Ripples Following Ripples ~ THE SMILE OF THE SPHINX

Disembarking at Nuweiba, I went with everyone else to the pyra-mid-shaped Immigration office. Most people already had visas for Egypt, but since the guide-book said visas could be obtained upon entry, I lined up to pay the $15 fee and waited for my pass-port to be endorsed. I was in Egypt, the Land of the Pharaohs. Strange how I’d never been there before, but my route as a youth had taken me to India and back by the shortest way; it was India that attracted me in those days; it still does.

Formalities complete, I headed for the bus-station nearby. People from the ferry were going in different directions; many went south to the resorts of the Red Sea, like Dahab or Sharm El Sheik; only a few took the next-available bus to Cairo. I was one of them, and for the 6-hours’ drive through the Sinai Desert, I sat next to a young Japanese guy who’d traveled alone through China, Tibet, Nepal, India, Pakistan, Iran, Turkey, Syria and Jordan, and who intended to fly from Egypt to Greece, then go to Italy, France, Spain and Portugal, and from there return to Japan. We had quite a lot to talk about. There was also a young Korean who had made much the same journey.

After a break along the way for food and rest, we passed through the tunnel under the Suez Canal, and an hour or so later came into the suburbs of Cairo; it was about 10 pm. The Japanese and Korean guys and I had decided to go to a hotel recommended in the guide-book. We got a taxi (surprisingly-cheap in Egypt) and were driven recklessly to the Sun Hotel, where we were lucky to get rooms, as it is a popular budget-hotel that’s usually full. The taxi-driver accompanied us into the hotel where no doubt he got a commission for bringing us in; that’s the way it works there.

As I intended to spend a few days in Cairo, I didn’t rush around seeing everything as soon as possible; the next day I spent get-ting the feel of it, and went first to see the Nile, which had allowed the brilliant ancient Egyptian civilization to flourish; I crossed and re-crossed one of the bridges that connect both banks, pondering how a river like this is “the same yet not the same” as it flows ceaselessly towards the sea. Afterwards, I went to the famous Al-Azhar, which is not only one of Cairo’s earliest mosques but one of the world’s oldest universities; students are no longer taught here, however, but in a number of its campuses all over the country. The souks (markets; bazaars) that surround it are also fascinating. Cairo is one of the largest cities in the world (with a population of about 12 million), and chaotic with it; in spite of this, however, I quite enjoyed it. Cairenes sleep late and consequently rise late, so my early-morning walks were relatively quiet, and, being the world-wanderer I’ve been for many years, it didn’t take me long to find my way around; I had some good long walks in Cairo, and never felt other than safe there, even alone.

The morning of the second day I went to the marvelous Egyptian Museum, which houses ~ among countless other treasures ~ the contents of Tutankhamun’s tomb; these cause everyone to slow down and gaze in fascination. Three hours in the museum was all I could stand at one time, however, because of the tour-groups shepherded around by their guides. Feeling claustrophobic and gasping for air, I left the portals of that incredible place. It was nice to get outside!

The next day, I took a water-taxi down the Nile to Old Cairo in-stead of walking, and wandered around there again. I climbed the spiral steps of one of the minarets of an old mosque; obviously, no-one had done this for years, as the stairs were deep with the droppings of pigeons and bats. Luckily, I’d brought a flashlight, otherwise I’d have had to grope my way up and down in the dark. For this particular mosque there was no entrance-fee, but the at-tendant demanded baksheesh (tip, or gift); I gave him something, or I wouldn’t have been able to ascend the minaret, but not as much as he demanded. Baksheesh is a word one encounters all over the Middle East and in India; it goes against the grain for most Westerners to comply with this custom, but to refuse often results in foot-dragging and mutterings that can only mean some-thing unpleasant. If curses could kill, I would not be alive now to write this. The words “My friend” were so common that I soon came to see they have about as much meaning as they would from a parrot! A friend is a treasure that is not easily come by; I do not apply this word to complete strangers.

Tourism is Egypt’s main source of income and many Egyptians think of foreigners as sheep with golden-fleece to be shorn; they come up with so many scams to cheat one, and it becomes tiring. Come to think of it, to cheat people requires a certain disdain for them ~ one might almost say hatred ~ because fellow-feeling wouldn’t allow a person to cheat another. A cheat knows what he is doing; he must look at the person before him and decide how much to overcharge. But would he like the same thing done to him? It’s not difficult to understand this, so how come there are so many cheats in the world ~ cheats who call themselves Muslims, Buddhists, Hindus, Christians, etc.? No religion encourages or condones cheating or stealing.

