Saturday, September 29, 2007

Iziko Lobomi Community Centre Friends

28. September Imizamo Yethu Township, Hout Bay

This morning, we are to meet up with Christopher (of the Juggling Sticks) for Bailey to shoot for his promo video. After the somewhat tenuous experience of being in Phillippee with a local, Bail is gun-shy of going into a township with a non-local, (and white) host. Christopher assures him that we’ll be meeting at the community center which is just at the entrance of the township and right near the Police Station. The Iziko Lobomi community centre is not quite located as described, but we are very much welcomed by a friendly assortment of people flowing in & out of the building.

The juggling sticks are one of several on-site businesses that include beadwork (a South African specialty), ceramics, recycled wood frame-making, crocheted bag production, and making room divider/door curtains out of naturally insect-repellant seeds. In addition the center offers a soup-kitchen type operation and gathering spaces for meeting and prayer. Each of the workshop spaces set around the main hall also serves as a training center and retail shop. The sewing room is opened up by a woman who has the marvelous ability, so common here, of head-top porting: she has a sewing machine easily balanced on her head with a little scrap of cloth as cushion. Hands free, she easily unlocks the door. A young mama on her way out demonstrates another hands-free child carrying skill - the baby wrap. Having tried this with my own children several times and never felt confident, I admire her poise.

As we wait in the central space, I chat with Gino, who is making juggling sticks, while the Maddie & Finn play with cars and the sticks with an ever-growing group of kids from the township. Gino has a lot of concerns about education, productivity, sustainability and his community, his people. He says that the government and even township representatives make a great show of assistance when, in fact, there is a great deal of corruption & problems with very little viable solutions trickling down to the township. While the political systems seems to be less than functional, Gino is also frustrated that his own people “abuse themselves” with alcohol, drugs, etc, and, above all, (ignorance) sic . I asked him, if it were up to him, and with all the rand he wished, where would he begin? “Education,” he said, without hesitating. It’s not entirely lack of resources - there are several libraries and a school in the township - but motivation, perhaps. When prompted, Gino said if it were up to him he would “regulate and enforce” education - patrolling the streets on weekdays to insure that children were in school and adults at work.

Near the end of the allotted shoot time at the Centre, Maddie is playing with quite a cluster of kids - they’ve moved on to photographing each other and swapping names and stories. Most children are bi-lingual, switching between English and Xhosa with facility. (The Dutch/British-inspired Afrikaans is also widely used throughout the Capetown area.) The camera makes for great fun and a lot of vamping & posing & singing of Top10 radio. Maddie fits right in to the cluster (if a bit taller) - apparently Pre-Teen is an international syndrome....
Bailey is done shooting just before the little camera, inevitably, turns into a bone of contention. Several of the girls ask if they can come see our house or when Maddie can come back and play. I don’t have an answer, but hope to see some of them involved with the Hout Bay Music Project - a strings ensemble community outreach program for the township that has welcomed Maddie & Finn as “exchange students” for the month.

To prepare for the Music Project, the kids need violins. Ours stayed at home due to potential import complications and we would like to make a violin donation to the Project at month’s end. BIG THANKS to "Mema and PopPops" and Alden & Zach! We’ve looked up a small company that stocks (rather than orders) student violins, so from the township, we head toward Capetown once again. We phone several times asking for clarification on directions before discovering that the suburban streetsigns are located at about 8” above ground. This discovery proves tremendously helpful in navigating us to the shop with 20 minutes to spare before close.

“Music Peyer” is run out of the home of Mr. Peyer who meets us on the front stoop with his parrots. The two ladies who help run the shop are charming and have helpfully prepared two violins for the kids to try out. As the ladies sort out paperwork, Mr. Peyer tells us a bit of his own story: He came to Africa on sabbatical from Switzerland 40 years ago. He brought his cello which rode shotgun in a motorcycle sidecar as Peyer trekked across the continent - eventually ending up in Capetown with about 2 pence to his name. Wanting to make some quick cash and earn a way back to his homeland, Peyer looked everywhere for a job, but the climate in South Africa wasn’t friendly for gainful employment. He played on the streets for income before eventually setting up a small shop.... Classically trained, he may have given lessons at one time, but today, Peyer’s arthritis hampers him and his hearing is failing, though not so much so that he can’t quickly & perfectly tune both violins and be a seemingly appreciative audience to the kids’ first violin-playing in weeks. The ladies tell us we should be proud of their playing, and one can’t resist smooching Finn on his forehead, at which he promptly turns raspberry.

