It was a tense time in Egypt. But then, when hasn’t it been? Anwar Sadat ruled with a velvet fist and things seemed secure, though every bridge and important building was guarded by the military or heavily armed national police. The Brotherhood was deemed a constant threat, along with other more militant religious groups, plus a fear that radical Palestinians could mount attacks. In fact, it would not be many years before Sadat was assassinated by one of those groups of militants.
I was interested, of course, intently so, at the history I knew was unfolding around me. I couldn’t know though the details, or the lasting impact these times would have.
I made my way upriver from Cairo, primarily by train in 3rd class, getting off wherever the urge beckoned. My adventuresome spirit returned for a short interval and I made sure to stay only in minus 2-star hotels. I remember writing Kate from one of those hotels. We had been together the last time I had visited the Arab world, and I spilled out to her what I was seeing, mixing in those thoughts with the adventures we had had. I reveled in the sights, the culture, the way the Nile was the basis for all.
It was not that far north of Aswan that I ran into Michel and Andy. They were a gay couple, but obviously, given the times and the location, they were circumspect about it. Michel was a Lebanese architect, and Andy was an American psychologist. Apparently they had met at the Sorbonne, and had been together 5 or 6 years when I met them.
Led by Michel, they were intent on improving the life of Egyptians through better use of traditional building methods for houses. This meant improving mud brick construction. That was their dream anyway. When I met them they were erecting several significant sized structures, using manual labor, and only mud bricks. They were working on methods to improve cupolas, and each of their buildings would feature several.
Nearby was the “brick works” … the flat area where the actual mud bricks were made by hand, then left to bake in the 130+ degree F sun. Michel described the process to me. He emphasized how the mud had to be mixed with straw and some camel dung to make sure the bricks were strong and would hold together and last.
I was carried back to these memories a few days ago. It struck me that it’s really only strands of the common and mundane, mixed with little pieces of shit that are what keeps it all together.