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What is it like to live in Luxor? Share your experiences of Luxor's culture.

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Egyptian Pharaoh
Egyptian Pharaoh
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Home, Health and Happiness

Post by Dusak »

The A-Z of life (Part H)

As the saying goes, an Englishman's home is his castle, but in this country, the cash in the vaults belong to the Egyptian builders as you are constantly required to pay extra for their mistakes and for extras you did not ask for. In the UK all my working life my main employment was within the building trade and for me, building a house from the ground up was easy peasy, not having to give it much thought as it came natural once I had viewed the plans. As I was to find out in relation to my home being built, the Egyptian builder has the same opinion, its easy peasy, but they never think. Thinking is not part of their remit. Its one of heads down, arses up and work. When setting out the ground works in the UK, you use tried and trusted methods to create the perfect shape that is indicated on the drawings before any excavations are started. These are lined in and pegged out to profiles that the excavator will dig to. It is very rare that these buildings, no matter the shape are a couple of millimeters out.

The Egyptian method is simple. First you have a large group of mixed family's arguing over each millimeter of land boundary, then, with extra accuracy they mark out who has bought what and who now owns what. After two or so days and every one is happy it is ready to build. They mark out the trenches that the first stage excavations are to begin plus the steel reenforced concrete pillars. All this is done by chalk, or white spray paint, although they use whatever is to hand. The only problem is, is because they have all walked over the lines, correcting and re-measuring, the lines disperse under trampling feet. But they build anyway. This I think is where the term guesstimate originated from.

When they start to build here they adopt the trusted method of A to B. And this A to B principle is represented by the space between any two concrete pillars they decide to start from. These pillars have been created by wooden shuttering which in turn have the steel bars placed inside. The last section is fixed and the concrete is then poured in using a very large container that looks like a handless frying pan. This must be one of those periods of much joviality as for no obvious reason they all start to shout and cheer as the concrete is flopped down each one. The only problem with this method is one that starts with the shuttering.

The shuttering 'team' consists of a load of kids that must be on some kind of day release scheme, these I call the second generation, 14-16 year old's. They spend the first two days straightening out sixty thousand nails that must of done the rounds on various buildings in and around Luxor at least ten times. Once this task has been completed they then commence constructing the vertical boxes. The employment of a slightly older boy with at least one good working eye is critical at this point as he is in charge of preventing the Pisa problem, that is not to allow the stuttering to lean by more than three degrees. This is what the good eye is for. When this eye test is completed to his satisfaction and at least four of the pillars are in-line, the steel is placed in the boxes, that's if it fits. The open side of the box is then closed using timber. The only problem is with all the banging the box receives from this, usually tends to put the box out of true vertical. So in fact, one eye could of got an extra day in school as his time and effort has been wasted.

When the concrete begins to flow I always think it better to evacuate the area for the expected six to eight hours the mixing will take, thus preventing the inhalation of the cement dust storm. But you can't evacuate as they have blocked the road with several tonnes of sand, chippings and a hundred bags of cement and the noisy, fume spewing mixer. This mixing team consists of first generation school teams, 12-14 year old's, that attempt to use spades longer than they are and wheel barrows that would hold ten of them with room to spare. Once the concrete is dry the shuttering is removed and building commences, A to B, A to B until they have filled in all the gaps. In a lot of cases these panels of brickwork resemble a fence that has been hit by gale force winds, leaving no sections in alinement.

They construct the walls using the pouring method, another school day release pours the mortar on to the ground and another, but this time, adult member of the team having finished his two week apprenticeship, flops the bricks on top, not showing any concerns if A is going off target to B as a length of timber is occasionally used to correct any misalignment. The only problem is, is that the timber is usually warped or twisted, so defeats the purpose of the exercise. And so it goes on, pour, flop, kick and slap until the panels are finished. Its now ready to shutter out the first ceiling. For this they use half of the Brazilian rain forests tree production for that year, The service conduit tubes are laid then the concrete is poured by hand and all the coughing starts again. When the building is completed, that's when they start to demolish several walls that they have built, but not told to build. You are expected to pay for this 'extra.' Eventually things begin to take shape, but not by any recognizable geometrical ones that you could put a name to.

Next, they begin to cut a thousand meters of ducting out for the plastic conduit for the electric cables. Quit often they would burst through the wall exposing the daylight, but this had an advantage as you could then spy on the people outside. This action, once the house is plastered and painted creates ongoing problems over the years as they continually open up due to drying out and expansion, so you are forever filling and repainting the walls.

The next big job is the ceramics to the floor areas. This is made slightly easier as the three inches thick render the walls have been coated in, does straighten things out a tad. I chose a nice light brown and off white tile, a hundred meters in all. I told the tilers that the right hand wall was going to be the 'sight line'. That is to say, the one the eye would see when going through the house from one end to the other. This would mean that the pieces that would be needed to complete the floor would be against sections of walls that I knew would have furnishings against them that would help hide the one inch to nine inch pieces that I knew would be needed. I wanted a square pattern, like a chess board, brown, white and so on, but in their infantile wisdom, they created an hexagonal one that makes you feel see sick as you walk though due to the undulating pattern cut created by the out of square walls. My floors are now covered in rugs, which defeats the object of having nice tiles. But at least I now have a nice home.

