Andy Carvin's Waste of Bandwidth

October 31, 1995

Cairo and the flight to Luxor

Filed under: Egypt — Andy Carvin @ 8:11 pm

Today we must catch our flight to Luxor at 5pm, so we’re killing the morning by returning to the alleyway souks that radiate from Midan Ramsis in order to take pictures of Cairene life. Admittedly, I was feeling a bit nervous about this, since some Egyptian women are very uncomfortable about having their picture taken. We’ve already had some angry reactions to our shutterbuggery, too.
But as we meandered the bazaar, we found that many people, especially young women, were eager to have their pictures taken by us. One girl selling fruit yelled “Hello!” and waved to us. Susanne motioned to her camera and the young woman smiled and waved us towards her. Others joined the portrait, and suddenly it seemed like we were taking photos of a high school class reunion.
Two roles of film later, we went off to the bank to exchange more money and then walked underground in the new metro tubes to the Ramses rail station for a quick Coke and a look around. Back at the hotel, we stopped to check out some postcards, which were sold at a small hotel shop. The old man who owned the shop sold us the cards and some stamps, and then invited us in his back room for a fresh cup of Egyptian Turkish coffee. We talked to him as he showed off some of his finer small trinkets of ankhs and scarabs. Susanne and I bought a few things, and then he offered us an earring and a small statue as a gift. We asked what we could offer him in return, and he said he collected ball-point pens, but we weren’t carrying any. Then, out of the blue, Susanne pulled out a wrist watch she never wore and put it on the table in front of him. He looked shocked, as did I, be cause it seemed a bit too generous of a gift. Susanne said she didn’t want it and that it would make her happy if he would accept it, so after several moments, he took it, with a pleasantly embarrassed look on his face.
With our bags in hand, we headed outside to catch a taxi to the airport, and lo and behold, it was our old friend Ibrahim, who had taken us to the pyramids the day before. We then parted Cairo and hit the airport, where we had enough time to complete about a dozen postcards and work on our journals. The flight itself was highlighted by a wobbling soundtrack of muzak hits, including “I Love You Just the Way You Are” and “My Way.” Beyond that, the one-hour ride was uneventful.
The real adventure began when we arrived at the St. Caterine Hotel, which had been recommended to us by the manager of the Fontana in Cairo. Normally, I’d take such recommendations with a grain of salt, but because the manager, had been quite helpful and never tried to rip us off, we acquiesced. The hotel itself seemed fine for Egyptian standards, but when the manager of the Caterine, Mamdouk, insisted that we come down for some tea and a glass of rosewater, we both got a bit nervous….
As we sat uncomfortably in Mamdouk’s office, waiting for the tea, we lied our way through a conversation. When we first arrived at the St. Caterine, we were asked where we were from, and out of habit I said Canada, for we had learned we could handle hagglers and street vendors a lot better if they didn’t know we were from the U.S. But this time they needed our passports for registration, so I had to improv a story that we were American citizens residing in Canada. Of course, Mamdouk happened to speak fluent French, having spent five years in Paris, so I was forced to admit that we lived in Toronto and rarely ever traveled to Quebec.
But the worst was yet to come. Two burly toothless men entered Mamdouk’s office and they spoke to him briefly in Arabic. Mamdouk then smiled and said, “Because I offer you tea, you will now do a simple favor for us.” What favor, I cringed. He then put 100 pounds in front of me and said we should go with a young boy to buy him some Johnny Walker. He explained that they couldn’t buy alcohol because the local store would only sell to westerners. I felt wholly surrounded by these men, so I said we would do it as long as the boy didn’t join us, fearing that some scam would be specifically linked to him. We headed out the door and one of the toothless men followed, saying he’d show us the way.
Why it took us so long to get a clue and wake up from our naiveté, I don’t know, but after walking about 50 feet, we turned around to him and said “We won’t do this. We’re going back to the hotel.” Surprisingly, he smiled and said OK, forget it, and took us back to Mamdouk’s office. There, we sat some more, still waiting for that damn tea, until I began to run out of Canada stories, so Susanne faked a coughing fit, which allowed us to leave politely and go back upstairs for bed. The tea arrived just as we were leaving, so I grabbed both glasses and enjoyed them upstairs, even though Susanne was worried Mamdouk might slip us a mickey in order to steal our backpacks, shave our heads, shanghai us into the Upper Egypt Freedom Forces, or something of the like.
Sleeping at the St. Caterine was a task in its own right. The beds were hard, the a/c didn’t work, and at four in the morning, a mosque across the street broadcast an incredibly morose call to prayer for a good 15 minutes. Susanne and I sat up trying to find a strategy to check out the next morning at 6am without provoking a fight with Mamdouk, who we were sure would try to keep us to stay another night. We dreaded the coming of dawn.

