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Wednesday, December 25, 2013

HISTORY OF LOGAN - EGYPT IN THE 1980'S

MYFIVEBEST.COM

Be sure to check out http://myfivebest.com/.  This site is made by a friend of mine, James Fowler.  He does a great job of collecting interesting facts.  For some reason I haven't yet put my finger on, these great facts often come in groups of five.

These facts can be anything from useful items such as Five Things to Know When Buying Your First Motorcycle to more frivolous stories such as 5 Necessities In Preparation Of Zombie Apocalypse.

It's easy just just start clicking around his web page and notice you've just passed half an hour reading interesting trivia.

Go check it out.



HISTORY OF LOGAN PART 4 - FINAL CHAPTER

For those just staying tuned, this is a telling of a tale set in the late 1980's when I and two friends journeyed from then West Germany through the USSR into Greece.  We pick it up within Greece.

After the dimly lit KGB polluted USSR, Greece was heavenly.  Clean, lit and open.  One of the favored hobbies was people watching.  Here it was mere entertainment rather than reporting a neighbor in order to get a new refrigerator for turning them in for crimes real or imagined.

Hunter had often show off a pair of sandals which had been made in Greece saying he'd had them for many years.  Although they cost a bit, I picked up a pair from the same craftsman.  This term is loosely applied for they fell apart in short order.  When I asked Hunter about this he admitted he'd never worn his out of the house.  It's one of those times when you stare at someone and think they need a good slapping.

Of Greece, only a few things are remembered.  The streets of Athens were cobbled and steep.  Hordes of people lounged around fountains.  There were many ruins about.  In this land, we were the 'Ugly Americans', playing and sitting on ruins thousands of years old.  Since I've started traveling, I am pleased to note that 'ugly' is not only able to be applied to Americans.  With the advent of cell phones, computers with Skype and even television, it seems that consideration has gone out the proverbial window.


After committing various atrocities upon the ancient artifacts of Greece, we lugged our heavy packs to Egypt.  Here at last my story can become a bit less ethereal as Egypt had quite an impact on me.

It is still remarkable to me how ignorant I was then.  Hopefully, a modicum of wisdom has been hard won with the passage of decades.

My memories of Egypt come in several short stories:

While in Cairo, I observed hundreds of poor people sitting - many black clad widows - along the sides of the road.  They weren't begging nor engaged in commercial activity.  I asked Roy "What are they doing?"

"Waiting." He replied.

"For what?"

"Just waiting."

They weren't, he maintained waiting for anything in particular though it seems to me that they awaited death.  I've known many people in the USA who do this - they are just very busy while meanwhile.


No grass was to be seen anywhere.  As any school kids will tell you this is not unusual as deserts don't have a lot of water and grass needs a huge amount of water.  But for me, it was my first (though not my last) desert.  The intellectual knowing of a desert and the emotional experiencing of a desert are very different.  There is no wonder that most of the current world religions were started by wild eyed madmen emerging from the desert.  As Terry Pratchett said in 'Jingo', “Night poured over the desert. It came suddenly, in purple. In the clear air, the stars drilled down out of the sky, reminding any thoughtful watcher that it is in the deserts and high places that religions are generated. When men see nothing but bottomless infinity over their heads they have always had a driving and desperate urge to find someone to put in the way.”  Unless you've been in - slept in - a desert you can't feel this.  If you have of course you may still think it's total rubbish.  I disagree and have a jaunty quote from a great author to back me up.

For some reason which eludes me to this day, they didn't use vehicle headlights.  I've been to Egypt much more recently and this no longer seems to be the case.  During those days, they didn't.  What's more alarming is that road lines seemed to be regarded (as they still are in much of the world) as incidental art rather than a directive to stay in ones own lane.  Roy, Hunter and I hurdling down a road in a taxi driven by some sort of escaped mental patient who didn't feel like using his headlights and wanted to drive in the middle of the road was still seen as preferable to taking a bus.

Another confusing habit of taxis and indeed it seemed all drivers maniacally competing on the roads had was honking.  Unlike cars I was familiar with stationing the horn in the middle of the steering wheel, these horns were located on the car turn signal.

