The Great Sphinx

The Great Sphynx Egypt 2010

The Sphinx has the face of a man and the body of a lion.  It stands 240 feet long and 66 feet high.  It is carved out of limestone, but so much is unknown. Between its paws is a 15th-century BC stone tablet that tells the story of a vision given to a prince who slept in the shadow of the Sphinx (and perhaps sought its divine aid) and later became a pharaoh through its intercession.  Then again, who knows.

Giza, Egypt

Oddly, some geologists say the Sphinx’s weathered condition may not have come from wind and sand, but from RAIN.   The Sphinx’s face, especially his nose, was damaged during the French occupation around 1800.  Soldiers used it for target practice for their field cannons (although some people say they used rifles to shoot at it.)

The Sahara Desert

If you added American and Europe together they would not be as large as the Sahara Desert.  It stretches over Egypt, Algeria, Chad, Libya, Mali, Mauritania, Morocco, Niger, Sudan and Tunisia.  In other words, all of North Africa. It is the hottest desert in the world. But about 10,000 years ago, it may have been wet, not dry.

Some sand dunes can be as tall as a 6-story building.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment


The Great Pyramid of Giza Egypt July 2010

Two million stone blocks stacked on top of each other.  The GREAT Pyramid is also known as  the Pyramid of  Pharaoh Khufu.  Of the Seven Wonders of the World, this is the oldest and the most intact. By most estimates, it took 20 years to build back around 2560 BC.  For 3,800 years, this was the tallest man-made structure in the world.   It is 455 feet tall now, but may have been taller, settling into the sand over time. While the pyramid is not hollow, it is not solid either.  There are three known chambers inside, there could be more. Nearby, there are three smaller pyramids for Khufu’s three wives.

You will notice the “cap” of brighter colored stones at the top.  These stones were made of alabaster, and covered the other structural stones. The alabaster reflected the sunlight and served as a beacon when the sun hits it.

The Great Pyramid

As amazing as the size is, think of this–the 80 ton stones that made up the burial tomb for the King are made of granite, which probably came from Aswan, which is 500 miles away! It would be like trying to carry these rocks from Atlanta to Tampa.

The smaller tombs for the Kings' sons

The closest business ot the Great Pyramid is--you guessed it, a pizza Hut/ Kentucky Fried Chicken restaurant

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Night on the Nile


Nile River Cairo July 2010

The Nile is the world’s longest river. It runs 4,000 miles from Middle Africa all the way to the Mediterranean.   It flows through the heart of Cairo.  The oddity of the Nile is that it flows from the mountains in the south to the Mediterranean in the north.  Egyptians thought for centuries that all other rivers were odd, because they flowed the other way.

The Nile actually creates the divide for how Egypt describes itself (sort of like the Mississippi divides East and West in the U.S..  Southern Egypt,  being upstream, is called Upper Egypt while and northern Egypt is called Lower Egypt.  Over 4,000 miles, the Nile is bordered by everything from wetlands to sand dunes. It is as different as the north Mississippi is from Minnesota to New Orleans.

Supreme Press Council Building - Cairo

The Supreme Press Council Building, where I have done most of my work this year, sits in the banks of the Nile, next to the National Museum.

Since 2/3rds of Egypt is covered by desert, the Nile is what makes life possible here, and has since ancient times.  In fact, the very calendar you use, the 12 month 30 day calendar was first based on the cycles of the Nile River.  The growing season, the drought and the harvest season were the three seasons they recognized.

If you want to learn more: go here.

Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Government Run Media

CAIRO, July 7, 2010
Training at Al-Ahram, Egypt’s leading newspaper
Al-AHram, the government owned newspaper, widest circulation in Egypt

Al-Ahram, (which means The Pyramids) was founded in 1875 and is the country’s largest newspaper by far. It is also, with the help of USAID, the most aggressive user of online.  Al-Ahram is so widely read that some have considered it to be an influence on the way Egyptian write.   The newspaper is owned BY THE GOVERNMENT and the government appoints the editors.

