It was a moonless night… A social networking narrative experiment

It was a moonless night. They had been at this for hours. Their heavy, tired feet were moving in synch with each other creating a rhythm that cleared their minds of the arduous task at hand and the more difficult task to come. For the moment, all they needed to focus on was keeping up the rhythm:  Tap, plump, crunch, drag, tap, plump, crunch.


This is a social networking experiment in narrative writing. I invite you, the reader, to engage now as a writer. Add a paragraph in the comments section that builds on the first paragraph in the story and subsequent paragraphs developed by others.

You are allowed only one paragraph per post. You are allowed one post for every three posts made by others. Your words may be subjected to some minor editing. Your post may not be used if it does not flow properly with the rest of the narrative or if it is deemed inappropriate for other reasons. Do not let this last statement stifle your creativity, however.

Develop the storyline and the characters as the process progresses.

Identify yourself as the owner of your words unless you wish to remain anonymous. But do realize that the final product may possibly turn into a New York Times Best Seller or a Hollywood movie, in which case you might regret not making mention of your name to get credit for your words.

Now have fun! And let’s see what this story is all about!

مختبر نادية للفيديو بلوج: الإجابة على أسئلة المشاهدين

الحالة لما تيجي لي مش بأعرف ابطل. وبعدين عندي ولاء لجماهيري (4 مشاهدين) ومهم أجاوب على أسئلتهم

تجدون بالتالي آخر حلقة من حلقات المختبر لهذا اليوم: الإجابة على أسئلة المشاهدين

توقعوا في الحلقة مفاجئات سارة

Are US science journals not allowed to publish Iranian research?

I received an email from what seems to be a credible source saying that an Iranian working in the field of orthodontics submitted a paper to an American journal. The paper was refused solely on the grounds of the paper’s country of origin, Iran.

This is the email the Iranian orthodontist is claimed to have received (names have been removed by the source of information):

Dear Dr. XXXX

We have received your manuscript in our automated system. Unfortunately, our Federal Government does not allow us to process and edit manuscripts submitted from Iran.

I regret that the world situation results in our inability to communicate science as we would wish. I suggest that you submit your manuscript to a European journal or a journal located in some other country than ours.

Thank you for your interest in The XXXXX.


Editor-in-Chief, The XXXX
Professor Emeritus
University of XXXXX
XXXXXX University

This is definitely worth looking into. Has the US government really issued warnings to scientific journals against publishing research by Iranian scientists? If so, why? When do political sanctions go too far? Is it smart to sanction science and scientific research?

Nadia’s Travelblog: PMSing During International Travel

Air travel is hard enough without PMS.

PMS, for the remaining few of you who do not know or have been fortunate enough not to experience it first or second hand, is a monthly condition that afflicts women all over the world and that causes their brains to swell. This swelling of the brain can put the best of us in the worst of moods, to say the least. Of course, PMS – premenstrual syndrome – causes other things to happen to a woman as well, but in this particular woman, it is the swelling of the brain that is the main cause for distress; for her and for anyone within a 5 km radius.

I write to you from an airplane headed from Salt Lake City, Utah to Paris, France and with my knees crammed against a deceased leather chair. I will remain in this position for 11 hours. My swollen brain is throbbing and I’m displeased to announce that I am well on my way to a full-blown case of PMS.

As I entered the plane on my previous flight five hours ago (I have three flights on this trip from San Diego, CA to Cairo, Egypt), I watched the male flight attendant place the carry-on bags of the two passengers that preceded me into a compartment right next to the airplane door. When my turn came he told me I’d have to check-in my carry-on all the way to Cairo. There’s no room for my carry-on anywhere on the plane, he told me. But I have three flights and I need my carry-on, I protested. Do not ask me exactly WHY I needed it. I just did. What if I decide to buy something at Charles de Gaulle Airport in Paris during my six hour transit, for example (this is usually inevitable)? Where would I put it? My carry-on also contained my computer – larger than my purse. I can’t allow my computer to be placed in a piece of luggage that will be mishandled while being thrown into and out of the belly of three airplanes and finally onto the creaky conveyor belt of Cairo Airport. And it is beyond logic to expect me to carry my computer in my arms during three flights and two transits. So I NEEDED my carry-on!