October 30, 1995

A Trip to the Pyramids

Filed under: Egypt — Andy Carvin @ 10:31 pm

After another early morning Egyptian breakfast of breads, cheese, and caffeine, we hired a taxi for the entire morning to take us to the pyramids of Saqqara and Giza. Our driver, Ibrahim, spoke some English, but kept to himself most of the time, except to point out the occasional landmark (“Israeli Embassy – very nice….”)
We first went to Saqqara, about 15 miles south of Cairo at the edge of the Libyan Sahara desert. The drive took us through numerous fabric and vegetable markets, which I observed while Susanne tried to catch up on lost sleep. As we approached Saqqara, I noticed the first signs of the impending desert: caravans of camels marched in and out of the bazaars, trekking along the road against a backdrop of never-ending palm groves. Behind the trees, though, you couldn’t see much, but soon it became clear that this nothingness was really the empty, sandy shore of the Sahara itself.

As we reached the road to the desert, Saqqara’s most famous site, the Zoser Step Pyramid, loomed in the distance. Zoser is the oldest standing pyramid on earth, built around 2700 BCE. The pyramid complex was surrounded by the remains of fallen temples, whose broken columns are reportedly the oldest know. The pyramid itself, with its aging steps holding up rather well despite their age, dominated the entire site. The basic dimensions were somewhat reminiscent of the Great Temple of Kulkulkan at Chichen Itza in the Yucatan of Mexico.
About seven kilometers south of the pyramid you could see the smaller, younger pyramids of South Saqqara, which were too far out of the way for us to visit. So after our taking of too many pictures, including some shots of a policeman on a camel (for small baksheesh, of course), we got back in our taxi and headed north to Giza.



The 10km drive to Giza took about an hour, as we were stuck behind numerous lorries which kicked up enormous amounts of limestone dust and debris, turning the taxi, the surrounding trees, and passing camels to a strange shade of yellowish white. We drove through the urban neighborhoods of Giza (east Cairo), which is packed with row after row of apartments, tenements, and tourist traps. Once at the entrance of the pyramids, though, we could see in all of their glory the three main pyramids of Cheops, Chefren and Mycerinus, guarded by the infamous Sphinx. The Sphinx itself was smaller than I imagined – only 22m high – but was impressive and inspiring nonetheless. Three gay men from the states took our pictures for us there and joked about how the photos would definitely end up as “this year’s Christmas cards,” my Jewish heritage not withstanding.

We hiked the steep hill between the Sphinx and Cheops and hooked to the right, walking along the foot of the pyramid. There were many well-dressed Egyptian teenagers hanging out with portable radios, singing along as they went. When we reached the entrance to Cheops, the guards shook their heads and said “need extra ticket,” a ticket which we didn’t have, and the ticket booth was a good kilometer away back at the entrance of the site. Since we had to go back down hill anyway, we decided to go back and take a rest stop at the Egypt House cafe, which sits about 100 yards in front of the Sphinx. We stayed there for a good two hours, downing cokes, bottled water, and overcooked kufta kabob sandwiches. A stray dog kept Susanne occupied as I worried half seriously about the potential illnesses it might pass on to us.
Around 3pm we started to hike into the desert south of the pyramids complex and were immediately pummeled by groups of camel guides jockeying for our patronage. As annoying and rude as most of them were, we concluded that a trip to the pyramids without the obligatory camel ride would gnaw at our guts for years to come. Susanne and I mounted a camel, which growled and farted incessantly. I never realized how high off the ground camels’ humps were until I started to fear for my safety as we swayed back and forth to the camel’s gait. Soon enough, though, we were surrounded by the Eastern Sahara, though in reality the strips of souvenir shops were less than a mile away beyond the high sand dunes.
Sore from the experience, we limped back to the cafe after parting from our guide and our flatulating dromedary friend. The sun was beginning to set, so the crowds at the foot of the Sphinx increased dramatically as they all attempted to get that postcard-perfect shot to show off to their friends back in Pittsburgh, Osaka, Frankfurt, or from wherever else they hailed.
The cab ride back to Midan Ramsis and our hotel was a continuos horn-blast through traffic. After killing some time in the room, we went upstairs to the Fontana Cafe. I drank some Stella while Susanne enjoyed a 7-Up while we both munched on peanuts and this wonderful meat and rice dish, surrounded by a small crowd of subdued, sophisticated Cairenes. The dark cafe was an incredible contrast to the din and activity in Midan Ramsis below us, where cars twisted and turned in every directions like lemmings on amphetamines. Another night in the life of el-Qahira, Misr.