Next to the mosque of the pigeon-droppings was a larger and more-ornate one, a screened-off portion of which contains the tomb of the late Shah of Iran. The Shah had fled Iran in ’79, but was hounded all over the world until his health gave out and he died of cancer. I had not known where he was buried until then. Egypt had refused to be intimidated by his arch-enemy, the Aya-tollah, and had allowed his body to be buried there. What a re-splendent resting-place! His wife ~ I was told ~ had spared no expense on it, and thus, indirectly, the people of Iran had footed the bill. It was a hall of multicolored marble and granite, with a carved and painted ceiling.

Passing on, I went through the Street of the Tentmakers, where old men sit throughout the day hand-stitching beautiful cushion-covers and wall-hangings known as appliqué work. As elsewhere, you must haggle for their wares; it is an expected ritual, and you soon learn that the initial asking-price is often two or three times what they can be bought for. This is time-consuming, of course, and you can’t be overly-sensitive, otherwise you will be ripped-off.

You cannot wander around the streets without being accosted by people trying to sell things like carpets, paintings on papyrus, and all kinds of other tourist-stuff. Of course, it is normal for visitors to buy souvenirs of their trip, and there are many lovely things for sale ~ things unique to each country or region. In Egypt, there is no shortage of such things, cheap by Western standards, but you must remember that you are not in the West, and that by paying too-high prices, it causes prices for the locals to rise, too. I sent postcards to many people from Egypt; it didn’t take me long to learn that postcards do not ~ or should not ~ cost 50 piastres (about 13 cents) each, but can be bought for five per Egyptian pound [E£] (26 cents). When the vendors realize that you know their prices, they sell to you next time without argument.

On my third morning in Cairo, I crossed the Nile to see what, to people the world over, epitomizes Egypt: The Pyramids. I went early, so as to view them at sunrise, and was awed to watch them emerge from the mists of dawn. They are stupendous, like moun-tains, and you can’t get an idea of their size from pictures; you wonder ~ as countless others have wondered over the past 4,500 years ~ how and why they were built. They have been vandalized over the centuries and don’t look as they did when they were first built; one sultan even had the idea of demolishing them alto-gether, and using the stones for building-material, but fortunately, the task proved too much for him. Of the Seven Wonders of the Ancient World, they are the sole survivor.

Although I was one of the first there, I didn’t remain so for long. It soon gets hot here, and needless to say, there is no shade. Ex-cept for smiling back, the Sphinx didn’t respond to my greeting, so I left it to its perpetual musings. Suddenly, I was surrounded by camels whose riders pestered me to ride one of their mounts. They are persistent in this, and in asking where you are from. They know a smattering of many languages ~ English, French, German, Italian, Spanish, Japanese and even Russian now! ~ but were somewhat confused when I lied and told them I was from Vietnam and didn’t speak English! (This tactic worked quite well in other places when I wanted to get people off my back).

I wished to go inside the Pyramid of Cheops, but the daily quota was already full, so I had to settle for the smallest of the three, that of Menkaure. You have to stoop in the low tunnel to descend into the burial-chamber and the air is stifling, and because there is little to see inside ~ no treasures, mummies, sarcophagi or paintings ~ few people spend more than a few minutes there.

Before I left Cairo, I checked several travel-agencies for flights to Istanbul, ready for when I would leave Egypt. I was thus able to compare prices, and found Fayed Travel the cheapest, at E£855. I resolved to get my ticket there upon my return to Cairo. I then took a bus to Suez, to see the great Canal. I sat and watched huge ships sail past in convoy, at intervals of fifteen minutes. There is one-way traffic only, times being set for ships going south alternating with those going north. The Canal was built at great cost in lives as well as money, and earns, I was told, about $10 million dollars per day for Egypt ~ a lot of money to spend on armaments. During the Six Day War in 1967, a number of ships were sunk there, effectively blocking it for everyone until the wrecks were salvaged some years later. It is a marvelous piece of engineering, brought about by men of vision.

A ten-hour bus-ride took me from Suez along the desert-coast of the Red Sea where almost nothing grows, to Luxor, capital of both Upper and Lower Egypt after the collapse of Memphis, near the Pyramids. Upon arrival, the bus was assailed by taxi-drivers and hotel-touts, vying for passengers, something else I’m used to; I haggled for a suitable price. Because it has an international airport, Luxor is an even more popular destination than Cairo and swarms with tourists. To accommodate those who don’t come by cruise-ship, there are far more than enough hotels of all ranges, and rates are half those of Cairo. Electricity is cheap because of the amount generated by the Aswan High Dam upstream, so air-conditioning is offered as an added inducement, and in the sum-mer this is very attractive.

