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Thursday, March 23, 2017

Construction in Progress

I had always thought there was something special about this house in our neighborhood. For me, it had a magical quality to it.  I photographed it about 4 years ago and was glad I did as it disappeared shortly afterward.

If you hide the satellite dish, remove the sofa and clean up the trash, you can imagine it as the hired-hand's home when paired with this stately old manor house nearby.

With a little imagination, you would have an ideal setting for a Naguib Mahfouz or Agatha Christie novel set in the Egyptian countryside a hundred years ago.

The old dusty house sat on the last vacant lot on our street giving us a shortcut over to Ragab Sons supermarket.  Here's the lot, before and current.
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About a week ago, I noticed a crew going to work drilling holes in the pit for a high-rise foundation.  I had to stop and admire the crew.  Some projects use major-league heavy equipment to do this kind of work, but here the crew is doing it the old fashioned way, turning the drill bit by hand.

They are not without some power tools; they have an engine and winch to lift the drill bit back out of the hole.  Here is a look at both the drilling rig and the drill bit.
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I feel bad that I will miss much of the construction over the next nine months, although this building will likely be going up slowly.

I've photographed quite a few of these construction projects which result in ten to twelve story buildings.  The building techniques are very straightforward.  After the foundation footings are in and a foundation poured, each floor is poured.

Concrete support columns are extended upward by one floor.

Bricks are used to fill in the open spaces.

The final building may be just brick-faced or a coat of cement and paint can be added to make it look first-rate. A building needn't be completed in order for families to move in.

I have watched many bricks being laid in Egypt.  I have never seen a piece of string used to maintain a straight and level line.  There is clearly some great cultural difference that requires Americans to insist on straight lines of bricks.

Since 1955, the Egyptian population has increased from about 23 million to 94 million.  This website projects a population of 151 million in 2050.  Eventually, the entire country will be covered with these brick apartments.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

Land for Sale

We took a trip out to Maryanne Stroud's horse ranch and veterinary operation a few days ago.  Linda delivered some cookies and banana bread for the workers and we had a chance to see a couple of lambs born that morning and visit the goats.
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We didn't have access to our usual driver for the trip so we hooked up with an Uber driver, Sayid, who lives nearby and would take us out to the farm and wait for us for a couple of hours.

After our visit, our driver, noting our interest in rural property, mentioned that his family had some farmland for sale and he would be happy to show it to us.  (There are very few Egyptians that do not have a relative with land or apartments for sale!)

We detoured over to his family property about a mile east of the Mariouteya canal, a couple miles south of our appartment.

I should mention that agricultural land in Egypt is measured and sold by the feddan and kirat.  A feddan is almost exactly equal to a U.S. acre (Both were originally defined as the amount of land you can plow with a team of oxen in a day) and there are 24 kirats in a feddan.  So we set out to discover what it would cost to buy a feddan in this area that is rapidly being subdivided.  That should be just about the right size for a country villa with a garden and some space for Linda's long desired stable with a few goats and a donkey.

It turns out that land is the one thing that is not cheap in Egypt!  The going rate for Sayid's family property is around 200,000 Egyptian pounds per kirat.  Translating that for you, figure $280,000 per acre.  And, let's take a look at the lot  We walked down to the road and found this view.

The owner pointed out the boundaries, extending across that plowed area over to the brick wall on the left and down the field to where the horse is standing near the palm tree.  My, that is an unusual shape, I thought.  But he would be willing to part with another 4 kirats along the near left edge to give access to the main road.

"Do you have another piece that is more square," I inquired?  Yes, indeed.  We walked down the road to another lot of about one feddan in size which currently is occupied by a plant nursery.  Much nicer in shape, but the price is higher, 350,000 Egyptian pounds for a kirat.  This lot was 28 kirats for a total price of about $575,000.

We walked back to the owner's villa.  He pointed out that they have city electricity and city water for domestic use plus there is easy access to under ground water for agricultural use.  I noted the electrical service with some skepticism since it appeared to have been slightly re-routed when the owner installed a concrete post near the road and twisted the wires around the re-bar.  The flow from the well system looked pretty good.


We were invited to go up to the top floor of the owner's villa and see the view.  We headed up the stairs only to be blocked at the entrance to the 3rd floor roof by a 3 foot brick wall - presumably a safety measure to keep the kids from tumbling off.  No problem - Sayid and his cousin knocked out the brick wall and we clambered over the resulting pile of bricks to get a good view.

I have to admit the view from the roof is impressive.  It was a hazy day but the Giza pyramids are clearly visible in the distance,

Fortunately, that horse by the palm tree had not moved and was still marking the end of that first long and narrow lot.

We mentioned that we were just starting to look and needed to consider some other options.

On the way back to town, Sayid noticed a good sized plot of land for sale right along the main road and the Mariouteya canal.  This is pricey stuff.  You could probably put up a hotel, restaurant or a factory.  We stopped and Sayid walked down to talk to the owner.  Land of this type sells by the square meter, just as in town, not by the feddan. (There are 4200 square meters in a feddan.)  At 3,800 Egyptian pounds per square meter, a feddan would go for $939,000.
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If you type "Egypt real estate" into Google you will not have to complete the phrase before  "bubble" appears in the auto-completion suggestions.