During one session, I showed a story about a journalist I know in New York who took on the case of a man who was wrongfully accused of a murder. The journalists dogged the story, hounded the cops, drilled the prosecutor until they all knuckled under, admitted the case was blundered and after 20 years, the accused, convicted man was set free from prison.  One Egyptian journalist grumbled that he thought that was NOT the job of the journalist, it was the job of the police.  I asked “Who will step in when the police don’t do their job?”  He stared blankly back at me. “If YOU were that convict, rotting away in jail, would YOU want a journalist to help? Wouldn’t you EXPECT a journalist to help?  Isn’t that what we are supposed to DO?”  He could tell the sermon was just starting and buckled..”You are right, ” he said, “We don’t talk about that role enough here.”

Let me tell you, we don’t talk about it enough anywhere.  And we need to.

Training at Al-Ahram

Newspapers, especially, are concerned about the wide use of internet to consume news and worry that they will lose what has been a steady business for decades.  I happen to believe that the best remedy to declining readership is higher quality journalism that the public cannot live without. Sure, we have to find new distribution models and sure we have to get stuff on the internet and mobile devices.  But we have to be sure, first, that the stuff is worth reading on any device.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , , | Leave a comment

Not So Nice

Sure as heck, I wrote last night on this blog about how nice people are here in Egypt. As I was writing, a bus driver outside Cairo was whipping out an automatic rifle and gunning down passengers for no apparent reason.  Six died, 16 more were hurt.

As I was riding through the streets of Cairo today, a motorcycle whizzed by and clipped the car in front of us. A shoving and shouting match broke out.  Since traffic was at a standstill, as it often is, it gave us all something to look at for a few minutes.

Cabbie and biker duke it out in Cairo.

The guy in the green shirt, apparently just a passerby, did the most amazing thing.  He stepped in, put his armed around each guy and kissed each one on the cheeks.  He tried repeatedly to get them to talk with each other, but they wouldn’t. So he kissed them twice. One more time and they might have slugged HIM.

Posted in Uncategorized | Tagged , | Leave a comment

Old Cairo

There is simply no way to objectively describe the traffic of Cairo.  The horn honking is non-stop and ever present and seemingly without any logic. I have asked my drivers why they honk their horns and most can’t say, exactly.  It is not frustration, usually, it is just as much a reaction as tapping the brake, sometimes it is INSTEAD of tapping the brake. Every two lane road is packed into a four lane road with motorbikes weaving in between, sometimes with as many as four or five people riding on one bike.  I saw one man with his son, daughter and burka-wearing wife and baby all strapped onto one scooter.

Old Cairo is from about 1400 A.D. or so. Some is older, some newer. The mosques tower above everything in size and importance.


Cairo July 2010


Five times a day, the speakers blare with the Muslim call to prayer–“God is great,”  “There is only one God.”


Cairo Mosque July 2010


Despite how many mosques there are, and given their enormity, the mosques are packed at prayer time.
Some workers who can’t get away from the office or the worksite,  pray at the workplace.  As it was explained to me by my friend Mona Askar, the most senior person at the workplace may lead the prayer.


Outside the mosque, the faithful shed their shoes and enter to pray.  I was so struck by the simplicity of some things here.  The sandals must be similar to those that people wore 6,000 years ago, a flat smooth piece of wood and a leather strap. No Air Jordans or $200 Nikes needed.


Cairo Mosque


Of every photo I captured here, I think the shoes picture is my favorite. It speaks to me about how we Americans get fixated on the material things. How many of us on the way to church, worry about wearing the right shoes. How many Christians would have the dedication to find our way to prayer five times a day, every day, to fast and live a sparse lifestyle.

Beautiful Middle Eastern Muslims need to tell their story and not let their story be told by the actions of radical nuts who share the same religious label.


Mosque in Cairo


I have had many conversations with women journalists here about living in a traditionally male-ruled/dominated culture. Many times I have seen taxi drivers refuse to take fares from unescorted women. Women cannot, of course, pray with men in the mosques.