Why it was located there and how they avoided ripping it off when using the horn to show their rage is another 'mystery of the desert'.   It took me a long time to figure it out but eventually I advanced a theory there were five times when the horn was sounded:

1.  When you are going to hit something or someone.
2.  When you are going to be hit by something with mass - like a car or motorcycle.
3.  When you wanted the traffic to move faster.
4.  When you wanted to signal someone you knew.  This could be either to say "Hi" or "I see your ugly mug Abudlla and I'm still mad at you!"

The fifth and last was the most complicated to pin down.  It didn't happen until one of or mad cap trips through the desert.  We were out in the middle of nowhere.  Miles of visibility and no other vehicles, people or even obstacles were around.

And the cab driver honked his horn.

Immediately I had Roy interrogate the cab driver as to why he sounded his horn.  After much prodding the answer came back - he didn't know why.

5.  At random.

I am pleased to say that in many 'non-Western culture' countries all or part of this list holds true to this day.


For 'westernized' countries, the amount of personal space someone has can usually be measured by extending your arms to full length and clasping your fingers together.   If someone enters this space it is best if they are a good friend if not your 'significant other'.  In Egypt, personal space is about a centimeter.  This takes some getting use to as Egyptians often speak loudly, wildly gesticulate and were often smoking.  The only way I could talk to them without continually backpedaling was to stand my ground but turn a quarter with my body while leaving my head facing them.


Within Cairo, we event went to the fairly cheesy 'light show' at the pyramids.  For those who don't know what that is, some of it was shown in the 1979 James Bond movie "Moonraker".   For those too young for that movie, go to Egypt and see it for yourself.  Or get hold of the movie.  Either way.


I loved Egypt and the temple of Karnak (shown here as it once looked) blew my mind.  Each of the pillars is the kind of thing several men could like hands to encircle.  I've since returned (my pictures here) but the psychological impact didn't hit me as hard.   It is still an impressive place to be sure but the sense of awe on Young Logan (as opposed to Old Jaded Logan) was huge.


One of the places we visited was Alexandria.  Nice place.  Lots of white buildings, a low sea wall, use to have a cool library.  We were wandering through there and spotted a couple male tourists with hair past their shoulders wearing "Jim Beam" (alcohol) t-shirts.  In Egypt (at that time), if you had long hair it meant 'you wanted to be treated as a woman' (ie raped).  Being a Muslim country, alcohol at that time was even more forbidden than today.  I inquired to Roy what would happen to them.  "They will be dead before sundown." he said dismissively.  We continued wandering around.  At one point, we noticed there was no traffic.  No cars, no pedestrians.

Needless to say, this caused me to get just a little screaming paranoid.  We began to worry that in addition to people competing for 'most insensitive tourist' award, we might not survive until sundown.

Rounding a corner, we suddenly relaxed.  There were about a hundred (more?) people sitting at an outdoor cafe.  Everyone's attention was glued to a very small television set.  Football (soccer for folks from the USA) and Egypt was playing.  The screen was about the size of a normal computer screen.  Imagine - a hundred people all watching that tiny screen intently.  This was going on all over the city.  I don't know anything about the game but gather this one was an important one.  But for me, it was a great excuse for ordering tea and a shisha.


Roy had several members of his extended family in Egypt.  Within the Egyptian culture, the importance of family cannot be overstated.  I do remember he related a conversation he had with one of his cousins named 'Ream'.  She had asked him if he knew what 'Ream' meant.

He quipped "To squeeze the juice from?"

She wasn't pleased.  In Classical Arabic, 'Ream' means 'deer'.  Not quite the response she'd hoped for.


An interesting uncle of Roy was a 'businessman' of some sort.  I'm not sure what but at the time the word 'gangster' seemed to fit in nicely.  We went to visit him in a hugely dilapidated building.  Buildings which look like complete crap on the outside are not uncommon in Egypt.  They are often left that way as a form of protective camouflage.  The insides are often sumptuous affairs, piled deep carpeting and silver tea sets.  This was not one of the amazing villas but more of a working office.  It was also my introduction to 'cronies'.  There were half a dozen young, healthy and hard looking men who sat on a bench.  They seemed to have no purpose other than to await orders from Roy's uncle and do his bidding.  After the formal Arabic greetings were exchanged, he immediately offered us soda.  It is worth noting in Egypt that you must refuse until their third offering.  If a man were crawling out of the desert, delirious and dying of dehydration I imagine the conversation would go like this:

"My friend!  You appear to be dying from lack of water!  May I offer you some?"