I explained to the flight attendant that I’m traveling to Cairo, and surely either one of the nice gentlemen who entered the plane ahead of me would be willing to check-in their carry-on in order to allow me to keep mine on the plane. Surely they had closer destinations than I did! The mean man, the very mean, mean man, refused that I even ask their permission. When I protested yet again, he asked me to step out of the plane. TO STEP OUT OF THE PLANE!
I went back along the armway (that tunnel thing must have a name, but I don’t know it) to the counter that allows us to board the plane. On my way there, I bumped into the pilot who asked me if I had a problem. My eyes swelling with tears (possibly ooze seeping out of my swollen brain) and my voice choked, I tried my best to contain myself as I explained that I had a very long trip ahead of me: “I’m flying to Cairo and the attendant wouldn’t allow me to take my carry-on with me!” The pilot tried to calmly explain that the flight is full and that if all the over-head compartments are full with luggage it’s only normal that I be asked to check-in my carry-on. “But I’m flying to Cairo!” I repeated, clearly struggling to keep the brain ooze in my eyes rather than rolling down my face.

So the pilot, the very nice and compassionate pilot, took me back to the plane and stepped inside while I waited outside. Clearly he did not want a case of a woman’s brain ooze staining his plane’s floors. After a few short minutes he came back and took my carry-on from me. He had made space for me in one of the over-head compartments. I could have hugged him. I literally felt that he had saved my life and if my swollen brain hadn’t had a shred of sanity left in it I probably would have thanked him for saving it.

I’m now on my second flight on my way to Cairo. I think I would have preferred riding a camel (the animal that comes to mind at the moment) all the way there rather than take Delta Airlines again.

I do not understand why they do not have enough room in their overhead compartments for all passengers. I have never seen this happen on other airlines. This is the second time I’ve been on a Delta flight where I’ve had to struggle to get space for my carry-on.

I also REALLY do not like their leather seats. They can get quite cold. As I first sat down, my seat was so cold I thought it was wet at first.

On internal flights inside the US, you actually have to buy the headsets if you want “in-flight entertainment”. BUY THE HEADSETS! Who buys crappy headsets for US $3? And where is the in-flight entertainment? Not on a screen on the back of the seat in front of you, where it very well should be. It’s on screens on the airplane walls and ceilings as was the case in the olden ages. The result is that I have a choice between stretching my neck upwards and to the right to watch the movie on the screen one meter almost exactly above my head or watching the upper half of the screen on the wall a few seats in front of me while the lower half of the screen is occupied by the over-puffed-up blonde hair of the woman in seat 17B. I also don’t get to choose between a wide array of movies, television series, games, and the likes. Who flies nowadays without having that sort of choice? What has gone wrong with the Americans??

Another thing that annoys me tremendously is the fact that I can’t check-in online because my reservations were made with Air France. Delta is the US partner of Air France and takes over its internal flights within the US. Air France, you gotta reconsider your partners, dudes!

As I prepare to leave you, I spread the airplane blanket over my legs to get me some much needed shut-eye. I’m pretty sure it’s made out of recycled (and previously used) medical gauze.

As you can see, I’m very annoyed, distressed, and outraged. No one should have to travel this way.

And when ON EARTH is someone going to find a REAL solution for PMS??

Disclaimer: the above post does not necessarily represent the views of this blog, Inner Workings of My Mind, and its owner, Nadia El-Awady.

Shopping in the US: Behold the Pee Funnel

As I mentioned in my previous post, I spent my day yesterday shopping – mainly for sports-related gear.