Unfazed by our lack of immediate interest, Sayid called the next day with the news that he had come upon a feddan with a house and a swimmng pool.  The owner was asking 8 million pounds but would likely take 7.   (A bit over $400,000)

Those apartments in town for $20,000 to $50,000 are looking like pretty good bargains.


Saturday, March 18, 2017

Another walk around colorful Cairo

Let's take another walk  around Cairo to see how colorful it really is.


Who is up for a visit to see all this color in person?

Saturday, March 11, 2017

Guests in Town This Week - At the Camel Market

If you have driven down Minnesota and Wisconsin country roads on Saturday mornings, this scene will look familiar.  The trucks parked on both sides of the road say "farm auction."  In this case, we have arrived at the Cairo camel market.

The camel market is held early each Friday morning and is about a 45 minute drive north of the city.  We left the apartment at 6:30 a.m.

There is an admission charge of fifty pounds (about $3) for each "Tourist Tacket" and another thirty pound fee for the camera.  There were only a tiny numbers of tourists - but a lot of buyers, sellers and camels.


Fortunately, we were with an outstanding Egypt guide, Roshdy, and we guys climbed over a blockade of plywood and hay and were soon up on the rooftop with a view of the market.

How many camels are in this picture?  This photo shows only a fraction of the camels for sale on this day.  I cropped out a couple of closer views of the camels and the deals being made.

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While we were up on the top, Linda was sitting with "the big boss" of the market.  His father and grandfather were camel traders before him.  Like many Egyptians "of a certain age," he has fond memories of president Jimmy Carter whom he met in 1988 when the former President toured the market.
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From an Associated Press article that ran in many U.S. papers in September, 1988:
... The saga began the weekend of Aug. 17, when Egyptian officials telephoned wealthy camel trader Abdel-Wahab Waguih and told him the former U.S. president and his wife, Rosalynn, would be visiting suburban Cairo's sprawling camel market.

The Carters and seven relatives arrived Aug. 18 for a two-day private visit to cap an African tour. A U.S. Embassy spokesman said Rosalynn Carter specifically selected the camel market for sightseeing along with the Giza pyramids and the Sphinx.

... Waguih was instructed to show the Carters around and give them a flavor of Egyptian busi-ness.
For a good article on the Camel Market from 2009, follow this link to the Los Angeles Times.

Many of the deals were being made for wholesale lots.  Large trucks bring the camels from Sudan, Egypt's southern neighbor.  A few people were seeking gentle camels to hire out for tourist rides back in the village by the pyramids.  Some were also being purchased for an upcoming wedding feast.  You might get 300 kilos (660 pounds) of meat from a single camel. The big deals are conducted on a handshake and must be cleared before the next Friday. Camels by the ones and twos are mostly purchased for cash and that camel will likely cost around a thousand dollars or more.
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After you buy, you can load a truck-for-hire at a ramp, or with some pulling and pushing, have him step up into the pickup.  There is an additional fee of 120 pounds ($7.00) to exit the market with a camel.

We stopped for coffee and tea at a coffee house across from the market entrance.  We had brought along our breakfast and it was now about 9:30.
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With their loads secured, many people were now leaving the auction.

After a bit more camel and people watching we headed out to our next stop, the Cave Church.  I blogged about the cave church last year in this post.  Follow that link for more details.

Roshdy and our driver navigated quickly from the camel market in the distant northwest suburbs to the southeastern Mokattam Hills in southeast Cairo.  Since it was around noon on Friday, there was little traffic.

The 20,000 seats of the church were blocked off to the visiting public, but our old friend, the self-proclaimed "minister" of the church from a previous visit had now pronounced himself  a "deacon" and was willing to help anyone climb over the barriers.  He described the coming celebration of Easter on May 16, missing the actual date by only a month.

The wood and paintings in the front of the church continue to look very attractive.
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As is frequently the case, some of the visiting children were anxious to be photographed with foreign visitors and we posed with Miriam, Marlene and Sarah.

Thursday, March 9, 2017

Guests in Town This Week - On or Near the Nile

We spent a day on and near the Nile today.  Beginning at a spot on the west bank of the river, opposite the Marriott, we walked past a few fishermen and then climbed the bridge to cross to the east bank.

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The west bank hosts a beautiful new walkway that so far stretches south to the area opposite Tahrir Square.

We boarded a Felucca sailboat and cruised the river for another hour or so under the skillful hand of captain Mohamed.
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We then drove to the Manial district on Roda Island where the famous Nileometer descends the many steps to the river.  Photographs of the ceiling are a must.
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For lunch we  stopped back downtown at Felfela's where we watched the felafel patties being deep fried.  The menu still features the autograph of president Jimmy Carter.

After that it was back to souvenir shopping and a long walk through the "local market" near Khan el-Khalili with every imaginable item for sale.  Some items even have marked prices.

At the Khan, I speculate whether it is possible for someone to become lost within a shop, not just in the maze that joins the shops.

I didn't buy one of these "mosque lamps" yet because I'm not sure if it would look best at home on the porch, or here in the Cairo condo.