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I have so many of these saved up, I might as well make them a separate post.
-- All the men trying to “help” you at the sites, and most taxi drivers, and restaurant owners -- pretty much everyone -- asks where you are from. When we say Canada, they say “Canada dry”. Sometimes the next time they see you, they will say “Canada dry!” or they will call out to you “Canada dry! Canada dry!” to get your attention. On a busy day seeing temples and tombs, we might hear this five or six times a day. It is so bizarre!
-- All Egyptian men wear scarves. It’s like there’s some kind of law. Whether over a t-shirt or a galabeya, a scarf appears to be required. They wear them looped several times around with no tail. It is so rare to see an Egyptian man not wearing a scarf, that they look strange -- like tourists.
-- Egyptian men are... quite pleasant to look at. OK, I'll say it, they are hot. And charming. I have heard and read that Egypt is the street harassment capital of the world for women travelling without men, to such an extent that many Egyptians are embarrassed by this reputation. My age and my status as part of a couple shields me from this. So with that very large disclaimer, I will say that in my experience Egyptian men are good-looking, charming, and unfailingly polite.
-- Everyone takes care in their appearance. No one seems to go out in public in something you’d hang around the house in, whatever the Egyptian equivalent of sweatpants and an old t-shirt is.
-- Couples and families are out together all the time, but for single people, girls stay with girls and guys with guys. Men greet each other with a handshake and a kiss on the cheek, then the opposite cheek. This is not just a brief air-kiss, it’s very clearly a kiss, complete with kissing sound, on each cheek. In a culture where it is not yet acceptable for gay people to be out, this is interesting to me.
-- Many people here have very bad teeth; obviously there is a lack of access to dental care, and perhaps to education about dental health. But separate from that, many men have teeth stained brown from tea and smoking. Even my young friend Hamdi, who has a beautiful, full smile, has teeth that are mottled brown. (I look at teeth, and I always remember people’s teeth.)
-- When you buy a ticket to one of the ancient sites, if you look in the little ticket window, you will see a big pile of money, or someone rooting through a drawer with a big pile of money thrown into it. The man will rip off two tickets from a ticket book and give them to you, and throw your money in the pile or in the drawer. My library co-workers -- or anyone who is trained in cash-handling, would be amazed.
-- And in an all-cash business, with a giant pile of cash in front of them, most people do not want to make change. The ATMs only dispense large bills, but you need “small money” for many small purchases and for baksheesh (tips for services). If you stand your ground and insist you have no small money, they will eventually give you change.
-- One rule of travelling in Egypt, which I knew in advance, is to carry a roll of toilet paper in your bag or backpack. Abdul taught us the second rule: carry one-pound coins to tip the attendant. This person hands out a portion of toilet paper and you give them one pound.
-- In the visitors centre at the Karnak Temple, two men were standing guard in front of the washroom, collecting a coupon or chit from people on a tour, obviously something their tour guide gave them. I was also waiting, and when it was my turn, I indicated I had no money. They started yelling, insisting I pay them. I continued on into the washroom as they called "Come back here! You must pay!" These men were not handing out toilet paper or keeping the washroom clean, they were just collecting money from paying customers using the facilities! What a racket!
-- In the same washroom line, two female tourists tried to shove me out of the way to go ahead of me. Allan and I have seen this behaviour several times from tourists, always Japanese women. People talk about the “ugly American,” which is a real thing, but Americans in tour groups are sheep compared to these Japanese women. They will just shove you out of the way (or try to) and push past you, without looking at you or acknowledging your presence in any way. I wonder, do they live in a world where if you don’t push and shove, you are left behind, get nothing? To us, it’s incredibly rude. I can only imagine what it looks like to people from cultures more polite than ours... such as Egyptians.
-- I now understand the usage of the word inshalla, meaning (roughly) “god willing”. People here say it for any future event. How long will you be in Egypt, inshalla? I answer “three weeks,” and the other person adds, “inshalla”. When are you leaving for Luxor, inshalla? It’s a way of humbling yourself, reminding yourself that the future is not in your control, and obviously, a belief that the final say will be your god’s.
I think we should start a movement to protect against the insidious threat of 'Ten Commandments law'.
Sure the Christians and Jewish people claim following Ten Commandments Law is just a religious duty on individual Christians and Jews and that for instance they don't want to force their barbaric cultural practice of mutilating little boys genitalia on everyone else, but can we believe them?
There are examples of their followers putting their religious directives in schools and courtrooms, demanding that women follow their religious directives on birth control and abortion regardless of whether they are of the same faith and demanding legal persecution of LGBT people based on their beliefs.
Clearly creeping 'Ten Commandments Law' is a very real threat and not just a mischievous equivalency to Sharia law I am making for satirical purposes to make the little vein in their foreheads throb.
I had an eventful morning! We had an early breakfast and met B'lal downstairs at 7:00. I said hi, and fell forward, down two steps, onto the dirt road. The hotel has a piece of carpet covering the steps to the entrance. It was bunched up, my foot caught underneath, and down I went. (As I type this, I'm laughing so hard that I'm crying.)
I could hear Allan saying, "Oh my god, oh my god," as I tumbled from one level to the next. Then I suffered the humiliation of two men hoisting me up, dead weight, by my arms. (Yep, I actually apologized. Women, amirite?)
I was incredibly lucky. My right shin hit the edge of the concrete step, but both my knees and both my hands were fine. If my right knee (already injured and weak) had hit the concrete, my vacation is done right there. And I easily could have broken a wrist blocking my fall -- but it happened so fast, I didn't even have time to put my hands out.
So as Allan brushed the dust off my sweater and pants, I bent and flexed my leg a few times, and was very relieved. Getting in the car, I could feel a bump rising on my shin. Is there even ice here? In a country where simple refrigeration is iffy, ice is a luxury. B'lal and Allan went off and returned with Breakfast Guy (server) and a plastic bag of ice.
I said, "Alfuh shokran" (many thanks) to BG, who said "hamdulay" several times, smiling and happy to see I was OK. Allan said that BG found a bottle of water that had frozen, cut away the plastic with a knife, and chopped up the ice. Because of that, I was able to ice my shin and knee during the whole ride.
OK! Starting the day with a blast. I am incredibly lucky!
