Friday, June 10, 2011

Egypt Myramid

Sharon happy to arrive to the land of a new democracy

Revolution without a solution

Night time arrival to Cairo crossing the Nile River bridge
For three weeks prior to our scheduled flight into Cairo I carefully monitored the news regarding any unrest within Cairo or the country itself. Everyone warned us of what could happen and the high risk factor traveling within a country dominated with so many conflicting factions vying for power and control since the over throw of Hosni Mubarak and his family of thieves.  For this reason I chose to move forward with our plans because I had a hunch of what I might discover to be true. These people need our dollars more than ever. But as a precaution upon our arrival, I booked a hotel in advance near the Great Pyramids in Giza and requested a driver to wait at the airport to avoid any chaos because our flight was scheduled to touch down in the early evening hours.
The "pyramid view" from our room

We boarded the Metro train in Athens, Greece in the afternoon, airport bound, the same train I had my wallet nicked upon arrival back from Crete just days prior, this time with half as many people and my waist pack tucked inside my locked duffel. Replacement debit and credit cards were due to arrive in Nairobi Kenya in a week so the timing of our four days in Egypt I estimated should work out well.

The powerful Mobius Star
We arrived into Cairo around 8:30 PM and waited for the luggage but only half the luggage of the entire plane seemed to arrive while the other half of the passengers including us stood looking at the empty conveyor nonplused.  I couldn’t believe Egyptair would lose half the luggage on a direct flight but...20 minutes later the conveyor began moving again and our luggage finally popped out of the stainless steel chute onto to the belt.  During the wait I tried to see out into the waiting area if anyone was waiting with a sign bearing our name though the distance was far, I thought I saw a person waving at me.

My five minute visit to the Sphinx
With luggage on our backs and in our hands we skirted by security out into the international arrival area and indentified our name among the many placards posted in the hands of others waiting. Our driver introduced himself as Mohammad and we walked into the parking garage together. The airport being quite away from Giza we had plenty of time to exchange personal information about each other along with occasional breaks when the driver directed our attention to a point of interest while he negotiated the hectic traffic. As we drove across the Nile River I saw many cars parked off to the side on the bridge so I requested him to stop for a photo. It was very dark and the image wasn’t clear but I snapped a quick shot of our driver got back into the car and within minutes we arrived to the gates of our hotel compound. I say “compound” because everything other than the general public is under the watch of armed security guards. The guard opened the gates, the doorman collected our bags and we bid farewell to Mohammed but not before setting a time to meet him and his boss downstairs the next morning to discuss a tour of the Great Pyramids, the Sphinx, and other less important sites which would take up the whole day and the following day. We quickly discovered anywhere we wanted to go or explore had to be with an escort. This made our visit restrictive and confining.
The epic center to the newest democracy

The Grand Pyramid Hotel is a five story 1980’s style boxy L shaped building with a large pool and a couple mediocre restaurants. As for our room, I requested we face the Great Pyramid when I made the reservation. We stepped into our average sized room, threw back the curtains to see the view of the pyramids. The prominent items first catching my eye was the elevated freeway, the second was large concrete apartment cubes and finally the top 25% of the pyramid behind the buildings. Well the hotel didn’t lie it just wasn’t like the view of the Acropolis we had in Athens. After a quick shower, we collapsed into our beds to be refreshed for the next morning’s tour.
Mubarak's burnt out HQ overlooking the Cairo Museum

During our entire stay we had conflicting reports from everyone we met about walking around by ourselves without a guide or a bodyguard. The conversation usually went like this, “Egypt is perfectly safe but don’t leave your hotel by yourselves,” and always our driver’s insistent reminder ”don’t trust anyone.” Ummm….safe but not too safe. To be honest the revolution has put 40% or more of the population out of work and if you happened to be employed you can expect to be paid less than five dollars a day. The economy is a disaster. Tourism, the main source of Egypt’s revenue has dropped off more than 80% leaving the hotel industry in shambles, the tour companies and the vendors who feed off the tours, in total desperation.  Most of the citizen’s attitude reflects a conflict of joy for their freedom but general unhappiness clouds them, which brings about a bit of fear from tourists.

We arrived at the Great Pyramids at 10AM the next morning only to discover we were the only tourists visiting at that time. Can you imagine one of the most important man made wonders in the world having two tourists show up on a beautiful day mid morning? At first one would think this is a great opportunity for us except we were the only possible customers for every trinket salesman, camel ride hawker, horse cart driver, and tour guide in the whole site when there should be thousands of possible customers. HELP!  How many times can we say no or no thank you in one day?  We honestly felt sorry for all these vendors still I developed a callus attitude until we visited the historical mosque on our last day when a young man came up to us after we thwarted all the other sellers of trinkets and he spilled his guts about knowing we didn’t want to buy any of his merchandise but this is the only way he can make a living in this collapsed economy. There are no jobs for any young person yet he still needs to somehow feed himself and help with his family. He went to on explain how once the revolution started it was joyous and wonderful but the daily needs still exist. Though the revolution brought freedom it has chased away all the tourism and when there was once a thousand visitors standing where we were six months ago, only a half dozen now exist making the odds of selling anything slim to none. I bought a change purse of some sort to allow him to eat that day only hoping that some other person does the same tomorrow for this articulate young man with a college degree in business.