One of my proudest accomplishments of the day was coming across the pee funnel. On Kilimanjaro, because of the high altitude and also because of the diuretic pills we were taking as a prophylactic against altitude sickness, we were all peeing at a particularly high rate. My pee rate was higher than any other: once every half an hour. I seem to remember explaining in lurid detail my pee excursions on Mt Kilimanjaro. Or did I? I could, of course, explain this to you all once again just in case. But to make things short, going out at 2am in the morning at an altitude of 3800 meters to pee sucks. It really does. It is so desperately cold out there. Of course, on Kilimanjaro we were staying in huts in groups of three and four. So on my Kili trip, there was no avoiding leaving the hut to pee. I definitely have much lower inhibitions now since that trip. For goodness sake, I’d wait till it was after dark and pee right next to the hut, not caring if anyone suddenly walked out of the hut right in front of me. There was nothing that would make me walk all the way to those horrid toilets they had at Horombo camp. But those lower inhibitions have not yet reached the stage where I’d be comfortable being in a hut with two other women in it.  But I’ll probably be staying in a tent on my next mountain. And I’ll make sure to stay in that tent alone; just so’s I can use my new pee funnel. I’ll have to make sure I have a designated pee bottle first, of course. But that’s the easy part. Shucks. I have a pee funnel now!

That pee funnel would have come in handy while we were on safari. On safari on the Serengeti I did sleep in a tent – alone. I ventured out of my tent at night just once to pee. On that excursion, the eyes of a hyena reflected the light from my headlamp on my way to the toilet. He ran right in front of me and hid just behind the bathroom. I could see his shiny eyes every time I pointed my headlamp towards him. Freaky! During the subsequent nights I heard lions, elephants, hyenas, baboons and all sorts of scary animals playing around our tent at night. Right next to my tent in one camp was a huge pile of elephant dung. All night long I had nightmares of an elephant stomping into our camp and not noticing my tent situated right at the edge of the bush, bumping into it, and trampling over me. I never left my tent to pee at night again on that safari trip. That pee funnel certainly would have come in handy then.

I went grocery shopping yesterday evening as well. I’m staying at a hotel in San Diego, but breakfast isn’t included as part of the package. So I thought, rather than pay for expensive breakfasts, I’ll buy some breakfast foods and keep them in my hotel room.

Do you know how hard it is to find small food products in an American grocery store? What is wrong with these people? They are obsessed with super-large family sizes! I have a family of six and I don’t buy as much food as Americans seem to buy. While waiting to pay for my food, a small family of three was emptying their shopping cart in front of me. Two adults and a small baby. That doesn’t even count as three. But the stuff they had in that cart! My goodness! They couldn’t possibly finish all that. It just isn’t possible.

All I wanted was a small loaf of bread, a small peanut butter jar, a small jar of jam/jelly/preserves, a small box of a healthy cereal, some milk and some juice. I’m here for more than a week and that would get me through the week with some variety. I found none of the above in small sizes. None of them. Heck. Even the loaves of bread in this country are ginormous. And the stuff the Americans put in their food! There was a jar of apricot preserves that said it was sugar free. I read the ingredients and found it contained all sorts of artificial ingredients in addition to an artificial sugar. What the heck is wrong with an apricot preserve just being an apricot preserve?? Apricots are sweet to begin with! You’d think with all the health-related programs they have on American television that Americans would have gotten it by now. I am rather doubting they have.

Class distinctions at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina?

If there’s one thing I do a lot of these days, it’s attending conferences. So if there’s one thing I know well these days, it is conferences.

Some of what I see at the Bibliotheca Alexandrina-organized conferences disturbs me.

The whole point to organizing a conference is getting people who are interested in the same topic under one roof to meet, discuss and network.

The best conversations and networking are done during the coffee breaks, lunches, dinners, and social events.

In so many conferences I’ve been able to walk up to people I wouldn’t normally ever have access to under other circumstances. I’ve sat next to ministers during dinner, chatted casually with Nobel Prize winners at coffee breaks, and asked scientific experts not only about their science but also about their personal lives at lunches.

This isn’t what I see happening at the Bibliotheca. At every conference I’ve been to, participants have been categorized and thus separated into different eating areas.

In my first two conferences at the Bibliotheca, the media, for example, were placed in the common man’s category (my label). This meant that we were given lunch boxes and were left to find any corner to eat our food in. During this last conference that I attended, I was to discover where those who were not commoners went. Turns out there are two more categories.