We drove out of Luxor, heading north and west towards Abydos. Past Luxor, the desert stretched out, a flat expanse, on both sides of the highway. In the distance, bald limestone mountains, the same colour as the sand, are partly hidden behind a layer of dust. Every so often there would be a tiny mud-brick house, or a pile of rubble where a house once stood. A few new-looking apartment complexes. A mosque.
B'lal drove 140 kms/hr (about 85 mph) most of the way, and did some pretty interesting passing and weaving. It turns out there is a middle lane.
As we neared a town, we would see donkey carts loaded with wheat or sugar cane or bright green alfalfa, men or boys riding donkeys, green fields growing beside irrigation ditches, animals resting in the shade of palm trees.
As always, we saw lots of dogs. They all look lively and happy -- tails up, heads high, trotting along. They are thin, like any wild or natural animal, but not starving, and their coats look nice. Today we saw one at a gas station that looked like Tala. She was sitting calmly... made me miss my little girl.
Out in the country, the horses, camels, and donkeys look better, too -- more lively, more like working animals than slaves. I wish I could forget the horses and donkeys in Giza.
There were many checkpoints, more than on our trip to Saqarra. At each stop, a seemingly haphazardly organized group of soldiers would take B'lal's license plate and phone number, and he would say "etneen canadee" (two from Canada).
In Abydos, B'lal showed us the coffee shop where he would be waiting. (Have I written about coffee shops? They are cave-like spaces where men smoke shisha. I've read that women now use them, too, at least in Cairo, but I see no evidence of that.) Naturally as soon as we get out of the car, people are offering us junk to buy -- but this was the first time we saw little kids doing it, too. Why aren't these children in school?? I gave a kid some money, then of course was mobbed by others. Bad. Sad.
Abydos itself is a beautifully preserved temple and a shrine to the god Osiris. The engravings here were incredibly finely detailed -- the patterns on clothing, the strands of wigs, the strings and beads on jewelry -- all depicted in minute detail, over and over and over. The ancient Egyptians obviously found beauty in symmetry and repetition. In this case, the engravings and the symmetry and the repetition were completely and beautifully over the top.
We read there was another nearby site, part of the same temple complex, so we set off down a dirt road in search of it. Men from the cafes and coffee shops all started calling to us. "No! No! No go!" and "Kholles! Haga kholles!" (Nothing! Not anything!) It was like we weren't allowed to walk down the street. One gentleman followed us the whole way, as if he was our escort. We walked around some houses with donkeys or camels outside, and soon saw some temple ruins. A man was lifting up a piece of broken fencing to let us in.
There wasn't a whole lot at this other site, but damned if we're going to let some busybody shisha-smoking men keep us from exploring. I wouldn't have pushed it too far, being sure no police or other "authorities" get involved, but for godsakes, are tourists only allowed to walk in designated tourist areas?
Back in the car, we headed towards Luxor, and would stop at another site on the way there. On all the roads, it is common to see carts and trucks beyond overloaded. Whether it's a donkey cart with alfalfa or a truck full of sugar cane on its way to a nearby factory or a van with luggage strapped on top, everything is loaded two or three times what you would see in Canada or the US. In a place with scarce resources, people make the most of every trip.
The temple at Dendera is interesting because its roof is fully intact, which has preserved the engravings inside, and much of the colour. I was especially interested because it's a shrine to Hathor, now my favourite Egyptian god. However, the artwork inside was done much later, mostly while Egypt was under Greek or Roman rule, and is much less detailed, more crude and clunky.
Back in the car, we had to talk B'lal into getting something to eat before heading back to Luxor. I think he was out of his comfort zone, taking tourists into a town he doesn't know. But I knew we could work it out. We were joking around with him, "B'lal we're so hungry, please let us eat..." and he finally gave in.
The town of Dendara turned out to be a bustling little city. B'lal thought of something called "Khikdur" -- "Do you know Khikdur?" I thought it might be a kind of food, but it turned out to be a fast-food chain called Quick Door. We got shawarmas and burgers and sat upstairs. B'lal let us buy him one shawarma only, then ordered a second that he paid for. Allan had our first burger in Egypt, much better meat and bread than North American fast food.
On the way back to Luxor we saw a sad sight. Remember those overloaded trucks? One was partially overturned on the side of the road. Tomatoes were everywhere. A few men were trying to pick them up and put them in crates, a bit like taking a broom to the sand. Cars on both sides of the mess were, at first, hesitant to drive through and crush someone's produce. B'lal opened his door, reached down, and passed me a beautiful red tomato. Then almost at once, everyone decided there was nothing more we could do, and drove through and on the tomatoes. We could then see that the entire cargo had fallen off the truck.
After that, we noticed truck after truck loaded with tomatoes; obviously it must be harvest time. B'lal said the tomatoes are on their way to factories in Cairo and Alexandria.
In our little village, we bought more desserts dripping in honey, showered off a lot of dust, and had dinner at the hotel. Tomorrow is our last day in Luxor; Allan has a full day planned for us. I will endeavour to start the day without falling on my face.
Yusra Khogali, a co-founder of Black Lives Matter-Toronto, has been in the news recently for calling Prime Minister a “white supremacist terrorist.” She’s had a few other interesting things to say as well in the recent past. She asks Allah...
We thought we had settled our taxi troubles, but that was not to be. This time, “the father of B’lal” showed up, thinking we were taking a road trip. Instead, we went to Karnak Temple on the east bank.
In a blog full of superlatives, Karnak temple may top the list. First, it is massive. St. Peter’s in Rome and St. Paul’s in London could both fit inside. If you have not seen those cathedrals, I can only say that they are enormous, and one feels like a tiny ant inside them (obviously one of the desired effects). Imagine that Karnak is larger than both combined, and built in a time when no other buildings had even a second story.
Next, the columns. The columns! There is a forest of columns inside, 134 in all, each one 10 metres (33 feet) around and 24 metres (80 feet) tall. This hall alone, now called the Great Hypostyle Hall, is 50,000 square feet. And these columns once held massive lintels (horizontal stones) and another configuration of columned openings on top.
Naturally everything is covered in hieroglyphs and images, all of the highest detail and quality.
