Thursday, March 8, 2018

Dateline Egypt, Part 5

There's no lack of attractive women in Egypt.  And there's no lack of women who want to escape the sexist, super-restrictive life style they're forced to endure in that Muslim-dominated country.

I was one of five long-term, single guys working on the wastewater project in Alexandria in the early 80s.  I'm the only one of the five guys that returned to the States without a native wife in tow.

Were I of the female persuasion, I too, would be desperately seeking a way out.  Here's how it was for women:
1.  Any single woman not living with her parents was considered a whore.

2.  No single woman could be seen in public with a single man unless there was a chaperone along.

3.  On the day after a wedding, blood stained sheets had to be displayed outside as evidence the bride was a virgin.  Got ketchup?

Boys will be boys.  Girls will be girls.  Hormones will be hormones.  Imaginative ways around the restrictions were widely known and widely practiced.  It was, presumably still is, nothing but a sham, keeping up appearances.

Muslims don't drink?  Bullshit.  Muslims don't mess around before marriage.  More bullshit.  Anything goes as long as it's not done in public.  I have a dim view of religion in general.  Although some followers toe the line, hypocrisy seems to run rampant.  In countries like Egypt where there's no separation of church and state, hypocrisy reigns supreme.

Yes, I dated an Egyptian woman.  A Coptic, not a Muslim.  Sharp as a tack.  Educated in England, had a masters degree, spoke 4 languages, ran a travel agency.  She was an excellent tennis player, often beat me in singles.  Coptic or not, she had to adhere to the ridiculous moral code described above, and understandably, wanted to get the hell out of Dodge.

She suggested a marriage of convenience but I wasn't up for it.  I was recently divorced, had no desire to remarry - even if it was supposed to be temporary.  I advised her to reconnect with another expat she had dated before me.  I knew the man, an agriculture specialist/advisor.  Good guy.  He had returned to the States a few months before she and I hooked up.  She took my advice, ended up marrying the guy and made good her escape.  Last I heard, they had two kids and were living in South America, where he had another agricultural gig.

Wednesday, February 21, 2018

Trash Talk

Trash talk: boastful and intimidating comments made to one's opponent(s) in a game or sport.  Mohammed I'm-the-Greatest! Ali  was the trash talk poster child.  I think of it as banter - lighthearted and humorous.  Pickleball players trash talk a lot, part of what makes the game fun.

Now that I've lead you astray with a false start, I'll divulge the real subject of this post: trash.  As in garbage, solid waste, refuse.  Well, that's not really it either, but we're getting close.  It's recycling, specifically 'single stream recycling.'  Folks who live in large metro areas are probably familiar with the term; small town dwellers and rural folks, probably not.  I just got up to speed myself because my home town just started doing it.

I'm a strong believer in recycling, been hauling stuff to recycle centers for decades.  No more.  Now, it all goes into a large container, unsorted, and dumped into a truck.  How the devil do they sort and separate such a mixed bag of stuff? you ask.  Okay, maybe you didn't ask, but I did.  The answer is MRF: Materials Recovery Facility.  MRFs are huge buildings that contain a series of conveyor belts to transport materials to a variety of sorting devices that use gravity, magnets and condensed air for sorting.  Here's a picture of one.

It's not 100% automatic, does require some hand sorting.  It's not 100% efficient either.  Critics maintain that pre-sorted recycling results in a lot less landfill material than single stream recycling.  Broken glass is the main culprit.

Here's a video that explains how the materials are sorted.

It's entirely possible that a blog post on single stream recycling may not be the most exciting post ever, highly doubtful it'll go viral.  Whatever.  I thought it was interesting.

Thursday, February 1, 2018

Rosarito, Baja, Mexico

Guess this isn't the self-defrost model.  Nor the self-fix model.  Wait, it gets worse!

The villa is advertised as being the largest on the Baja.  At 7500 SF, I don't doubt it.  Ad also said it slept 21 people, don't doubt that either - but there were only 6 of us.  Although the long weekend getaway was my treat, I didn't choose this place, would have been happy with something much smaller.

The villa was built by a gringo couple over a period of 3 years, 2005-8, but given it's current condition you'd think it was at least 30 years old.  The husband died awhile back.  The widow moved to a smaller place nearby and let the property go to hell: zero preventive maintenance, zero repairs, apply a band aid, forget it. 

It looks quite impressive from a distance, has a great view, nice patio.