When I purchased the series of tickets at the entry gate, one of them was to enter the Grand Pyramid and walk up into the very top chamber of the pyramid. The corridor leading to the top was a small passage mostly constructed as a tight tunnel requiring us to travel on our hands and knees until you reach past the halfway point. If you have the least bit of claustrophobia this passage surely would start to bring on a bit of anxiety and fortunately there was hardly anyone there. I couldn’t image navigating this passageway with hundreds of others. The passage was both up and down and the size wouldn’t allow for passing except maybe a small child. When we reached the top chamber I was surprised to see about six people sitting meditating plus one meditating person lying in a stone body sized sarcophagus with the lid slid half off. The air was stagnant and heavy with a single low wattage bulb providing a sip of light for viewing. Sharon and I sat and began some mediation of our own. I began my breathing bringing my mind to a languid state when suddenly I saw a bright cerulean blue flash. It startled me and as fast as it came it left and never returned. A few minutes later we got up and began our decent back into the bright surroundings of the site and the throngs of vendors.

A candid shot of our happiness leaving Egypt
Before we left Bisbee we were given a Mobius star from John Gallaher to be placed on the west side of the Grand Pyramid. The charm was only the size of a quarter and this request seemed to be an easy one to do but we didn’t plan on being the only tourists walking around the site. Trying to get some time by ourselves to place the Mobius suddenly was a major challenge. First we had to shake the vendors away, then this pyramid was the only structure that was roped off keeping you 20 feet away from its base with guards posted at each of the corners and then our driver saw us leave the entry into the pyramid and decided to follow us in his car requesting we get in so he could drive us to the other sites. We repeated our request many times to leave us alone for a few minutes because we had something to do. Suspiciously he drove off to a meeting point we agreed on during our repartee. We waited on several attempts to allow guides and guards to clear. Our plan needed to be quick. I photographed the Mobius in the hand of Sharon, took the piece in my hand and wondered up to the rope barrier. Sharon was ten yards away with the camera to capture the placement. With me giving the signal, I threw up my hand like I was pointing to the top and threw the Mobius making it to about the third stone level. Not as far as I wanted but far enough out of eye shot to any passerby. No one suspected anything and we continued on our walk up to our impatient driver. He didn’t appreciate us ignoring his direction and finally we succumbed and he finished our tour of the pyramids and drove us to the Sphinx. Driving to the Sphinx was a bit strange because when he pulled into a small parking area next to the site which was less than five minutes from the pyramids, a guard chased us away and he had to park on the small pot holed dirt road, let us out for a photo and told us to return quickly. It was weird but I got my photos and allowed myself a couple minutes more to take in the site before I could see he was anxious to go. 

A few days after we left Cairo we heard a news story about new Egyptian symbols had been discovered on the west side of the Grand Pyramid discovered by a robotic camera.  Was it coincidence or the power of the Mobius Star?

We returned to our hotel and that night we discussed some of our observations between us and with some other visitors from Santa Fe, New Mexico. Cairo and Giza are overrun with trash and buildings in total disrepair along with hundreds of unfinished buildings. The disrepair I can somewhat understand because no one can afford to patch or put a coat of paint on anything but the trash strung streets are a matter of community pride. It takes only a little effort to make a difference to bring the standard from total despair to poor especially if so many aren’t working anyway. It doesn’t sound like much but it shows that people care about there surroundings. India’s people make an effort creating such a difference in appearance and health. Egypt has been beaten to a slow death by the previous Mubarak government ignored reinvestment into his people and country. Instead this prick squirreled away billions of dollars in banks and real estate. This is most obvious when visiting the National Museum in Cairo located near Tahrir Square, the revolution epicenter. Outside the building looks inviting but once inside all the national treasures are barely lit if at all, the walls are literally crumbing, glass on the display cases haven’t been cleaned in years, the papyrus paintings are fading to nothing because of the UV light pouring in the clear story windows, and the cases protecting these relics could be compromised without any effort. Considering the importance of this collection, it’s care has been shamefully been ignored the past 30 years of greediness by the Mubarak regime. It’s no wonder the government building next to the museum still bears the charring of the revolution and should remain as a reminder until the rest of Cairo is rebuilt. With the 30 million people in Cairo and Giza alone, the city deserves to be the Paris of North Africa but as it stands now, only a miracle could bring relief to these people to meet their basic needs.  

During our stay in Giza we felt trapped within our neat little compound and nothing outside enticed us to venture beyond the tourist destinations. I tried hard to understand but I couldn’t get past the extreme hardship these people are enduring. The freedom they fought for now seems empty and I could only offer a replay when asked about democracy by the few inquisitive Egyptians, “It takes time “ and they asked “How can I feed my children tonight?” I fell silent.

I pray their elections scheduled for September and November prove hopeful but in the meantime there will be millions in Cairo going to bed hungry each night with very little hope in sight.

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