Imagine the number of people it took to build this! I think of that all the time. When I was writing junior nonfiction about ancient civilizations, I learned that the ancient Egyptians were the first civilization to figure out irrigation. This led to the first large-scale agriculture -- the first civilization to store wheat and other grains. This led to people eating well all year around -- when the Nile was flooded and when it was dry. This in turn led to more people -- more families, and more children in each family. The large-scale agriculture also led to more specialization -- people whose job it was to count grain, to make barrels, to organize work crews. The first middle class. And this enabled the ancient Egyptians to become the first civilization to build on a monumental level. It all began with irrigation. I’ve thought of this many, many times on this trip!
Karnak was built over many successive reigns, each pharaoh claiming it as his own and adding on more. It continued to be used through Greek and Roman invasions. On one back wall, some Roman faces appear -- the remains of Roman frescoes that were painted over the hieroglyphs.
This massive temple is only one part of the Karnak complex. There were ceremonial lakes and all manner of outbuildings. Allan and I were both absolutely awed. I believe the last time I felt like this was in La Sagrada Familia, the unfinished Gaudi cathedral in Barcelona. Interestingly, that also contained a forest of columns, graceful and bending like living trees. I know that Gaudi was influenced by many world cultures; I wonder if he saw Karnak, or drawings of it.
Karnak was the first site we’ve visited that has an actual visitor’s centre, designed to (somewhat) echo the design of the temple. There are photographs of the sites before and during restoration, which is really interesting. There is also a model of the whole site. Nothing is labelled. The scale is 1 = 300, but it doesn’t say 1 or 300 what.
There were huge numbers of visitors at Karnak. All the tours go there, and daytrippers come up from the Red Sea resorts in the south. The immense size of the temple made the crowds more bearable.
After Karnak, we asked B’lal’s father to take us to a place reputed to have the best koshari in town. He wanted to take us to a “famous restaurant” but hamdulay, he did not insist. (That’s “thank god”, an expression you hear constantly. “How are you?” “Thank god I’m fine, how are you?”)
The place was a huge fast-food restaurant, with cooking on the street level and tables upstairs, orders and food going up and down by dumbwaiter. We each had a small koshari, and shared a shawarma and a hawawshi. I finally thought of what a hawawshi most closely resembles -- a quesadilla. It’s like a quesadilla with samosa filling inside.
Koshari is my new favourite food. It is delicious, energy packed, and vegan. (Obviously I’m not vegan, but it’s great that it bridges that divide.) This place served it with a bowl of tomato sauce, so you can control your sauce without anything getting soggy. Please will someone open a koshari joint in Mississauga?
(We’ve also learned that we’ve been pronouncing it wrong. It’s said as if it’s a store selling koshers -- a koshery.)
Our next stop was supposed to be the Luxor Museum, but we were disappointed to see it is open 9-2, then 5-9. We caught it after 2:00. We hadn’t wanted to do two temples in one day, but the museum hours kind of forced our schedule. B’lal’s dad wanted us to take a felucca ride (a traditional sailboat), but again, he did not insist.
Luxor Temple was also very large and impressive, with a huge amount of carvings and colours. It, too, was filed with massive columns. Only a visit to Karnak made it seem somewhat small or ordinary.
An interesting note about Luxor Temple: after the original builders and worshippers used it, Greeks used it, then Romans, then Coptic Christians built a church in it, and then a mosque was built in it. (Both church and mosque remain and are still in use.) This makes the site a continuous place of worship for more than 2,000 years, something unique or at least very rare in this country.
Outside the temple is the remains of the Avenue of Sphinxes that once connected the Luxor and Karnak temples -- both sides of a wide path lined with sphinxes for three kilometres! A large number of them remain outside the Luxor Temple, enough to give you the idea.
Luxor Temple was packed with tour groups. It can get loud and crowded in the passageways or small chapels. This is the first trip where Allan routinely wants more time than I do! He is totally engrossed with taking photos; I usually end up finding some shade to wait in. This is fine with me! This is more than fine, this is awesome. I am so happy that he is enjoying himself so much.
After this, we were tired and dusty (you are always dusty here), and we asked The Father of B’lal to take us back to the hotel. He suggested we take the ferry. But again did not insist. Back at the hotel, B’lal’s father was having a heated phone call with Salvation Army Guy (Allan calls him Orphanage Guy. Same dude.) While SAG was berating Allan, I paid B’lal’s dad, and suddenly the whole situation turned around. If you’ve read the previous guest post (or novella), you already know this.
We noticed a little bakery in the village of our hotel, and picked up some fig pastries and danish-type pastries drowning in honey. Because everyone needs to eat dessert before dinner, right?
B’lal’s father picked us up and took us to a local spot called Restaurant Mohammed, which turned out to be one of the coolest spots of this trip. Mohammed lives in a little mud-brick house, with the restaurant attached, and a patio for outdoor dining attached to that; the restaurant is three times the size of his house. The walls are lined with posters of jazz and blues musicians -- Muddy Waters, Miles Davis, John Lee Hooker, Dexter Gordon -- and as we sat down, one of Mohammed’s sons put on music: Miles Davis. Not what we expected!
Four noteworthy factoids about our dinner at Mohammed’s.
We both ordered kofta. These dishes were brought to the table: bread, fried eggplant slices, salad vegetables, pickled vegetables, white spreadable cheese, rice, fried potatoes, stewed vegetables, ripe green melon slices, and the kofta. We were laughing at the quantity of the food. We ordered drinks (more freshly squeezed mango for me), so the bill came to $15 Canadian.
While we were eating, two other customers came in, men with British accents. One of them called over to us, and began what social workers call “inappropriate disclosure” -- yelling across the room. TMI! Among other things, we learned that he met his father for the first time a few years ago. The lost father lived in St Catharines, in southern Ontario. And the man’s sister lives in? You guessed it, Mississauga.
Mohammed’s used to host musicians, five nights a week, regional and local favourites coming to play. I would have loved to see one of those shows.
Everything was delicious, although I had to discreetly spit out the pickled eggplant. Think of the pickliest thing you’ve ever eaten, double it, then soak it in pickling for another week.
B’lal picked us up, we made our plans for the next day, and were very happy, and very stuffed.
Less than three weeks after a racist right wing extremist went on a violent rampage through a Quebec mosque killing six people just for being Muslim a group of other right wing extremists gather to wallow in self pity over how a nonbinding resolution condemning Islamophobia is a horrific attack on their rights.