27. September Tranquility Base

Exploring the yard at Tranquility Base, the kids find a huge crazy red grasshopper thing, spiders with the ability to do an Olympic-level high jump, geckos and lots of lovely flowers. (All, as of yet unidentified as we are without reference books.) They also discover that we are living across the street from a family that has a daughter, Kelsey, nearly 12, son Jared, age 9, and 5-year old little Lucia. They have gentle & fun-loving demeanors, an assortment of house pets, a heated pool, play violin, sax & piano, kindly invite random Americans to 12-year-old birthday parties, and, above all, also homeschool! Eureka! Photos by M.P.

26. September Phillippee Township, Capetown

We are all slated to visit the township of Phillippee, where Willard lives with his wife and son. Our own Finn, however is running a solid fever, so I stay home with him and turn the reporting (to come later) over to Maddie who accompanies Bailey on that trek, which includes, to her mother’s dismay, a helicopter shoot over Capetown. The day ended with a spectacular sunset over Camps Bay on the way home. All photos by M.P.

25. September - Cape Town with Willard

We have scouted out some back-up possibilities for housing, as the host/server computer at Wild at Heart seems, itself, to be on the fritz and Jill is about to join her husband in Turkey for a week - during which time it’s unlikely that solving tech issues would be a priority. “Tranquility Base,” a promising option that had actually originally been a 2nd runner housing consideration, was still basically available. This morning, we first meet with Chris, the owner, to check it out in person. It’s another very lovely house - a bit cozier in scale and with more books, paintings/photos and collections that make it feel homelike to the kids. The lot is in a less windy part of town, and pool is larger & warmer. Rough life, eh? As a bonus, there is an additional security shack and 24-hour patrol on the street, a cul-de-sac. There’s never been any issues, says Chris, but this IS South Africa.... There seems no middle ground rental housing between “Beverly Hills” and the townships, so we promise to get back to Chris in the evening with a response, and head out along the beautiful seaside drive to Cape Town.

Willard Muharurwa has an office and production area with a half dozen workers in a warehouse district in the Capetown waterfront. He is a big, smiley, soft-spoken man who proudly gives us a tour of his operation- a company that transforms scrap industrial cable wire into high art indoor/outdoor tables. Willard & his art have been nudged into the international marketplace with the assistance of companies like Aid to Artisans ( - the company Bailey is working with - and CCDI, the Cape Craft and Design Institute. The business began as a wire-animal cottage industry that relied upon roadside sales, and has grown into a small company requiring its own workshop and staff selling high end homegoods abroad. While Bailey is filming & interviewing Willard, Maddie assists and takes photos of her own while Finn and I try to stay off-camera.

Finn has a field-day creating his own scrapwire masterpieces - a propeller, a fish, and a figure, which he spends about 20 frustrating minutes adjusting in an effort to get it to stand on its own. When he finally discovers the right combination for self support, Finn’s entire being lights up. The fish he gifts to Willard. In exchange, Willard gives Finn a beautifully beaded wire elephant. One of the men in the shop also gives me a “remember ribbon”-shaped wire pin with a red, white & black bead on it for AIDS Awareness. He tells me to wear it over my heart.

We head over to a shipping company in a different part of the waterfront that is packing up and sending out an order of Willard’s tables. Anton, a facilitator from CCDI, tells me that the first order of tables took 3 1/2 months to manufacture and a majority of the products were damaged to an unsellable level in the shipping process. This order is a much larger one, and had to be fulfilled in only six weeks time. Willard & his associates made it - just under the wire, as it were - so he was pleased to oversee the crated product into the truck, padlocking the rear truck doors closed and patting them gently as if he were tucking in a child. From here it goes onto a container ship to New York and retailers like ABC who mark it up unfathomably - with a significant profit also benefitting Willard and his family, workers and community directly.

