Hamdy greeted us with a fabulous early 3PM lunch. Air conditioning, marble floors, fine Italian food... just one hour to find parking space.
First Impression: HUGE. Cairo has a daytime population of over 20,000,000. That's more than most United Nations countries. You can find anything you want in Cairo. Except parking. People make a living rolling a 55 gallon drum into empty parking spots and demanding a tip to move it.
City of one thousand mosques.
The best of times - brand new apartments with high speed internet springing up everywhere. This is a view from Hamdy's own new apt (under construction), paid with his earnings from Vermont computer repairs.
Traffic in Egypt makes a circuit board schematic look like an on-off switch. The amazing thing is the number of 1960s era cars and trucks still on the road. Saw about four dozen 1960s VW beetles.
Ok, ok, I'll take your photo. The older guy was typical of the Egyptian sense of humor, calling me over to take their photo. These are day laborers in the construction business, Hamdy was visiting some of the craftsmen here working on his marble kitchen counter.
I don't know the story but could not pass up this shot.
Interestingly, Hamdy had never been to Goma (Friday) Market before. He understood that WR3A isn't trying to sugar coat e-scrap exports, and brought us here to see the "bottom rung" of used goods trading. He did find a used electric wall switch for 60 cents which he had recently bought for his apartment for $3.
There is no denying the storyline that poor people are desperately trying to sell junk, and that USA companies can reap ugly profits by exploiting that desperation. This is one of dozens of vendors we saw trying to make a living by picking random working items like TV remotes and calculators out of bags of junk.
Another shot of Goma (Friday) Market. Used bikes, used fishing poles, parakeets, electrical switches, telephone parts... tens of thousands of people run through here every Friday bargaining for hope.
Back in Cairo's Nasr District, eleven PM. The ideal time to repair a cell phone, choose a watermelon, shop for kids shoes, go to the pharmacy, go out for dinner, buy a snake, and squeeze your way between a Mercedes Benz and a donkey cart.
The Cairo City traffic continues like this past midnight. It's difficult to describe the impression made on us by Cairo at Night.
He takes us to one of several Medi Com stores in this upscale "Tech Mall" in the relatively posh Nasr City area of Cairo. Hours 12PM-12AM, 7 days per week.
At the Tech Malls we visited, there were about 120 stores each, about half of which sold refurbished equipment. Air conditioned, with escalators, help desks, and wifi, it is a different picture than the "Friday Market"
This is the first of the Medi Com storefronts we visited, in Cairo's "Technology Mall". Between their stores, they sell 40 monitors per day, to students, small businesses, large businesses, hospitals, etc. etc. etc.
Next day we visit the central Medi Com warehouse. Robin, Osama Gad, Essam (Hamdy's brother and partner), and Mohamed Said in the basement of the repair warehouse. Guess who knows the least about monitors.
Vermont shipment of monitors arrives late, the staff works all night to empty the container one by one.
In the beginning, we itemized every monitor in a spreadsheet database. Now they know our VT monitors are carefully chosen, and we trust their spreadsheets.
In the warehouse the incoming are grouped by make and model etc., and then grouped again as tested working, repairable, or accidents (fallout)
First cull of a shipment is for beautiful (base, unblemished, brand name) and working. Second cull is cosmetic fix (next few slides). Third cull is repair. Fourth are the monitors resold as 'cheap TVs' in the less affluent El-Matareya shop.
Second cull - monitors just needing a cosmetic fix. Here Osama Gad takes a cracked plastic shell and "stitches" it from the inside, using copper thread soldered into the plastic.
Medi-Com cannot stress enough the importance of monitor bases to the sales. They jerry-rig mismatched bases to covers when necessary.
"Working Order Unit"
1. Head of Service Departement Eng.Wael Sakr
2. Eng.Essam Moussa
3. Tech.Mohamed Said
4. Team leader for FAST repair ops Osama Gad
5. Eng.Hamdy Moussa
6.Tech. Eid Abd Allah
Eng.Wael Sakr even knows how to repair CRT tube damage, but explains that the equipment to do that would be ridiculously expensive. There is a saying in our business, if an Egyptian tried to fix it already, don't even look at it. These guys are to repair what East Africans are to the NY Marathon.
Hamdy chose this one at random from a pile of non-working and predicted 10-15 minutes to be repaired. It was 10.
