It was 9:30 on a Thursday night, and I was working on the outline for my next book ("Curse of the Hippo: Recovery Across Ten Countries") when our French-Canadian printer sent me a note.
"Dear Marie, pages 5 - 7 - 10 - 32 - 58 are corrupt. Please upload PDFs of these pages again. Merci."
What? That's impossible. Single pages in the middle of multiple page PDFs are corrupt? And yesterday Michael Kraiger downloaded them--same pages, same file, same server--and proofread. They were fine.
"Dear printer, These pages were fine when viewed in the New York office yesterday. Please go back to the original download and try again."
"If they are fine in your office, please just upload them."
"Dear printer, I am not in New York, I am in a hotel room in Egypt, where it is night and my upload speed is a blazing 600 b/sec, therefore this book will miss shipping if you don't go download the PDF again and open it properly."
Silence. Maybe I scared him. I halfheartedly made new PDFs and started uploading. An hour and 20 minutes later, a little over half the first page had gone up when I got a "broken pipe" message.
I swore, changed out of my pajamas and into my street clothes, and went out to a wifi-enabled coffee shop on a Thursday night. That's like a Friday night in the US or Europe.
The night was sweltering. Some nights in Cairo, we get lucky and the winds cool the city down. It wasn't one of those nights. Nevertheless, I sat outside at Cilantro, to avoid the smoke that wafts down inside from the "Smoking" section.
Thirty-year-old Peugeot and Lada taxis roared down the adjacent street that ran alongside the Nile. Clop clop clop. The occasional horse-drawn carriage went by, the horses trotting and disturbingly skinny for their jobs. Cigarette smoke didn't hang near me, but the milder aroma of apple tobacco permeated the air from the shisha cafe next door. The fresh waiter who used to harass me no longer worked at Cilantro, and I cursed silently at my company's printer and at myself for having a managerial job across three time zones. So easy for them to ask for an upload, so complicated for me to fulfill this.
An overhead air conditioner splattered water over my screen, but the uploads zoomed along. A bug bit my ankle.
And then I ordered a strawberry smoothie. I was sitting by the Nile on a summer night, shishas to my left and horses to my right. I sipped smoothie through a straw and thanked the printer for an atmospheric evening out.