For a late lunch, we visit the Victoria & Albert (V&A) Waterfront - a former industrial district that has been converted into a posh retail/restaurant area. We have lunch at an outdoor cafe so we can listen to two different street performances. The first is a funky group of musicians playing jazzy interpretations of lounge music on a banjo, maracas, a sax and a cello that is electrified and amped and being plucked on the lap of the player like a guitar. The second is a sweet-toned acapella group who incorporate stomping, clapping and rhythmic dance into their numbers.

Back in Hout Bay, a techie has spent the entire day working to get us online to no avail. Jill had graciously given us an out before leaving on her trip, saying she understood if we needed to move on to other accommodations for Bailey to have the necessary online access for work, so, with some misgivings, up we pack. We scoot over to Tranquility Base & unpack in time to catch & decipher a bit of rugby... apparently, you cannot purposefully wheel in a scrum.... No freewheelers?

23.-24. September - Hout Bay

Sunday is our catch-up day. We do some grocery-shopping and get a cell phone that can actually be used anywhere in the world with a replaceable SIM card, unlike the U.S. phones which monopolistically restrict use to in-country only. Every Sunday is a Crafters Market at a town park, so we stroll the market partly for our own benefit, partly for documentarian perspective.

One of the merchants is Christopher and some young boys from the township who are creating juggle sticks in a crafting program benefitting their community. The juggle sticks are very fun to watch & play with and are hand-made from recycled materials: pvc conduit, carefully cut innertube strips and zip ties. Christopher is thrilled to hear that Bail is here to document exactly this type of program and excitedly invites him to the Community Center later in the week. And would Bailey be interested in helping him make a short promotional video to be able to educate further afield & solicit grants...?

Several of the market crafters represent community from the “township” - an interestingly inappropriate, charming pseudonym for the Imizamo Yethu (slum) where the majority of the black community of Hout Bay resides. Stated numbers vary from 14 to 18 thousand people squeezed onto this portion of hillside just above the dump and police station and in between gated communities of million-rand homes. There are many such “townships” throughout South Africa with countless population representing the chasmic disparity between Haves and Have-nots.

Later that evening, we return to town to catch Sunday Night uh... Rugby! We have dinner & beers overlooking the beach at “The Dunes” in an upstairs pub with the added insurances of two guards, walled-in yard & playscape and a shark-attack kit on the premises.... Rugby rules of play don’t really become any clearer with watching, but pub is actually a great low-key affair with a jean & sweatshirt crowd. We fall into conversation with a couple of nicely-dressed mid-aged local ladies who offer some local touring tips and are curious about homeschooling and why Americans don’t seem to travel. The observation has merit, but Bailey politely offers up that America is big country with plenty of exploring opportunities of its own. I don’t point out that it’s insanely expensive, both in time and finances, to travel - especially to South Africa! And, with thanks to our current, ahem, economy, the value of the dollar abroad just isn’t what it used to be.

Monday the 24th is a Holiday, Heritage Day, (so no wi-fi tech) and we use the time to settle in. Maddie & Finn have figured out some tricks with their new juggle sticks and put on a little show for Jill’s little boys next door - Jonas, Finn(!) and Sam, ages 1, 2 and 4. The boys also have an in-ground trampoline in their back yard and the kids are welcomed to play at any time - an invitation they happily accept often and for long periods of time...!

22. September - Springtime in South Africa

Less people are travelling to Johannesburg than there are to Jerusalem, so our plane is blissfully half-full. We get to stretch out a bit and doze as best as possible in postions that are still only comfortable for a contortionist. Large continent alert: this is an 8+ hour flight south to “JoBurg” and then as quick as possible through customs & the airport, with Finn still ill, for the 2 hr connector flight to Capetown. Landing in Capetown, actually outside of the city, like many airports, we cram our luggage into our rental car. It is a higher-end Honda sedan - a large vehicle by worldwide standards outside the U.S. - and once loaded up, we hit the M3 to Hout Bay, our final destination.

