Tuesday, May 18, 2010

Last Day in Egypt

I'm sitting up in Cairo waiting out the last few hours in country. I finally ran out of excuses to not do this final entry. Wendi has been great doing all the work on this over the past year so I guess the least I could do was one entry. All the goodbyes are finally over and now it is just a matter of heading to the airport and that painful flight back across the pond. It is going to be a little strange being back in the US after a year but I certainly haven't missed that flight. Overall it has been a very good year but I am more than ready to rejoin the U.S. Army even if it means spending a few months at Ft. Rucker trying to avoid injuring myself by falling asleep in class. I have included a few last photos from my goodbyes at both at Beni Suef and Kom Oshiem. Enjoy.

I had to include at least one picture of our compound out at
Kom Oshiem. We have one gardener out there that does an amazing job - he works out there for hours every day and it shows. As with most of my pictures there isn't much perspective and I couldn't figure out how to get on the roof and get a good shot of the whole area to include the basketball court and gazebo.

This is LTC Aziz - the head of their maintenance operations and the man I worked with every day. He took over soon after I arrived and I am so glad he was there. When it came to maintenance more often than not we were in ag reement and he wasn't afraid to work the guys until the job was done. At times he wasn't all that popular with the troops but he commanded a lot of respect because he was always the first to arrive and the last to leave. It would have been a very different year without his support.

This is LTC Khalid who is in charge of all the flight engineers and crew chiefs. It was great to work with him because as with Aziz he was a hard worker and really cared about being a professional in his job. He was the one person I would spend hours discussing everything from politics to religion to family and be able to share ideas without offending anyone. The problem with both these guys is that I fear the system will burn them out within a couple of years - they are both too motivated.

I didn't actually get any photos of my going away party at work because of no camera. There was an incident a few months ago involving a camera on base and one of the contractors so I figured I was way too close to going home to risk any run ins with Egyptian security.

The guys hanging out in the bar before my going away at Beni Suef. What a great place to stay for a year.

Brian giving my farewell speech. He is the test pilot that is taking over from me and he is also an instructor pilot so he gets twice the fun. If that wasn't enough he was also kind enough to take over as team chief after our last one left in March so I didn't have to go through the hassle of doing it for two months before I left. It was great to actually work with another test pilot even for a couple of months.

I decided to leave off with two pictures of food since that is what often seemed to be our focus at Beni Suef. Here I am enjoying my last hamburger and hot dog with Tony and below is my farewell cake. It has been quite an experience. Thanks for following along with us and we look forward to seeing most of you in the next few months. Take care and God bless.

Sunday, May 9, 2010

OMC Ball

On my last night in Egypt, David and I went to the OMC Ball at the Marriott in Zamalek. Formerly known as “Al Gezira” Palace, the building was constructed by the Khedive Ismail Pasha back in 1869 to be a guest palace for the Suez Canal inauguration celebrations. Some pics:

Friday, May 7, 2010


There's been lots of farewells in this past month...actually our whole team has left and been replaced, save for David and I, and Kevin who got here last August. David's replacement just got here last week and then there's another pilot coming in next week and the transition will be complete. Plus, the contractor team left, both Doc Don and Vinny retired, and Anne and Chris, the site managers here, have left for seven weeks. So these last few weeks have definitely felt different around here....a little quieter and smaller. Here are some pics from the recent farewells.

Yes, that's a martini in one hand and cigar in the other.

Vinny's retirement ceremony:

Linda, me, Dina, and Laila at Joe's farewell. These ladies have been good friends to me this year. Linda's been so generous, taking me around to all of her shopping haunts. Laila's been great to talk to...a very good person to ask questions regarding Egyptian culture, etc.....and Dina, well, Dina's my buddy. :)

Yesterday, I met most of the women on the compound for lunch to say goodbye. From left to right are Linda, me, Dina, Isis, Shana, and Laila.

Last night, I had to say goodbye to Tony. Like so many TAFT members before us, we've spent hours and hours of our time here at the bar talking to Tony and he's one of the people here we're going to miss the most. Plus, he makes killer mojitos!

It's sad to say goodbye to so many who've made this year special. Our lives have so many different chapters, but this year in Egypt will be an especially memorable one. David's farewell party is next week (I'm leaving a week earlier) so he's tasked with adding the last entry!