Luxor has no pyramids; the Age of the Pyramids had passed by the time Luxor became the capital of a united Egypt. Instead, it has other things of wonder. During my 4-day stay there, I visited the Great Temple at Karnak, the Mummification Museum, the Temple at Luxor itself, and the Valleys of the Kings and Queens across the river. The temples are immense, and from the state they are in now we can imagine how stunning they looked in their prime when they were painted, inside and out, in brilliant colors; some faded colors still remain, clinging to walls, ceilings, columns and obelisks. One distinctive motif carved in bas-relief in these and other temples, shows Ramses II ~ the greatest pharaoh in Egyptian history ~ holding a mace over a group of cowering cap-tives whom he grasps by their hair.

The faces of the statues and bas-reliefs are calm and impas-sive. Sadly, throughout Egypt it is rare to come across a statue that hasn’t been vandalized; most of them are missing at least their noses, and many much more. The destruction was perpe-trated by the early Christians ~ known, until today, as Copts, from which the name Egypt is derived; there are still many Coptic Chris-tians in Egypt ~ followed by the Muslims. They abhorred statues and images. (Muslims still do, regarding ‘idol-worship’ as a great sin, yet what is it when they make the pilgrimage to Mecca and kiss the meteorite set into the side of the Kaaba? That stone has no religious or symbolic significance at all; they do it without understanding, just because Mohammed is supposed to have kissed it, though why he did so, no-one knows!) Ignorance and misunderstanding give rise to fear, which in turn, produces hatred.

The Mummification Museum was a bit disappointing as it had few exhibits, nor was there a detailed explanation of the process of mummification. The Museum in Cairo spoils you for anything else of this nature, but because many people fly directly to Luxor, missing Cairo and other places, this place has some value.

Across the river, on the west bank, were numerous mortuary temples, where the dead were prepared for burial. Most of them are just piles of rubble now, their stones having been hauled away and used for other purposes over the thirty-and-more centuries since. After the lengthy embalming-process, the mummies were taken in procession to the tombs in the hills behind. We have no record of the ceremonies performed for them, but we can imagine they would have been extremely elaborate and long. The tombs were cut deeply into the rock, and their entrances covered to conceal them once the funerals were over. The rulers and nobles of ancient Egypt spent years and fortunes to build tombs before their deaths, so preoccupied were they with the afterlife. Lesser persons built according to their means. Their religion, unique as it was, had an influence upon later religions in the Mediterranean region. As far as we know, Monotheism ~ the concept of One God ~ originated in Egypt, which is where the Hebrews got it from. And the name Moses is Egyptian, not Hebrew; note the similarity between Ramses and Moses.

Tomb-robbers were more down-to-earth, and concerned with the wealth of this life. Most of the tombs were found and plundered soon after being sealed, but some may still remain concealed and untouched. Archaeological digging continues, more methodically than ever before, using the tools of modern science.

The main sites of the tombs are known as the Valleys of the Kings and Queens. I joined a tour to visit some of these ~ there are many, probably hundreds ~ because to do it on one’s own would be inconvenient and take too long. We went to the Valley of the Queens first and into several tombs there, being allowed a few minutes in each, but as it was hot and humid inside, this was long enough for everyone. The shafts leading down to the burial chambers are quite long, and the tombs are covered throughout with frescoes depicting people in scenes from daily life, gods and goddesses, birds and animals. There are also passages from the various holy books written in hieroglyphs. For the most part, these frescoes are well-preserved and the colors still bright.

The Valley of the Kings contains tombs more stupendous still, because, after all, they were men, and throughout history, men have regarded themselves as superior to women, and women have accepted it. This is why the magnificent temple-tomb of Hatshepsut ~ the only woman to rule Egypt as Pharoah ~ was desecrated and vandalized by her bitter and jealous successor, Tuthmosis III. How dare a woman build for herself such a tomb!

