Monday, September 29, 2008

Leave - Day 2: Giza and the Shit Pigeons

Bright and early, our local guide was at the hotel to begin our day at the pyramids of Giza. First stop, the step pyramid at Sakkara. While old and decrepit, the sheer size and age made it impressive. Unfortunately, these are all out in the open; between tourism and time, a toll is taken from the structures. So, doing a little maintenance on it, we find evidence that OSHA definitely doesn't exist here:
Why spend money for steel scaffolding when you can just make it out of 2x4s and rope, then use the lumber later in other projects? Unsafe? Only if Allah wills it so!

Some of the step pyramid's 24 hour staff:

Not shown, at least twenty highly aggressive crap/souvenir salesmen and donkey/camel ride entrepeneurs who'd feel right at home with the carnies in the States. Why aren't they shown? How many pissed off shouting orally-hygiene challenged guys would you like to have following you around demanding cash for taking their pictures? Once is all it takes for me to learn some things....

Then, off to the Great Pyramids. There's no way to emphasize how massive these are as you drive up to them. They're incredible. And if you have good eyes, you can see the all the policemen trying very hard to not let the tourists interrupt their naps......
The same pyramid as above, with some people by the stones for perspective on scale:
And the Sphinx, which was also incredible. Once again, everyone runs the gauntlet of vendors. These people get truly pissed off if you don't buy anything from them, then see you later with something they're also selling.
And some the unintended moments of amusement by the Great Pyramid: Urging people to keep the site clean is great. Don't you think it would work better if there weren't camels and donkeys crapping on every piece of flat ground they can find?

Thankfully, some of the local residents are dedicated to removing all this animal waste, one peck at a time:

But even the shit pigeons can't keep up with the various pieces of trash thrown everywhere, like the excavation sites for some of the pharonic boats in museums:

Then it was time to pack it in, and head back to the hotel. But we got to see one more locally famous place (famous here on North Camp, anyway). The KFC below is well known for it's ability to give most soldiers who eat there violent multi-day diarrhea. Every time there's a duty tour to Cairo, someone who hasn't been here long will show up in the clinic. This place is what they have in common:

Fortunately, nothing in the bar at the hotel had that reputation......

Sunday, September 28, 2008

Ugly Gun Sunday

A Kilinc 2000 Light Hand Engraved Gold (Sarsilmaz, Turkey) CZ clone in gold. This comes straight from the factory looking uber-pimpish. There's just something about well-executed scroll work that can enhance even a commonly available gun. And there's something more about gold finish that can make an elegant gun into something tacky, like Sean Connery playing James Bond while wearing a grill from the hood.

Below, a slightly more common, and graceful, variant:

Saturday, September 27, 2008

A Visit to EOD (Explosive Ordnance Disposal)

EOD used to be quite active when the MFO mission began in the early '80s. The Sinai Peninsula was (and still is) full of landmines dating back to WWII, or the 1940s for those less historically inclined. Since then, there's been the 1967 and 1973 wars with Israel, with lots of mines placed before, inbetween, and during those two wars. As a result, no wandering about in the desert for fun. Part of the introduction here is photos of the last MFO pickup to do that before they changed the rules. Simply put, an anti-tank mine will spread a pickup truck over a large area, along with the passengers. Lately, the EOD contingent is used to dispose of ordnance turned in by the Bedouins when they run across them. Which still isn't hard to do, since sand moves over time, as does items placed into it when not anchored to rock.

The first thing you'll see coming into the EOD area- a really nasty toilet. Apparently, someone has very bad aim:

Next, outside the front door is EOD's garden. Decorative items retrieved from the desert include helmets from the '40s onward, disarmed projectiles, and one Russian-built heavy machine gun barrelled receiver:

Inside, we see more items of interest. The remote control robot for investigating things when you don't want to send a person:

And shelves of things both found, and ordered as educational pieces:

Friday, September 26, 2008

An Evening in Cairo, Part 2

After getting to our hotel, the wife and I discovered that the electricity in the room apparently didn't work. Until I went to the front desk, and the clerk demonstrated that you have to put your room card into a slot next to the door to engage power for the room. The clerks had a hard time trying to stay serious looking, as this is pretty common in all the hotels we stayed in on vacation. I've never seen it before in the States, but then maybe I'm too cheap to stay in the good hotels when I'm at home.

After returning to the room and showing The Wife how to turn the room on, we had a quick look around the grounds. The grounds themselves were really nice, lots of vegetation, restaurants, shops etc. What was disconcerting was the blocks of concrete highrises all around the grounds. Think of housing projects built in our major cities back in the '60s and you'll have a pretty good idea of what they looked like. Most of these were at least ten stories, so we could get a nice view of the drying laundry outside the windows, and the residents inside could watch everything going on in the hotel grounds. One terrorist with a good rifle and some skill could have a field day.

Eventually our tour guide came back and picked us up the Pyramids Light Show. Basically, you go into a seating area (after passing through the mandatory metal detector), and watch colors and images projected onto the pyramids while blaring loudspeakers deafen you with an English-accented vocal accompaniment done in full overblown master thespian tones, and bursts of obnoxious brass horn sections to let you know the last bit of recitation WAS VERY IMPORTANT.
This is also accompanied by the constant car horns of Giza, and a nice blanket of smog from the mix of beat up autos from all over the world.

When the show is over, we filed out to the sounds of live bagpipes, played by local Egyptions wearing pseudo-pharonic outfits. How they came up with bagpipes, I have no idea. They were far better than the music accompanying the light show though.

Then, packed into the van again, and off to the hotel for tomorrow's expedition to the pyramids during daylight. Which will be addressed on a different day......

