June 10th, 2013


Egypt IV - Tanta-lizing Adventures!

Beehives sheltered under grapevines, onion fields in background

   Continuing the Egypt adventures, after the weekend in Cairo we headed north to Alexandria. Along the drive I noticed numerous strange conical towers atop buildings -- was informed they are pidgeon towers. The pidgeons are raised for food.

Sunday, April 28th
   We stopped in a village near Alexandria, where there were banners heralding my arrival hanging from prominent places (okay so my name is spelled wrong and kind lost in the information on the banner..). There we met up with a local beekeeping family and visited their bee yards with them. The beekeepers consisted of a grandfatherly fellow (who I believe started the operation, though it's possible he learned from his father), his son - a middle aged fellow, and HIS son (around 18). It was fun to see three generations of beekeepers working side by side.
   The beekeeping family then invited us (the driver, Husam from The Organization & I) to a sumptuous home cooked dinner at their place. I must say though, I found it significant that they never introduced the wife who presumably prepared it all, and she did her best to keep out of sight.

   Like most of my interactions in Egypt, all the talking was done in Arabic with Husam translating things to me. Unfortunately though, often the conversation would run away without translations, with only the occasional update from Husam of "we're talking about politics again" (from what I can gather, everyone complains about the Muslim Brotherhood, says that no one wanted them but they were the most organized and so did the best in the elections)
   After we left this friendly family and their village Husam informed me "they invited us to stay the night there but, you know, we have a hotel booked already!" ...personally though I would have really loved to stay with the family, I think it would have been a really fun and nice experience.

Monday, April 29th
   Monday we went to the University of Alexandria, met the local entomology/apiculture faculty and made a presentation for mixed group of very experienced beekeepers and people with PhDs related to beekeeping. Tough crowd! Was relieved to find that this group of beekeepers DOES actually believe in putting multiple boxes on their hives.

Not only does this horse-and-buggy appear to provide regular transportation to locals (ie not a tourist novelty), but you can see it's parked in a no parking zone, LIKE A BOSS

Tuesday - Wednesday, April 30th - May 1st
   From Alexandria (in kind of the western corner of the Nile Delta) we headed to Tanta in the middle of the Delta. In Tanta we visited several more beekeeping operations and several beekeeping supply and honey stores, as well as a honey processing facility and a wax processing facility. Tanta appears to be a major center of beekeeping in Egypt. Someone described how every year there are more beekeepers because they see their neighbors doing so well at it -- but then a lot discover its not all easy money and give it up after a year. Still though they said in one village something like a quarter of the population is engaged in beekeeping!
   Also there appear to be two beekeeping associations in Tanta which have somewhat a rivalry with eachother ... which I find hilariously reminiscent of the fact that here in California there's the Orange County Beekeeper's Association and the Beekeeper's Association of Orange County, and they hate eachother.

   Tuesday morning Husam informed me that the previous evening some of the people from one of the organizations had invited us out but Husam had once again declined on my behalf...
   Fortunately we were able to catch up with them Wednesday evening, with another sumptuous meal (at a surprisingly nice restaurant in Tanta), and then later that evening coffee with people from the other organization (from 10pm to midnight).

Chicken and beef kebab on the left, bird tongue soup, hand pointing at various things wrapped in cabbage, some breaded-and-hammered meat on the right.

Thursday, May 2nd
   Presentation for the Arab Beekeeper's Union. This time there was sort of a panel of us, me and two PhDs. Husam had been doing his best to freak me out all week I think by saying "there's people coming all the way from Kuwait for this talk!" and "they'll really be expecting something really impressive you know!" And I have to admit he had me a bit concerned. I don't think I'm really entertaining enough to warrant coming from Kuwait to hear. As it turns out I did talk to two people there who were visiting from Kuwait. But altogether it wasn't nearly as painful as I had been psyched out into expecting.
   After this we drove back to Cairo

   Once again I was officially ensconced at the Maadi Hotel but ended up hanging out with the other volunteers at the Guest House.
   It so happens that a dear friend of mine, my friend Asli and her brother Josh was due to come in to the Cairo airport that night. We've been friends for some 3 or 4 years since we met in on flickr due to our mutual interest in maritime and photography -- she's a Turkish merchant marine officer. She happened to have just finished a term at the Istanbul maritime academy (to upgrade her license from 5000 ton to unlimited and get on the largest oceaongoing vessels) and had never come to Egypt as a tourist. Was originally planning on coming a week earlier but her visa was held up until the very last minute, so we'd only actually overlap in Egypt for 12 hours.
   Husam was good enough to arrange a taxi for me (presumably a friend of his, same guy we always got when he arranged a taxi for us), but then when I met up with the other volunteers I learned that two of them were departing the guesthouse at the exact same time I would be (midnight) to head to the airport. I called Husam and asked if I could just go with them but he said since I wasn't going on official business they couldn't be liable for me....

