2010-11-16

Posted by Julie Wiens Posted on 8:33 PM | No comments

Cairo, Egypt - Days 1 & 2

I (Kyle) was encouraged to travel to Cairo, Egypt to attend a workshop on Space Weather. Here is a press release about the workshop:

http://science.nasa.gov/science-news/science-at-nasa/2010/08nov_iswi/

I felt very fortunate to make this trip because I am still learning this subject matter, and I really didn’t contribute much to the content of the workshop. I treated this as an opportunity to absorb as much as I could about the topic, meet the scientists and students involved, and, of course, enjoy the culture and history of Egypt. This post is already very long, so I won’t discuss much about the workshop here. It would probably be boring to most. It was a very worthwhile experience for me though.

Unfortunately, Julie didn’t join me on this trip. Perhaps the two of us will return to Egypt one day to further explore Cairo and other parts of Egypt (like the upper Nile, Thebes, Karnak, etc.). However, it just didn’t work out for this trip. Up until the week before I left, I wasn’t even sure I was going to make the trip because of some confusion regarding passports and visas. Besides, I would be at the workshop most of time, and Julie would be by herself. Cairo is not a place for a single gringo American like Julie. That would scare me if she were alone there. But I digress…

The conference itself was at Helwan University, which is a bit south of Cairo. Our hotel was in Cairo itself, so every day we had to take a ~1 hour bus ride across the Nile then south to Helwan. These first few photos are taken from the bus en route to Helwan on the first day.
As you can hopefully see from the photos, Cairo is a busy city. It is also polluted, presumably due mostly to all the automobile exhaust. The Cairo traffic was crazy (at least according to my western sensibilities). Cars, trucks, donkey carts, and pedestrians all share the road, which could vary from one to four or five lanes, all within the space of a mile or so, and all while the width of the road stayed constant. In short, the driving style in Cairo is quite different from that in the States. If you don’t like honking your horn (or being honked at), then don’t drive in Cairo.

After the conference on the first day, the organizers took the attendees on a Nile dinner cruise.

In addition to seeing the Nile shoreline at night, the highlight of the dinner was the entertainment: a bona fide whirling dervish.

He was amazing. I didn’t time it, but he must have spun in a circle for at least 10 minutes. I get dizzy after about 10 seconds. Amazing. The spinning effect was amplified by the clothes he wore: long, full skirts that spun around him. After partially disrobing (i.e., removing the spinning skirts), the dervish took it to the next level by grabbing a serving tray, bottle of water and drinking glass. He then proceeded to open the water bottle and pour it into the glass horizontally. That is, the centrifugal force of his spinning allowed him to pour the water horizontally. After he finished spinning his own body around, he continued to spin one of his skirts above his head for another 5 minutes or so while he went around the tables talking to each person to determine where they were from. He must have amazing shoulder muscle strength and endurance. Anyway, the reason why he went to each table became clear when he came back to the central performance area and did some more tricks while counting to 5 in each of 15 or so languages of the audience members. It was quite a performance.

Here’s a photo I took while crossing the Nile on the second day of the conference.

As you can see, it was not as polluted this day. One other interesting thing to note about Cairo culture: we often saw cars stopped on the bridge. There were no shoulders to the road, so the cars were effectively blocking a lane. The reason why the cars were stopped? Apparently for an impromptu picnic.

There were many, many apartment buildings like this one.


Notice that the vast majority of the rooms in the building have no windows (and presumably no furniture or anything else inside). They are largely just “empty” buildings, and there are many such buildings. We asked our driver what was going on with these empty buildings. He said that the owner of the building doesn’t have to pay taxes on the rooms unless they are “finished”. Hence, only a few of the rooms were occupied. In this photo, only one of the rooms is occupied.
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