The most-famous of the tombs here, of course, is that of Tutank-hamun, which was discovered, with the king’s mummy and its treasures intact, in 1922, but it is not the most-resplendent. Apart from the royal sarcophagus, which remains there, its treasures, as mentioned earlier, are in the Cairo Museum ~ luckily for me, as I refused to pay the extra hefty entrance-fee for the tomb itself. Most of the tombs open to the public are empty, so one can see only the walls and ceilings. Some frescoes here depict rows of headless figures who appear to be running in panic; there were also figures hanging upside down, like animals in a slaughter-house. These, our guide explained to us, were people who didn’t believe in the Afterlife. Ah, I thought, did it begin here, the use of fear to inculcate belief and make people conform? “This is what will happen if you do not believe as we do,” they might have been told. Religion has always been used as a political tool. The priests and rulers worked hand-in-hand, and were sometimes one-and-the-same. And thousands of years later, there is still no consensus over ‘the Afterlife’.

The railway-station at Luxor has a Tourist Office, where I had an interesting discussion with the man-in-charge. He asked me my profession and I told him “Teacher”.

“What do you teach?” he then asked.

To make things simple, I replied: “Philosophy”.

“Oh, that’s terrible!” he said.

“Why do you say that?” I asked him.

“Because you have to think so much!”

“Well, what’s the use of having a brain if you don’t use it?” I told him that everyone has a philosophy, even a thief, who thinks it is good when he’s stealing other people’s property, but who proba-bly wouldn’t be very happy to come home and find that someone had stolen his stuff. His philosophy doesn’t extend very far, nor help him to deal with the changes of life.

Although he didn’t say so, I think the tourist-officer was a Coptic Christian, as he asked if I believed in God. I replied: “In order to answer that question, you must first tell me what is God, other-wise we may be talking about different things”.

“The Creator of the Universe,” he said.

“That is very vague,” I said, “and it raises the old but simple question that even children ask but which not even the wisest can answer: ‘Which came first: the chicken or the egg?’ Could you be more specific?”

Not replying to this, he asked if I believed God parted the Red Sea to allow the Israelites to escape from Egypt, and that he made the sun stand still in the sky until the Israelites had won a battle with the Amalakites and destroyed them?

“Come on, those are fairy-tales, not to be taken seriously," I said. “We are better-educated now than people long ago ~ though not necessarily more intelligent ~ and shouldn’t believe everything that has come down to us from the past. Those ‘events’ you just mentioned are simply impossible. Had the Red Sea parted, the Egyptians would have recorded it somewhere ~ after all, it wasn’t something that happened regularly, like the annual flooding of the Nile ~ and so far, no record of this has been discovered.

“The Egyptians believed that the Earth was the center of the Uni-verse, and that the Sun was rolled around the sky by a gigantic dung-beetle (scarab); we now know otherwise. We cannot see the Earth spinning while we are on it, of course, but if the Sun had ‘stood still in the sky,’ it would have meant that the Earth had stopped spinning, and if that had happened, there would have been a tremendous jolt and the waters of the seas would have sloshed all over the place, obliterating all buildings, forests and living things on the land, and the Earth would have gone out of orbit. Clearly, this never happened.”

He couldn’t argue. I went on to explain to him the difference be-tween Belief and Faith, and said that most people believe; few really have faith. I don’t know if he was convinced, but we parted friends.

Not only have we inherited tremendous good
And benefited immensely from the past,
But this is where Belief, Ignorance,
Bigotry and Prejudice came from.
We have not deliberately chosen them,
You and I, but have just
Accepted them without question,
And become their victims.
Were we to investigate,
We would probably see them
For what they are ~
Baseless relics of a past lost in time ~
And watch them turn to dust
Like mummies’ shrouds.
It behooves us to use our brains,
To determine what should
And what should not be retained.

It is easy to see that we have benefited immensely from the past, for this is where almost all we have and are came from. To coun-teract the tendency to become proud and think we have achieved things by our own efforts, we should ponder on this; in reality, we do nothing by ourselves; whatever we achieve and accomplish we do only because of the help and support of countless other people and things. Contemplating this brings us down to earth and permits us to go forward with humility.

But good things in abundance are not the only things we get from the past; it is from the past, too, that our ignorance, conditioning, beliefs, and misunderstanding come, and most of us are unaware of this, just as the fish is unaware of the water it swims in. we did not choose or want these things; they became ours by default. We are not responsible, to praise or blame for the situation we find ourselves in; no-one is; it is just the outcome of countless causes conspiring to produce whatever comes, and only when and if we can understand this shall we be able to bring any sense of direction into our lives. The present is ours, to make of what we will; the future is not fixed.

