Text: Another dispatch from our friend and correspondent, Virginia Papadopoulo, living and teaching in Egypt.
Photographs: © William Carter 1964: Amid profound changes, has Egypt’s inner spirit survived?
I wish I had good news for you from Cairo, but things just keep getting worse. The word is that the American School in Maadi, where I live, had a number of students leave [see below]. Most of the U.S. Embassy families had to leave and they are closing the U.S. Consulate in Alexandria. Our school out in Sheikh Zayed did not suffer much of a loss, because most of the families are very wealthy Egyptians. Out by our school life goes on as usual – shopping malls are popping up like mushrooms, and the restaurants are open and full. The reason I left the desert [see below] after my first year was because It was not Egypt. Could have been any wealthy neighborhood I have visited in the world.
What does worry me is the incidence of attacks on fellow teachers. One wonderful Dutch couple were mugged twice in the last several months. They are now looking to leave, and they love Cairo. Local Egyptian friends were stopped at check points during the curfew and harassed, threatened, and taken to jail. Two teachers went through very humiliating luggage searches coming from the airport. Small incidents, but they end up being the topic of conversation. There are more demonstrations in my town, but I don’t usually go out on Friday. The town of Mohandiseen where a lot of teachers live is becoming unbearable for many because of the constant demonstrations, and they are moving out near the school and not returning next year.
I am sitting here in my apartment and there are horns blaring, gun shots, and packs of dogs barking, but it could be from a wedding — it is hard to tell.
I am not out and about at night unless with friends, and even that is pretty local. I walk to and from my bus on the same route every day and I know my neighborhood. I greet and am greeted every day and feel perfectly safe – maybe being 70 has something to do with that. Or, maybe I just want to believe everything is ok, to give me another reason to keep doing what I love so much, and to stay here.
Just spoke to a colleague whose husband works at the American Embassy. She was told not to come back in September, but her husband stayed in Egypt. She had to put her three children into schools in the US, but finally returned this week. Her children go to CAC. Her words to me were, “The school had approximately 1,400 students before the first revolution, and they are down to about 900 after the 2nd revolution.” So somewhere between 1-2 hundred have not returned this year. There are several other international schools that have shut down completely, but to be fair, people are returning. Who they are I don’t know. The important thing is that these returns do not significantly improve the tourist trade—it is dying a slow death. It is absolutely the perfect time to “See Egypt” —no crowds.
When I say the desert, I am talking about an area called Sheikh Zayed, and it is in the larger area of 6 October. It is southwest of the pyramids, (which we see twice a day, and still bring tears to my eyes) and probably 25 miles out. Initially the drive was through farmland—beautiful. There were compounds near the school, but mostly sand four years ago. The view from the front of my school was truly nothing but desert. There were no restaurants in our area and only one huge grocery store to shop in a few miles from where we lived, which you had to take a taxi to. That was four years ago, and the reason why I wanted to get out of the desert and move into the life of Cairo proper. Today the sand is gone and all you see for miles and miles are huge walled compounds and shopping malls. The beautiful farmland is vanishing, and it seem the reason is because there is no control on building. I should have invested in cement and construction equipment four years ago!
Above: Pharaoh-like statue of dictator General Gamal Nasser outside Supreme Military Headquarters, 1964: in six decades of change, does a need for strong-armed authority persist?
Timing Can Be Everything
Politics — and photojournalism — make for unexpected relationships.
In 1956 the rulers of impoverished communist China tried something new. They suddenly announced North America was free to send its reporters into the insular nation. Wary of the gambit, the U.S. State Department refused to lift its own ban on Americans visiting this (then) arch-enemy. Canada, however, said okay. Quick to apply was David Lancashire, a bright 25-year-old working for an obscure provincial paper. After China accepted Lancashire’s application, the Associated Press, defying threatened U.S. sanctions, handed this Canadian photo-newbie a camera, wirephoto instructions, and a ticket to the insular Peoples’ Republic.