The roadside scenery is lovely: the craggy peaks of Table Mountain and similar chuncky mountains fronted with lush hillsides with fantastic trees that look like a forest of the “Go, Dogs, Go” dog party trees, piles of succulents and roadside wildflowers that include things like cala lilies. It’s a chilly, misty spring day with fog and an enormous cloudbank straddled just atop the mountains - leading one to believe the mountains could be reaching up twice as high as we can see. They don’t, but are a significant size from sea-level at about 3500ft. As we wind along canyon-type roads with a sprinkling of vineyards, sub-tropical flora & fauna and gated stucco estates, there is a bit of a California feel - perhaps Montecito or L.A. Hills... but more moisture.

As we reach our rental house, “Wild at Heart,” the famous cape winds pick up and begin to blow steadily. Our pretty summer cottage with cool cement floors now feels freezing, so we head out to dinner at the total tourist trap restaurant on the wharf replete with servers in goofy sailor garb (Abbots/S&P Oysters, anyone?). We order fish dinners, against the advice of some re. seafood in Africa, and all was delicious and very inexpensive. Somehow, the dollar is stronger against the South African Rand at about 1:7 than it is against the Egyptian Pound at 1:5. Go figure. After dinner we walk out onto the wharf, past enormous, security-guarded fishing boats and watch roly-poly seals play around the boats & pilings (signs ask not to feed them) and the fading light rainbow and play across the mountainsides. Photo by M.P.

Back at the house, we meet up with Jill, the owner, for extensive instructions on operating the security system. She insists that everything is safe & there’s never been a problem, and she becomes the third (white) person of the evening to add the caveat “...but this IS South Africa.” The entire town has named and gated homes, all with armed-response security and alarmed cars and many dogs that are oft aggravated by the security frequencies we can’t hear.

The frequency that we can’t quite seem to get going is the wi-fi. After the system being down at our hotel in Cairo, we were wanting to touch base with friends & family (and do this blog, and some work-related things....) We rented this particular cottage due to the assurance of wi-fi, and so check it right away, but it doesn’t seem to be up and running. Figuring we’ll sort it out in the morning, we wrangle some plug-in heaters to cut the chill of the unheated cottage and snuggle under down comforters for our first night in South Africa.

21. September - Cairo

Last day in Egypt. Despite all the temptations of other museums and markets, we decide that we really just need a day of total R&R before shipping out again. We’ve also missed all the open pool hours to date, so today is a Pool Day.

Our flight leaves the Cairo Airport at 1:30 in the morning - technically, the 22nd - there seemed to be no other earlier options. We meet Ramy and Mais at 10pm to load our bags and head out. This evening we also have a government official escorting us with an AK47. He is a quiet type, keeps to himself for the whole ride. Bailey’s theory is that the Egyptian government doesn’t want to risk any embarrasment that would potentially arise in the event of U.S. journalist/media types having any “issues.” Or, we, ourselves are the risk. Who knows. Needless to say, we make it through the airport check in smoothly, quickly, and entirely without incident. -- Except that Finn has been hit by dehydration from the hours in sun & pool added to the heat and now is sick to his stomach.

The airport is packed full at midnight with many travelers (pilgrims?), in proper full-coverage white dress, filling planes headed to Mecca. Ramy stands at the gate waving for as long as he can see us, and we wave back, shouting “shokraan” (thankyou) until we round the corner. It’s a sad farewell to Egypt and our friends and not nearly enough time - even by the kids’ standards.

Thursday, September 27, 2007

20. September Cairo - Khan al Kahlili Market

Figuring we’ve caught up on our sleep, we don’t set an alarm and yet AGAIN manage to wake up only just before the crack of noon - racing down to meet Ramy for the days’ excursions.

