First Working Trip to Cairo, Egypt:

During 1979 and 1980 at CDC I worked with Dr. Irv Kagan on a schistosomiasis project in Egypt. "Schisto" is the oldest known disease documented. Egyptian tomb paintings depict persons with distended stomachs, which are a symptom that the worms have invaded the gut and stomach. They were investigating the effects of schisto on children from autopsy data. Their notions of data collection, manipulation, and analysis, however, were crude and I introduced them to computerized statistical analysis. They had previously set up some computer files in Cairo but they were not very useful because most of the results were missing and because many things were qualitative. So I set up quantitative questionnaires which were very complete [over 600 items per autopsy]. Later, we simplified the data to be gathered and began to get back a lot of data. I had suggested that they get their own computer system and we requested one through the American embassy but did not get it. My next suggestion was that they get the SPSS statistics package to run on some system in Cairo. However we didn't know anything about the computers there! So in 1980 I went thereby myself to investigate. An edited portion of my journal follows:

TRIP to Cairo EGYPT September 3 1980--I arrived in Cairo after 24 hours in the air via JFK and Paris, changing planes at both airports. I had left Atlanta about 2:45 p.m. and arrived in Cairo at about 4 p.m.. I had met a Navy doctor on the plane and he was very surprised when I was met at the end of a very long line and whisked around it by Prof. Sherif, Director of Pathology at Ain Shams Medical University! We went straight through customs with no delay around hundreds of people. The trip to downtown Cairo through Heliopolis and by Ain Shams University took about thirty minutes - the traffic was very noisy and heavy. I stayed at the Nile Hilton which had beautiful furnishings and an authentic frieze on the inside with the usual pharonic theme of several gods. I was very tired that night but went to dinner with some people from Prof. Sheriff's office: (Mohammed El-Shawarby an others) We had beef-kebab. We went downtown later - back of the Nile Hilton. It was incredibly crowded with many small shops, restaurants, movies, and department stores --- people were everywhere! Mohammed and I had black thick Turkish coffee and special fruit juice like prunes.

September 4, l980 -- I had a great breakfast at the Hilton Ibis coffee shop and went to the American Embassy nearby to collect my per diem. I was paid 488 pounds Egyptian (about $700) in cash - ten pound notes which I promptly I deposited in the safe at the hotel. A driver picked me up later that morning and took me to Ain Shams medical school. This was some experience! The place was constructed perhaps only 30 years ago but looked about 100 years old --- broken glass in doors & windows - nothing painted recently - mobs of students. The restrooms had no toilet paper and were smelly and dirty. That afternoon I went downtown to the Arab Contractors computer center, They appeared to be very interested in working with SPSS but based on their initial work I believed that it will be necessary to monitor carefully all data recording and analysis. I was concerned by the initial efforts there - they were not efficient and many problems would have been encountered in data management and analysis. Someone must work closely with the Ain Shams people to obtain the maximum benefit from their data. I believe that it would benefit the pathology department to computerize all of their data but they must have funds and people there to work it out. It is very difficult to communicate with them from Atlanta.


September 5, l980 - We went to the pyramids, just outside of downtown Cairo. Mohammed and another doctor accompanied me via the Giza road. Giza is a suburb of Cairo with many apartments and night clubs- a very broad and beautifully landscaped street with shrubbery in the shape of a pyramid down the center of the street. One just looks up amongst all of the construction and sees the pyramids in the desert sand suddenly! It is a strange and beautiful site. The Sphinx is quite near the pyramids and is smaller than I had expected! But the pyramids were much larger! The smooth top layer had been removed from them perhaps a thousand years ago by setting huge fires and cracking the surfaces. The external surface now consists of huge rough blocks perhaps 5 feet tall There were many families, tourists, goats, and camels everywhere!

The area around the pyramids is filled with tombs both above and below the ground including some demolished smaller pyramids. We went into some of these small tombs with a guide. These guides speak several languages or least now facts about the pyramids in several languages but they don't write and Cannot answer questions! Our guide picked up a few bones in one of these tombs and explained - that they were hones of some mummy! At the side of Cheeps Pyramid is the famous sun-boat which was discovered about 1950. It was in a large underground pit, now empty. The boat is contained in a modern gold aluminum building which is most incongruous with the pyramid! This building is in the shape of a ship! The building and its area were closed and guarded but they let us in the enclosed area. We couldn't see the big ship very well but we did see two more smaller ones buried at the site. They had all been covered by huge blocks of stones. The guide said that these ships were the ones used to bring the stones down the Nile to build the pyramids - not realizing that these ships were only ceremonial - we had a good laugh at this!

