operators buy it on their way out of the zone. A feast at the best seafood restaurant in Port Said cost less than US$6.00 for two people. Of course, there is no alcohol so our restaurant tabs have plummeted. Taxi cab rides to work cost US $.50 (50 cents) because gasoline is subsidized by the government, a gallon of gas is only US$.18/gallon. With prices so cheap we have not asked for a car and driver to get to work and we mainly walk while in Port Said (Hong Kong was good training).
My final comment: Egyptians are the friendliest people that we have encountered throughout the globe. When walking through town people call out, “Welcome to Egypt!” If we skip jogging the local fisherman gathered at the docks yell, “Where were you yesterday?” Surprised?
In the past 20 years working and living outside the United States I have learned a few things. First, we all take way too much for granted, but I accept that will never change. Second, I now realize there are many more ways to look at the world than from an American perspective.
One small example was my view toward palm readers. I always scoffed at anyone who said they could predict the future until I encountered a palm reader in New Delhi last September. The guy was a Sheikh; long beard, with a turban and traditional bracelet. Sitting on a stool on a Delhi sidewalk, I thought I was participating in a scam until he wrote down two names on two pieces of folded paper. He predicted the names were two people important in my life. I opened the first paper and “JoDon” was written. JoDon was with me but I had never mentioned her name, plus how many people get her name right the first time, much less an Indian guy? The second folded paper had the name “Ann”. My mother’s name was Ann; that really freaked me out.
After doing some mathematical equations he then told me the following (remember this was in September, 2005):
1.December 25th and 26th would be the best days for me in 2005 (we flew to Africa on Dec. 25th and started safari on the 26th).
2.I would be betrayed by someone that I already knew with the first name that began with the letter “J”.
3.By March I would be working for another company (at the time I had worked for Haggar for 28 years) and it would not be an American company. The palm reader said I would work for “not a tall man but not a short man.” He was not sure if I knew him or not.
4.JoDon and I would live together very happily and long lives without sickness.
What I have learned during the turmoil of the past months is that a good job is important, but it does not make the top five in the most important things in life. Point #4 is all that matters to us, so our advice to our friends and family is to remain focused by using life’s lemons and make lemonade. We have so many blessings that we take for granted!
Brian & JoDon
Friends and family, our lives have been in turmoil since early February and we apologize for not properly staying in touch. I’m sure your lives are also busy so our absence may not have been noticed.
Four Saturdays ago we arrived in Egypt and our new home, Port Said. Port Said is located on the northern coast of Egypt, on the Mediterranean Sea at the mouth of the Suez Canal. The drive from Cairo to Port Said is very diverse. Leaving Cairo, one of the world’s largest cities with a population 20 million, the first 1 ½ hours is desert and is about as exciting as driving from Midland, TX to El Paso, TX.
The Land of 'Honk and Hope'
The last hour is more like the Rio Grande Valley with irrigated fields. Branches of the Nile River form irrigation canals where they grow oranges, mangos, plants, alfalfa & rice. On one side of the road can be desert and the opposite side can be fertile fields. This photo shows the eerie site of a container ship sailing thru land. At this point of the Suez Canal there are green fields on one side and desert sand on the other.
Most of Egypt has classic desert weather. In winter there are cool days and cold nights and in summer it’s normally 100 degrees F, or more. Port Said is on the coast so we are still wearing light jackets at night. It will warm up during July and August but for now we are enjoying California coastline weather. Surprised?
Port Said is an interesting, quiet city of almost 500,000 inhabitants, small for third world standards. Most of the buildings are very interesting and are built with wooden porches. In many ways it reminds me of the run down sections of New Orleans with the French influence (the Suez Canal was built by the French). Port Said has seen better times. Until recently the entire city of Port Said was a Free Zone. People from Cairo and Alexandria would travel to Port Said for bargain shopping but the Free Zone status was removed and now the city suffers from the decline of commerce.
Our apartment patio overlooks the Suez Canal with its amazing collection of ships. Tankers, container ships with container boxes stacked 7 high on the decks, weird shaped ships carrying pieces of oil drilling platforms, etc. Our apartment is on the African continent and across the Suez Canal is Asia.
Cruise ships dock directly in front our apartment and tourists from across Europe and America take buses for day trips to Cairo and the pyramids. When the cruise ships arrive security is very tight; there are soldiers, policemen, men dressed in suits with small automatic weapons protruding from their jackets, bomb sniffing dogs, etc. Like airport security around the world, it’s mainly for show, only to let the tourists feel secure.
Egypt is a very poor country and trash is everywhere. It is common to see donkey carts driven by men in long robes and white rags on their heads throughout Egypt, even in downtown Cairo. The “lucky” ones that work in factories earn about US$80/month. Egypt made peace with Israel many years ago so as a reward they were given duty free status for apparel. This has caused a stampede of sewing factories to move to Egypt and most existing factories are under expansion. This is what brought us here.