Monday, September 22, 2008

Good Friends...

will move from one end of the Sinai Peninsula to the other to cover your duties, leaving most of their belongings behind, so that you may go on leave for two weeks.

Good friends appreciate the offer of your room, so they can have a TV, fridge, and internet access while they're away from home.

Really good friends leave you an unopened bottle of Crown Royal on your shelf to say "welcome home" when you're back.

And really good friends who have a twisted sense of humor will leave you a short love letter under the bottle, just to see if they can creep you out for the hell of it.

It's hard to find friends like that out in the civilian world.

Sunday, September 21, 2008

Ugly Gun Sunday

The KRISS Super V XSMG System. An excellent example of form following function. There's absolutely nothing about this system that even gives a nod to aesthetics. Even so, an MP 38 or Mac 10 seems to have something more to it than this for appearance.

As a quick aside: If I'm running around in the field, I'll take moderns synthetics over wood any day, preferably in a color that blends in, no matter how ugly it is. If it won't swell, crack, chip, or break, or weigh more, I'm all for it. I'm practical that way. But on the appreciation side, it's still ugly.

Saturday, September 20, 2008

An Evening in Cairo

As noted previously, I recently returned from leave. Rather than going home, The Wife was able to come over here, and see some of Egypt with me. Day one was a trip from the post to Cairo in a hired taxi.

The process for getting a taxi from post is a little different from getting one in the States. Here, one goes to either the laundry facility or the barbershop, and negotiates in broken English with the local version of the New Jersey Dockworkers Union. They'll take your money (cash only, in dollars only) now, and then arrange a ride for you. Don't bother asking for a receipt; there'll be a sudden failure of communication that will last until you quit asking for one. Then the day of leave, you negotiate our front gate (which is a lot more than just a gate), and wait for somebody to show up. You won't know their name, or have a cell phone number. Or get someone who speaks more than 20 words of English. If you're lucky, like I was, they'll even show up on time.

Then into the car, with an MP3 player of non-stop prayer tracks (Ramdan, don't you know) for four hours to Cairo. With a quick stop to pick up the driver's brother in a slum on the way. On the upside, he speaks more English. On the downside, he's got a fundamentalist beard and a callous on his forehead from the time spent with his head on the floor. And on the wierd side...he's wearing a U.S. Army PT shirt. I tell him I like his shirt, which he thinks is pretty funny. From there, we drive on, passing through at least four different checkpoints, each one with military/police in a different uniform. But the AK 47s are pretty consistent.

As we approach Cairo, the traffic, horns, air, and driving gets worse. Lines on the road and lights are taken as suggestions. In Cairo itself, it's the ultimate example of individuality on the road. Everyone does what they want, horns are used more than brakes, turn signals are non-existent.

Finally, we reach the airport. I'm dropped off at the opposite end of the airport, due to commo problems. After five minutes of trying to get the point across, I give up and hump luggage over to where The Wife is going to show up. Heading to the restroom to offload the morning's coffee, I encounter an Egyptian tradition: the restroom attendant. His job is to hand you some paper towels and wait for a tip. Unless there's no paper towels, in which case he'll hand you a big wad of toilet paper to wipe your hands on. Then stare at you, until you cough it up.

Eventually finding the wife, and our travel agent rep, we're swept into a van and driven to the hotel. Which I'm pleasantly suprised to find is quite nice. Except for the metal detector in all the entrances, staffed by the tourist police. Where I find out carrying a folder with a four inch blade is quite illegal in Egypt. Thanks to being an ignorant American with an Egyptian Ministry of Defence ID, I'm permitted to hand the blade over to my tour rep, who will return it to me at the end of my leave. In the meantime, I have instantly become the most recognizable foreigner in the hotel to the tourist police, who apparently think I'm borderline insane. I'm informally questioned on it by the police at the metal detector, who can't believe people are allowed to walk around with weapons in the United States. The same officer has difficulty believing there aren't police with automatic weapons every few blocks in the US. Regardless, we make it to our room and settle in until our scheduled sound and light show at the pyramids in the evening.

Which will follow later, when my fingers are more coordinated ......

Wednesday, September 17, 2008

I'm Back (Dammit)

Two weeks of leave ends today. I now have a much greater appreciation of what's out there in Egypt, and an exponentially greater appreciation of living in the United States. Pictures to follow over the next couple days.

Sunday, September 14, 2008

Ugly Gun Sunday

The Mateba Semi auto Carbine. The caliber is 44Mag and the barrel length is 18”. A rather ungainly adaptation of the Mateba semi-automatic revolver:

(revolver image credit to THR Senior Member GunTech)

I don't find the Mateba revolver particularly unattractive own it's own; it seems well finished and of good quality. It's when someone decided to slap an overly long barrel, slabs of wood for a forward grip, and a stock that looks like five minutes of thought went into it that it becomes ugly. With a little bit of shaping, and an eye towards wood that is more than utilitarian, they could have had something unique and attractive at the same time.

Sunday, September 7, 2008

Ugly Gun Sunday

This gun was purchased and customized in Turkey.

Another example of technical excellence, aesthetic ignorance. When you decide to showcase how many different techniques can be shoved onto one gun, aesthetic appeal is pretty much out the window. A sporting arm doesn't need to be minimalist, but restraint is a function of art in itself.

Tuesday, September 2, 2008

Just A Little Thought....

for those who think cultural diversity is a United Colors of Benetton commercial. The wellspring of the Religion of Peace has one of it's employees speak about career satisfaction.

And that thought of mine? While some of you might think we're all the same once you get past the different clothes and languages, I don't. And neither do they.