The first North American correspondent to cover the People’s Republic in the seven years since its birth in 1949, Lancashire travelled more than 5,000 miles across China in six weeks, producing a groundbreaking series of reports on life there — including a story on China’s Last Emperor, Pu Yi, living under house arrest. At Peking airport Dave gained unprecedented access to the makers of one of history’s most famous revolutions: his widely seen “radiophotos” featured Mao Tse Tung, Chou en-Lai, Indonesian ruler Sukarno, and associates (see below).
After that performance, the A.P. hired Lancashire permanently. In 1964 we met at A.P.’s Beirut bureau. Swapping stories of field assignments, Dave and I shared a strong side interest in jazz: he played trombone, and I played clarinet. We formed a little group rehearsing in one another’s living rooms, and even landed a theater gig as the pit band of a British musical comedy, The Boy Friend. Lancashire moved from Beirut to London about when I did, in 1966. Our friendship deepened over the years, and he became Best Man at Ulla Morris’ and my wedding in California in 1984.
Prior to Dave’s death in Toronto in 2007, he sent me some of his historic China negatives, which I hope to transfer to an appropriate institution. Below are highlights of his coverage of Mao, Chou & friends — followed by a photo of Pu Yi, the Last Emperor — then followed by one of us jamming in Beirut, and finally a 1985 wedding photo of best man Dave, bride Ulla, and groom Bill.
Update on this story from Les Daly, a friend and colleague of Dave Lancashire’s:
November 26, 2013
I am looking for the compliments desk and the complaint desk.
Compliments for the delightful report on our pal Dave. It really brought back a lot of good memories. Well done, my friend.
Which brings me to the complaint desk, and some memories of my own with Dave,
“a bright 25-year old working for an obscure provincial paper.”
Bright, yes. 25-year old, yes.
The “obscure provincial newspaper” was The Herald in Montreal, Quebec, Canada, which I believe was Canada’s largest city at the time, and may still be although of that I am not sure. The Herald was a feisty tabloid, one of three or four English language dailies, that gave young reporters like Dave and me a fair amount of latitude and excitement and an opportunity to learn the craft, as we would later like to think of it, from reporting right through to putting the paper to bed. It died, as did its broadsheet parent, not long after we left, although I doubt the events were related.
Why do I care?
Because Dave and I were working on the Herald together. I was a sportswriter, my first professional newspaper job. Dave was a city-side reporter. We used to hang around together, and ski together and think about girls together. Dave thought better than I did and was far more successful. Always. It might have been the trombone or the skiing, or both. Or just Dave. After he quit the paper and went back to Toronto, he called me one night (we worked nights) and said he was going to China and asked if I wanted to come with him. I told him I couldn’t do that because I am an American and we were, as you point out, still forbidden to travel there. Then, being a sportswriter and thus with limited worldly vision, I asked him, “Why are you going to China anyway?”
“Because,” he replied in his laughing way, “I like Chinese food.”
I asked him, “Can’t you get takeout?” At which point he said goodbye and hung up.
Later on I saw Dave in Beirut, where I believe I first met Ulla, and later in London after he left Beirut claiming he was tired of the Middle East where at press conferences he “was the only guy in the room without a gun.”
More relevant is that Dave and DeeDee stayed with us in Los Angeles when they came for your wedding. I saw them several times after that in Toronto when I went there on business, and followed DeeDee’s condition, and we talked often on the phone but not often enough to know what was coming for Dave. I regret that.
Anyway , you did a fine job and the photos were notable too. Thanks for bringing him back in a way.
Google Announces New/Old Name for its Operating System
———————————————by William Carter————————————————————–
Every city has its seamy side. More so, perhaps, ancient Mediterranean ports long accustomed to serving a variety of visitors — from circulating sailors, to Saudi sheiks, to sun-seekers, to sidewalk speculators.
When Google announced “KitKat” as the name for the latest version of its Android operating system, I thought both of the Nestlé candy bar and of a formerly well-known Beirut strip joint. That bustling city has always attracted a large supply of entertainers — featuring European blondes — to work at every level, from the posh Casino du Liban, on down.
