"Don't Shoot"

As a lover of history I am naturally a great fan of Egypt. Many of the earliest pages of history were written on papyrus and stored for thousands of years in a pyramid.

Cheops Pyramid

Egypt is indeed a land of wonders, marvelous wonders and in just one lifetime you could never seen them all. From the time I was a child my interest and fascination with all things Egyptian was and is boundless. My seventeenth and eighteenth birthdays came and went in Egypt. At the time I was a member of the United Nations emergency Force on the Gaza Strip. I also had the pleasure of several successive trips to Cairo over the years that followed.

My later Egyptian adventures were made as a travel photographer. Actually it was several years before during my military service that my love of photography was born. It was also In Egypt during my military service that I gained most of my weight. Temperatures on the desert soared to 150 degrees at high noon. You could easily fry an egg on the hood of a jeep. As a result of the tremendous heat thirst became a major problem and I began to down over 75 of the little thirst quenching soft drink cans every sun filled day. By the time I returned to Canada I had made the leap from just Jim to Big Jim Bristow.

In the early seventies I held a position as Public Relations Director of a National Construction Association in Ottawa. In that capacity I was asked to join a Canadian government trade mission to Cairo with several Canadian Company executives in order to photographically document the trip. I was delighted at the opportunity to return to Cairo and eagerly accepted.
Cheops Pyramid Close-up
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I fully intended to take advantage of the trip to gather some great shots for my own needs and decided to pick up some new equipment for the trip. A new telephoto lens was just the ticket and the store I dealt with just happened to have a new Cannon 400 mm lens that when assembled was almost four feet long. That fact was almost to cost me my life.

After a day of meetings we returned to the hotel for some r&r. The hot Egyptian sun was just beginning to make its way to the horizon and the whole sky was turning into a blaze of blended colors. To say the least it was majestic. I could easily imagine a Pharaoh seated regally on a barge floating lazily down the Nile. In the distance from my seventh floor room in the Nile Hilton, the best hotel in Cairo at the time, I could see a rainbow of color bouncing off the Great Pyramid on the Giza Plateau. If ever there was a time to use the new telephoto, this was it.

I excitedly took the various segments out of the case and screwed them together to make up the very long barrel of the lens. I set up the tripod on the balcony, fixed the camera and lens securely to it and moved it into position. The lens stuck way out over the edge of the balcony railing. I never gave that fact a second thought but I should have.
Kids by the River
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When I looked through the lens I was elated at the power it placed in my control. I took several great shots of the pyramids then began to look around for other subjects for my new lens.

It never occurred to me, that screwed together the long barrel of the lens looked more like a canon or a bazooka than a camera lens particularly from a distance. I also never gave a thought to the fact that there were several Egyptian Millitary Installations in the area. Most important I never gave a thought to the extreme sensitivity in Middle Eastern countries regarding anything that might look like a weapon. I was just a photographer interested in pictures, what did I know about such intrigue.

There I was on the balcony having a great time. The sound of Arab music was floating out the open door of the balcony, past me and into the absolute magical atmosphere of the moment.

I don't really recall how long I was on that balcony before all hell broke loose. What happened next I will never forget. There was a loud crash as the door to my room was smashed off its hinges. Several very intimidating men burst into the room screaming in Arabic. In their hands each one was brandishing a rather mean looking machine gun. Two of them were also holding forty five automatics and waving them around in a manner that did not suggest that they were friends.
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Before I knew what had happened, I was grabbed, pushed to the floor and handcuffed with my arms behind me. "What the hell is going on" I cried while quickly adding that I was part of a Canadian Government Trade Mission To Cairo.

There was a jabbering sort of interchange between the Arabic men then they all started to laugh. I took that to be a very good sign that this was indeed all a big misunderstanding of some sort. Another gentleman who was also a part of my mission and who's room was across the hall heard the commotion and came over to investigate. He looked through the door and saw me on the floor playing target and he asked " Christ Bristow, what in the name of God have you done now?"

At that point one of the uninvited guests in my room spoke in English. "Allow me to apologize" he said. "Someone reported seeing a bazooka on your balcony." When I thought of it, I could understand the error, it did look rather ominous. Once I began to get over the shock of it all I began to appreciate the humor in the situation and joined in on the laughter and exchanged greetings.

Once everything had settled down and guns had been holstered or set leaning up against a wall the interests of my new guests turned from bazookas to my size and weight. One of them commented that I was the biggest man he had ever seen and asked if I would have one of his buddies take a picture of us with one of my cameras and send him a copy. The rest followed the idea and, we took a couple of shots to record the moment.
Nile Hilton Hotel
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It was suggested that a guy my size would be great in the Egyptian Army. I declined the invitation saying that I was far too big a target for my liking.

Needless to say my new telephoto lens spent the rest of the trip in its case. In fact, although I made several other trips to places like Egypt, South America and Algeria to mention just a few. The telephoto stayed safely tucked away in a closet at home. Eventually I sold it for about half what I had paid for it.

I decided that if I wanted a good close up of anything on a future trip, I would go to the subject rather than try to bring it to me through the lens. I was not about to become a piece of human Swiss cheese for any visual image.
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