Egypt roads are statistically some of the most dangerous in the world. Drivers have a bad combination of no regard for human life, theirs or anyone else, and no common sense. Horns are used excessively. In Port Said there are no stop signs and only 3 traffic lights. All intersections are approached with multiple horn honks and hope that no one is coming. Hence we termed their driving habits ‘Honk and Hope’.
I have spent time in Muslim countries for work and vacation during the past six years so many things about the Egyptian culture does not bother me. The plain truth is that most Americans, including myself at one time, are very intimidated by the Muslim lifestyle. Now, public loud speakers mounted in minarets blasting prayers 5 times a day is just another annoyance, no big deal. I ignore the prayer chants just like the locals. The wailing prayers are not a public chant, “kill the Americans!” as most of us think. Also, since childhood many cartoon bad guys were Arabs with sunken eyes and unshaven beards. Egyptians today are not “the bad guys” but most seldom shave so they don’t help themselves overcome the sullen stereotype. Actually, many older men and women look like my former father-in-law and his sisters, so for me, the look is not so scary.
The way women dress in the factories, and throughout most of Egypt, is a startling change from America. The dress is extremely conservative and modest, like the Amish in the US. In public almost all women wear a long scarf (hijab) covering all their hair and leaving only their face exposed. The hijab is secured using decorative pins that keep the scarves very tight around their faces. That’s usually not a desired look for Arab profiles. Most women wear over sized robes that extend all the way to their feet while others have equally modest oversized tops and skirts. More daring women wear floor length skirts with jackets that extend almost to their knees. Most of the robes and skirts are black and orange is a very popular color for their hijab. About 10% of the women are completely veiled (burqa), normally in all black robes and gloves with eye slits. In the factories women wearing burqas wear gloves with the finger tips cut off so they can sew. Only their eyes and fingernails are exposed. The reason for this modesty is their belief that it is the women’s responsibility to not be provocative to men (they certainly fulfill this requirement). One of the ladies on the sewing floor suggested to JoDon that she button her blouse (the 2nd top button was not buttoned) because “the men cannot control themselves.” It is also inappropriate for some men and women to shake hands; there should be no touching. Many women will not have their picture taken with me because their religion prohibits them to take photos with strange men (I certainly qualify as strange). Women walking in the morning to exercise even wear their burqas. It “cracks me up” that from a distance you cannot tell if the women are coming or going since they have no face. The hijab and burqa are only required when women are in public. At home or at parties with only women, they can wear anything they choose. Despite this modesty, it is interesting to note the overabundance of shops selling sexy bras, panties and hair care products.
One of the nicest people in the plant is English speaking Asst. Production Manager, Amal, and she wears a burqa. Amal has black mesh covering her eyes so I have no idea what she looks like. It is very odd not being able to look in the eyes while speaking to a person, including Casper the Ghost
dressed in black. Yesterday I turned and asked Amal a question and I was speaking to the wrong black veiled woman. A few minutes later Amal came up to me and laughed, “You thought that other black dressed lady was me!” I apologized and thought “damn, I travel half way around the world only to encounter another smart-assed Arcie Garza.”
Egyptian men are more demonstrative and emotional than most Western men. Screaming matches frequently erupt on the sewing floor only to be amicably resolved in a few minutes. Egyptian men kiss each other on the cheeks and men walking arm in arm is not unusual. No, it’s not that Brokeback Mountain shit; it’s just the way they are with each other. Men dress for work in western style clothing. In the countryside men normally wear long gray colored tunics but they are considered inappropriate for modern workplaces and schools. Many men wear their robes to the mosques for Friday afternoon prayers and also around the house since they are so comfortable.
Egyptian (Muslim) society is very male dominated. Women are not banned from Mosques but it is rare to see them attend. Groups of men can be seen at night drinking tea and smoking Shisha (flavored tobacco water pipe, Arabian style). Many men have dark spots on their foreheads from touching their heads on the carpet while praying, normally five times a day. Men without spots on their foreheads are quick to point out that the forehead marks do not make those men automatically good Muslims. I suppose it’s the same the best Christians are not necessarily the one’s seen on TV.
Many people ask us how women are treated here in the Muslim world. Our answer is incomplete, we only know what we have seen; not the well circulated macho stories. In general, Muslim men are very respectful toward their women although their view toward women is very dated by considering women important for doing chores, raising children, etc. We are told that many Western women traveling alone at resorts are treated disrespectfully because some Muslim men consider all Western women with their “provocative” dress prostitutes so they treat them accordingly. JoDon has not encountered any bad treatment probably for three reasons. First, we travel together so she is treated as my wife; second, the apparel business is filled by women and is not a “male only” industry; third, she always wears long pants and long sleeve blouses with high necklines.
Grocery shopping was very depressing until we found open vegetable and fish markets and some small modern grocery stores. Most of the produce is excellent although lacking the eye appeal that chemical sprays achieve in the US. The produce is from Egypt and Syria. The open markets sell fresh fish and shrimp which is very inexpensive. Shrimp is so inexpensive the sewing
Click photo for Ancient Egypt journal.
Prior to El Regalo