The Kit Kat Club was on the waterfront not far from where I lived from 1964 to 1966. I photographed dancers there, and later in their apartments, as part of a wider magazine story — “Women of Beirut” — a multi-leveled portrait of this tribal/sophisticated city which I never got around to finishing.
The bottom image. below, shows a larger, seamier section of town which appeared to feature brunettes.
A year later came the 1967 Arab-Israeli War, followed by Lebanon’s long, brutal internal conflicts — but by then I was gone.
Fast forwarding 47 years, on November 6, 2013 I was heartened to note this passage by Walter Mossberg in the Wall Street Journal: “While the primary goal of KitKat was to run in a much smaller amount of memory, it has a few notable new features. The phone app now places recent and frequent callers first in its favorite call list and de-emphasizes the full list of contacts…”
photographs © William Carter 1966
Responding to my recent blog — my memories and photos of Cairo over half a century old — a good friend sent us the following. Ginny Papadopoulo is a school teacher who has long lived in Cairo at ground level. An American formerly married to a Greek, Ginny once upon a time ran a folk music cafe in Boston where people like Bob Dylan and Joan Baez performed, and later taught special ed in Kuwait. She adores Egypt — but is far from romantic about current conditions:
I wish I had more to report from Cairo, but it is just the same. I am not close to any demonstrations, but they do go on every Friday and Saturday. Muslim Brotherhood is digging in their heels and not backing down. They want the military out and their brothers out of jail. The longer I am in Cairo the more I believe the people want the military keeping their boots on their necks. Democracy as we know it will never happen. You must change the mindset of the people and I work very hard to teach my 4 year olds to work together for a better country. Their parents certainly don’t get it. It breaks my heart to see the poor struggle for bread and clean water and are still paid peanuts. I just heard that the workers at my school are paid $43 per month. I give and give during the holidays and whenever I can, and I know it is not enough. All I get are glimpses of what the real poverty is. We cannot imagine. I was communicating with a woman who grew up in the 1930s-40s in Zemalak, and her father was some big diplomat or director of the university or something. Once she understood what Cairo meant to me, she had nothing to say. She only wanted to relive the dream world she came from. What do I expect.
————————————————————————————————————————PHOTOS BELOW BY WILLIAM CARTER————————————— In the oil-rich Middle East, widespread poverty and human displacement bloom amid top-down rule and the wealth of extractive industry.
BELOW: Checking the View: Supreme Egyptian Military Headquarters, Heliopolis (Cairo):
BELOW: “Meanwhile, the rich get…”: U.S.-favored former Tunisian ruler Habib Bourguiba, 1965.
All of above photographs © William Carter. Below photographs uncredited, via William Carter courtesy Camera Press (London).
Meanwhile, fundamentalists of every stripe have always liked to impress with “shock and awe”:
I landed in Beirut in 1964 knowing nothing of the region. I was there to represent a New York photo agency — when such outfits had their people stationed around the world doing photojournalistic assignments.
One of the first people I met was the New York Times’ Middle East bureau chief, Dana Adams Schmidt. A seasoned writer, he was just leaving for Egypt, Yemen, South Arabia and Yemen: did I want to go with him? I jumped at the chance.
In Cairo I accompanied Dana on some of his political interviews. Nasser was in power trumpeting his anti-colonialist, pro-socialist, Arab-nationalist agenda. Since time immemorial the Egyptians, with their proud history, had considered themselves the cultural and political leaders of the Arab community.
The term for this outlook was — and is – Masr, Um al-Dunia: “Egypt, mother of the world.”
I had time to explore the teeming, wonderful streets. The following year I would return to the Nile Delta photographing for a UN agricultural development agency. The country’s problems were deep — seemingly intractable — yet the faces were joyous. I can only hope some of that spirit survives the latest crisis. Half a century seems less long inside a seedbed of civilization.
Thanks to all those who responded positively to my last blog, “Crossing Party Lines — Creatively.” Several of you complimented us on our wedding pictures! Which made me realize, to my chagrin, that I had neglected to thank and credit our good photographer-friend, who graciously gave us those lovely prints 28+ years ago: Esme Gibson! The event was in San Marino, California, and was one photo opportunity I couldn’t handle myself.
