It could have happened to anyone, right? On second thought, probably not . . .
Back in 1980, a good friend of mine (first name Scott) was in the State Department employed at our embassy in Cairo, Egypt. At that time, I had
just gone through a divorce and Scotty, knowing I could use a break, invited me to take my vacation in Egypt and stay at his apartment for a couple of weeks. Having never been anywhere in
the Middle East, I accepted. Little did I know those two weeks would include one of the most bizarre incidents I would ever be involved in.
A little background here: at the time I was employed in the Pentagon doing analysis of Soviet air defense capabilities, especially Russian-built surface-to-air missile (SAM) sites. Egypt in 1980 was loaded with SAM sites, even though Anwar Sadat had thrown the Soviets out some time before. Anyway, it was one thing to see Soviet missiles on long-range photography, quite another to see them “up close and personal!” Bear in mind I was just a tourist and was not there in any official capacity. But, sometimes opportunity just presents itself and you have to take advantage of it . . .
So here we were in the seaside city of Alexandria walking along and what do we come across? A missile base! Right there on a point of land jutting out into the Mediterranean was a Soviet-built SAM site with four gleaming missiles sitting on the launcher. I just HAD to get a picture. So I had my friend sit on some rocks and pretended to take his picture, carefully adjusting the zoom lens so I would capture the missiles, radar, and so forth. I took the shot and we started to leave. All of a sudden someone tapped me on the shoulder. I turned around and found myself looking into the eyes of an Egyptian soldier.
Keep in mind, tourist or not, I was a Defense Department employee with a security clearance and here I am taking a picture of a foreign missile base - I could have been locked up as a spy! So I looked at the soldier, my life flashing before my eyes as I wondered what Egyptian jails were like. He held up something black in his hand and said “You dropped your lens cap.” Sheepishly, I took the cap and said Shokran, (Arabic for ‘thank you”) and we walked away. A minute or two later, Scott and I were practically cracking up over what had just happened.
That wasn’t the only highlight of that trip. I had been out partying one night and got in late. Early the next morning Scott insisted I get up to go horseback riding and all I wanted to do was sleep. He practically threw me into the shower, telling me how great this was going to be. Well, later that morning I found myself riding an Arabian stallion through the desert out to the pyramids - I felt like Lawrence of Arabia! To this day, I still thank Scotty for dragging me out of bed that morning. The trip also included tours of the Pyramids of Giza (got a great picture of me in front of the Sphinx), and the ruins of the gigantic temples at Karnak and Luxor - among the most incredible places I’ve ever visited. There was also a great ride down the Nile River on a felucca, a traditional Egyptian wooden sailboat.
Speaking of boats, one amazing thing (among many) we saw was the Pharaoh Khufu’s solar boat which had been buried next to his pyramid for over 2000 years. It had been discovered in 1954 and then painfully reconstructed. Today it is over 142 feet long and sits on pedestals in its own, specially-built museum. (It turns out there are several more of these boats still buried. They were apparently built to allow the dead pharaohs to sail into the heavens.) To see these centuries-old monuments and artifacts really helps to place the accomplishment of the ancients into perspective - how on earth were they able to build these things. I found myself one morning staring at the sphinx and the pyramids (they’re huge!) and thinking that, some 2000 years ago, Julius Caesar must have been standing here and looking at them -- and they were already some 2000 years old!
I sincerely hope the current political situation in Egypt stabilizes - it’s an incredible place to visit. I’d love to go back but, this time, I’ll be a bit more careful when I take photographs. Oh, and thanks again, Scotty!
NOTE: "DULY CONSTITUTED AUTHORITY" had been selected by Readers Guild to be part of an upcoming anthology of thrillers. Unfortunately the company's fortunes have taken a turn for the worse and the contract has been terminated. Therefore "Duly" is now available for purchase at Amazon
My latest novel, "In the Name of the Sun," is now finally finished. I had hoped to get this one published the "traditional" but I have decided to self-publish (see my "miniblog" for more on this). "Sun" is best described as a science fiction thriller.
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