Friday, May 3rd
   So at midnight both our taxis showed up to take both groups of us to the airport (which is like 40 min away).
   Picked them up without incident and then we got an early start the next morning. We walked from the Maadi Hotel to the neighbourhood of the guesthouse looking for breakfast -- but since Friday is a holy day most places weren't open. After only getting mildly lost though we made it to the guest house and had breakfast at one of the nearby restaurants I was familiar with.
   From there we went back to where I had gone sailing on the Nile the previous weekend and we booked a felucca again. Sailed around and we all three took numerous more pictures (all three of us armed with DSLRs!)
   Then we decided to go see if we could find some beers somewhere. I took them right back to that fantastic seafood restaurant that was beside the felucca dock, but they didn't serve alcohol there. There was a TGI Fridays next door, and though I would normally never go to an American chain while visiting an exotic place, I figured they were probably our best bet for some place that served alcohol ...
   NO DICE! No alcohol to be had there either! But we were running out of time so we ate there anyway.

   And then it was 14:00 and I had to head to the airport. Mohammed, the Organization's driver, said it was okay for Asli and her brother to come with us, and in fact at the airport even said he'd wait while they walked with me as far as they could. And then even drove them all the way to their hotel (about half an hour further away than mine -- in Giza). And even invited them to come have dinner with his family the next day. What a really swell fellow!

Saturday, May 4th
   Arrived in Dubai around midnight. Checked in to the same in-terminal hotel with the same check-in clerk as before, who recognized me. Funny to have people who recognize me in Dubai, which really is pretty much the opposite side of the world from home. So much so that...
   ...we flew almost directly over the North Pole on the flight from Dubai to LA. Nonstop, 15 hours. Due north and then due south. Flew north over Iran, Turkmenistan, Kazahkstan (where I noted it was 2:15pm May 4th, the exact same date and time I was scheduled to land in LAX many hours later), Russia... literally so close to the north pole that the little airplane icon on the map covered the north pole dot (that's as exact as I can get, damn thing tells you useless facts like the outside air temp but not your lat/long!), and then down through Canada, Washington, Oregon, California...

   Mom picked me up at LAX, think we got out of there around 3pm. Two hours or so to get to my parents' house, western bacon cheeseburger from carl's jr (OH HOW I MISSED YOU SO!!), stop by a phone place to get a phone that works in the States (got my old number back), dumped out my back, re-packed my bag to head out the next morning, and hit the sack! Altogether had been something like a 33 hour day! (and eight months since I'd been home!)


And here's a pic of Dr Sullivan & Dr Campbell at the pyramids that I didn't work in to last entry

   The very next day the next adventure began, but that's another entry!

See also:
All my Egypt Pictures

Tactical Gear

Patient Zero

   Sirens wail near and far, peppered with the sounds of gunfire. Single shots, bursts, desperate fusillades. Here and there, and in every direction. Chad peers out his window -- the upscale Newport Beach neighborhood is bathed in the alternating red and blue siren-lights of a police car parked in front of his house. Down the road in one direction a geyser of water is shooting up from where a fire hydrant has been knocked off by a car, and in the other direction a crashed car burns -- but they are not necessarily related. The police officer is standing inside his open car door with his m-16 at the ready. Bodies can be seen strewn around the street in various places. Down the road Chad sees somebody -- some THING -- lurch around a corner. A human form with an unearthly stilted gait.
   Chad looks back at the officer but he's currently scanning in the other direction. The officer nerviously looks at Chad.

   Chad collapses back onto the floor, leaning against the wall and hugging his legs, muttering "Oh god oh god oh god." He closes his eyes and desperately tries to pray or wish it all away.

   He can still picture his friend Brody, saying "As a wise man once said, 'if wishes were horses ... we'd all eat steak'," grinning in the tropical sun. It had only been a week ago, after all, that they had been in Africa together on a mission trip with their church group. "We're gonna give em heaven and hell boys!" Hunter Johnson had eagerly boasted earlier in the trip. Only a week ago they had felt like they were taking the world by storm, fighting the good fight.
   It was towards the end of their trip, deep in the Congo, that they'd been told of the forbidden valley. The villagers had an intense superstition that "shadow people" lived in the next valley over, that no one who went there would ever return alive. No missionaries have ever gone there.
   "C'mon guys! Let's show them that the power of Christ is stronger than their superstitions!" Chad had said eagerly to his friends. "Guys?" But the utter fear of the locals appeared to be contagious.
   "Nah, bro, uh, look, our translators won't go there so who are we goin to talk to over there?" reasoned Travis.
   "Yeah man, don't worry about it, bro," reasoned Hunter.
   "You guys chicken??" Chad taunted.
   "El oh el man, no, but we don't have time to go frolicking in the jungle, c'mon," answered Hunter. Chad could see the fear in their eyes though, and it infuriated him. "We should confront and disprove their superstitions!" he thought to himself in a huff "not huddle in fear of them ourselves!"
   "Well, I'm going myself then!" he announced and immediately started walking through the cluster of huts in the direction indicated.
   "Bring us back some souvenirs!" called out Travis, trying to sound nonchalant, "a voodoo cursed rock or something!" The villagers, with aghast expressions, spluttered at the interpreter while gesturing at Chad, and the interpreter tried to translate they boys' intention to them.