I regret I have no such light to shed on the current Syrian tragedy. But you can see my earlier blogs on the reported damages to that nation’s ancient monuments and peoples: “Contested Stones Redux” and “Plight of Syria’s Kurds Breaks into the News.”
Plus, here are four more photographs, semi-related to current events in the Middle East.
The first, done on assignment from the US Information Agency, shows the Baghdad Museum, its ancient Mesopotamian treasures still intact, in 1965 — long before the destruction occasioned by the U.S. invasion of Iraq.
The second photograph is of unemployed men in Aleppo, Syria in 1993.
The third is from Gaza in 1993.
The fourth is in an orphanage in Jerusalem, 1993.
All photographs © William Carter.
When angry goons with Kalashnikovs slung over their shoulders banged on the door, the man who later married us opened with a big grin and invited them in for tea.
Such was the spirit — and cross-cultural savvy — of John Markarian, the founding President of the Armenian-American College of Beirut, a post in which he served for three decades. The date was October 26, 1975 — in the depths of the terrible civil wars that destroyed Lebanon’s old image as the Switzerland of the Middle East.
John’s invitation to the goons was the first of several similar incidents in which he effectively saved the college. A devout Presbyterian minister with a Ph.D. from Princeton, he knew Muslim society almost as well as he knew the Bible. His actions at the college door — and later the title of his autobiography — came to him from the Book of Proverbs, and Paul’s Letters to the Romans: “When your enemy is thirsty, give him a drink.”
Leaving their weapons near the door, the would-be assailants happily sat down and sipped Arab-style cups of tea with John and his wife Inge — then departed, leaving the college alone.
Not that a similar strategy would necessarily work in Cairo today. Still, it’s worth remembering that fixed positions often lead to fixed bayonets.
I am glad the U.S. State Department is no longer led by Condoleezza Rice. In Cairo, near the beginning of her term, she announced very publicly to Hosni Mubarak and the listening Arab world that the U.S. was about to confer democracy on the Middle East.
I did work out of Beirut as a photojournalist in the 1960s. For many more years I have worked as a fine-art photographer, and for even more years I’ve been a semi-professional jazz clarinetist.
But some of my richest experiences were as a devotee of spiritual master Baba Muktananda in India. The rules in his traditional Hindu ashram were strict. More broadly, that experience freed me to more fully appreciate, later, the achievements of many other deep masters, such the Dalai Lama.
Now pushing 80, I have been assembling my jazz pictures and memories spanning six decades. Crossing – or not crossing – party lines can have consequences in this field as well. Originally a fierce traditional-jazz purist, I gradually modified that position. For one thing, I noticed that the jazz masters were less often purists than many of their fans. They played as they played — and were cordial with their colleagues across the aisles of nightclubs and recording studios.
Twenty-five years ago, in Mendota, Minnesota, I had dinner with famous bassist Milt Hinton before working a gig with him. Showing me layouts of his new photo book, Milt told me how he had transitioned through every style of jazz, from the 1920s, through years on the road with swing bands, to studio gigs in the “golden age” of modernism and after.
As for me, I still just play funky New Orleans clarinet from the earliest period of jazz. The other night we played a Lindy Hop swing dance with Clint Baker’s band: not even a bandstand, and the light I could see in the dancers’ eyes and feet had no name or form.
The politics appear far from hopeful for the foreseeable future.
That wonderful land, with its vast plurality of peoples, has a long habit of being governed by pharaohs.
We can only hope Egypt, with its sophisticated depth, soon finds its way back to a sense of unity in diversity — a vision of its own stillness at the core.
Above: Pastor John Markarian officiating at Ulla’s and Bill’s wedding, March 23, 1985.
Below: Dick Hyman at Filoli, near San Francisco: the fleet, versatile jazz pianist is known for his expertise across the “party lines” of many styles and periods, from ragtime to swing to contemporary.
Photograph of Dick Hyman © William Carter 2010