Sunday, June 27, 2010

Space A travel woes

I'm climbing on my soapbox for a bit this morning. Please bear with me and allow me to get this off my chest. Really, it won't take long.

I think I've mentioned that we are an Air Force family living on a Navy base, which has been a first for us. We've enjoyed our time here over the last 22 months. There's one thing, however, that has bothered me (and continues to bother me), and it's the way in which some folks feel it necessary to openly complain about their negative experiences with space available travel.

First of all, I don't wear a military uniform; my husband does. Why do people complain to me? Is there something I'm supposed to be able to do about their grievances? I wouldn't dream of walking up to the spouse of the base exchange manager, for example, and proceed to complain about the lack of customer service. This is just an example, mind you; I have no complaints about the base exchange.

Space available travel isn't a right in my opinion; it's a privilege. The main objective of the military aircraft that fly in and out of here is (GASP) not to cater to the needs and wants of family members, but to the war fighters, those military men and women who are serving our nation, particularly those downrange, in harm's way, who are counting on those planes to deliver necessary supplies to and from their locations.

Sometimes our military planes are delayed; sometimes they have maintenance issues. I truly believe the crew members, as well as the maintenance teams, do the very best they can to ensure planes fly safely and efficiently. I'm sorry passengers on these planes are inconvenienced from time to time. Our family has encountered these same inconveniences, so I understand the waiting, wondering and disappointment when our plans fall through. What we have to remind ourselves though, besides the fact that civilian passengers aren't top priority, is that there is no cost to us. If there's space available on one of these planes, and we are lucky enough to get on, we don't pay a ticket fee. It's FREE! Seriously, folks, if you can't deal with the possibility of space available snafus, you have another option... fly commercial.

It's not the fault of every person who wears the Air Force uniform that a flight was delayed. There are often situations behind the scene that we don't know or fully understand that cause delays. And these folks are doing their jobs. They have rules and regulations that must be followed. Frankly, I don't want any maintenance team rushing through a maintenance fix for the plane on which I'm a passenger. Quite the contrary, I prefer they take the necessary amount of time needed to actually correct the issue before we get airborne.

I don't expect people to be happy whenever they've endured multiple plane delays, but I do expect them to behave more respectfully of the process, and to keep their Air Force bashing to themselves. Military spouses do not deserve to be cornered and forced to listen to complaints about something over which they have no control. No one likes feeling as if they've been personally attacked, and when people speak unfavorably about a particular branch of service, it can be very offensive. We're all entitled to our own opinions, of course, but please don't confront me with your grievances; it's uncalled for, and unkind, not to mention unfair. I'm just asking for a little tact and common courtesy.

Saturday, June 26, 2010

Coptic Cairo

The second full day in Cairo was spent with my new friend S, our tour guide and driver. My hubby had to work, therefore he was unable to join us on our visit to Coptic Cairo (Old Cairo), an ancient area of the city dating back to the 6th century BC. The Holy Family was said to have visited the area during the flight into Egypt, seeking refuge from Herod.

The Fortress of Babylon

This is the Hanging Church, the most famous Coptic Christian church in Cairo. It's named for its location above a gatehouse of the Babylon Fortress; its nave is suspended over a passage.

This is one of several mosaics in the courtyard of the Hanging Church.

This mosaic represents the Holy Family's flight into Egypt.

The mosaics were incredibly beautiful!

It was quite common to see women dressed in full traditional clothing walking with children in western wear.

I enjoyed looking at the various Christian buildings and statues, each beautifully and uniquely made.

We saw lots of people gathered in the courtyard here, some playing the guitar and singing, and others in discussion.

Beyond the courtyard is this extensive cemetery, which we were allowed to visit.

I found it interesting that many stones held the names and photos of those entombed here.

Many of the statues were simply gorgeous!

These "houses" are family mausoleums.

These folks are our driver (the man who I was constantly thanking for getting us from one place to another without having an accident) and tour guide (the young woman named Shaza who spoke English very well and was adorable).

We were invited to join a group of folks for a 2-hour Nile river cruise on a private yacht. There were Americans and Egyptians alike and everyone brought food and drinks to share.

There was music playing on the yacht. Evidently the folks had only three CDs in their collection, or this was the music they thought our crowd would most enjoy. I don't know, but we heard tunes by Frank Sinatra, the Beatles and the BeeGees. It seemed odd to be floating down the Nile listening to this combination of music.

This photo was borrowed from my friend S, the same one who toured both days with me in Cairo. Can you imagine stacking boxes that high on the back of a truck? You see this kind of stuff on the roads in and around Cairo all the time.

This is another photo of S's. Knowing how unsafe the driving conditions are in this area, I would never hang outside any vehicle, moving or otherwise. We were told that people often cross the highway on foot because there's no other choice. There is no tunnel under the road, nor is there a walkway over the road. Sadly, people are sometimes killed trying to cross the highway.

Our trip to Cairo was short, but we packed a lot into our time there. Many thanks to our fellow Air Force friends who spent time showing us the sights! As careful as we were, the three of us (my hubby, his co-worker and I) all managed to come down with some kind of stomach bug before leaving Egypt. It was like a parting gift, the kind that keeps on giving... and giving... and giving. My hubby and I didn't have it as badly as his co-worker, but it still took several days to feel normal again.

I'm really thankful for the opportunity to travel to Egypt, but I'll have to say I'm happy I was only visiting. I much prefer living where I do.

Monday, June 21, 2010

Walk Like an Egyptian

Okay, I know that's so lame... "Walk Like an Egyptian," but the opportunity is right there in front of me, thus I can't resist. Those of you who know the song, please forgive me, and for those of you who have no idea what I'm talking about, it's not important. Forget it.