   A narrow overgrown path went out in that direction, which Chad followed through the humid shade of the jungle. At first there were animal skulls placed prominently on rocks and in crooks of trees, a clear "do not go this way" sign by the villagers, and also some offerings had been left on or near the path to appease some kind of spirits. Chad scoffed and kicked these out of the way.
   Just as he was starting to think he'd find nothing interesting and he should turn around, from a rise he saw through the trees what looked like a clearing. Continuing in that direction, he suddenly came upon another village. A cluster of huts not terribly different from the ones he had left. The villagers all stood up and stared at him as he approached. They all had an ancient, timeless look about them. Even the children gazing calmly out at him had a weathered look about them. Chad walked up until he was surrounded by them and looked around.
   "Uh, hello!" he said, waving a hand in what he hoped was an inoffensive friendly manner. No one said anything, they all just stared at him, with their sunken cheeks and ancient eyes. Chad noticed nervously that the incessant chirps and squeals of birds and animals seemed to have stopped. He couldn't remember how long ago he stopped hearing those noises, having been lost in his thoughts on the walk over.
   A few villagers shuffled from one place to another to form roughly a circle around him. When they walked it was with a strange stiff hobble.
   Chad fumbled in his pocket for the brochures they had had made up that talked about Jesus in a variety of local languages and tried to hand them to a few members of his mute audience, but none of them lifted a hand to receive them or took their unblinking eyes from his face. "No wonder no one comes here," Chad thought to himself "these dudes are totally awkward," but, despite the bluster of his internal monologue, he was feeling increasingly creeped out himself.
   He looked up as a new person arrived from somewhere in the village -- a beautiful girl walked purposefully, yet haltingly towards him. She looked to be in her early twenties, like Chad himself, but as she approached he noticed she too had a subtle weathered look about her. She continued approaching Chad, with a sort of mona-lisa smile -- the only of the villagers to have any expression at all. He found himself captivated by her eyes -- despite her brown skin and dark curly hair, her eyes were a deep timeless grey. Her eyes seemed to contain decades, --no, centuries-- of sadness and suffering.
   Chad found himself rooted in place, ensorcelled, unable to break the gaze of the approaching girl. She walked right up to him, with her timeless eyes and knowing smile, and in one fluid motion gently put her hands on either side of his head, leaned in, and kissed him on the lips. Most shocking of all, Chad found her lips and hands to be entirely clammy. There was not a hint of warmth to her.
   After the kiss she backed away a step but kept her eyes on Chad, with the same mischievious smile. Chad backed away, now thoroughly freaked out. "I, I, I, umm, I need to be getting back," he stammered, looking around at the expressionless faces. He dropped the brochures on the ground, backed his way to the edge of the jungle, and began to run. And were those bones in the bushes? Terror gripped him as he bolted back the way he had come.

   He had time to compose himself before re-entering the village his friends were in, and he did his best not to look shaken, though he couldn't manage much bluster. "Yeah, there was a village over there. Just uh, another village. I gave them brochures. Are you guys done here yet?" he couldn't wait to put a great deal of distance between himself and the forbidden village. As soon as the interpreter informed the villagers what he'd said, about visiting a village over there, the locals all looked terrified and fled to the other end of the village, through desperate hand gestures and invocations making supplications to their gods for protection.
   Brody looked around, "Well, I guess we are now. Thanks to your little quest!" he said accusingly, but then smiled to show he wasn't really bothered. Chad was in no mood for joking around now though.

   It's that incident though, that Chad has been dwelling on. It must have been that.
   Outside, several bursts of gunfire come from the direction of the police car. Chad peers out again, and sees an increasing number of nightmarish shadows shuffling through the dim sepiatone glow of the streetlights. The officer is taking out the ones that get closest to him but there are more and more of them. Chad knows why an officer has been posted in front of his parent's house too -- they must have figured it out. It was Chad's friends who became infected first. And before the televisions went off the air they had commented that it appeared to be everyone who had been on flight 613 --HIS flight-- appeared to be the first infected. The CDC must have figured it out. Everyone but him, everyone he's come in contact with, everyone but him. He'd brought back hell.
   The officer was getting hemmed in now, firing as fast as he could keep his gun loaded, but there was only one way this could end. Chad slumped against the wall again, he didn't want to see this. His brother wandered into the room, looked at him, past him, with dead unseeing eyes, and lurched towards the front door.
   Chad stared at the ceiling and tried to wish it all away.

A sort of prologue I've been meaning to write for my continuing series on the coming zombie apocalypse.