The first part of our route is dedicated to crafters visits. We stop at a “Carpet School” - one of several in a textile district that produces traditionally hand-knotted rugs. We are given a crash course in the intricacies of rug-making: There are anywhere from 60 to 150 knots per square centimeter in a rug, depending on material and pattern, with varying combinations of silk, wool and cotton, the rugs take anywhere from one to six months to complete. (There was some language barrier here: the “instructor” did give completion time per square centimeter, but flying hands indicated otherwise. The monthly timeframe either was per rug or per square meter of rug.) Glues and adhesives on the backing are the giveaway to factory-produced carpets.

The second area was the pottery district with enormous clay pots stacked several high along the roadside for several kilometers. We visted with a multi-generational team of roof tile makers, producing the long, Mediterranean style curved tiles with perfectly honed traditional tools & technique at the impressive rate of about 8 - 10 tiles per minute - from lump clay to finish. There were numerous other projects on site, making it feel like strolling through Roman ruins. Our friend Mais negotiated with the vendors at the front of the market, and gifted me with a teapot of beautifully glazed Egyptian red clay tipped with a green-azure. Finn was mesmerized by a pile of stones that looked like Indiana Jones’ treasures - quartizite - oversized and gem-like and the color of tropical seas captured in cut glass chunks. He chose a smaller stone for its better portability, despite recommendations toward a larger one for quality.

The highlight of the day was saved for last - the ancient Khan al Kahlili market. A veritable maze of narrow alleys packed with stalls and goods stacked to ceilings and overflowing doorways, each shop generally dedicated to a specialty item- one with enormous pots & cookware, another all shoes, many “sheesha” (hookah/waterpipe) shops, jewelry, then, toward the central square, more tourist-y tchockes and high-end jewelry. For anyone who knows me, you’ll know that it was a relief to our pocketbook that I prefer large, dusty (expensive) things to small, shiny expensive ones - as the large dusty items don’t fit conveniently in carry-ons!

We ate another late lunch in the square where restauranteurs had a shouting match over our business. Ramy had told us that the heat (and fasting!) makes Egyptians crazy and they yell alot without meaning anything by it, so things are only serious if it comes to blows. In this case, it did indeed come to blows. The kids can now brag they’ve seen a fistfight over lunch in a square in Cairo....

On the car ride back to the hotel, Ramy taught us an Arabic version of “I’m a Little Teapot” and, at Finn’s request, the Arabic equivalent of the Birthday Song. By the way, Driving Rules of the Road in Egypt are much like the Pirate Code - it’s really more like guidelines. Adherence to lane use is vague at best, and, although there is plenty of beeping, it has much more of a conversational element to it, with all the drivers constantly interacting with one another in the jostle. On streets & highways packed with cars, donkeys, horses, carts and pedestrians, we saw zero accidents.

Back at the hotel in time for late tea, there was an assortment of lovely little cookies and fruit left out for us in our room. Honey, pistachios and cashews were primary ingredients in various delicious combinations. The highlight, to me, were some fresh dates - a completely different animal from the dried ones we usually see - and quite possibly my favorite new fruit that I’ll never have again. There are most likely many varietals, but these particular ones were a beautiful rich red in color. The flesh was crisp, light and honeysweet - like an extra sweet apple, but less dense in texture. Yum! A delicious day.

Cairo Through Maddie's Lens

The Pita Ladies and more from the Ambassador of Smiles....
And, the fledgling reporter herself hard at work from the swankiest digs. Hey, who knew journalists were so well compensated?

19. September - Cairo - Pyramids & Sphynx

We are met at the airport in the middle of the night by Ramy Romany (that’s with a rolling rrrrRa’mi rrrRo’manee) - the “fixer” and our new best friend in Egypt. He knows everyone and every angle & alley for negotiating people & suspicious camera equipment through the notoriously complex Customs and customs of the city. With thanks to Ramy’s talent and his driver & friend Mais (“ Migh-ees’ ”) we make it to our hotel & check in at about 4am with a promise to meet them in the lobby for our first days’ shoot at a luxurious noon. As it was, our inner clocks are all askew and we are starving, and so have breakfast in our room at about 4:30/5 - just in time to hear the first of five daily calls to prayer be broadcast citywide on a varying network of speakers.