We returned from our trip to "the place I've promised not to mention again," and prepared for another trip, this time just my husband and me. He was scheduled to travel to Cairo on business and invited me to join him. His trip was paid for, so we just had to foot the bill for my travel expenses, and when else was I ever going to visit Egypt? We left the boys here at home with the teenage son of friends from church, something we'd never done before, and went on another adventure.

There were three of us on the trip... my husband, a co-worker from his office and me. We were met at the airport by someone who worked with my husband and was stationed in Cairo at the time. We got in an SUV and headed toward our hotel. Let me just tell you, everything you've ever heard about the driving in Cairo is true. I can't even begin to describe how dangerous and chaotic it is there. I took some video, but my position from the backseat really didn't accurately portray the craziness. Cairo has traffic lanes just like most cities, only drivers do not use them. They straddle the lines, cut one another off, blow their horns constantly and basically follow no rules. I just knew we were going to get wiped out. Most of my time in transit was spent in prayer that we wouldn't die in an accident between locations. I asked the guy if he got hazardous duty pay for driving in Egypt, and he did not. He should have!

Although our trip was four days in length, we essentially only spent two days in Cairo as the other two days were spent in air travel. I packed in a lot of sight-seeing in those two days. My hubby had to work much of the time, however, it was arranged that a driver would take me and a fellow Air Force spouse who lived in Cairo to various places to see the sights, which was incredibly generous and thoughtful. I'll share with you the highlights of the trip...

This is the outside of our hotel. Everything was very green and lush, clean and beautiful. This was like a mini-oasis in Cairo, as the rest of the city is quite different.

The accommodations were very nice. This was the view from the window in our room.

The morning after our arrival, my new friend and the driver picked me up at the hotel to meet the guys for lunch.

We ate at this restaurant.

We sat in a corner booth with this huge lazy Susan in the middle of the table, which made for easy sharing of the food. We were told to be rather cautious of what we ate, and to only drink bottled water. The food was actually quite tasty. I had to try this cheese my friend referred to as "squeaky cheese" because it "squeaks" when you chew it. It really did too!

I suppose I've been around my 13 and 10-year old boys too long as I found the "chicken balls" option very amusing. It clearly does not take much to entertain me.

After lunch, we went to visit the Pyramids in Giza. It was amazing to be driving along and see the tops of them in the distance. They're so close to the city! I thought they'd be out in the middle of the desert someplace, but they were right there.

Here we're walking up to see this pyramid, the Pyramid of Khufu, which is the largest of several in the area.

You can get an idea of just how large the pyramid is by looking at the cars and people situated at the base.

We climbed up a few steps. It's simply mind-boggling to think how much blood, sweat and tears it must have taken to build these structures. It's estimated that 20,000 to 30,000 workers built the Pyramids at Giza over an 80-year period.

Another pyramid

We saw lots of camels and riders while we were visiting the Pyramids. They were offering camel rides for a fee. We passed.

The driver took us to the backside of the Pyramids for a different view. We got out of the van and there lots of these folks selling souvenirs. Some of them were a bit persistent in their quest to get us to purchase something.

Isn't the view incredible? It was rather surreal. This country girl was standing looking at the Pyramids, for heaven's sake!

Here's my hubby being a good sport with this particular pose. He humors me.

Here we're posing with our friends. L-R: our host, me my hubby and my hubby's co-worker

Thanks, baby, for inviting me to join you on this trip!

The land beyond the Pyramids is all desert.

Our tour guide kept trying to take our photo with the Pyramids in the background, and these camel riders just wouldn't cooperate by getting out of the way. Evidently they wanted us to ride their camels, and because we weren't interested, they insisted on being in our photo.

We next visited the Sphinx, just a short distance from the Pyramids.

The Sphinx is a big tourist attraction too. Lots of vendors were out selling their trinkets. We'd been told by our tour guide, an Egyptian herself, to ignore the vendors. One guy just wouldn't give up and followed us, trying to get us to buy something. He wasn't very happy with us for ignoring him and said we Americans never buy anything. What these folks should realize is that tourists would probably be more apt to purchase souvenirs if they weren't hassled.

There were so many cool angles from which to shoot photos. I could have been there all day!

Another view

These three actually agreed to pose for a "Walk Like an Egyptian" photo (Cue the Bangles singing their 80's Top 40 hit), but I'm a good friend and promised not to post it online in order to protect the innocent. Doggone it! What was I thinking? That would have been such an awesome photo for this blog post!

Right across the street from the Sphinx is a KFC and Pizza Hut... really! That just seems wrong somehow.

We were driving back to our hotel and passed by these vehicles parked under an overpass. Apparently they'd been sitting there for quite some time. You can see they're coated in dust. Seemingly everything has a layer (or two) of dust in Cairo.

We were at a standstill in traffic and saw these dudes riding on the back of this flatbed truck. Considering how unsafe driving conditions are in and around Cairo, I couldn't believe anyone would be willing to gamble with their lives like this. I guess if one has never known anything different, the driving seems completely normal.

All I'm sayin' is that there's a reason cars look like this one (notice the scrapes and the dented front end), and this one doesn't look as bad as many others I saw.

There are lots of apartment buildings like these in the city.

There are also lots of buildings like these, ones that look like the construction hasn't been finished. We heard a couple of different reasons for this. One person said that these were homes and they're preparing to build on top for the next family. Another person said if homes remain under construction, the occupants aren't required to pay taxes. It would be interesting to know the full story.

This pretty much wraps up our first day of touring in Cairo. We ate dinner in the hotel and had some delicious Asian cuisine. Stay tuned for photos from the final day of touring in the area...