“Most of the good things that have happened to people throughout history are due to the good works of others. Thanking God for the good deeds of people is wholly unfair and inconsiderate. On the other hand, holding God responsible for tornadoes, hurricanes, volcanic eruptions, floods and other ‘Acts of God’ is ignorant and nonsensical.” (Clyde Davis).

Once, noticing I had no companions with me, someone asked if I were traveling alone: I had an insight, and replied: “No, of course not. Wherever I go, so many people go with me; it is impossible to be alone. You cannot see them, but I can. If I look at my clothes or through my bags, I see people who gave me this or that; in fact, I live as I do only because of the support of others. My life is full of people”. And it’s true. Whatever I have, whatever I use, has all come from others; they are not mine alone. When-ever I think of this, I feel grateful, and smile to myself. Because we are more mental beings than physical, we experience every-thing by our minds; our friends, therefore, are never far away; we have only to think of them in order to be with them.

I‘m not always mindful of this, however, and so ~ like most other people, I guess ~ at times I feel lonely. It would be good to have a companion with me to share my thoughts and experiences, but it seems I must travel alone. However, this side of Enlightenment, we are all subject to changing moods, so it’s not surprising to feel lonely. Alone, we have to come to terms with things like this, and try to face whatever comes up ~ both from outside and inside ~ with courage. It cannot be said often enough that understanding something of Impermanence helps tremendously. Every day is a new day, and we can’t possibly imagine, when we wake up in the morning, what lies ahead of us. We should treat life as an adven-ture, instead of always trying to pin it down and control it.

From Luxor, I went to Aswan, further upriver. This is a good place for a rest, and I spent four days here, too, wandering around the bazaar and visiting some of the famous places in and around the city, like the tombs on the other side of the river, the Aswan High Dam and the temple of Philae. This was completely dismantled, removed and reconstructed on an island in Lake Nasser created by the construction of the Dam in the 1960s. The ferrymen there are avaricious, knowing there is no other way to get to the island except through them, but the temple is worth seeing.

About 300 kms from Aswan and almost on the border with Sudan lie the most beautiful and imposing constructions of Ramses II: the rock-cut temples of Abu Simbel. These, too, were saved from submergence under the lake by a massive international effort, which successfully reassembled ~ exactly as they had been ~ the temples on higher ground. Four immense images of Ramses ~ three quite intact ~ sit outside the main temple, which was built to face the sun, so that the images in the inner sanctum, 65 meters from the portal, are illuminated by the rising-sun’s rays several times a year. Because of murderous attacks on tourists a few years ago by fundamentalist Muslims, however, the road to Abu Simbel is closed to foreigners now, but I suspect this is just a ploy to extract more $$’s from tourists, as the only way left for them to see the marvelous temples is to fly in and out, at a cost of almost $100. Few can resist the trip, having come this far, and the two flights per day are usually packed. My plane-load got there before sunrise and we were ushered into the dark temple to wait expec-tantly for the ‘light show’; it was one of ‘those days’. There were many guards inside, to keep us in place. Slowly, as the sun crested the horizon, the darkness inside was dispelled, and the frescoes became visible. It was a memorable experience.

This was the southernmost point of my trip; from Aswan, I re-turned to Cairo by train, in an a/c carriage; thankfully, it was for-bidden to smoke inside. The journey took fourteen hours, and followed the course of the Nile, although the river was seldom visi-ble; I’d expected we would run right beside it all the way. Back in Cairo, I had to wait quite a while for a taxi, refusing to pay the high rates they were demanding; this wasn’t because I could not afford, but because we have a responsibility to those who come after us; if we pay the first price stated, it will become normal. Eventually, I got one at a reasonable rate, and got to the Sun, prepared to spend a few more days there. It was quite a bit cooler than when I was there ten days earlier, which was a relief; I had to use blankets at night, for the first time since leaving England.

The next morning, thinking I had plenty of time to get my ticket to Istanbul, I put if off until later, and went to the Museum again, but seeing the crowds waiting for opening-time, I turned round and walked away, unwilling to submit to the crush. Instead, I spent time buying a few things in Old Cairo, and in the afternoon, went to get my ticket. I thought I could remember where the travel-agency was, but this time my memory failed; backwards and for-wards along the streets and alleys of that area I went, asking di-rections of many people, showing them the business-card, all in vain (and earlier in this account, I’d been boasting of my sense of direction; we often have to eat our words). At one point, I stopped to buy a Time magazine at a stall on a street-corner.