The Egyptians are sometimes ignorant of their own history and it seems that westerners are much more interested in the pharonic times than the natives. Later that afternoon we went inside the pyramid of Cheops. First, we climbed up about 30 ft and then entered a small corridor leading into a huge corridor with the ceiling perhaps 20 ft high. This corridor had walkways on both sides with the center lower; it was quite steep. About every 5 ft there were rectangular holds in the floor on each side presumably for inserting pins. Inside this large corridor the walls were made of polished granite with very fine seams. The tomb was about 25 feet square. Two small air outlets to the exterior and to the queen's chamber below could be seen There was nothing inside it except the huge sarcophagus which was larger than the entry door. Mohammed did not go in with me; he appeared to be afraid and superstitious. Our driver did go in but he soon turned around - he called to me that he couldn't make it!

September 6, 1980 I went to an Arab Contractors facility and saw new hospitals being constructed and a huge soccer court capable of seating over one hundred thousand people. I did some thinking about using their system versus a university - based system.

September 7, 1980 Wrote up initial goals and recommendations for the project - not to use the Arab Contractors computer system. This afternoon we went to several churches: St. Marks is popular for weddings; St. Mary's where about ten years ago a "vision" occurred; and St. George's which was over 2000 years old. The columns inside this church were worn very much, there was a grotto inside where it is said that Mary hid. The grotto had several inches of water and the walls appeared to he very old indeed. This church is in a slum area with many donkeys, dogs, cats, and small children in the streets. I took a picture of one child in front of an old window. Later we walked down very narrow old alleys where the walls were constructed over different periods with several types of bricks The entire area is obviously hundreds, perhaps thousands of years old. This section is called old Cairo - where the poorer people live. Dr. Mohammed said that I had seen more of Cairo than Dr. Kagan. They were tailing me to the worst as well as the best places!

September 8, 1980-I went to an Arab night club with Mohammed in the Zamalek district which is across the Nile river north of the Nile Hilton hotel. They had a large 15 person band and several belly dancers. Most of the people there were Saudis and Kuwaitis with scattered Egyptians. The songs sung were directed to the Saudis. Mohammed said that he could only understand a few of the words, although they were in Arabic - the accent had been modified to please the visitors. The band was extremely loud. The dancers worked in their eastern costumes and took nothing off! I remarked that I was the only American there. Mohammed said that it was worse than that -- I was the only westerner there! We had grilled shrimps and cheese for dinner The Saudis present were all in robes and they would give money to the dancers, usually ten pounds Egyptian. The front table was occupied by a Kuwaiti sheik with his entourage. He liked one dancer especially well and gave a one-hundred pound note-the only one I saw while in Egypt! Later, Saudi women came in wearing long black robes and then left quickly! The foreigners had bottles of liquor on their tables although such bottles cost perhaps $50-100. We stayed until about 2 am and then went to the Cave Le Roi where we were not admitted - you had to have a woman with you! I explained that my wife was in the US but the doorman wanted a bribe so we left.

September 9, 1980 -I went to the Egyptian antiquities museum and met the director briefly. This museum is just behind and to the left of the Nile Hilton hotel. He assigned me a guide and we went through the lines with no trouble. This turn of the century museum is filled with hundreds of statues but no pictures are allowed. Tutankhamen's treasures are incredible - room after room - truly amazing. There are four wooden gold leafed coffins the largest being perhaps 12 - 14 feet high. Each fits within the other and each is adorned with incredibly detailed works beautiful very exact, no mistakes. Only highly skilled artisans, not slaves, could have accomplished this kind of work. The additional two inner coffins, one with outer gold leaf and the other of solid gold (150 kilos) are also present. Every portion, top, sides, and bottom is highly and exquisitely detailed, even parts not usually seen but reflected by mirrors. The amount of gold jewelry numbers in the hundreds of pieces. There are many small and large statues. It is difficult to imagine the amount of work that went into the objects in this tomb. There are many stone carvings, several beds, beautiful alabaster vases, lamps, chariots, foodstuffs, -- you name it he was well equipped for the afterlife! This is like nothing else in the world! I left about 2 p.m..