All this over a motion, a mere House statement, that has no force in law. The Liberal MP who tabled an anti-Islamophobia motion says she has been inundated with hate mail and death threats.
Mississauga, Ont. MP Iqra Khalid told the House of Commons Thursday she received more than 50,000 emails in response to M-103, many of them with overt discrimination or direct threats.
"'I'm not going to help them shoot you, I'm going to be there to film you on the ground crying. Yeah, I'll be there writing my story with a big fat smile on my face. Ha ha ha. The Member got shot by a Canadian patriot,'" she read, quoting from the video.
And that, she said, was just tip of the iceberg. Here are some other messages she received and read in the House:
"Kill her and be done with it. I agree she is here to kill us. She is sick and she needs to be deported." "We will burn down your mosques, draper head Muslim."
"Why did Canadians let her in? Ship her back."
"Why don't you get out of my country? You're a disgusting piece of trash and you are definitely not wanted here by the majority of actual Canadians."We all need to speak out forcefully againt those who propagate such palpable hatred. Remember, silence implies consent.
Donald Trump's press conference yesterday was surreal. He spent a minute announcing his new choice for Secretary of Labor and then spent the next seventy-eight minutes lambasting the press and the intelligence community for doing in his national security advisor, Mike Flynn. Michael Harris writes:
This is where the alternate universe stuff kicks in. The firing was conducted by President Trump. The next day, the other half of the presidential personality — The Donald — kicked in: Flynn was suddenly a wonderful person who had been treated badly by the “fake” media. At a press conference yesterday that looked more like primal scream therapy, Trump said Flynn was just doing his job. In fact, the president went one further. If Flynn hadn’t been phoning Russia and other countries, Trump would have ordered him to make the calls.
Not even Trump’s malapropisms can hide the truth. Flynn was fired because the intelligence community leaked what he had actually talked about to the Russians. That turned out to be a very different thing than what he told Vice-President Pence or the American people. It was not Flynn’s outrageous communication with the Russians per se that caused Trump to ditch this guy. It was getting caught in a lie that made Trump’s right-hand man look like a dork. Worse, it was the truth getting out.
It's been obvious for a long time that Trump is allergic to the truth. So he invents his own. But more than his aversion to the truth there is a much more devastating indictment of the man. He is appallingly ignorant:
Donald Trump’s grasp of geopolitics is no deeper than Bob the Builder’s. Yet there is one area of foreign affairs where his views have been consistently expressed — the relationship with Russia. He has publicly stated that Vladimir Putin, for all the blood on his hands, was a better leader than President Obama. He has ridiculed and threatened NATO. He even got the GOP to soften its hard stand against Russian intervention in Ukraine. And two of his top campaign workers, Paul Manafort and Michael Flynn, had close ties with Russia. And he has worked very hard to keep Americans ignorant of the fact that he is in deep hock to foreign lenders:
Evelyn Farkas, the former top Russia expert at the Pentagon, is calling for an investigation of Trump himself. Not for alleged unconventional bathing habits. She is concerned that Trump’s business and financial dealings may have left him open to blackmail. After all, the giving, lending or guaranteeing of money could be used to exercise powerful influence over a person. So far — like dead men — the Donald’s taxes have told no tales.
Coincidentally, Donald Trump owes approximately $300 million to Deutsche Bank, which has just gone through all of Trump’s business dealings with the bank to see if there were any connections to Russia. Deutsche Bank was recently fined $640 million by the U.S. and U.K. for failing to stop the laundering of $10 billion of Russian funds through its Moscow branch. The bank will not comment on the outcome of its internal review, but it is being pressured to farm out its assessment to independent auditors. Not even Rod Serling could have dreamt up this story. But Trump has entered the Twilight Zone. And he has hauled the entire nation in there with him.
This is how the Cons would like us to imagine them. As the kind of party that would send out a Valentine card like that one. Inviting us to bee their friends. But of course, the Cons and the truth don't go as well together as honey and peanut butter. And this is who they really are. Read more »
Laura has mentioned some of our troubles with our various taxi drivers in Luxor. She has not wanted to get into too much detail, but she thought a guest post on the subject would be a good idea. So I’ll be the one giving you way too much information.
In Cairo, we were extremely lucky when Tito at the Pyramids View Inn hooked us up with Abdul for our trip to Saqqara, Memphis, and Dahshur. During our second day with Abdul, driving around Cairo, he asked how we would get around in Luxor. (In addition to the sites near town, there would be at least one long road trip. Luxor was the kind of city where we would either need cabs everywhere or we would hire someone to drive us to various places.) We said we planned on asking at our hotel. Abdul said he would make some calls and see if he could assist. In seemingly no time at all, he had lined up someone to drive us for our entire stay in Luxor! He told us what this would cost; it was an amount that was more than reasonable for us and one he said that was generous to the driver (who was also guaranteed six days of work).
Monday: The shitty overnight train from Cairo arrived in Luxor roughly one hour late and we missed our pickup from the hotel (apparently he gave up when the train was late (?)). The arranged Luxor driver was meeting us at the hotel at 10 AM. Abdul told us that the driver should say Laura’s full name -- that way we would know he was the correct guy, rather than someone hanging around the hotel saying, yeah, sure, I’m your driver. When we went downstairs, the guy (a young man named B’lal) held up a piece of paper with Laura’s last name on it. That seemed good enough for us. We explained that we had arrived late and asked if he could come back at 1 PM.
When he returned, we explained that we were not going to do any sightseeing but would instead go into Luxor for lunch and then wander around a portion of the town. Our hotel is on the west bank of the Nile. Luxor is on the east bank and while there are local boats you can pay to ferry you across the river, if you are driving, you have to go maybe 10 km south, cross a bridge and then drive 10 km north into the city. As we were en route, we told B’lal where we wanted to go for lunch, the name of the restaurant and the address. Right away, he suggested another place that he said was very good. We know enough from our travels that this type of suggestion often means that the driver/guide has a relationship with the particular restaurant (or shop or hotel or whatever) and will receive a kickback when he brings in business. So we were mildly annoyed right away. We had arranged for a driver, not a guide. And we started wondering if this was the guy Abdul had hired for us. He seemed to not be as professional.