October 29, 1995

Adventures in Islamic Cairo

Filed under: Egypt — Andy Carvin @ 9:44 pm

After a pleasant breakfast of breads, cheeses, and heavy Cairene instant coffee, we started to walk in a direction we though would lead us from Midan Ramsis, in the north end of New Cairo, through old Islamic Cairo to Muhammad Ali’s Citadel, four miles down towards the southeast corner of the city. Instead, we got lost in a seemingly endless maze of alleys. Cairenes crowded every corner, some smoking sheeshas and playing backgammon at an impromptu cafe stand, others selling fruit, spices, or freshly killed meat, directly off of their mule-driven carts. Kids played football with cans or plastic bottles, and everything carried the same incredible smell, a curious melange of tahina, roasted yams, tobacco, and trash. Despite the fact that we were the only two Anglos in a sea of North Africans, we felt quite comfortable and not self-conscious. On the whole, our presence was ignored apart from occasional groups of small boys who would walk by yelling, “Hello! Hello!” Not an uncommon occurrence in Cairo, as it turns out.
After soaking in the sights and smells of this north Cairo souk, unmolested by other khawagas such as ourselves, we found a main street teaming with buses and black and white taxis. To our chagrin, all of the street signs were in Arabic, so we soon lost track of our exact position on our map.
I hailed a taxi and we climbed in. The man spoke no English whatsoever, and I couldn’t remember the Arabic word for Citadel, so I naively assumed that he might at least recognize the word Citadel in English. I was proven wrong, though he refused to admit he didn’t know. We drove around in circles for about 45 minutes and eventually got out of the car, paying the man about five pounds for our circuitous excursion.
We walked along the street and soon stopped in a cafe for a coke and some pitas. The locals were all dressed up in suits and fashionable clothing, so it was pretty clear to us we had reached the business district of downtown modern Cairo. This helped us get our bearings on the map and we walked over to the local tourist office to get a more detailed map. We also swung around the corner to the Windsor Hotel, where Michael Palin stayed while filming Around the World in 80 Days.
We continued to walk west for about 30 minutes and soon found ourselves in the heart of Khan al-Khalili, Cairo’s famous bazaar and the largest souk in the Islamic world. We were regularly hounded by people trying to drag us into one of the many Mamluk mosques that peppered the neighborhoods. Nonetheless, the alleyways and streets were teaming with life and people, especially kids selling fresh fruit and trinkets.
We walked further along, past the edge of Al-Ahzar, the oldest university in the world. A half-blinded old man convinced us to enter a mosque, where he said a group of Sufi women were about to dance, but there was no one there apart from a small study group encircled on the floor. Ironically, when I tried to pay him the several pounds he had requested for our uneventful tour of the mosque, the change he handed me back equaled the amount I gave him in the first place.
We then walked south through the heart of Islamic Cairo, where Susanne was the only woman not fully draped from head to toe in the traditional black garb worn by many Muslim women in the Arab world. Yet on the whole, we weren’t singled out by anyone, except by more kids who pummeled us with cries of “Hello! Hello!” and “Welcome!” But before we knew it, we found ourselves standing in front of the great Hassan Mosque, the enormous madrassa built by the Mamluk sultan Hassan. The inside was like a deserted sephardic synagogue on a much grander scale, with ceilings easily reaching over 100 feet. A muezzin demonstrated the call to prayer, which echoed throughout the building, and then asked us for baksheesh of 50 piastres, which seemed well worth the price.


Behind the Hassan Mosque stands the Citadel, perhaps Cairo’s most famous landmark. Upon reaching the entrance at the top of a hill, I was reminded of Edinburgh Castle, with its similar fortress design and collections of military museums. The centerpiece of the Citadel, the Muhammad Ali Mosque, is an ornate gem of 19th century architecture, a combination of traditional Islamic design and French decorated, which Ali admired greatly.
After descending the winding hill road from the top of the Citadel, we walked back about three miles to Tahrir Square, the central hub of downtown Cairo. We tried in vain to find a restaurant recommended by our guidebook, so we walked north to Talaat Harb Street into the Felfella Restaurant. We feasted on plates of felafel, foul, and pita, so much so that when we returned to the hotel, Susanne got ill and had trouble falling asleep.