Again, the first category is for the commoners. In this last conference the commoners were university students who came from Cairo and Alexandria to learn about evolutionism from some of the most esteemed scientists in the field. They got lunch boxes and no dinner.

The second category was for the academics attending the conference. Media were luckily included in this category this time. These participants got their food at an open buffet and had tables to sit at.

And then there’s a third category. The VIPs. These are mainly the Bibliotheca people organizing the event plus some of their special guests. These guys have a closed dining room and some of them get served.

Now I completely understand the need sometimes for a separate eating hall for some of the more important guests who might not ever get to eat if they do so in the midst of many starry-eyed admirers. Sometimes, I say. For some people. As I said, I’ve been to conferences where ministers and Nobel Laureates were eating at the same tables as everyone else.

But I do not understand the need for the two other categories.

Because of the way the Bibliotheca organized coffee breaks and meals, the young university students who came to learn about evolution never got a chance to properly rub shoulders in a normal setting with international scientists. Of course, they could always run up to the stage after each session to catch a few words with the panelists, but that was it.

I’m befuddled.

Please note that I write this with no jealousy at all on my part. I was personally treated very well at this last conference by all Bibliotheca staff and I even got to eat one of my meals in the VIP dining hall.

But I still think this separation of conference participants during meals completely defeats one of the most important purposes of organizing a conference to begin with: allowing people to learn from each other as they mingle and eat, as we say in Egypt, “bread and salt” together. And in Egypt, once you’ve had bread and salt with someone, you’re practically family.  

Bibliotheca Alexandrina: please reconsider this approach.

Kilimanjaro: Day 4 – Hiking up to Kibo

Directly from my diary, logged on August 14 at 4:45pm:

I’m FREEZING. I feel like the synovial fluid in my joints is freezing and that my nose will soon fall off. Problem is, I can’t cover it because I need to make sure to get enough oxygen!

We reached Kibo (at 4703 meters) safe and sound. It was a difficult hike but I felt stronger

Kibo's stone hut: our lodgings for 24 hours

Kibo's stone hut: our lodgings for 24 hours

 today than any previous day. I carried my own day pack too unlike the second day of the hike. Alphonce said I was Chuga today! Chuga means iron in Swahili. I hope that continues till summit!

The climb was steep through the moorland until we reached Mawenzi Ridge. That’s when you enter the Alpine Desert region of the mountain. It was very windy and cold.

I stayed right behind Alphonce and somehow his slow, rhythmic movements helped me focus and keep pace. Alphonce is a big man with big feet. He is also very quiet and kind. It was soothing to walk behind him.

I kept my eyes on the trail and on Alphonce’s feet most of the time to make myself think I was walking on flat ground. It really did help.

Kibo Hut is a stone hut. There are five rooms, each with many beds. Peter made sure the three of us got our own room again. There are ten cots in this room.

We left Horombo at 9 am and got here at 2 pm. We unpacked, changed, and packed our day packs for the night hike, then slept. I slept for an hour then had to run to the bathroom (a clean hole-in-the-ground, by the way). When I got back to our room I tried sleeping again but couldn’t so I just stayed warm in the sleeping bag.

Dinner is at 5pm then we sleep again and at 10:30pm we start our summit hike. Beyond a very mild headache and frozen everything I’m fine.

Oh…of course we had a gourmet lunch along the way to Kibo: mushroom

Lunch on the way to Kibo

Lunch on the way to Kibo

 soup, vegetable sandwiches, cake, and salads. There was also meat and eggs and pancakes but I couldn’t get myself to stomach those. And of course I had my hot chocolate.

Kilimanjaro: Day 4, Aug 14, 6:30 am

Directly from my diary as per above date:

Just got up and prayed fajr. Im back to worry-mode; worrying about the next 24 hours. Trying to get myself out of that.

