and other vendors of all kinds. You had to grow a callous disregard to the shouts that became so effective that sometimes, to your eventual embarrassment, you'd ignore actual acquaintances shouting your name from a few feet away.)
Pinocchio No. 3: "Pssst. Mr. Sir. Come, quickly. This part of the tomb (or museum, or site, etc.) is closed, but I will take you in, quickly, while no one is looking. We must hurry!" This ruse was used over and over again at almost all of Egypt's ancient sites. As you followed them to some "forbidden" zone, guides would look over their shoulders, as if they were trying to avoid detection from some sort of Antiquities Police, even when there was not a soul around for miles or when you were several hundred feet underground. You'd then be whisked somewhere "private."
You'd look. Oooooo, isn't this special?
And then the baksheesh-seeking hand would come out. We didn't mind this so much, as we'd pay only a dollar for such privileges, which may not seem like much but was to them. Typically, the places they showed us were a bit farcical, and it was obvious that a rope had been placed arbitrarily segregating some area of the tomb, no different than the rest, so that an additional fee could be charged. But on a couple of rare occasions we were actually treated to something special, such as when we wandered away from the crowds at Karnak Temple, and into a construction zone, and were taken into some rooms that were more dazzling and freshly painted than any we'd seen anywhere else in Egypt. Or the guided tour we got of King Tut's tomb. For that one, although no special areas were shown, the guide was clearly excited about what was there for everyone to see, and we gave him a healthy tip. After a while, though, such as when we were invited to take "forbidden" pictures at the museum, we simply paid a tip up front, and forwent the picture taking opportunity. We thought that this was the better approach, but we were soon being approached by what seemed like every guard in the building, greeting us with a friendly smile and a wiggle of the eyebrows.
Pinocchio No. 4: The cashier at the marina used a raised voice and offensive language when we questioned the added service charge for paying by credit card, a fee that the merchant is supposed to bear. When we asked his name, and confronted him about the language, he said that he really hadn't realized what his language meant. "I just saw it in a movie. It isn't OK?"
Pinocchio No. 5: An agent in Hurghada told us that we had to pay $50 to return our cruising permit to customs before we left the country. We didn't fall for this one, and a call to Capt Fawzy confirmed that this was an untruth.
Pinocchio No. 6: "The standard fair for a ride down town is $15," said the taxi driver. We knew that it was $1. We agreed on $2 Egyptian. At the end of the ride, we handed him the money, and his face darkend. "Two Egyptian?!" he bellowed angrily. "You said two Euros!" We quietly closed the door and walked away, with him calling after us that we had "broken a promise."
Pinocchio No. 7: We met some young children hawking cheap postcards at the pyramids. Sitting under the Sphinx, they chatted us up, and they eventually forgot about selling product and kept us company for a while. We gifted them with candy gum with a prize in the package. One of the girls pocketed the prize, and then, with the saddest puppy-dog face you've ever seen, pleaded for more because she hadn't gotten a prize!
And so it went. And these are just the lies that were obvious, and also don't include stories about more general boorish behavior , such as the rude comments that Sima was often subjected to when she went out on the street by herself. Even when we were together, men would give her long, lusty up-and-down stares, often pausing in stride to complete the effect.
But just when you were about to give up on the place, you'd meet someone whose generosity and friendship would dazzle you. Captain Fawzy was one such person, and we can't say enough about the help he provided. Hanni and Marina, from the HEPCA boat, and whom we wrote about in our Dolphin Reef blog, were of a similar ilk. There were many more examples, and the gifts they gave of themselves vastly outweighed the energy sucked away by the Pinocchios.
• At Captain Fawzy's direction, Tarik and Waleed at Port Ghalib organized a trip to take us into the dessert to ride camels and all-terrain vehicles, followed by dinner with some local Bedouins, and later took us back into the dessert to attend a raucous late-night dinner party at a club disguised as a fort. No payment would be accepted for any of it.
• Ali Amr, and his cohorts Madda and Amina at HEPCA in Hurghada were such wonderful friends, and did so so much for us. We had met them, when we were anchored near the HEPCA boat at Dolphin Reef, and we looked them up when we arrived at Hurghada. They treated us like family. "Mi casa e su casa!" they cried, and they meant it. They graciously allowed us to use the internet facilities and make use of their home and office as we needed.
You had to be careful with Amr Ali, the director of HEPCA, whom Madda and Amina call "Santa Clause," an allusion to his generosity. We'd no sooner mention a predicament than he would be on the phone working to make it go away. We only now regret that we set our sights too low! We should have mentioned in passing that we needed new sails or an engine overhaul, and watch him set to work. As it was, when we told him of a costly cruising permit issue, he was on the phone with the local Coast Guard official, who promised to set things straight during a visit to his office the next day. "But you're right, " Amr told us. "It will cost you - $1.00." This was a bit less than the $200 we'd been quoted by the agent. "This Coast Guard fellow owes me," Amr explained. "I let him beat me at Play Station."
• Baha "Bob" Gad and his wife Hayat Yazidi in Port Ghalib, who treated us with great hospitality at the chain of restaurants they managed, gifted us with movies that they liked and souvenirs of Egypt, and with whom we spent many hours sharing stories and watching World Cup games.
• Sombol, our taxi driver in Luxor, who took us around the sites in Luxor for a whopping $25 each day, and then took us home to meet his family over tea when we had finished.
• Captain Muhsin Ozer, a Turkish boat captain living in Port Ghalib, who watched our boat each day while we traveled, treated us to a spectacular fish dinner at his home, and spent a good amount of time giving us guidance about our trip up the Red Sea.
• Faizal, whom we met through the HEPCA folks in Hurghada, who provided us guidance on our anchorages in the Red Sea, put us in touch with a Captain to help us with our Suez Canal transit, and called us repeatedly after our departure to make sure that we were OK.
• Hanni, about whom we've already written, and whom we met up with again in Hurghada, and who again followed us around and called us repeatedly: "Do you need anything? Can I get you anything?" When we said nothing, he gifted us with six-packs of beer and bags of fruit and vegetables.
• Serhat Bas, another Turk, whom we met while berthed in Hurghada. He drove us around town in his rental car to help us look for parts, put us in touch with a reputable agent to help with our canal transit, and, as with Hanni and Faizal, called us repeatedly after we set up the Red Sea to check on our well being. His mother, Esen, took great care of Sima in particular, feeding her all manner of Turkish delicacies every time she stepped aboard their boat.
• Local Bedouin leader, Abdul Salem ("Baba" (father) to his charges),, who honored us with an invitation to dinner at his home in Marsa Alam after we had met him during our camel excursion in the desert.
Listing all these acts of kindness seriatim does provide good evidence of the generosity with which we met, but also seems, in a fashion, to trivialize the relationships themselves. People didn't just do things for us. We did things for them too. And we got to know them, sharing drinks on the boat, watching World Cup games together, or just hanging out.
In other words, we were able to develop some genuine friendships here, and contrary to the sentiments expressed by other cruisers who'd been here before us, we will be sad when it comes time to leave.