We got to our restaurant and as we were eating, B’lal came in with another man. He said this older man would take over as our driver for the rest of day. They told us to enjoy our lunch and the second driver would be waiting outside. After lunch, we said we’d like to go to a small store that I had read sold locally-made crafts. Our new driver launched into a pitch for a store he knew that sold everything under the sun. Three floors of items at very cheap prices! And the money benefited a local orphanage. He went on and on. Our mild annoyance grew with this new “helpful” suggestion. He did take us where we wanted to go -- as we employed the “maybe later” excuse for the mega-store -- and he was expecting us to return in perhaps 30-45 minutes. We spent a fair bit of time in the shop chatting with the owner and a few other customers. We wandered around the market area, and were accosted by dozens of men selling crappy tourist souvenirs. Someone launched himself at us and asked if we wanted some tea. Laura did, and so we sat down. On the way back, Laura bought some things for certain members of her union. That took awhile and when we got back to the car, Orphanage Guy (OG) was annoyed because we had been away longer than we had said. (But we hired you for the entire day, we both thought to ourselves, so who cares?) This guy was now supposed to drive us back to our hotel, but he made it quite clear that he did not want to do all that driving, so he said he was going to send us in a ferry across the river and then we'd grab a taxi to the hotel. The trip across was quick and although the taxi driver on the other side attempted to hit us up for a very large fee, it went easily enough. But we were annoyed that OG was so lazy (on top of his constantly trying to change our plans) that he could not do the job he had apparently agreed to do. And our small questions about whether these drivers were actually the guys recommended by Abdul grew (the first guy had actually never said Laura’s name to us). Laura tried to get in touch with Abdul, but we could not seem to call him from Luxor.
Tuesday: B’lal arrived promptly at 9 AM and we headed to the Valley of the Kings and some nearby sites. The morning went well, although we were in a different car than the one on Monday. One of the back windows in this car did not exist and the other one did not roll down. We didn’t have any ideas about where to eat lunch, so we agreed when B’lal suggested a small nearby restaurant. The prices were a little steep, but the food was quite good. We saw a few more sites in the afternoon. B’lal asked us several times when we wanted to go on a day trip to Abydos and Dendera (as had OG), which was odd. When Abdul had set this up, we assumed that we would pay one driver at the end of the week. We asked B’lal what he wanted and he said it was up to us ("as you like"). Then he mentioned something about repairing his car, so we paid him for this day. (We needed to get more cash to pay for Monday, so that would have to wait.) When we handed him Tuesday’s money, he thought it was for both days. No, no, we said, this is for you for today. He was clearly shocked. "This ... is for today?" Yes, this is for you, for today. We still weren't sure he believed us. Also, wasn’t this all explained (and agreed to) beforehand (by someone)?
Wednesday: We had arranged for a 9:00 AM pick-up. However, Laura needed more time to blog, so I went down at the appointed time to ask if we could leave at 10. I was introduced to a new, third, driver. Could he come back at 10? He didn't like that. How about 11? Well, 11 is a bit late, I said, we would prefer 10. He muttered something about taking his son to the hospital. (If you had this prior appointment (which I wasn’t convinced even existed), then why did you agree to work all day doing something else?) We settled on 10:30 and I was left wondering what the fuck was going on with all these drivers.
At 10:30, we discovered that there was now a FOURTH driver, who we quickly learned was the young guy who had taken us across the river in his boat on Monday night. On the way to the Valley of the Kings (Day 2), he pulled over and OG got in. WTF? OG immediately went into a sales pitch, suggesting things we could do, like spending time with an Egyptian family and learning about their lives. We had decided to not reply to these suggestions, to act like he wasn’t even talking (just the same way we ignored the many touts outside the various sites). He was again pushing us to go to Dendera/Abydos as soon as possible. The next day seemed fine for that, so we agreed. He told us that the price for that day would be twice the daily rate we had previously agreed on. Laura laughed and told him flat-out: No way. But don’t you know how far away Abydos is? Yes, we do, and it doesn’t matter. Everyone agreed on a fair rate for these days, and some days, like Monday, were very light and some other days would be longer. He grumbled and said he needed our full names for some paperwork that needed to be filed before we could go. This was the first time we had heard of this, so we balked. He told us this was simply for security (and some other reasons that made little sense) and that we needed to trust him and not be so suspicious. As you may have heard, this pissed Laura off and she unloaded on him, explaining extremely clearly why we did not trust him even one little bit.
After finishing up at the Tombs of the Nobles, we said we wanted a quicker lunch than the day before, perhaps some koshari at a local cafe. But we needed a bank machine first. The ATM gave us nothing but 200 pound notes, which we needed to change into smaller bills. OG said there was no actual bank on the west side and suggested that we go into a shop and ask the owner to make change. This seemed utterly ridiculous. The stores are small hole-in-the-wall places and there was no way a guy was going to give us small bills for, say, 600 or 800 pounds. We bought three bottles of water in one place to get a little bit of change and OG took us to a gas station where an attendant (who was related to him) changed another 200 bill. We left the water in the car and went to have lunch.
Unbeknownst to us, while we were eating, there was a change of drivers. Ferry Guy and OG left (with our newly purchased water!) and was replaced by the annoying guy I had seen first thing in the morning. When we got out to his ar after lunch, I remembered the water -- and cursed loudly. Seeing our anger at not having the water (which was feeling like a last straw of sorts), Annoying Guy started in, with an extraordinary amount of fake obsequiousness: "I'll get you more water. Do not be angry. We will buy more water. Why do you need three waters? Madame, do not worry. I will bring water to your hotel." He was using the Arabic expression for "no problem" over and over. We insisted that losing the water was not the issue, it was the least of the issues. It was merely the latest in a series of annoyances that we felt should not be happening in the first place, annoyances that we thought we had avoided by having this prior arrangement. The driver ran off and returned with two waters and we drove off.
At the first place on our afternoon schedule, he told us to stay at least an hour because he wanted to go home and have lunch with his family. We were speechless. After we complained (why not eat before you go to work for the afternoon?), he acted hurt and put out and agreed to wait ("as you like" -- but it's only as we like after you try to change things around to suit your own schedule). By this time, the hassles with the revolving drivers were really getting to Laura and she was wondering if we should scrap the whole arrangement. We figured we could postpone the day trip and not have anyone the next day. Get some time away from these guys. Take a boat across the river, and take taxis to and from the sites, and return by river at night. We called B’lal and told him our revised plans, but we would see him on Friday for the trip to Dendera/Abydos.