When the house was finally finished I decided to show my respect to my new neighbours I would have a sheep sacrificed to bless the house as is tradition. The meat then going to feed the poor. I thought that this would entail, sheep arrives, receives the cut, sheep goes. One of my new nieghbours spoke good English so ordered the sheep through him at a cost of 1,400Le for a big one so there would be plenty meat to go round. I explained that I couldn't be doing with having the sheep tethered to the outside of my house for three days as I still felt guilty about Larry the lamb. I was going to call it Larry2, but then I thought that this numbering made me look like some kind of sheep serial killer, numbering the victims, so I referred to it as 2Larry, which I thought sounded better, and took on a 'in remembrance and dedicated to' slant on things.

When 2Larry came tottering towards the house as his legs where tied together, you do get a lump in the throat, as you know whats coming and he doesn't. I thought that 2Larry would receive the cut on the street , but they opened my front doors and did the business on my marble floors. This caused concern as marble is porous, and it had cost me 50,000Le for the walls, floors and stairs. As 2Larry was cut, he pumped gallons of blood onto my marble, but at least he didn't seem to suffer, actually, he seemed quite calm considering. Perhaps its because he was a Muslim sheep and its bred into them that this form of demise could happen one day. There were about ten men in attendance. One came forward and proceeded to place his hands in the blood and play patter cake, patter cake all over my marble walls, both inside and out so it soon resembled a scene from the Texas Chainsaw Massacre.

Two men then dragged poor 2Larry's remains outside, then two more started to club it with long poles. I asked my Egyptian friend what are they doing that for as I thought that 2Larry really looked dead so could not see any reason to ere on the side of caution by beating it to death a second time, unless this was the Egyptian method of tenderizing the meat. But he informed me that this was to remove any gas out of 2Larry. Why, I wondered, could a dead sheep still fart? But what do I know. When the men were certain that 2Larry would not be producing any unwanted gas, they cut of his head, placed it into a plastic carrier bag and handed it to an old lady. She looked pleased, 2Larry looked surprised. They then proceeded to cut the wool off, not to concerned if chunks of flesh came with it. This was then given over to someone else. Then the sheep was tied by the hind quarters and hooked off to be left swinging from my metal door frame. 2Larry's stomach was slit and all the intestines flowed into a large plastic sack. This was presented to an old man that apparently would use it to make soup with. Yuck. What remained was cut up and delivered into the eager hands of the waiting poor. A good, but messy result I thought as they all showed their gratitude towards me. Fortunately all the blood was quickly and easily cleaned up.

Illness was the dread word when I cam here. I knew nothing about what kinds of medication was available, few pharmacists spoke little English and the whereabouts of the doctors was a mystery to me. I got to know my doctors via my taxi driver that spoke very good English and knew where everything was. If you had, he informed me, a sore toe it was the foot doctor, or the eye, head, bone ear and mouth doctor. Fortunately for me I never suffered from piles or urinary problems. If I required a visit to the doc's, my driver would start to prognoses on the way and it seemed that I should save my money by taking four freshly squeezed lemons in warm water twice a day until I was cured, no matter what the medical problem happened to be. A fact that didn't explain why the surgeries always seemed to be full. Perhaps these where the unfortunate ones to be allergic to lemons.

My driver always did the talking as the receptionist very rarely spoke English. The waiting rooms were always loud and noisy as the patients called, chatted and shouted to each other. Some would expose parts of their arms, legs, feet to the others as you could only guess at that they were compering problems or attempting to cross diagnose each others complaints. It was as if someone in the room had suffered a particular complaint in the past and had received this form of treatment, they would pass it on to someone else that was there for the same thing so they didn't have to queue to see the doctor. People did seem to just get up and go for no apparent reason. When my driver started to discuss my reasons for being there, the room took on a deathly hush as all strained their ears, listening intently as if they were going to be privy to information concerning an outbreak of an unknown form of plague. The conversation finely ends with the receptionist and I'm asked for 20Le which I thought was the doctors charge, but no, this was to jump the queue to get seen next. This was embarrassing at the time, but didn't seem to bother the other patients waiting.

The driver, then, had always come in with me and always sat in the chair closest to the doctor which I considered a bad choice as I was there to see him, not my driver. My driver and the doctor then start to engage in a verbal review on Tolstoy's War and Peace as the chit chatting took so long. Finally the good doctor gives you an OK lets look at you comment, checks the problem area, writes out your prescription then asked for 50le in perfect English. The treatment? Four squeezed lemons with a little sugar three times daily. Thankfully there are some very good general practitioners today, offering good sound treatments. But the lemon cure still remains a popular choice.

I was very happy when I landed here for the last time, and I remain just as happy today. So nuff said really.

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Re: The A-Z of life

Post by Billy_whiz »

Your tale about 2Larry had me crying with laughter Dusak and brought back memories of when we bought a new car. We had to buy a sheep too, apparently for good luck. Poor thing was brought to the house on the back of a motor bike, then a friend, who was a butcher somewhere in Luxor, came and slit its throat whilst the neighbours cheered him on. To my horror, all the onlookers then smothered their hands with blood and completely covered the car with hand-prints, even the windscreen! We were expected to drive around like that for 2 weeks for good luck. The only lucky thing about it was we didn't run anybody over as we tried to see the road through all the blood!
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