September 10, 1980 I went to Khan El Khali bazaar with Mohammed about 11 am today with a driver and his wife. The bazaar consists of hundreds of very small shops along narrow lanes (no cars) selling about anything you could want: gold silver, leather carvings, pots, you name it! Prices are usually not listed and you must bargain for each item. The purchase of an expensive item requires coffee or tea with the shop owners. Some shops are quite large with antique furniture. I bought some gold earrings for Anne and a silver bracelet and we returned to the hotel later in the afternoon. After you have been out in the hot afternoon sun, the traffic, the crowds, and the dirt, it sure feels great to have a nice hot shower!

September 11, 1980 I had previously arranged an American Express trip to Luxor but found that it was next to impossible to establish a fixed return time for Mohammed to meet me at the airport. Originally I was scheduled to return the second day there on a 9 30 am flight (two day trip) hut I complained that I would miss the second day. Amex: said not to worry I would see everything. They said they would put me on a later flight standby. So I canceled my reservation which really upset them. Finally they said I would return at noon of the second day. All appeared settled!

On the morning of Sept. ll, I left the hotel about 4 am and took a 6 am flight to Luxor. This flight was mostly over desert but you could see the Nile river with its plush vegetation from the irrigation. Luxor is about 500 km from Cairo. We were met at the airport by an local American Express representative who recognized me from talks with the Cairo agent! We went to the small office just by the Winter palace hotel (filmed in the movie Sphinx). I and the only other person were to stay at the French Etap hotel by the river. This new hotel had a beautiful marble entranceway and murals. Four Australian students met us and the guide (Mr. Fawzy). Luxor is a sleepy town which in some respects has not changed much in thousands of years. Transportation is still mostly by horses, donkeys, and carriages except for tourists. You take carriages to various places around town. The village is poor and full of hawkers who are more aggressive than those in Cairo. Mr. Fawzy said the population of Luxor (Thebes) was maybe one million in pharonic times - who knows - but it had to be richer and much larger to produce the quantity and variety of temples seen here.

That afternoon we took a boat across Nile which is very wide here. It must have been hard to cross before motorboats. The west side is the valley of death, where the valley of the kings lies. The east side is the valley of life or birth. The west side had some of the most desolate territory that I have ever seen - it looked like a lunar landscape and must have been about 120 degrees. There were many mud huts here, but also villas.

The valley of kings is about ten miles west of the Nile river, down a winding paved road, through country with little sign of life. It is a complete desert, and the terrain is very rugged. The valley itself is small and the tomb openings are only a few hundred feet apart. There is a refreshment stand on the site with hawkers selling the usual carvings . This stand played a key role in the movie "Sphinx." In ancient times guards were paid to oversee the tombs.

September 12, 1980 (continued) This morning we went first to the tomb of Ramses III. There was a corridor about 100 meters long that was completely covered with paintings of soldiers and other scenes; all of the paintings were carved into the limestone in relief. The paintings are multicolored and quite beautiful. Inside there was a large room with six huge, square columns at the end of the corridor. Two of these columns were purposely unfinished with rough uncut limestone at their bottoms. They were left in that condition so as to bring good luck to the pharaoh, insuring the tomb would not be completed before he died. This room was also painted and carved both on the wall and columns. The room was about 50 or 75 feet by 30 feet. In the center of the room lay the remains of a very large sarcophagus which must have been 15 feet high . The sides and top were broken, but there had been a lot of intricate carving on it. Just behind this room lay the treasure room which was perhaps 25 feet square. One can only imagine what must have been taken from this room! What a loss for humanity. I came away with the feeling that this tomb should be closed immediately because you could touch any part of it and some paint was gone where the tourists had rubbed the walls.

By the greatest of contrasts, the tomb of Tutankhamen was small and nearly austere. The opening for this tomb lay just in front of that of Ramses III. Tut's tomb was completed before that of Ramses and its entrance was covered over by the debris of the much larger tomb. This is apparently why it was not discovered, except early on. The entrance to this tomb was perhaps 50 feet long and had completely unfinished bare rocks with steps. This corridor had been filled with rough rock which Carnavon's men had to carry out. The treasure room was unpainted and was perhaps 10 feet by 25 feet. Just to the right of this room lay the sarcophagus about 20 feet by 10 feet. The walls of this room were painted with life size figures of Tut, offering rewards to the gods. The paintings were very nicely done with excellent colors. The sarcophagus lay in the middle of this room. There were two small storage rooms for food and other supplies. It is difficult to imagine how all of the thousands of items in the Cairo museum could have come from these small rooms: beds, chariots, vases, boxes, hundreds of statues, foodstuffs, and last, but not least, the huge golden gilded boxes! Considering the small size of this tomb one can only guess what must have been present in the richer ones! What a tragic loss. It is obvious that only a dedicated group off artisans and skilled workers could have produced such work.