Thursday: While having breakfast, we were told that B’lal’s father (!) was here to drive us around. Yes, ANOTHER driver, for fuck’s sake, on a day we said we did not want a driver. But rather than send him away, we said we would be ready shortly. He thought we were going on the long trip today, but we said, no, we had cancelled that the night before and were going to be in Luxor. He waived some papers that OG must have prepared for our travel, but we just shrugged our shoulders. Besides, we would have needed to leave three hours ago if we were going to those far-away sites. So into Luxor we went. And this day actually was pretty good. B’lal’s father said some interesting things about the area and did not try to sell us anything (well, only a meet-and-greet with a family, a felucca ride, and dinner at a "famous" restaurant). He took us where we wanted to go, in the order we wanted to do things, and was always waiting when we exited a site.
We headed back to the hotel around 4:30 (after he passive-agressively asked us if we knew there was a ferry). We were debating whether to ask him to return around 6:00 and take us somewhere for dinner. He was hired for the day, but when did his day actually end? We weren't sure about that, so we figured we should get a separate taxi for the evening. During the drive, there was a series of phone calls where Laura spoke to B’lal on his father’s cell phone (and could hear practically nothing) and then when OG wanted to talk to me about the two days we had yet to pay for (so was he in charge of this circus?). There was a fair amount of confusion before he said that we could pay whenever we wanted to (then why did you even call me?). While I was on the phone, Laura was busy paying B’Lal’s father for the day. When he saw the money, his eyes nearly popped out of his head. Like son, like father. And, suddenly, everything changed.
His attitude towards us completely changed (maybe we weren’t divas after all), and he began apologizing for anything and everything. "Oh, I am sorry, I did not realize. So sorry." We figured now it was okay to ask if he or someone else might take us to a restaurant for dinner. He said he would be back at 6:00. Which he was. On the drive to the restaurant, he was joking, asking Laura if she had a sister that B’lal could meet. He said B’lal would take us back to the hotel afterwards. And during that drive, B’lal also began apologizing for any troubles we have had. We agreed on an early morning pickup time for Friday and said goodnight.
We don’t know who we will see behind the wheel on Saturday for another day in Luxor. But we know that we will refuse to go anywhere with either OG or the Hungry Guy. I never want to see those two clowns again. On Sunday, B’lal will drive us to Aswan, and we will stop at a couple of sites along the way.
Only the Afghan government has an excuse - they haven't got enough money to pay the troops. No wonder the enlistment/desertion system operates like a turnstile.
What's Trump's excuse? First his nominee for labour secretary bails out, apparently fearful of the grilling he faced during his confirmation hearings.
Trump's national security adviser is either fired or quits, fired or quits, depending on which White House staffer is talking on any given day. Trump himself, who claims he fired the guy blames it on the fake news media.
Now the guy lined up to replace the disgraced General Mike "altnerative facts" Flynn, US Navy seal and three star admiral, Robert Harward, has decided to call off the wedding.
Two sources familiar with the decision told Reuters that Harward turned down the job in part because he wanted to bring in his own team. That put him at odds with Trump, who had told Flynn’s deputy, KT McFarland, that she could stay.
During a freewheeling press conference on Thursday in which Trump claimed his administration was running like a “a fine-tuned machine”, the president implied that he was able to let Flynn go in part because he already had a replacement in mind.
“I have somebody that I think will be outstanding for the position – and that also helps, I think, in the making of my decision,” he said. It's rumoured that Trump's secretary of state, Exxon CEO Rex Tillerson, is also thinking of bailing out while the getting's good. Tillerson and the State Department have apparently been cut out of the Trump-Bannon loop which would render Tillerson's job impossible. The American media, meanwhile, have turned on Trump like Newfoundlanders on a harp seal. You can tell how toxic Trump's relations with the media have become when ever FOX News' Shep Smith has had it up to the tits with Trump.
* apologies to the Afghan National Army for comparing them to Trump's cabinet.
- Jonathan Charlton interviews Danielle Martin about the health benefits of eliminating poverty. And the Equality Trust studies expenditures by household income level, finding among other areas of gross inequality that the rich are able to spend more on restaurants than the poor are able to put toward housing and energy.
- Bruce Livesey, Robert Cribb and Marco Oved report on the precedent set by FINTRAC in allowing a bank to break the law with total anonymity. And Neel Kashkari looks at capital requirements as another area where banks are allowed to operate under different and more favourable rules than mere people.
- Tyler Kustra examines Justin Trudeau's broken promise of electoral reform. And Colin Walmsley highlights how it figures to facilitate the rise of the Canadian Trump by keeping in place a system which artificially consolidates power based on a minority of votes.
- Meanwhile, the Star's editorial board recognizes a developing crisis of trust which can only be exacerbated by Trudeau's self-serving politics.
- Finally, Martin Regg Cohn discusses why we shouldn't treat the Trump administration as an excuse to back off of action against climate change.
Fortunately, for those of us who are curious about Trump’s Russian connections, there is another readily accessible body of material that has so far received surprisingly little attention. This suggests that whatever the nature of President-elect Donald Trump’s relationship with President Putin, he has certainly managed to accumulate direct and indirect connections with a far-flung private Russian/FSU network of outright mobsters, oligarchs, fraudsters, and kleptocrats.
Any one of these connections might have occurred at random. But the overall pattern is a veritable Star Wars bar scene of unsavory characters, with Donald Trump seated right in the middle. The analytical challenge is to map this network—a task that most journalists and law enforcement agencies, focused on individual cases, have failed to do. James Henry, an investigative economist and lawyer has brought the forensic skills of a top litigator to this analysis. It's a well documented piece, some 80 footnotes. It's not a particularly easy read but it is a complex story in which America's president is but one player.
An Oklahoma legislator recently made a stir when he bluntly explained his thinking behind yet another abortion restriction: Ultimately, he said, his intent was to let men have a say. “I believe one of the breakdowns in our society...
Here, on Brad Wall's choice to cover up the truth behind the Saskatchewan Party's Global Transportation Hub scandal - and the most plausible (if still inadequate) explanations for that decision.