Normally, they take monitors through in batches of the same model, five at a time. They repaired up to 271 in one day, but Hamdy suspects they skipped trickier repair jobs... they get diminishing returns that way. They keep the unrepairable monitors for the spare parts, but we all prefer to minimze those with better packing
Scalpel! One of the things that struck me is that they recognize the most likely problem by the type of monitor it is. Each make and model has a known 'design flaw' (in this model, too small a heat sink causes capacitor damage to the power joint in the motherboard). It's like a M*A*S*H hospital (doesn't take much time to diagnose a bullet wound)
Wow. Non working monitor repaired for power on the board, heat sink checked, and capacitor replaced. 10 minutes later, the monitor gets an 8-hour test and a one year free warrantee
Obviously Eid Abd Allah has bypassed the broken circuit by soldering a wire between point "B" and point, um, "J". Sure. I knew that.
Q: Which are the bad (non-repairable) units in this photo?
A: The table legs. Actually, four of the five on top are good, just waiting for an attractive housing (the bad one was an 'organ donor' for it' tunerboard)
An improperly packed LCD screen from Vermont becomes waste. A broken LCD screen in an LCD monitor is like a car with no engine, no body, no axle, no seats, no windows and no tires. (steering wheel and floor carpet for sale)
D'oh!! A broken cathode ray gun is technically not impossible to fix, but it's like a liver transplant to a 95 year old. California, incidentally, wrote that this needs to be broken in the SB20 regs. An extremely technical instruction which renders the CRT non-resellable product. "Obsolescence in Hindsight"
Tested working monitors headed off to the stores.
Next day, another computer mall, another Medi-Com shop. Medi-Com also redistributes to sellers in Alexandria, Sudan, and Libya, and to other shops in other malls.
Boss. Hamdy Moussa was a biomedical engineer who spent more time in med school (like both sisters and his brother Essam) fixing friends computers than attending class. Now with 20+ staff, he and his brother aren't looking back. I wonder if he has saved more lives by getting affordable computers to future doctors...
Hamdy's dad, Ibrahim, keeps the books. He's a self-taught historian who discussed the similarities and differences of post colonial British political systems in Malaysia, Egypt and New England. (That's my old printer by the way, I promised Hamdy a new cartridge).
The Medi-Com El-Mattareya shop is down the block in this 'modest' part of town. Hamdy calls his customers here "the common man" of Egypt.
WR3A works with a growing middle class economy in Egypt and other countries.
El-Mattatreya's bus depot is the first part of Cairo many people ever see. Medi-Com sells all types of monitors here, and uses a secret weapon: These monitors are connected to a Taiwanese TV tuner box, which they sell with a $5 monitor, giving many new immigrants their first chance to afford a TV. It's also the most "forgiving" market for off brands and missing bases.
Omar (right) staffs the El-Mattareya "TV Monitor" store from noon to midnight. A yellow shirted rugby enthusiast is catching the scores...
Hamdy's 20 year old tech at this branch pointed out some brands of monitors that were not able to take a TV tuner box. This is a relatively exciting and progressive tech job for someone his age, and his folks are proud.
Muhammed and Omar check out the "Cheap Monitor is good TV" display
This presentation was done on a broken laptop I brought from VT. The power supply was disconnected from battery recharge (requiring internal soldering repair). Hamdy also re-sat the RAM and reformatted the hard drive (total repair time 45 minutes).
"Race you around?"
(remaining slides are from our weekend fun...)
Typical American rugby enthusiast.
The hardest part of the journey: Camel stands up.
Published author of Maghreb Literature Analysis whose professor's salary supports wild idea man.
Pink is the new black.
We took Hamdy to Orlando and Manhattan, he trumps us again. ("Playing between a stone and an egg")
Gabrielle did the first half of the circle on horseback, then joined me by camel.
(Psst! Turn around. You are headed for Libya!)
Our gracious host Hamdy seemingly forgave Napolean for shooting off the Sphinx's nose and beard in cannon practice. (Our son Jake is still outraged).
Our son Jake collected two rocks from the base of the Sphinx. Could be a piece of the nose ("or a booger," his brother said)
End of our weekend. Time for a day of rest (rooms).
Tarik is 15 and makes a living taking tourists on camel trips around the pyramids. He has a side business in used baseball caps.
Our kids were greeted warmly at a Cairo fairground
Broken toilets on the ground are a by-product of...
... used toilet sales. Used toilet sales derive from unmet demand or price points for toilets. These are not great water saving toilets, but if the west says "you can't have toilets" it will be almost as unpopular as "you can't have internet". Or, "Let them eat cake".
Farewell dinner on the Nile with Hamdy and sister Haifa