We soon discovered the furnace didn't work.  Heat was critical, temps in the mid 40s at night, and several windows that were so corroded they couldn't be closed.  Big fireplace in the living room, but damp firewood, no kindling.  We got a fire going eventually but the chimney didn't draw well (yes, the damper was open), the place filled up with smoke and we had to open several doors to air it out.  What little heat was generated by the fire went out the doors with the smoke.

We called the owner, who arrived shortly, along with a young Mexican couple who finally got the furnace going.  I pointed out the iced-up fridge to the owner: she didn't respond, didn't bat an eye, was obviously aware of it, didn't give a shit.  End of day 1.

Below, two sons at sunset.

On day 2, we discovered the stove didn't work, called the owner.  Then, it was the barbecue, called the owner.  Furnace stopped working, called the owner.  At $400 a night, I expected better.  Silly me.

The surf was big and loud.  No beach, just rocks.

Despite all the hassle, we enjoyed the getaway.  It was all about the people anyway, having a nice long visit with my 2 sons who live near San Diego.  We watched the football playoffs, me whining a lot about the lousy performance of my home state team, the Vikings.

It took us 1.5 hours to return to the States via the Tijuana border crossing, constantly pestered by vendors of every kind of beverage, food and artifact one could imagine.

I won't be returning to Mexico any time soon.

Friday, January 12, 2018

Go With The Flow

I'm working on a set of 3 paintings for our bedroom wall, a large one in the middle, with smaller ones on either side.  This is the first one.


Sunday, December 31, 2017

Dateline Egypt, part 4

Egyptians don't do lines.  They're into flocks and herds and clusters.  Wait in line until it's your turn?  Unheard of!  Join the herd and see if you can out-shout your herd mates.  If you holler loud enough - and the amount of currency you're waving wildly above your head is large enough - you may be called up to the counter next.  Bribes and kickbacks spell corruption in Western countries.  In Egypt and throughout the Mideast it's a way of life, business as usual.

This no-lines tradition extends to driving.  The main drag heading into downtown Alexandria had 6 lanes, 3 lanes of traffic going each way.  At stoplights, drivers who were several cars back from the front, boogied on over to the left and filled up the incoming lanes.  And, across the intersection, oncoming drivers did the same.

So, 6 lanes of cars facing each other.  When the light turned green it was one big game of chicken., horns blaring, drivers shouting obscenities at each other.  Actually, I just assume they were shouting obscenities; I don't speak Arabic.  Given the tone and volume however, I doubt they were asking to borrow a spoonful of Grey Poupon.

Another delightful habit was driving at night without headlights.  It was considered rude to have your headlights on at night.  This wasn't a problem in town where there was adequate ambient light to see oncoming vehicles, but in the country it was a different matter.  The custom was to keep your lights off until you were a few hundred feet from the oncoming vehicle, then flash your lights on and off to alert the oncoming driver.  Makes a lot of sense, huh?  Suddenly blind the oncoming driver with your lights, scare the crap of him, proceed onward at a closing speed of 120+  MPH.  Asinine!

Your average Egyptian driver appeared to have the emotional maturity of a 2-year old.  Here's one for you.  Heading downtown for a negotiation session with a City official one afternoon, we saw a small sedan bounce off the front right side of a fully loaded bus.  The bus driver turned his steering wheel to the right and returned the favor.  The little sedan reciprocated.  And on it went.  Mile after mile.

Another time I witnessed 2 cars meet, head on, in a narrow alley.  They both sat there for several minutes, revving their motors, honking their horms.  Finally, one guy turned off his engine, got out of the car, sat down on the hood and glared at the other guy.  Other guy, not to be outdone, followed suit.  Although I was curious about the final outcome, I didn't have time to hang around.  I wonder if they're still there in the alley, glaring at each other until, finally, one of them keels over dead and reaps his 72-virgin reward.

Forgive me for bringing religion into it, don't mean to offend anyone, but haven't you wondered where they get all those virgins?  Do the math: every day, thousands of believers die honorably.  You'd need at least a million virgins in the holding tent at all times.  Plus, you'd need several thousand eunuchs to guard the virgins from those who already have their 72-virgin quota, but were issued 6 dozen toothless old spinsters and want to trade up.  And you know eunuchs, always bitching about their lack of career choices, cranky as hell.  Talk about a major HR nightmare!  Allah, I don't envy you your job. 