For further reading... - Again, the latest public revelation was Geoff Leo's reporting of political pressure to pay inflated prices for land. And Leo also reported on the role of Saskatchewan Party MLAs in the coverup, including by refusing to allow people who were actually involved in dubious land deals to answer questions about them. - And Murray Mandryk writes about the GTH deal as a precedent for other land acquisitions. But I'd think its significance goes much further in demonstrating the utter lack of judgment of the Wall government - particularly at a time when it's asking the province to accept massive cuts.
It's one of Germany's biggest and now its most controversial financial institutions, Deutsche Bank.
Now Deutsche Bank is under investigation by US federal authorities for, among other things, its shady dealings with Russia even as the bank tries to restructure its massive loans to America's freshly minted president.
It was November 2008. Three-and-a-half years earlier the bank had loaned Trump the cash to build one of his grandest projects yet: a hotel and mega-tower in Chicago.
Trump had given his personal guarantee he would repay the $640m. As per agreement, he was now due to hand over a large chunk, $40m.
There was only one problem: the future 45th president of the United States was refusing to pay up. Deutsche initiated legal action. Trump responded with a blistering, scarcely credible writ of his own, a 10-count complaint in New York’s supreme court, in the county of Queens.
In it, Trump adopted a highly unusual defence, known as “force majeure”. He claimed that the 2008 economic crisis was a “once-in-a-century credit tsunami”, an act of God that was equivalent to an earthquake.
Since it couldn’t have been anticipated, and it wasn’t his fault, he wasn’t obliged to pay Deutsche anything. It wouldn’t get the $40m or the outstanding $330m, his writ said. He went further. Trump claimed Deutsche Bank had actually helped cause the crunch. Therefore it owed him. Trump demanded $3bn from Deutsche in compensation.
Its New York property division first loaned money to him in 1998 at a time when the bank was attempting to expand its commercial real estate portfolio. By that stage, other major banks were becoming cautious about Trump, in part, the Wall Street Journal has said, because of frustration with his business practices.
A decade later, Deutsche was to find out for itself quite how capricious and unpredictable he could be.
These posts are one day behind. I write in the morning, but cannot get an internet connection until evening.
Our taxi arrangement should be great, but it has not gone smoothly. Today (Wednesday) we had three different drivers, and very nearly a fourth. With the exception of B'lal, none of them seem to understand the concept of being hired for a flat rate for the day. More likely, they understand it perfectly but are trying to make the day more profitable or easier.
The worst of the bunch is the older gentleman who we’ll call Salvation Army, since he is so hot to take us to a thrift store, “where they sell everything you will like, madame, all at 50% off, to benefit the orphanage.” He took over for B’lal the day we arrived in Luxor. We asked to go to a restaurant, he knew a better one. We wanted to visit a certain store we had read about, he wanted to bring us to “the orphanage”. He was supposed to drive us home, but instead put us in a boat and another cab, and we had to pay for both. He is supposed to be a driver, but he is actually a tout.
Today he was worse. He tried to extort an extra fee -- a very large one -- for a big road trip we have coming up. He tried to rearrange our plans for his convenience. He was either whining and complaining, or "making suggestions" the entire time. After all that, he said to me, "Sometimes you just have to trust people. You are very suspicious."
Let's just say that hit a nerve. I explained that we trusted Abdul, and we trust B'lal -- it's you we don't trust, and here's why. I was speaking rather heatedly, but nowhere near as angry as I felt.
Somewhere in the middle of this bullshit, while we were eating koshari in a local take-out joint, they switched drivers again, and someone drove off with three big bottles of water we had just purchased. This allowed another driver to act as if the whole problem was us losing our waters. No matter how many times I said, "The water is not important. We don't care about the water," it was all he could talk about. Then he takes us to another site, and says, “Make sure you take all your food and drink with you. I want to go home and eat with my family.” Meaning, while we are seeing the site, he was hoping to get in another fare.
In Cairo, Abdul assured us, promised us, that the daily price he suggested was generous to the driver, and we knew it was a good deal for us. If one of these drivers had half the professionalism of Abdul, we would love them. As you read this, you might think the whole thing is down to cultural differences. Perhaps, but Abdul and B’lal are also part of this culture, as are our friends at Pyramids View and the owners of our current hotel.
Annoying Taxi Tricks were scattered throughout the day, and you can imagine them scattered throughout this post.
Our first stop was to return to the Tombs of the Nobles, to talk to Hamdi and take more photos in the tombs. On our way there, we stopped to see two colossi which stand just off the road in a partially reconstructed site. These statues of Memnon are massive -- 18 meters (60 feet) tall -- and supposedly formed part of the entranceway to a temple that soared above them, three or four times as tall. I would be skeptical, but we’re talking about the people who created the Great Pyramids.
The statues are very impressive, but it's just a roadside stop, and we were back on our way to the Tombs of the Nobles, despite the objections of our driver. Hamdi helped us get in with yesterday's tickets, and we found ourselves bargaining a new arrangement. Shortly after, Allan went off with a guy to see a tomb and I stayed with Hamdi. Hamdi told me he had been "acting harder" for the benefit of the other man, a "bigger man" (i.e., his superior at this workplace), I shouldn’t worry, the arrangement from yesterday stands.
Scattered across the Tombs of the Nobles complex are small mudbrick buildings, usually with a small shaded area in the front, and a galibeya-and-kafeyah man and maybe a dog or two sitting. Hamdi and I sat in one shaded area and talked. He asked me about Canada, and said that he meets people from all different countries, and he would like to see the countries they come from, the way they see Egypt.
Many men ride motorcycles here, and as they passed, two or three on a bike, Hamdi and these men would wave and call out to each other. Hamdi told me a tourist offered him 300 LEs -- a huge amount of money to him -- to drive him on a motorbike over the mountain to the Queen Hatshepsut temple. Hamdi tried to explain to the man that this is illegal, so all along the way, he would have to pay off guards and inspectors, and in the end, he'd be left with very little money. The tourist thought Hamdi was haggling, but he was trying to explain the situation.
While we talked, men were clearing rubble from one of the tombs currently being recovered. Each man would walk with a plastic basket of rocks and rubble on his shoulder, all the way down and around a whole bunch of tombs, to a pickup truck parked near where I was sitting, reach up to his full arm length, empty the contents of the basket into the truck bed, then walk all the way back. To be any less efficient, they would have to be carrying individual stones without a basket.