"No, I just drank a few days ago.  I am fine."

"Please, take this humble water before you die!"

"Oh, I am ready to die anyway.  It is best that you not waste the water on me."

"I must insist you take the water!"

"If you insist, I gratefully accept."

If someone offers you something and you take it without being offered three times, it is seen as very rude.  They may have just offered it to you the first couple times to be polite.  It is an interesting culture.

While we were chatting with Roy's uncle, anonymous men (always men) brought him envelopes of money.  After he glance at it, he would dismiss them with a small hand gesture all the while continuing to talk to us.

His desk was stacked high with lots and lots of envelopes.

At this point, I also became familiar with a strange Egyptian culture involving the phone.  I'm sure this has disappeared with the advent of the cell  phone but at that time only 'hardline' was available.  After three minutes, the cost of the call went up.  Hence, every two and a half minutes, the uncle would hang up and call back to continue a conversation.  Strange.

Sadly, he didn't offer to put us up somewhere nice in Cairo.  I recall being keenly disappointed by this.  I've always maintained that the least a rich relative should do is to put up relatives and their friends - at least for a short time - in some decent lodgings.

So we had to stay in our shit hole.  Later, this place would become one I spent an inordinate amount of time in.


"Can we ride camels?" I asked Roy.

"Fuck no.  Camels are horrible creatures.  They will step on your foot to crush it.  They will try to kill you.  They will spit on you.  They are very uncomfortable to ride." Roy replied emphatically.   Years later, I would find he was correct on all counts.  I settled for horses.

We went near the pyramids.  At that time, before some moron thought it would be a good idea to deface one of their temples, you could still crawl around inside the pyramids.  I did.  Heard that doesn't happen any more.  Honestly, it's not as cool as you'd think.  Well, temperature-wise it is.  It's a bit cold after the desert but it's really uncomfortable to climb around in them now and nothing to see inside.  Note, they are not spaceships.  Anyway, we rented some horses to ride around the pyramids.  Their guide naturally came with.  He was an old grizzled guy who carried a stick with a bit of string tied on the end.   On the end of the string was a small knot.

He asked if we knew how to ride horses.  Roy said he'd never ridden a horse before.  I informed him I'd ridden several times but never had any instruction in it and didn't think I was very good.  Hunter informed him he was 'a very experienced rider'.

Part way through the ride, I had Roy ask the guide if it was possible to make the horses go faster than the walk they seemed set to do.  No sooner had Roy translated this into Arabic than the old man deftly flicked his stringed stick.  It sounded like a bullwhip cracking.

The horses all took off at a dead run.

I was enjoying this.  There are two good speeds for a horse.  Either walking or at a dead run.  The one between (cantor or trotting, aka jogging for a horse) jostles the hell out of you and will abuse your testicles in ways guaranteed to remove amours thoughts - other than killing the horse later.  The full out run or gallop is smooth.  I was doing OK.  Roy was doing pretty good for a beginner.  He had his arms spread wide to hold the reins which confused me but otherwise he seemed to be having a good time.

The 'experienced rider' - Hunter - was not having a good time.  As Roy and I fell into place next to each other we watched him do everything wrong.  It was obvious Hunter was uncomfortable going this fast so he began to do things to slow his horse.

He gave it a lot of rein.  He leaned forward.  He lifted his ass off of the saddle.

Kind of looked like he wanted to win the Kentucky Derby.  Pretty much the opposite of everything you want to do to slow a horse.  To make matters worse, he had begun to slowly slide to the side of the horse.

As Roy and I chanted "Die!  Die!  Die!" we watched Hunter's head slowly get closer to head sized boulders which were streaking by.  We were very sad when the horse had trouble with such an unbalanced load, slowed and stopped on its own.

I'm pretty sure that by this point Hunter had figured out that not only had his anal retentive ways made him hugely unpopular but that we were starting to think "The desert is a mighty big place.  Easy to lose things in it.  Like a body."

He went away to Ireland.  Even sent us a postcard later and that was the last I ever head of him.

It was not nice of me to plot killing him but I was young, impetuous, usually armed and well disposed to violence in those days.  These days, I'd just tell him I want to travel by myself for awhile and off I'd go.  But those were different times.  Ah, unnecessary violence...


After a couple weeks, I'd gone native.  As I do today, I began to dress in the native garb and had even learned some Arabic which incredibly sticks with me to this day.

