Happy Anniversary Egypt
The Winds of Change
Our motorcycle operator banked to avoid the crowds as we navigated the spaces between demonstrators and tire fires. The wind from our forward motion pushed against my face and forced a cloud of heavy, oily-black smoke into my lungs. In what was most likely an attempt to thwart the Muslim Brotherhood, the Egyptian regime had cut off the area’s water supply during that hot summer in 2010. After three days the villagers could take it no longer and took to the streets, drawing the attention of law enforcement personelle who cut off the road ways with barbed wire and broken glass. Although we didn’t know it, we were witnessing the festering prequel to a popular uprising that would transform both the region and the world. Only a few unsuspecting months later we would be forced to watch from a distance as our Egyptian friends that had taken us into their homes, shown us their country and given us free rides daringly took their futures into their own hands.
This pic was taken by a lady friend sitting behind me
Dear Egypt: Happy Anniversary
I can hardly believe it but its already been one year since the beginning of the epic “Lotus” revolution. Once the fear barrier was broken people flooded Tahrir Square by the hundreds of thousands in the world’s most populated Arab country. Egypt became a great source of personal inspiration for me. Who couldn’t help but marvel at the resolve of the protesters that, in spite of seemingly insurmountable shortcomings, held their ground against the odds stacked to defeat them. In just 18 suspenseful days, the Egyptian people peacefully overthrew their 30 year dictator in a performance that even Ghandi would be proud of. Meshallah ye mawsr, alfa mabroook. However, in the months following the revolution it became clear that the job was far from finished.
“There is no path to peace, Peace is the path”
For me, returning to Egypt was not a matter of if, but when. Living in Lebanon had been like dangling a steak in front of a hungary dog so last December, I returned to catch up with friends and see what had become of the country I so revered. My arrival had been preceded by a week of incredible violence, and the week after my departure would again devolve into pandemonium. I remember being nearly hypnotized in front of my TV, watching the military and the protesters celebrate the departure of Honsi Mubarak. But times had changed and now deadly clashes with the Internal Security Forces were spiraling out of control. Unfortunately, one of the friends that had accompanied me during my return stay would soon suffer a terrible head injury, requiring multiple reconstructive surgeries. Brutality had crept back into Tahrir, but for what cause, and to what end? There will again come a time when the Egyptians are compelled to stand up for their future, but we must never mix justice with vengeance. Although there are a hundred causes worth dying for, there are almost none worthy of killing. Egypt has come along way and has inspired oppressed peoples throughout the entire region to shed their timidity and claim their rights. If the people stay true to the ideal of the revolution, and unite in nationalism rather than turn against themselves, there is still room for hope.
My friends and I commemorated the reunion with an over night safari into the Sahara.
Our lunch room was complete with cushions, date trees, and a stream.
At about the size of main land United States, the Sahara is the worlds largest desert. Hour after analogous hour our van sputtered along the strip of road that bisected the unending sand. Then, to our delight, the landscape began to transform. Out of the flatness rose the remains of volcanic mountains, and we abandoned our road to see the terrain unclose.
This area is known as the Black Desert, named after the layer of dark crust that was deposited by a tremendous lava flow.
The crew, some real quality people.
Below is a pano, click to expand
Coincidentally, the Black Desert is neighbored by the White Desert. We arrived there around dusk and made camp for the night. The sand had become shockingly cold so our guides set a place for us to sit and eat.
Bedouin style dinner, mmMMMmm…
There was a full moon that night and the light reflected off the boulders, illuminating them in surreal glow.
Dinner was followed up with tea, music and dancing, in Bedouin tradition.
Dancing around the fire.
Smooth and minty, better than any energy drink could ever hope to be.
We apparently made enough commotion to attract some asian party crashers from the neighboring camp.
The moon had shifted considerably by the time we called it a night. The sleeping bag I was provided was full of grating sand, but in my exhaustion I managed to forgot all about it.
Lying there in the desert, the one thing I couldn’t forget was the side of my tent brushing back and forth against the top of my head. The sun slowly appeared, revealing the mysterious rock formations that surrounded us. I left my tent at early dawn to have a look for myself, when I noticed all the small animal tracks that throughly explored our camp site. What I had dismissed as an unusually firm wind wrapping on the other side of the tarp, had been a desert fox who apparently wanted to join me.
Centuries of low, sandy winds have eroded the rock of the white desert into pedestals that display boulders.
The angular sculptures reminded me of piles of snow, a visual that sharply contrasted the stark, dry sandscape around us.
Believe it or not, the Sahara has actually gone through periods of transition, shifting from sea to desert. If you look closely, (click to expand), you will see a sea shell below.
This alter of broken stones we dubbed the “Purple Desert.”
Our guides were amazingly efficient and had us packed to go in no time.
Next stop, Crystal Mountain.
Sand Boarding! What else could conclude a desert safari?
Our trip may have finished but the weekend wasn’t over. The next day my friend and I ended up in Mahsheit Nasr. Its one of Cairo’s largest mega slums, which makes it one of the poorest places in the world. The area has been nicknamed Garbage City, and its easy to see why. The people there import trash from all over the Cairo then stock it, and sort it and sell it.
An estimated 600,000 to 1 million people live here. Drinkable water is scarce, and a livable wage, even scarcer.
We brought candy to give to the children. Not more than a few seconds after my friend had opened up the santa satchel, we found ourselves in the middle of a mosh-pit.
These poor chickens are confined to tiny cages that drives them mad. Out of frustration and hostility they peck each others feathers out. Not appetizing.
I will never forget the millions of flies, the plumes of dust, the overwhelming smells, the stacks of trash, and the general sense of claustrophobia that filled my head in Mansheit Nasr. I felt like I had stumbled into the Death Star and fallen down the garbage chute.
These small pots are called Olas. Its a sort of communal drinking fountain that shop owners often set up out of hospitality. The clay naturally insulates the water and keeps it cool.
In the back of Masheit Nasr is a spectacular church built into a cave. Giant murals engrave the cliffs above it.
Some funerals were recently held here following the deaths of Coptic Christians in Tahrir Square.
After Mansheit Nasr, even the toxic Cairo air felt breathable. I made another random stop at this old Barrons mansion.
My friend and I headed downtown to grab a bite to eat and I knew exactly what I wanted. This man is preparing Koshary. Its quick, cheap, filling, and above all delicious. Some say that the dish goes back 2,000 years.
I waited a whole year for this.
The search for Cairo’s best Koshary had taken us within walking distance of Tahrir square. Although I had been there before, there seemed to be a sublime newness to the area. The walls had been expressively tattooed, something that would have been impossible under the reign of Mubarak.
As we approached the square the graffiti became more dense, and urgent.
However, the changes of Tahrir were not limited to art. The presence of soldiers, barbed wire, and armored personelle carriers was blatantly overt.
This is the beating heart of the revolution, Tahrir Square. Fortunately, that day remained nonviolent and the traffic was free to flow through the round-a-bout.
On the other side of the road is the tent city, still standing a year later.
The “Road of the Free Eyes.” This is one of the primary junctions of the revolution, it witnessed some of the fiercest clashes, as the broken building alludes.
In an effort to combat the protesters, a heavy concrete wall has been constructed in the middle of the road.
Peeking between the concrete blocks, I saw a line of riot troops staring back through the cracks at the moving blurs on the other side of the wall. Behind them, the road was laced with barbed wire and guarded buy armored military transports. Today, only a few entries to Tahrir remain unsealed.
This man was wanted for shooting the eyes out of protesters. He has since been caught.
Soon, it was again time to eat.
This was my first experience with Yemenese food.