The call to prayer is a sound that falls in the hauntingly beautiful category. Some words are sung through quite clearly, if you understand Arabic, and others blend in an off-note buzz like the droning of bees in one enormous heat-filled mosque hive. A rough translation reveals it’s straight and to the point: Allah (God) is great. There is no God but Allah. etc in rephrase & repetition. An end phrase reminds, “Let’s go work.” The 4:30 am prayer, we’re later told, includes an additional phrase that says, in effect, “prayer is better than sleep.” Perhaps we should have heeded more closely, as Maddie woke us up with the announcement that it was, astoundingly 5 minutes before 12! Before doing anything else, I run, like a kid on Christmas morning, directly to our balcony to see the Great Pyramid straight ahead in all its glory in the noonday sun. Stunning. Surreal, actually.

We scrambled to meet Ramy and Mais for the brief journey to the base of the pyramids where Ramy managed to secure permission to bring a camera inside. What appears in many pictures to be a small hole at the base of the Great Pyramid is, in fact, at about a second-story level and quite a large entryway. Inside, the stone is remarkably cool although the air is warm, and the tunnel is steep with treads nailed onto boards, gangplank-style, and a narrow guage meant for one-way traffic that is self-manipulated by visitors’ courtesy or lack thereof. Not for the claustrophobic, the tunnel narrows to a dimly-lit crawlspace height before and after the “Great Hall.” The Hall is an amazing feat of engineering that puts a several-story cathedral ceiling of enormous stone block above two long ramps running parallel to either side of an increasingly tall gap. The ramps were designed for carriers to lift the sarcophogus of King Cheops(?), suspended in the center gap, up to its final resting place - an enormous rectangular room with apx. 20ft. ceilings. Here, also, would have been stored Cheops’ worldly wealth, securing his comfort in the next life. The room was found empty - pre-looted many years ago. Down and back out is much easier going! The entrance/exit is at about the third block up, or 25 feet, to give you an idea of scale.

Then, on to the Sphynx! Conveniently located past the camels-for-hire and mini-bazaar just around the corner, she(?) holds her head majestically, despite thousands of years of dermabrasion, in a stance protective of the pyramids. There are actually a total of six pyramids at Giza in varying sizes and condition - the smallest now little more than an ancient pile of rubble.

To give us an alternative pyramid perspective, Ramy and Mais then take us on a roundabout tour through town to the desert, where one can better imagine turning back the centuries. Along the way, we pass little markets & street vendors, truckfulls of wooden crated veggies, boys & ladies with enormous quantities of pita bread balanced on their heads.... Maddie is the Ambassador of Smiles - she pokes her head out the window of the car, smiling and waving at everyone and getting huge grins in return. Apparently, it’s also considered rude not to return a wave. Part of her charm, we’re told, is the fair skin and blond(ish) hair. Women passing Finn in the street reach out, giggling, to sample his light hair. He is also often grabbed at as means of friendly contact - but no less disconcertingly to him!

We blaze out into the desert, four-wheeling up a sand dune to view the pyramids from the northwest to the tune of of midday prayer. It’s an amazing spectacle. The kids find all sorts of fabulous rocks in the sand that look like agate or marble with smooth outer surfaces and beautiful circular patterns of color on the inside of broken ones.

On the way back in to the city, we again pass through the dump that is the demarcation line between town and desert. Dumping seems to be fairly freestyle - the canals are also lined with garbage, and there are many city blocks that seem to have become dumping areas by virtue of their lack of buildings. The dump we drive through at the edge of town has an entire horse carcass in among the trash.

Horses and donkeys are very much a part of transportation here. We stop in a little alleyway at the edge of town for Bailey to grab some local shots, and Maddie is offered a donkey ride. The neighborhood kids are all smiles & laughter - possibly finding Maddie’s clear lack of donkey experience entertaining. The littlest girl among them, perhaps 4, is able to ask in English “What is your name” and also, shyly, “Baksheesh?” - requesting compensation for the donkey ride, or perhaps, just their hospitality. I am, unfortunately, ill-prepared to respond - carrying nothing but a camera.

