posted: January 31st, 2011 | by:Bert
©Bert Gildart: Turn on the TV and you’ll see the news dominating American airways concerns Egypt, and little wonder. We provide $1.5B in funds to this economically challenged country, which is now in total chaos.
We provide funds because of Egyptian oil and and because Egypt is our strongest positive link with the Muslim world. Some fear all this unrest will result in replacement of President Mubarak with a militant Muslim group that may support al-Qa’ida, a concern that seems justifiable in the wake of 9/11, ten years ago though it might have been.
Other Americans say this could simply be a wake up call, and that we should get out and wean ourselves of foreign oil. There are, of course, counter arguments that can go on and on until you are blue in the face.
Currently our State Department is recommending that Americans leave Egypt with haste. Other nations are urging their citizens to avoid traveling to Cairo as days of protests descend into chaos. What a sad state of affairs our world seems to be in, for as most realize, Egypt has always been one of the world’s most interesting places to visit.
About 25 years ago Travel/Holiday, one of the most respected travel magazines of the time, sent me to Egypt. For almost a month, I was privileged to meet an interesting and accommodating group of people, but how those memories contrast with the images we’re now seeing on TV.
Sunday morning Airplanes were flying overhead, soldiers were policing the streets — and rioting had disintegrated to such a point that some of the country’s more responsible citizens were encircling their museums and their precious antiquities, hoping to safeguard them from looters.
My adventures there began on the cruise boat Osiris, which transported me along much of Egypt’s Nile River. Each night crewmen placed a bottle of Queen Nefertari wine in my stateroom.
Statue of pharaoh; the Sphinx, showing lack of nose, which Napoleon shot off; pilot of small boat.
The cruise boat provided me with access to tiny villages, and it is true, many were impoverished, certainly part of the reason residents are rioting today. They believe the Mubarak government does not represent their economic interests.
“I’M JOHN WAYNE”
From the cruise boat, I also disembarked near Cairo, and one morning as the sun was rising, I visited one of the World’s Seven Wonders — the Pyramids of Giza. The Sphinx was located near the entrance, and as I studied it I recalled Napoleon had shot the nose off the Sphinx.
Though I thought I was alone, before I could set up my tripod, a “camel jockey” rode toward me, “firing” at the air with his staff. “I’m John Wayne,” he called out in a sing-song voice. Then he commanded his camel to perform several “Western” tricks. But this guy was a con artist and soon got around to the subject of tipping. “Baksheesh, baksheesh,” intoned John Wayne, “and my camel can do so much more.” I laughed and coughed up a few dollars.
People’s Boat; trail connecting Valley of Kings with Valley of Queens.
Near Luxor I took a bus to the Valley of the Kings, and then hiked five miles to the Valley of the Queens. I was hiking through a culture that had reached a stage of development and sophistication that none of its contemporaries surpassed and few to this day have equaled.
Somewhere during the course of my extensive journey along the Nile, I boarded a “ People’s Boat,” and then described the experience in my Travel/Holiday story:
The People’s Boat is a barge-sized vessel with a second deck aft… Donkeys stomp and bray, complaining about their backbreaking burdens of sugar cane. Robust men sit arm in arm, joking… Veiled women stare but mask their thoughts with expressionless eyes.
When I disembarked a man on a motor scooter offered me a ride back to my hotel. “Hop on,” he said. And I did. At the time I found the people friendly and helpful, though some asked for baksheesh. This man didn’t, and refused when I offered.
Near the Aswan Dam in northern Egypt, I took a Felucca, a sailboat which provides Nile River residents with a means of transportation. It was the conclusion of an adventure through one of the world’s oldest and most enduring cultures, and whether or not it will be possible to duplicate it again soon will depend to some extent on choices Americans make in response to this crisis. It is a situation we should all follow and hope our country can make appropriate decisions about an issue that is complex and now riddled with mistrust.
Wouldn’t it be a shame if the doors on visitation to a culture that appeared four thousand years before the birth of Christ were suddenly sealed shut.
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