Monday, March 01, 2004

Lecture and Session Chair at the Digimedia Conference, Cairo

Cairo, Egypt

This was a big conference for all sorts of people in the digital and new media industries. Most of them were from Egyptian companies, but there were a few foreign guests and I was invited to speak about the game industry, and to chair one of the sessions. It was a single-track event, so I heard about all kinds of stuff -- how to archive video libraries; the Digital City that is being constructed out in the desert; a multimedia extravaganza to celebrate the new library at Alexandria. (Students of history will remember that the old library of Alexandria, one of the foremost repositories of knowlege in the whole world, was burned down by Julius Caesar's soldiers in 47 B.C. Well, 2000 years later, it has been rebuilt.)

I tried to speak slowly and clearly, so I hope the audience got something out of my talk. I think my few words of Arabic caused them to feel some affection for me, if I am correctly interpreting the chuckles it elicited. I hadn't been to Egypt in 20 years. I also met with a bunch of students and saw an Egyptian-themed game that they were working on, which was nice -- I'm always encouraging developers from the Third World to create material suited to their own culture, rather than borrowing from the West or the Japanese. It was fun to go back after all these years, and I'm grateful to Dr. Mohamed Salem and Dr. Mohamed Samy of the Information Technology Institute for inviting me.

The conference was held in the Cairo Grand Hyatt, which is in Garden City overlooking the Nile. Many things have changed since I was last there -- cell phones everywhere of course, and Internet cafes. The other thing I noticed after 20 years' absence is that the women dress much more conservatively now. Almost all the young women at the conference -- and there were many -- were wearing the hijab, although they were often in pantsuits. I saw a few Egyptian women in completely western dress, but they were all in the hotel.

After the conference I took a day off to go to Aswan, which is sort of old stomping grounds for me. I went to the new Nubian museum, walked along the corniche, made a quick trip through the suq (I didn't buy anything... didn't want anything badly enough to haggle for it), sat on the veranda of the Old Cataract Hotel and dreamed of the days when it was full of gentlemen in tweed suits with narrow ties, and ladies in flowing dresses all talking about what beasts the Boers are... at the the Old Cataract Hotel the British Empire still lives on in spirit, though somewhat diminished by the presence of Italian tourists in shorts and sleeveless tops.