American Embassy Cairo | “Takin’ Care of Business”

Early November 1977

Wednesday at lunch CRO Holman rose and shook my hand at the embassy café.

“Big improvement in the radio test,” He said. “We added four personnel from Maadi who weren’t able to reach the embassy previously. Zamalek personnel were loud and clear. Our crypto tech Bill lives over there.”


It’s an nice island neighborhood in the middle of the Nile.”

I’ll need access, call signs and addresses of the personnel who failed the radio test.”

Holman slid a paper over to me. “I’ve scheduled a vehicle for two o’clock. The ambassador’s driver Mahmoud will take you out. Ambassador Eilts isn’t leaving the chancery this afternoon. Mahmoud knows the radio dead spots better than anyone.”

“Sounds good. I’m scheduled to take off to Athens Friday morning. Beside the visits this afternoon, do you have any other radio issues that need to be looked at?”

“For this visit, no. But can you go through the radio stuff in the tech room? I’d ask Bill but I think you’d have a better idea what to look for as a radio professional.”

I had planned to anyway. “Sure, I’ll take a look at it. Anything particular?”

“There are some handheld radios. See if they can still be used or not.”

I nodded.

“Tell you what, the Cairo radio program is suddenly looking a lot better here. How about if I schedule a driver to take you to see some of the sights of Cairo tomorrow afternoon?”

“I’d like to see the pyramids at Giza.”

“Okay, I’ll arrange a driver.”

*   *   *

Mahmoud was happy to drive me around to the residences that had failed the radio test. He had a keen sense of holes in the radio coverage areas.

We stopped at an apartment building in the nice suburb of Maadi. Mahmoud pointed at an apartment on the fourth or fifth floor of an eight-story building and said,

cleopatra-pinterest copy
photo Cleopatra by

“Cleopatra, she never can reach Sahara for radio test.”

I could understand why. Her radio signal was being blocked by another apartment building of the same height directly in front of Cleopatra’s dwelling.

I pointed to the roof. “Mahmoud, I need to go up to the top.”

“Wait here,” he said.

Twenty minutes later I made a radio test to the embassy chancery from the rooftop.

“Roger, Visitor, I have you loud and clear,” Sahara (the Marine Security Guard) said.

I made a quick sketch of what was required: an antenna mounted on a pole on the roof with a cable down to Cleopatra’s apartment.

“Who is Cleopatra?” I asked Mahmoud.

“Oh, like my daughter Fatima, she is very pretty,” he replied, all gushy-like. “Cleopatra—Miss Lewis—works for USAID.”

I caught Mahmoud’s veiled reference to the availability of his daughter as I wrote Cleopatra’s name on my sketch.

Three other residences had radio problems. Two of them were in an area southeast of the embassy that was out of the current radio coverage scheme. Mahmoud told me that two more embassy families were scheduled to move there, all part of a long-term economic program.

On the return trip I identified a candidate building for the installation of a radio repeater in the northeast part of Maadi. I knew this would fix the dead spot. When I asked Mahmoud the possibility of installing a radio atop the candidate building he replied with a big satisfied smile, “Sure, I make it happen.” I wouldn’t bring up the idea with CRO Holman and RSO Childress until I talked to my boss RCO Roberson. The cost would exceed three thousand dollars plus the leased space.

Mahmoud took me to government ministries on this side of the Nile north east of the embassy. We experienced several radio dead spots due to terrain variations. I shook my head at Mahmoud and said, “Maybe next visit.”

The last problem was an easy fix. Call sign “Horus” lived less than two miles from the embassy in a high-rise apartment. When I substituted my radio the test with the chancery MSG was loud & clear. The “brick” HN-56 radio Horus used was defective. I’d have CRO Holman issue Horus a replacement and send the defective unit to RCO Karachi for repair.

Mahmoud turned to me when we returned to the embassy. My wife make Egyptian dinner tomorrow night. You want to come. I pick you up.”

“I’m sorry Mahmoud. I already have an appointment tomorrow evening with RSO Childress.”

He looked at me sideways. “Ohhh.”

I wondered what Mahmoud’s daughter looked like. “How about if we do it next visit, Mahmoud?”

“Sure, sure,” he said, unable to hide his disappointment.

photo by

When I returned to the tech office Bill was dropping the gut assembly of an HW-28 Teletype machine into a gunk tank for cleaning. He didn’t hear me arrive as Bachman Turner Overdrive’s, “Takin’ Care of Business” blasted into my ears.

You get up every morning
From your ‘larm clock’s warning
Take the 8:15 into the city
There’s a whistle up above
And people pushin’, people shovin’
And the girls who try to look pretty
And if your train’s on time
You can get to work by nine
And start your slaving job to get your pay
If you ever get annoyed
Look at me I’m self-employed
I love to work at nothing all day
And I’ll be
Taking care of business (every day)
Taking care of business (every way)

 That would be my theme song here in Cairo. While I went through the radio boxes in the corner CRO Holman walked in. He turned the music down. Bill raised his head and waved at us before his head leaned back into the gunk tank.

The CRO was thrilled to learn that I had cleared up all but two of the radio coverage problems reported from the test they had conducted. I told him I’d get back with him about a solution for the remaining two problems. It’s funny that nothing I had done here had been extraordinary. It’s always the simple things.

Holman wore a big smile pasted on his face as he left.

An hour into the boxes I found a copy of the twenty-two thousand dollar RCL Communications radio survey initiated by my predecessor Charles A. Unbelievably, RCL used the embassy VHF antenna atop the chancery for their tests without checking the VSWR. Since they performed the test with the same bad connector that I had found yesterday, the whole effort was null and void—twenty-two K’s of wasted money.

Forget the curse of the Egyptian Pharaohs. This was the curse of some people who didn’t know (or care about?) what they were doing…

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