Port Said, Egypt

Monday, February 18, 1929

If ignorance is bliss, I wonder just what lowly place dumbness holds down in the category. Wherever that be, you’ll find me, 99-44/100% pure dumb. The other 56/100% happened to recall that I crossed the Atlantic at three cinders a day. This most remarkable thought, to which I was very kind, made me shake off the hay earlier than I have been guilty of, of late. Taking the letters sent me by the U.S. Shipping Board, I set out to hunt down the agents of one of the Shipping Board lines. The most potent paper I had was an authorization to any agent to give me return passage to the States at the $3-a-day rate. Although Mr. McAndrews in London understood I might go on around, I had no written words to that effect. After chasing from one end of the town to the other a couple of times, I tracked down the victims in the form of the British Coaling Co. It didn’t take long to convince them that I should get passage to India at the same rate along with Mort and Frank, this saving some $15 or $20 apiece for us, to say nothing of raising us from deck passengers to first class. At the present time I am busily engaged in kicking myself all over Lower Egypt for being so dumb in Gib and losing 35 or 40 dollars by it.

Returning to the hotel, I saw a brand new guide book published by the N.Y.K. Lines (Jap or the Nipon Yusen Kaisha). It is a beautiful big tourist guide, bound in blue leather and with paper of the most expensive quality. Just the thing I wanted for it gives history and statistics of many countries and many pictures, quite a few colored. I went to their agents here, Worms & Co., told them I wrote for a newspaper and wanted one. They crashed through handsomely, and if I have anything to say about it, I am writing for a newspaper.

A letter from Mort disclosed the fact that they were going on to Luxor and that one whole day had been spent in tactfully answering a letter from home with reference to some 50 dollars worth of curios, etc. sent home C.O.D. from Algiers. Mention of a very fat check showed the folks willing to take another chance. Wait till they start receiving the 6 boxes of souvenirs bought in Jerusalem! My souvenirs have been confined to one leather cushion cover in Tangiers.

The American Consul or Vice Consul tells me the cargo boats go only to Ceylon or to K–? [Karachi], north of Bombay. May visit Ceylon yet.

As I have very nearly taken on the status of a resident of Egypt, the very least I can do is tell something of the country. Though the total area of Egypt covers 399,976 sq. miles, but 12,226 sq. miles are under cultivation, mainly along the Nile and its Delta. Much desert land has been made arable by means of irrigation. Of the 14,133,294 inhabitants in 1927 [77,253,684 in 2010], slightly over half were females. The Nile—from Lake Victoria by the Equator to the Mediterranean—is 3,473 miles.

Egypt was once part of the Turkish Empire. In 1914 it was placed under a British protectorate which terminated February 28, 1922, when a new constitution signed by King Fuad on April 19, 1923, declared Egypt to be a sovereign state, free and independent, ruled by the hereditary king of the family of Muhammed Ali, the present sovereign being the ninth ruler of the dynasty of Muhammed Ali. The king appoints and dismisses ministers on the proposal of the Foreign Minister. He exercises legislative power concurrently with the Senate and Chamber of Deputies.

Islam is the state religion and Arabic the language. The Educational Dept. has been trying to bring the schools or maktabs together by a system of prizes awarded those who are up to certain standards in teaching reading, writing, and arithmetic. Besides these maktabs are many technical and higher schools including the State University where is taught law, arts, science, pharmacy, and medicine. 82% of the total population are agriculturists.

Egypt’s main product is cotton, which accounted for 90% of its exports in 1920. Wheat, barley, beans, sugar-cane, etc. are also raised. Livestock raised for consumption does not account for much, most being used for purposes of hauling and work. Minerals are not important, the leading ones being phosphate rock, petroleum, and manganese iron ore. The chief industries of Egypt are the textile, chemical, and handicraft.

The Suez Canal is 100 miles long and transverses many small lakes en route. The tide of the canal has a flow of 7 hours and an ebb of 7 hours. Ferdinand de Lesseps brought his plan for a canal before the Sultan Sâid Pâsha in 1854, getting a concession from the latter to form a company and start operations. In 1869 the work was completed. At first the canal was not a success, and de Lesseps died a heartbroken man, in poverty. [Oh my, this was because he totally flubbed the Panama Canal!] Later England took advantage of the adverse financial condition of the Sultan to buy up most of the shares of the Canal Company. In 1888 the Canal Zone became neutral. In 1927, 5,544 vessels passed through it, bringing in a total of $4,026,945.

Once Port Said was a small fishermen’s village, but the Canal has changed it into a city of over 105,000 [460,000 in 2010]. It has largely replaced Alexandria as the starting point for tourists to Cairo. Just across the canal are large coaling depots. It is interesting to watch a large vessel being loaded with coal from barges alongside. A hundred or more men form an endless circle from the coal barge to the ship, each carrying a basket of coal on his back, and each shouting and singing at the top of his voice. So fast do they work that even the largest steamers requiring several hundreds of tons can be loaded in two hours.

Cairo, the capital of Egypt, has a population of over 1,060,000, [17,760,000 in 2010] 60,000 of which are surely sons of the Sheik. It’s plenty expensive and is an oven in the summer, the temperature rising as high as 125°F. Excellent training grounds for debaters, orators, and lawyers.

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