I peed last night only three times, I think. The first was actually quite funny. I woke up at 11pm (we slept at 8:30pm) with my heart all set on being able to avoid our disgusting toilets and to just pee next to the hut under the cloak of night. But then Amy dropped out of her cot to go too saying that she’d rather do it at the sam time as me so she doesn’t fall down on my face at another time while I sleep (remember that she always had the upper cot). And just as we both headed toward the door Renate jumped out of her sleeping bag saying she’d go too. I started thinking we’d need to lock our hut’s door from the outside since we were all leaving and asked Renate where the key was. She replied, with no masked urgency, “I don’t know. I just REALLY have to go!” and she rushed out of the hut. So I scrambled for the key, locked the door and rushed out after the others. And of course with all of us out I couldn’t just flash them all and pee in my favorite peeing spot (neither could they) so we all headed to the toilets, which smelled absolutely awful and I gagged my way back to the hut.

I dreamt A LOT last night too. Renate and Amy tell me that happens at high altitude. I didn’t know that!

One dream involved me pushing a huge cow out of our hut. We had actually seen a herd of cows on our way up in the rainforest the first day of the hike. Peter said it was probably a herd that escaped from its owner and called someone to inform them of the missing cows.

Aug 9: Arrival in Arusha

I’m in Arusha. The flight here was sufficiently comfortable, perhaps because I had made sure to drug myself with Dramamine to make sure the nauseous state I have been in for the past few days did not result in a barfing episode on the plane. I slept through most of the flight between Cairo and Nairobi.

The flight from Nairobi to Kilimanjaro Airport was amazing. I caught my first glimpse of Mt. Kilimanjaro. If I do nothing else on this trip, that one glimpse was enough to make it worthwhile.

The mountain stood way above the cloud cover below. It looked as if it was at the same altitude as the plane we were in. What most caught my eye was how black it was. And that it was a lone mountain completely surrounded by flat land. There was not much of a snow cap on top.

At the airport, I was met by Peter, who will guide us up the mountain, and our driver. They were both very nice and welcoming.

We did have one conversation that rather concerns me.

Since I’m obsessing about my health because of the very weak state I’m in I’ve been seriously considering not taking my next dose of anti-malarial pills (due tomorrow). But I want this to be an informed decision.

So I asked Peter and the driver how prevalent malaria actually was in Tanzania.

The driver emphasized that it really is not a problem, especially in the region we are in. And to confirm that, he said, “I’m sure if you ask Peter when was the last time he had malaria he won’t even remember.” “F#*$!,” was the first thing I thought in response to that. So they do get malaria here. But maybe Peter will tell me it was so long ago that he LAST got malaria that I realize this was a disease of the past. Peter contemplated. “I’m not sure,” he said. “Five years ago?”

 Ok. So this means that malaria IS actually quite prevalent in this country and that I need to be careful. I will probably delay taking my next anti-malaria dose until I’m back from the mountain, though. I won’t be able to go up if I do take it. And the mosquitoes, I understand, are not a problem at high altitudes. And until then I’ll just have to use the mosquito nets and repellants exceptionally well.

I’m finding myself mildly irritated by the fact that the people staying at my hotel all seem to have a lot of energy. I’m certain they are all taking anti-malarial pills. So why is it that I’m the one with this severe reaction? Arrrggghh!

 The hotel is really nice. I’m glad to see that the ridiculous amount of money I’ve paid for this trip at least got me into a really nice hotel. It brings back images from movies about colonial Africa. It has a main reception building, which is built like a large hut. That opens up at the back into a large, green yard with a small swimming pool. And then it’s full of white people, mainly Brits, Germans, French, and Americans as far as I can tell. They are of all ages, shapes and sizes. I’m wondering whether all those people are here to go up the mountain. I’m hoping they are because they make me feel I might actually be in decent shape. But I’m sort of thinking many of them are here for the safaris and not the mountain climb.

Lunch was excellent. I’ll spend the rest of the day resting and reading my book. I might walk around the hotel grounds just to get some exercise in since I haven’t had any of that for the past week. Hopefully by Tuesday I’ll have enough energy in me to attempt a hike. We’ll see.

 My roommate arrives tonight. The rooms here are actually small chalets. Really nice and comfortable although a bit cold. The weather is like the beginning of winter in Egypt and I’m a bit worried that I don’t have enough warm clothes now.

 Tomorrow we’ll probably spend the day in the city.

 And that’s my daily report for ya!