I asked why the truck was so far away; why not move the truck closer, and save steps? Hamdi called out to one of the workers, to ask him my question. He replied that no vehicles are allowed on the paths to the tombs, because there are so many ancient sites underneath, it could easily damage them.
This reminded Hamdi that this same area used to be a small village where many families lived. When the ancient tombs were discovered, they were forced to move.
Hamdi and I talked until Allan came back from seeing three tombs. Now Hamdi was going to walk Allan to the tomb of the nobleman Sennofer and arrange with someone to let him go in and take photos. I didn’t want to hike up to the tomb for no reason. Hamdi wanted to find me a shady spot at one of the little buildings, but I would have to look at someone’s alabaster souvenirs -- “no buy, just look”. Instead, I sat on a low wall in the sun, put on more sunscreen, and waited by myself.
They were gone a long time. When they returned -- yay, Allan didn’t get locked in a tomb! -- I called our drivers. This gave us time to pay Hamdi and take some pictures of him. He posed beside a sign he called “a total lie”. The US international “development” agency, USAID, was announcing that the current restoration project is employing one person from each of 600 local households who became unemployed during the 2011 revolution. Hamdi says that he is one of those families, and no such employment has ever existed. I asked Hamdi if he knows the English word “propaganda”. From his smile and laugh, we knew he understood. I said, here is another English word: “bullshit”.
After this, the situation with our driver(s) really broke down. We wanted to have something small and quick for lunch. For many reasons, it’s not easy (or even possible) to do what we normally would do while travelling -- pick up some bread, fruit, cheese, yogurt, and find a spot to sit and eat. So we thought a bowl of koshari would be good. But first, we needed a bank machine, and then we would need some of the large bills changed into smaller denominations.
It was like we had walked into an episode of Fawlty Towers -- except not funny. We had multiple arguments with multiple drivers. Someone drove off with our water, while another guy was explaining to us how to pay 15 pounds for koshari, as if we were helpless idiots. (“15 Egyptian. Ten plus five.”)
We had only two more sites picked out for our west bank sightseeing. If we could just get through one more afternoon with the worst driver of them all, we could get back to the hotel and figure out how to manage the rest of the week.
The next stop -- Medinat Habu -- was absolutely amazing. It’s a massive monument dating back to 1550 BC, but used by successive invading or conquering peoples for centuries, all the way to Christians in the 9th Century AD. It has many massive stone pillars, and courtyard after courtyard, each with yet more massive columns. There are hieroglyphs everywhere, many depicting battles and the exploits of various kings and generals. (One famous and gruesome scene depicts a royal scribe totalling the enemy dead by counting severed hands and penises.)
You could probably explore this site for a full day if there weren’t 30 other sites in the area. We stayed about an hour, then found our driver -- who was only waiting because I insisted and argued with him.
Our final west-bank site was some newly discovered tombs and the remains of a workers’ village, where the people who physically created all of these masterpieces lived. I was really upset about the bullshit with the drivers, when I saw a kitten that clearly needed help, and it just put me over the edge. We see many dogs and cats around, and most look in good shape. I imagine there are many that don’t make it to adulthood, and this kitten would be one of them. I lost all interest in seeing tombs. I urged Allan to go without me while I sat down and tried to get it together.
When he came out, he said this tomb was small, but beautiful, and he had paid the attendant to take photos. We then had some role reversal, with Allan urging me not to let other people’s idiocy keep me from doing what I want, or let them spoil our day. It took a while, but he succeeded. I asked the attendant to let me into the tomb, and it was indeed small but beautiful. But I did not give the attendant more money!
There was one other tomb at this site, also small but very brightly coloured. The paintings and hieroglyphs at this site were much less detailed and fine than those in the Valley of the Kings or at Saqqara. These were made with thick outlines and broad pictures. They were either created by craftspeople with lesser skills, or perhaps were rushed, or both. These tombs are much more recent -- by roughly 1000 years -- so another possibility is that the intense rituals of the Pharonic era had become rote and routine by this time, carried out in a perfunctory manner without much meaning attached.
The cab ride back to our hotel was one of the most annoying of the day. I think the drivers were sensing that their sweet deal was falling apart, and they wanted to book us for one of the long road trips before we could back out. This driver called someone and handed me the phone. I have no idea who I was talking to. He apologized for the water (!) and for Salvation Army, and promised me the driver to Abydos would be great, the car would be great, and the payment would be enough.
Once back in our room, we thought of a way we could cut down on contact with these guys and make our remaining time in Luxor more pleasant. I called B’lal and changed some things around. Fingers crossed.
At the hotel, our laundry was ready early. We has asked about a laundromat, but those don’t exist here, you give your laundry to someone to take care of. (This is common in many countries.) One of the guys from the hotel delivered it -- for an exorbitant fee. After he left, we discovered that the clothes were all quite damp. sigh Bad timing for that. We let the high price go, but returning the clothes wet? Come on.
After we washed up and had a brief rest, we walked to the Sunflower Restaurant for our roast duck dinner. When the main course came, it was a whole roasted duck, with crispy, crackling skin, stuffed with a rice and wheat mixture. Our host brought us a big sharp knife to carve it, but in the end, we ate it Egyptian style -- ripping pieces off with our hands and eating it with bread or rice. Messy but delicious.
As were finishing up, Allan said, What do you want to bet that he asks to book us for another special dinner? Not five minutes later, that’s exactly what happened. We gave some noncommittal answers, which appears to be the way people say “no” around here. Also, three different people have offered that we should come to someone’s home, meet a “typical Egyptian family,” have a “welcome drink” (tea) and ask them question about how they live. Salvation Army, Restaurant Guy, and Hamdi all suggested this. If this happened naturally, on its own, it would be wonderful. But we don’t want to go to someone’s home as part of a business transaction.
After dinner, we saw the hotel owner and told him what happened with the laundry. He asked what we were charged, and was shocked, repeating it several times, incredulously. He came up to our room to see (and feel) the damp laundry, apologized several times, and said tomorrow they could dry everything in the sun. That will not only dry the clothes, but it will get rid of any mustiness from leaving the clothes wet overnight. I imagine he will also straighten out the fee for us.