Tuesday, May 4, 2010

Beni Suef compound, more photos

Well, our year here is winding down. I'm heading up to Cairo on May 8th and flying out on the 10th, while David's flying out about a week later. While I am ready to start the next chapter of our lives, I'm going to have many happy memories of this place. :) Some photos from around the compound which Suzy and Art took while they were here:

Camel ride up Mt. Sinai!

On our way back from Israel, we stopped at St. Catherine's monastery (shown above) which lies at the foot of Mt. Sinai. St. Catherine's was closed to visitors that day which is a shame because I was really hoping to get a tour of their library, famous for its historic documents. David, Suzy, and I did climb Mt. Sinai on camels though! (Art felt more comfortable climbing on his own two feet :) David and I've been wanting to take a camel ride since we've gotten to Egypt but just can't bring ourselves to indulge the guys who harass the tourists at the various pyramid sites. So we thought this would be a good place to do it....a 1.5 hr. trip up for a fairly decent price.

I'm so glad we did...it was a lot of fun and actually much smoother than I had anticipated. The only scary part was when the camel would stand up or sit down. The back legs straighten first so you go from sitting upright to rolling forward 90 degrees, facing the ground; then, the front legs straighten and you pop up to sitting upright again. When the camel sits, the process happens in reverse. I tried to reassure myself that I wouldn't fly forward out of the saddle. The problem with my particular camel (shown above) was that everytime our caravan slowed down, he tried to sit. Either he was tired, lazy, or I was a heavy load!!

We had a rough start due to some mass confusion amongst the Bedouin guides who take the camels up. We guessed that our original guides must have circumvented the pecking order and, after a lot of very loud arguing (between them not us), we finally were asked to get off our camels and get on other ones. Whatever. But once we were on the trail, it was exhilarating!!

Suzy, David, and I en caravane:

Once the trail ends, there around 700 stairs which take you up to the actual summit. Scholars disagree whether this is the Mt. Sinai in the Bible, but it was still neat to stand there and think this could have been the place Moses received the 10 Commandments.

Monday, May 3, 2010

Lunch at Ahmed & Hoodah's house

Last weekend, Ahmed, one of the flight engineers David works with, invited us to his house for dinner along with some of the other Egyptian engineers from the Maintenance section. Actually it was his mother's place, a large two-story house on the premises of a water treatment plant in a region northwest of Cairo. His father used to manage the plant starting in the 1960s and although the plant is mostly automated now and little staff is needed, his mother is still allowed to live in their original house after his father's death. It's quite a nice place to live with lots of grass and fruit trees.

Hoodah, the wife of Ahmed, and his mother joined us out on the porch while we were waiting for the others to come. She was completely silent during her time out there and Ahmed had told David earlier that his wife spoke no English, so I was surprised when I went back to the kitchen to volunteer my services when she said "I do not speak English well, but I understand you". Wow! Between her English and my very broken Arabic, we did just fine. I was amazed at the difference in Hoodah in the kitchen. She was friendly, outgoing, and laughing with her mother-in-law while out with the men, she either stared at the floor or her husband and didn't say a word. I even helped her make kofta, a mixture of ground beef or lamb with onions, flour, and spices, which is then baked. When David came back to check on me, I said "I'm staying back here....I like the atmosphere better" :)

They also made molokhaya, a soup made from duck broth, garlic, and the leaves of the molokhaya plant. Here's Ahmed's mom with a full cutting board of molokhaya....in case you're wondering, the guy in the back is washing his feet in the sink after playing soccer. I like the taste of molokhaya but the consistency is too slimy for me.

They also roasted some duck:

This is Ahmed's mom mashing up the garlic for the molokhaya:

One of the other wives, Rhayda, cutting up vegetables for a salad:

I tried to get a photo of the whole spread, but only captured part of it. It was neat to hang out with the women, but exhausting too as communication past simple sentences like "I like soup" was difficult. But it was apparent we all liked each other so that helped....and we did pretty good. David, in the next room, had it easy....most of the men spoke excellent English.

One last photo of the guys before we left:

And one last photo of the shenanigans with the kids:

That night, we finally stayed at the hotel suite which I had won at an auction....a suite with a view of the pyramids in Giza. We got up early to see the sun rise from our balcony. Always amazing for me to think of all the farmers, royalty, priests, merchants, and statesmen from around the world and throughout the centuries who have watched the sun rise on these pyramids.....