For a late lunch, we stop at a cafe overlooking the Pyramids & Sphynx. The restaurants are all fairly empty during the month-long Ramadan religious holiday which requires fasting during daylight hours. The longer days of a summer Ramadan bring a greater fasting challenge - it is a lunar holiday falling in the 9th month of the lunar Islamic calendar, so it eventually falls in all the seasons. Reduced to its essence, Ramadan is a time of self-examination, purging of sins, and a reminder of devotion to Islamic faith. It also commemorates the event of the angel Gabriel presenting the prophet Muhammed with golden tablets that contained the essence of the Koran. One should give up “minor sinning,” smoking, food, alcohol, and even water (except held in the mouth, then spit out) during the day. Sick, elderly and children under about 10 or 12 are not required to fast for Ramadan. Nor is fasting recommended for travel-weary American kids, so Maddie & Finn ate chicken sandwiches at the cafe while Bailey and I attempt a one-day fast - an impure one due to the fact that hydration was a necessity. That, and the fact that we are clearly infidels! The faithful may eat after sundown, but no alcohol, (so, again, we stray) and I’m not sure about the smoking and sinning, but the city comes alive at night.

Back at our hotel, we have our own little dinner party at an Indian restaurant to celebrate our 15th wedding anniversary. The best Indian food we’ve ever had, and under the pyramids in Cairo! Maddie arranged for a lovely chocolate cake and candle and then insisted she and Finn make themselves scarce in our room so we could have some Adult Alone Time at the lounge.

18. September - Amsterdam

We arrived in the Amsterdam airport in the late morning after the long night flight from JFK (departing the 17th). The airport itself is a crash course reintroduction to the fact that the rest of the planet still lights the frequent cigarette and everywhere: though it claims to be smoke-free, the airport allows smoking in its many groovy modern open-air style bars and restaurants. The result is zero fresh air for the flight-induced sleep & air deprived. So, fresh as daisies we’re not, exactly, but we do have an eight hour layover and decide to make the best of it.

We very easily catch a frequent train into the city for a walkabout and a coffee. Amsterdam has a lovely & comfortably familiar Cambridge-meets-Northampton quality - with a healthy dash of seediness in the “red” and “green” districts, as it were. (And, for the nautically minded, that does not mean port and starboard.) All very tidy with no hi-rises, litter or beeping and public transport and bikes aplenty that makes for streets well-trafficked, but not by cars. Bikes are serious business - there are bike taxis, wheelbarrow-like “truck” fronted bikes, multi-kid seat family bikes, cargo bikes.... Chocolates - also serious - denke vel! (“donkey-vell” - thankyou)

After our chocolates(!), we find a little pub for lunch and more coffee, and then on for more meandering along the canals which seemed to be used only for the heavily-windowed tourist boats/busses and as parking for some fantastic boathomes. We did also stroll past the Anne Frank House, at Maddie’s request - a noticeably contemporary-fronted museum swathed in lines of guests in which we didn’t have the luxury of time to wait. We’re all rather underdressed for a blustery, chilly autumn day in the city, and so head back to the train - whereupon everyone promptly falls asleep on the 15 minute ride back to the airport!

With plenty of time before takeoff to Cairo at 8pm, we nap, dine & change into culturally-appropriate clothing - which for Maddie & me means covered elbows, knees, and head - to err on the side of conservative for our arrival in Egypt.

Sunday, September 16, 2007

Packed Up & More or Less Ready

We have passports, visas, equipment carnés, the skeleton documentary equipment package, cipro, artemisinin (a natural anti-malarial, of course!), books, loaded ipod, politically-correct-coverage clothing, favorite pillows, fuzzy socks and earplugs. We leave behind a scrappy garden, miscellaneous pending projects, a lumpy kitty, friends & family to hold down the fort, and a beautiful autumn afternoon....