Several Egyptian women have told me they like wearing the traditional dress, especially the headcoverings/scarves.  The women tell me they still “do their hair” get it cut and styled just as if they had no scarves. Several women have used the phrase “it makes me feel free” to wear the simple traditional clothing.  I don’t fully understand it except that it might be something like the argument that some schools make about children wearing uniforms.  They usually say the uniforms allow the kids to focus on something else, not clothing.

I will add that just as many women tell me they refuse to conform with the male-dominated expectations and wear clothing that you would see in New York or LA. Egyptian women, increasingly, are raising families alone, are influential in the workplace and own homes.   How far have they come? Look at the picture and caption below.


In the Old City, you will see a wooden covering over many windows called “mashrabeiah.” The covering allowed women to look outside without being seen.


There is a LOT more work to do here. According to government reports, “women’s illiteracy stood at an alarming 51 per cent in 2003.”

While women have had full constitutional rights, including the right to vote and to run for office since the 1950s, women are still rarely win seats in Parliament.

There have been legal changes, such as Family Court and Children Custody Law.  Men are often forced to pay child support after divorce and marriage laws require men to post a monetary amount to be paid to the woman if the man leaves the marriage.

Four of 10 births do NOT involve a medical attendant (doctor, nurse, midwife.) 25% of women get no prenatal care before giving birth.

Women, by the way, still outlive men.  About half of the men in Egypt smoke, a number that is rising.


ShiSha pipes are widely available -they are water pipes that Americans call “hookah” bongs



ShiShah water pipes are extremely popular here.


For a city so packed with people, poverty and noise, it might surprise you to know that crime is rare here. You don’t see much crime coverage in the papers. “That is just not Egyptian,” my friend Hanaa Gaffar explained to me as we rode through the congested streets as dusk fell.  Not long ago, Hanna visited us at Poynter and was surprised by how much crime there was even in sleepy St Pete, Florida.  The US State Department says, while crime is low, petty theft abounds.  An Egyptian would think a thousand times before committing a crime,” she said.  I don’t have the stats to back her up, but I can say that even elbowing our way through the Old Cairo market, many times, shopkeepers and old men greeted me, ‘Hello my friend.”  It was not a come-on to get me to buy something.  It was a genuine sounding greeting.  I deeply appreciated it.


One of these magical traditions are Ramadan lanterns called Fanoos,(also called Fawanees) which are frequently made from recycled tin cans or plastic lanterns. Lanterns have always been special to the Egyptians. The story goes that Fatimid Caliph Al Hakim Bi-Amr Illah wanted to light the streets of Cairo during Ramadan nights, so he ordered all the sheikhs of mosques to hang Fawanees lit by candles.




Old Cairo Market Cairo July 2010 Cairo Tower



Mona Asker from the Supreme Press Council



Hanaa Gafar Supreme Press Council



Marwa, the hardest working translator in the business. Eight hours of non-stop translation–no problem





Posted in Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Luck and Fate

Good luck and good fortune placed me in the right place at the right time to be selected to come to Cairo to teach at the Egyptian Supreme Press Council.

One of my students working on online project at Supreme Press Council

Thanks to the dedication of the people at USAID, the Press Council is training Egyptian journalists to experiment in online and multimedia, to try new writing forms and to discover stories outside of official government statements.

The Poynter Institute works with Cairo journalists

The Poynter Institute has a contract with the Supreme Press Council to continue training Egyptian journalists in the year ahead.  It is our hope that other Middle Eastern countries will send journalists to the center as well, that it will become a regional center for journalism excellence.

Egyptian journalist Sandra Hakim allowed us to use her as a model to show how to use natural light and shadows on interviewee's faces.

I try to help the journalists be aware of light coming from different sources. In this case, she was standing right in the line of the projector light.

This week, I have been training top Egyptian editors and journalists how to use video and online multimedia, a fairly new concept to Egyptians, where internet connections can still be slow, although smart phones and cell phones are coming into common use.

Al Tompkins training students at Supreme Press Council- Cairo

Posted in Uncategorized