We next went into the tomb of Thutmos III. It had a long corridor like that of Ramses hut it was not painted. At the end of this corridor there was a fake treasure room which was placed there to fool thieves. A small corridor led to the main room a few feet from the fake treasure room. This corridor would have been originally obscured. However, they took even more precautions. About halfway down the long corridor lay a pit perhaps 40 feet deep and 15 feet across. This must have been left with no way to get across it at the time. The main room was richly painted with six columns hut it was not carved like that of Rameses. Beyond this room was a smaller room in which the broken sarcophagus lay.

This afternoon we visited the valley of queens where the tomb of Nefertiti was located . This tomb has been damaged by tourists and was sealed. However, there was a smaller tomb of the son of Ramses III in which the paintings were absolutely gorgeous! The colors were beautiful blues, oranges, and reds, etc. These paintings were of life-size gods and the prince. The Egyptians held mirrors down the entrance corridor reflecting light so that you could see the paintings and take pictures. They indicated that this was the way that the ancients had been able to see in the tombs. In one corner of the tomb was a child's mummy which may have been a brother to the prince. I felt that they should close this tomb immediately due to the incredible beauty of the paintings - surely they will soon be lost. I was unable to learn from the Egyptians about further tombs. Apparently, it is believed that most of the Pharaohs tombs were robbed, however it is also thought that some [not in the Valley of Kings] have not been discovered.

Later the same day we went by car to the temple of Hapshetsut. This temple was completely covered by sands until being excavated by Napoleon's troops, in about 1800. It is three stories high and perhaps a few hundred feet wide - very large indeed. Inside there were many columns but most interesting were the wall paintings. These mostly depicted the travels of the queen showing ships laden with lumber, animals and suppliers that had been traded on journeys. The queen had turned Egypt from war activities to economic ones and she was very successful. The ceilings of the palace were done in a deep blue background with yellow stars, and the colors were very rich and contrasted beautifully. There was one very interesting fact that the guide pointed out. The architect of the palace (Senmut) had wanted to be remembered for his work. But in those days only the pharaoh was to be honored. So he had a small room built, only a few feet square and about three feet high with an opening door. Behind this door lay his statue which was obscured when the door was opened!

We also saw some very large temples on the west side of the river. These were the Rameseum and a 2nd one for Tuthmos. The Rameseum had huge carvings perhaps 10 feet high on the front walls. There were very large columns about 6-8 feet in diameter. Interestingly, succeeding pharaohs defiled the works of their predecessors. So Thutmos had the hieroglyphics carved into his columns several inches deep. Therefore, his successors could not erase his works so easily!

Later that afternoon we went back across the Nile. I walked south from the Etap hotel to the temples of Luxor. Originally these temples and the ones at Karnak (about 5 miles north ) had been connected by an avenue (possibly a canal) with small sphinxes along it. These had been gathered up and stacked at Karnak. The modern town now covers this avenue. A large number of columns survive at the southern temples and these are done in a beautiful lotus pattern. The walls here are about 50 feet high. There are many large Pharonic statues about 20 feet high. I shot a beautiful slide at sundown with the Nile in the background and the sun streaming through the ancient columns. It is hard to imagine that they have been standing for 3000 years!

But these temples are small compared to those at Karnak. Here, building took place for more than one thousand years. Each pharaoh added his own homage to the gods. The front walls are 50 meters high! behind these walls lay the splendid Hypostyle hall. It had 154 pillars in sixteen rows. Each pillar measures 75 feet high by 30 feet in circumference. It is said that fifty men could stand on the capitals of these pillars. Huge blocks adorn the tops of these pillars. There must have been a second floor at one time here. Each pillar was carved with hieroglyphs and , in some cases, he paint can stll be seen, even after thousands of year!. Behind this hall lay other temples - acres and acres of them. Behind all of them lay a (now dormant) lake where the pharaohs could go boating! There were giant obelisks there, erected by queen Hapshetsut. I climbed up to the base of one of these to inspect the hieroglyphs closely. The circles ovals and carvings such as birds, and flowers were all perfect! The circles were exactly the same diameter and extremely round. Remember that these were done in solid rock! How in the world did they do it?