After two hours, I was tired and gave up for the day, resolving to search again early the next, which I did. This time, I found it quite easily, just about where I thought it was, and I’d passed it several times the day before; indeed, the stall where I’d bought the Time magazine was practically beneath the agency’s sign! Sometimes, we fail to see things that are right before our eyes. How silly I felt! My search had been time-consuming and frustrating, but then I looked at it in a different way: as a measure of my determination to find it; I could easily have gone to another agency and bought a ticket for a slightly-higher price, but there is no need to waste money, especially when I had time. I wanted Fayed Travel and eventually I found it. If I lose or misplace something, I won’t rest until I find it. This habit or quality may be positive and useful in my quest. After more than thirty years, I have not given up, even though my way has sometimes been hard and arid. I may go slowly, and make many mistakes, but eventually, I get there.

It was still early, however, and Fayed Travel was not yet open, so I went away and came back again shortly after opening-time, but it was still closed. Intent upon getting the ticket that morning, I put other things out of my mind and walked around a couple of blocks with the aim of returning to Fayed Travel yet again, when I spot-ted another travel-agency I’d not seen before. With nothing to lose, I went in to inquire about flights to Istanbul, and was told the fare was E£890. I protested that I was able to get it cheaper else-where, and when asked how much cheaper, said E£855. At this, the obliging clerk did some calculations and, not wanting to lose a potential sale, said she would let me have it for E£850 (about US$190). I decided to give up on Fayed Travel, and bought the ticket there and then for a flight two days later.

My remaining time in Egypt soon came to an end. Overall, I had enjoyed it and was impressed. One thing I can say about Egypt with certainty ~ and about the whole of my trip, in fact ~ is that, al-though I went everywhere alone, I always felt safe; I wish I could say the same about Western countries.

The flight took only two hours, and it was dusk as we came in over the Bosphorus, with its two bridges connecting Europe with Asia. Then the mosque-studded city, with tall, slim minarets poised like rockets ready for launch, was beneath us; I never tire of seeing it from the air and picking out familiar places. It was the third time I had flown into Istanbul, and since the last time, a new airport-concourse had been built. Getting through Immigration and Customs, I boarded a shuttle-bus to the city. I was surprised at how cool it was. While I’d been in warmer climes, winter was coming on in the northern hemisphere.

Getting off the bus at a place I recognized, I took a taxi the rest of the way to the Sehir Hotel and was received as a regular patron. The next day, I checked a number of travel-agents for flights to Manchester and compared prices. After a while, I decided on a KLM flight for $160, with free pick-up from my hotel.

I then went to visit Fetih, my silver-stall friend. He was pleased to see me again, unexpectedly. Noticing that I was feeling the cold, he offered to lend me a jacket, and said he would bring it the next day, which he did. I was very grateful, as I had no warm clothes with me. I visited him almost every day until I left, and at one point ~ since he’d shown some interest ~ I gave him a booklet on Buddhism that I had been carrying around with me; it was called: Buddhism for Human Life, but I told him I didn’t agree with every-thing in it, and that he should read it with discrimination, picking out the good points. I didn’t want to scare him off, so showed him one of the things I disagreed with on the first page, and will quote it here: “Other living beings cannot realize this Dharma because human intelligence is superior to that of all other living beings in the universe. Only the human mind can appreciate the Dharma. It is significant to note that humans are the only living beings in this universe who can conceive a system as complex as religion. Even devas and brahmas have no particular religion.” This is typical of how many people write about Buddhism, as if speaking from personal experience of the universe beyond our Planet Earth, and are familiar with beings known in Sanskrit as devas and brahmas. It is no different from the beliefs and dogmas of other religions. We can do with much less of such arrogance and fanciful thinking.

My last few days in Istanbul passed quietly, and it was soon time to return to England. I was picked up at my hotel on the morning of November 5th and driven through empty streets to the airport, where I checked in at the KLM counter and went through to the gate to wait for boarding; I had quite a lot of time to spare, as I’d come early. It was good to hear periodic announcements over the P.A. system that smoking was strictly prohibited in the concourse. When I last flew out from Istanbul in ’97, although there were No Smoking signs on the walls, they were openly ignored, and the place was full of smoke. I had an exchange with a Turkish woman about this; she was on her way to the US, and justified her smoking by saying that 80% of Turkish people smoked. To this I replied that if the signs don’t mean what they say, they shouldn’t be there, and I’d like to see her ignore the signs in U.S. airports. We are getting there, you see, if only slowly.

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