It's at this point, after about a month in Egypt, the 'Downfall of Logan' happened.

I've done a lot of amazing and irritatingly baffling things in my life.  In the land where 'curse of the pharohs' refers to the dysentery you can pick up from the water, drinking out of a public well strikes me as a 'what the fuck' moment in my life.  Dressed all in desert clothing, speaking in Arabic and felt a bit thirsty.

The next week or so found me lying on my back with a bottle of water stuck in my mouth and shitting my brains out in the kind of place you had to manually flush with a bucket of water.

The problem was compounded when neither Roy nor I thought of the simple thing of going to any pharmacy to buy medicine for what is probably the most common tourist problem in all of Egypt.

Like I said, irritatingly stupid.

Having  some vague notion that it would take western medicine in the USA to cure this unique condition, I cut short my first trip to Egypt and flew back to the states.



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PICTURES

{{2011}} London, GB | Rail N Sail | Amsterdam, Netherlands | Prague, Czech Republic | Budapest, Hungary | Sarajevo, Bosnia | Romania | Chisinau, Moldova | Ukraine: Odessa - Sevastopol | Crossed Black Sea by ship | Georgia: Batumi - Tbilisi - Telavi - Sighnaghi - Chabukiani | Turkey: Kars - Lost City of Ani - Goreme - Istanbul | Jordan: Amman - Wadi Rum | Israel | Egypt: Neweiba - Luxor - Karnak - Cairo | Thailand: Bangkok - Pattaya - Chaing Mai - Chaing Rei | Laos: Luang Prabang - Pakse | Cambodia: Phnom Penh | Vietnam: Vung Tau - Saigon aka Ho Chi Minh City

{{2012}} Cambodia: Kampot - Sihanoukville - Siem Reap - Angkor Wat | Thailand: Bangkok | India: Rishikesh - Ajmer - Pushkar - Bundi - Udaipur - Jodhpur - Jasalmer - Bikaner - Jaipur - Agra - Varanasi | Nepal: Kathmandu - Chitwan - Pokhara - Bhaktapur - (Rafting) - Dharan | India: Darjeeling - Calcutta Panaji | Thailand: Bangkok - again - Krabi Town | Malaysia, Malaka | Indonesia: Dumas - Bukittinggi - Kuta - Ubud - 'Full Throttle' - Gili Islands - Senggigi | Cambodia: Siem Reap | Thailand: Trat | Turkey: Istanbul | Georgia: Tbilisi

{{2013}} Latvia: Riga | Germany: Berlin | Spain: Malaga - Grenada | Morocco: Marrakech - Essauira - Casablanca - Chefchawen - Fes | Germany: Frankfurt | Logan's Home Invasion USA: Virginia - Michigan - Indiana - Illinois - Illinois - Colorado | Guatemala: Antigua - San Pedro | Honduras: Copan Ruinas - Utila | Nicaragua: Granada | Colombia: Cartagena | Ecuador: Otavalo - Quito - Banos - Samari (a spa outside of Banos) - Puyo - Mera

{{2014}} Peru: Lima - Nasca - Cusco | Dominican Republic | Ukraine: Odessa | Bulgaria: Varna - Plovdiv | Macedonia: Skopje - Bitola - Ohrid - Struga | Albania: Berat - Sarande | Greece: Athens | Italy: Naples - Pompeii - Salerno | Tunisia: Hammamet 1

{{2015}} Hammamet 2 | South Africa: Johnnesburg | Thailand: Hua Hin - Hat Yai | Malaysia: Georgetown | Thailand: Krabi Town | Indonesia:
Sabang Island | Bulgaria: Plovdiv | Romania: Ploiesti - Targu Mures | Poland: Warsaw | Czech Republic: Prague | Germany: Munich | Netherlands: Groningen | England: Slough | Thailand: Ayutthaya - Khon Kaen - Vang Vieng | Cambodia: Siem Reap

{{2016}} Thailand: Kanchanaburi - Chumphon | Malaysia: Ipoh - Kuala Lumpur - Kuching - Miri | Ukraine: Kiev | Romania: Targu Mures - Barsov | Morocco: Tetouan

{{2017}} Portugal: Faro | USA: Virginia - Michigan - Illinois - Colorado | England: Slough - Lancaster

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