Friday, December 29, 2017

Dateline Egypt, part 3

We had a fleet of 30 cars for project-related use on work days, and for personal use after hours and on weekends.  Engineers needed to inspect current and future job sites, surveyors were always in the field doing what surveyors do, other professional staff had frequent meetings with City officials downtown. 

Expats who lived more than a few blocks from the office car-pooled, and could use the vehicles for shopping and such during off hours.  During the week, spouses could take a bus or tram downtown but it wasn't a pleasant transport mode: crowded, dirty, slow, Western women ogled and pinched.  

There was one Egyptian driver for each fleet vehicle.  They knew the City, the quickest routes, alternate routes when traffic was snarled up by accidents or farmers delivering produce in donkey carts.  The drivers had it pretty easy.  On any given day, only half of them were needed.  The rest would sit around all day smoking and joking and drinking Turkish coffee.

One of my responsibilities in my prior assignment in the Corvallis, OR company headquarters was fleet manager.  We had roughly 500 company vehicles.  My job was to negotiate deals and financing on new vehicles, dispose of old vehicles, establish maintenance and cleaning schedules.

When I arrived in Egypt in '82 I was thinking only 30 cars in the fleet, piece of cake.  Boy, was I wrong!  The cars were poorly maintained and disgusting, filthy inside and out.  And there sat a dozen or so drivers, doing nothing all day.  I wrote up a set of cleaning and maintenance guidelines and gave them to Hamid, my fleet supervisor.  I expected a dramatic, overnight improvement in vehicle cleanliness.  I expected in vain.  Nothing happened.  Cars still filthy.  Drivers sitting around.

I gave Hamid the what for.  Waited a few more days.  And.............nothing happened.

Finally, Tarek, my accounting supervisor, took me aside.  "Drivers won't wash cars because it's beneath them.  Doing such a menial task would be degrading." 

'When in Rome .........'  So, I hired a guy, full time, to wash cars.  Problem solved.

Egyptians were, most likely still are, extremely class conscious.  We can thank the Brits for that, I think; they ruled the country for 74 years.  However, clan/tribal/religious connections probably play a large part also. 

Thursday, December 28, 2017

Dateline Egypt, part 2

My prior post mentioned that I was in charge of housing.  There were about 35 long term American staff on site, mostly married couples, several with children, and a few singles as well.  Most were there for 1-3 years so there was a fair amount of turnover.  We rented houses and apartments for the expats, close to the office if possible, so they could walk to work.

We scoured the immediate area for appropriately-sized units, find 2 or 3 possibles and show them to the new arrivals.  We then negotiated the rental terms on the dwelling of choice, and determined what was needed to 'Westernize' the living area.

Alexandria's climate is similar to San Diego, very livable, but occasionally quite hot, and in the winter months, sometimes quite chilly.  Central heating was unheard of so we installed wall-mounted heat/cool units.  We also installed washers, dryers and refrigerators, and sometimes plumbing and lighting fixtures.  Although the rentals were furnished (by Egyptian standards), additional furniture was often needed, especially beds and chairs.

We chauffeured the newcomers around town to purchase bedding, towels, cookware, silverware, all the stuff needed for everyday living.  We chauffeured them around again, this time to various suks to purchase food.  There were no supermarkets, just suks (souk, suq), most of them the size of a large closet.  One suk for dry goods, one for meat, one for fresh produce, etc.

When I arrived in the City, I selected a 4th floor walk up, across the parking lot from the office.  It was summer, pleasant weather, so installing the heat/cool unit wasn't a high priority.  I'd lived there a couple weeks before the crew got around to the installation.  They started at 11 AM, bashing a hole in the wall, and were half finished when I went home for lunch at noon.

As I approached the front door, I noticed water running down the hallway, obviously coming from my apartment.  What the hell?  I entered the apartment, water all over the floor, a steady stream flowing out of the bathroom.  Looking into the bathroom, I saw one of the guys dumping a wicker basket of concrete debris into the toilet.  The toilet was merrily overflowing but he kept flushing it over and over anyway, dumping in more debris between flushes.  Unbelievable!

I grabbed Hossam, my housing crew chief, and read him the riot act.  Hossam was bright, well educated, spoke excellent English, but was apparently oblivious to the proper care and feeding of flush toilets.  I gave him a short course in basic plumbing, told him to clean up the mess and come back the next day to finish the job.  Sans flush.

The scene of the crime was actually a half bath.  Luckily, there was also a full bath, so I avoided using the half bath, not wanting another flood.  I suspect the other building occupants had plumbing issues after the incident, especially those on the first floor.