I asked the guide if he could go back to see the ancient city (known as Thebes), what period would he choose? He said that at about 1000 B.C. the temples would have been at their prime. Yet these structures have survived another 3000 years! What will we build in the US that will last that long?

That afternoon we were told that Egypt Air had canceled all flights to Cairo. Then we were put on an early morning flight out at 8 am. In the evening I went to the Luxor museum but it was not too great. If I ever get back to Luxor, I would really like to see the Karnak sound and light show at night.

The next morning I got up at 6 a.m.. to make the 8 a.m. flight but no plane came into sight. However, about 9 am, a plane came mysteriously into view and I took off with some Australian tourists. As we were taking the taxi to the airport we came across a funeral procession. All of the participants were riding donkeys and the body was being drawn in a hearse pulled by a donkey. Sometimes the poorer peasants hire breast beaters who cry out loudly to provide the proper amount of mourning for the affairs.

September 13, 1980 I went to Ain Shams this morning and prepared a set of final recommendations for the project. I examined pathology specimens in a huge room with Mohammed El Shawarby and many students. Interestingly, you see all kinds of dress here among the students. Some of the women wear the black chadors and some of them dress in the western style. I saw one girl covered from head to toes with black rubes and a chador, nothing was showing except a small slit for her eyes. Mohammed said that she was a member of an ultra - conservative sect.

September 14, 1980 -This morning I left the Nile Hilton with Mohammed, Dr. Farshy, and his girlfriend to go to Sakkara and the Citadel. Sakkara is the site of Zoser step pyramid which is the first large pyramid constructed about 4500 years ago. It is supposed to be the oldest surviving large structure in the world. The pyramids at Giza were all constructed within one hundred years, which shows how rapidly the idea rose and died out. The way to Sakkara is down Giza avenue, towards the three pyramids, but you turn left a few miles before you would if you were going to the pyramids. Then you follow a canal southward for about 15 miles. Along this Canal are many little towns and farms. The standard of living here declines drastically as you leave the city. Local transportation is by donkey, camel, and buffalo. Many of these animals and the large population of dogs rest in the shade by the side of the road. Children are playing along the canal banks under the few trees -- watch out for Schisto kids -- this is the perfect environment for the snails carrying the worms!

At Sakkara the desert is as abruptly reached as that at Giza but Sakkara is much more remote with far fewer tourists. A robed Arab, accompanied by his dogs, collected the entrance fee. There were no vendors here like the ones at Giza. The initial entrance way is through a partially reconstructed temple. The step-pyramid of Zoser dominates the scene as it is perhaps 200 feet high and very large. It was built with stones about 2-5 feet as opposed to the huge carved blocks at Giza. They were not fit together as nicely - the stones were just jammed together. It is not in great condition. The outer cover has been removed and rocks are falling away. It is built in about four distinct layers, each smaller than the other, thus giving the step appearance. However, this site contains many different temples constructed over thousands of years most of which have been destroyed and leveled. You can't walk in the sand here without stepping on old stone steps which have been broken. Many large limestone and granite blocks abound. The floors of temples lie everywhere but the walls and columns are mostly gone. Those that still stand are incredibly diverse, having been constructed at various times. It was impossible to tell which wall was constructed firsts there were so many built right next to each other.

There were quite a few large excavations here - pits 30 feet square and maybe 100 feet deep and many other smaller ones. These pits had no rails! So you had to be very careful not to fall into one. I climbed down one pit about 50 feet deep, using sand covered steps built long ago. At the bottom was a tomb but I couldn't see inside of it.

By climbing up one high temple, I was able to see the "bent" pyramid. It appeared to be several miles away. The sides of this pyramid have a bent appearance due to a change of the angle when the sides were being constructed. My friends did not know how to get to this pyramid. This situation was apt for the Egyptians don't seem to use maps. They appear lost once outside of Cairo!

This entire area here has a very forbidding appearance - lifeless desert and rocks - it is difficult to imagine how people could have lived here. The climate must have changed drastically.

  • Click to Return to Main Page
  • Click for Egypt # 2