October 28, 1995

Three Continents in One Day: Heathrow to Gatwick, then Tel Aviv, then Cairo

Filed under: Egypt — Andy Carvin @ 10:24 pm

Eventually I landed at Heathrow on a cold Saturday morning. On my inter-airport bus ride to Gatwick, I observed the rolling hills of Sussex, stereotypically blanketed in a thick layer of English fog.
Gatwick was an hour or so away from Heathrow. I found the meeting point lounge fairly quickly, and Susanne was sitting there reading a book, having arrived directly at Gatwick about 90 minutes before. We hugged and said our hellos, having not seen each other in about six months, and we wondered off for some orange juice at an airport cafe. We then decided to call London for a hotel, using Let’s Go as our guide. We’d be back in England on November 11, and two weeks seemed like ample time to make a reservation. Well, at least 6 calls and about eight shillings later, we were able to find a B&B with vacancies, so we booked a room in Westminster near the Paddington tube stop.
Security at Gatwick wasn’t too bad. We were asked questions about our luggage, searched, and then searched again by metal detector and frisking. Some bloke with an automatic rifle patrolled our secured gate while we waited to board the plane.
We then boarded the 737 for the four hour flight, which passed by quickly as we chatted away, dozed a bit, and made up for lost time. Our flight plan took us over the former Yugoslavia and Greece, past Crete, and then into Israel. The sun was setting as we arrived in Tel Aviv around 5pm local time, yet we were informed by the flight crew that taking pictures of the dusk sky over Israel was prohibited for national defense reasons.
Security at Ben Gurion Airport was tight as expected. In the end, we sat for about four hours before catching our plane to Cairo. We boarded the Air Sinai jet and took off around 9:30pm. In Cairo, security was surprisingly lax – but at the time, little did we know how lax Egypt is in general.
After being harassed by a man with an unlicensed taxi, we found a legit black and white city taxi and got in. The driver soon pulled the car over and picked up a friend, a policeman with a rifle. As we sat back absorbing the scenes and smells of nighttime Cairo, they chain-smoked and laughed a lot while the driver swerved us in and out of the city’s notorious traffic mayhem. The driver kept his hand strategically situated by the horn, which he honked incessantly, as did the rest of Cairo’s drivers. By 11:30 pm, we checked into the Fontana Hotel off of Midan Ramsis (Rameses Square), and promptly passed out.

October 27, 1995

Washington DC to London-Heathrow

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andy Carvin @ 7:54 pm

Today just might have been the longest day of my life. I went to work as usual, despite the fact that I had packed and re-packed for my trip all week, as well as hounded Susanne on the phone each night, plotting out vacation minutiae such as ‘you pack the soap, I’ll pack the shampoo.’ But after about five hours at work, mostly composed of people saying ‘why haven’t you left yet?’, I headed home and waited for my roommate Jen to return from work and give me a ride to the airport. Soon enough we were on our way and I reached Dulles, where I sat for a couple of hours watching several British couples attempt to prepare their young children for the long journey across the Atlantic.
The flight itself was comfortable, and went by rather quickly despite the six hours I had to sit in an airplane seat. I watched the film Crimson Tide – dull but with good plot potential. I couldn’t find the night blinds supplied to me by British Airways, so sleeping was somewhat difficult, possibly due to my irrational fears that Susanne would be snowed into Denver and we would miss our flight to Tel Aviv from Gatwick.

Washington DC to London/Heathrow

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andy Carvin @ 7:54 pm

Today just might have been the longest day of my life. I went to work as usual, despite the fact that I had packed and re-packed for my trip all week, as well as hounded Susanne on the phone each night, plotting out vacation minutiae such as ‘you pack the soap, I’ll pack the shampoo.’ But after about five hours at work, mostly composed of people saying ‘why haven’t you left yet?’, I headed home and waited for my roommate Jen to return from work and give me a ride to the airport. Soon enough we were on our way and I reached Dulles, where I sat for a couple of hours watching several British couples attempt to prepare their young children for the long journey across the Atlantic.
The flight itself was comfortable, and went by rather quickly despite the six hours I had to sit in an airplane seat. I watched the film Crimson Tide – dull but with good plot potential. I couldn’t find the night blinds supplied to me by British Airways, so sleeping was somewhat difficult, possibly due to my irrational fears that Susanne would be snowed into Denver and we would miss our flight to Tel Aviv from Gatwick.

October 18, 1995

Avoiding the Death of WWWEDU

Filed under: Uncategorized — Andy Carvin @ 3:42 pm

Hi everyone. As many of you might know, I’m the listowner of WWWEDU, the
world wide web in education, a list to which many EDTECH readers also
subscribe. Over the last several months, WWWEDU has experienced
informational logjams due to a combination of list growth and slow server
bandwidth. Because of this, CNIDR, the organization which has so
graciously hosted WWWEDU for almost a year now, has asked that I find a
new home for WWWEDU as soon as possible. At cpb, we don’t have the
capabilities of hosting lists, so I’m now forced to reach out to all of
you to see if anyone would be willing to host the list.
Clearly, a huge concern will be bandwidth – wwwedu is fairly active and
currently has around 1400 members, so the new list server would have to
be capable of handling the traffic. Also, several hundred list readers
access it solely by way of our WWWEDU archive on the Web, so it would
also be necessary to set up a list-to-www filter.
If you have any questions or if you might be interested in hosting the
list, please email me directly at acarvin@k12.cnidr.org, for I don’t want
to waste the bandwidth of this list if it can be avoided. I sincerely
look forward to hearing from you.
many thanks in advance,
ac

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