Thursday, January 27, 2011

Eve of more Protests

New riot update:
Text received en-route to Alex from a close friend in Egypt who is a member of the government:
Hope you arrived safely. Avoid to hang out today as Alexandria started a lot of protest specially in mahatet elraml and bakoos.

I thought they would have two days at most. Tomorrow is Friday, the day of prayer. It has been dubbed “angry prayer day.” The imams will get everyone riled up and then the protests will supposedly start after prayer. Of course our group (which mind you is quite good at these things: they were the first ones in Cuba and the last ones out, and have never willingly pulled out of a country) will be doing tourist things.
Alexandria is a much more conservative town than Cairo. This is where the recent New Years day bombings were. On the way in I saw a huge billboard with the Islamic crescent and the Christian cross filled in with the Egyptian flag. I translated the first line to read “I am Egyptian.” I asked our director what the second line said. He looked down and said “I am pleased you know the first line, and I hope you never have to know the second. It says ‘I am not a terrorist.”
Less than a month ago a bomb rocked the town I am now in, which led to riots. Supposedly tomorrow will bring the same, insha’allah-God Willing.
Oh and the government blocked facebook, so for those of you keeping up with this, the Egyptian Government will not be "liking" my post. (Some friends showed me the way around it, thankfully)

Egyptian Day of Anger

In response to the Tunisian situation in which violent protests ousted a tyrannical regime, Egypt has tried to follow suit. This has lead to some pretty interesting bus rides through town. On Tuesday Egypt had a national holiday, when most folks are off of work. Ironically “Police Day,” the holiday taken in order to pay homage to the police (read-security forces) was the national holiday picked for the protests. That morning the largest Egyptian news paper ran the front page article of the trial and mugshot of the Alexandria bomber-solidifying a government crackdown against any opposition. (The following day after massive protests, the paper discussed such movements, in Lebanon.) Tension filled the air that morning, along with the playful screams of boys. These boys were the conscripted army members from upper (Souther; Nile flows down river/North) with billy clubs being assembled at chokepoints. Egypt has a rule which states one cannot make Egypt look bad abroad. That along with Embassy orders kept our cameras down as we drove past. However it was interesting as the boys blew kisses at our bus and waved. A few hours later some of them would be engaged with rock throwers, a few cars and tires lit on fire, and massive demonstration. Tear gas (wouldn’t that be a cool souvenir?) and water cannons were used against the demonstrators. As we were coming back from the pyramids the following day, we noticed many cars were parked along the side of the bridge we were on. Looking down we saw a small street with a platoon of police with riot gear engaged with protestors who were throwing rocks and sticks. This is the one decent picture I got of the incident, which was safe to take from an elevated and moving position. () As we continued our drive we passed a few gas stations which had all of the workers (full service) standing out in front flagging the entrance so that folks could not buy gas to use. It was all very intense but seems rather ineffective. There is no legitimate opposition to the ruling party. American fears of a Muslim Brotherhood takeover play well into the regime’s strategy, and most Egyptians I have talked to would not support a Brotherhood government. The movement is a step in the right direction, but Egypt is following Tunisia’s lead, which has a significantly smaller population. Will this end in my extraction from some rooftop by helicopter? Not at all. People will complain and make facebook statements and then they will go back to watching soccer. Mubarak had a plane gassed up and ready to bolt, and rumors are his sun has left for London. With these actions the rich leader’s playground of a country is slowly dwindling. The scariest thing is who, or what will the next leader look like?

In other news: Packers won. I searched for an hour and a half walking all over the western parts of Cairo for a hotel to watch the game and have become intimately familiar with the expat bars. No luck however. On my way back I saw a man in a Bass Pro Shop hat, which scream American to me. I asked him if he was American. He said “La Habibi ana msrie” (no my son/love/young one I’m Egyptian) I then asked in Arabic if he knew where I could find the American football game. He said he would recommend New York. We then talked about what I was doing in Egypt and how I found his country. All in Arabic. I am getting much better at the language.

This is a country of contrasts. One day we were at the pyramids- a symbol of strength and old wonder, the next day the largest mall in the Middle East where I had a hotdog from Hardee’s and an Auntie Ann’s pretzel. Right now I am on the road to my new home on the coast. The drive is beautiful with many Mediterranean style compounds with lush (by desert standards) date trees. The two days of protests seemed to have subsided, leaving both sides asking “now what?” For me the answer is simple; go to the coast, learn Arabic, and take good pictures. Things happen here just like the rise and fall of the Nile, it is part of life. Sometimes change happens quickly, sometimes over longer periods of time. I am excited to see what change will come when I get to Alexandria.

Thursday, January 20, 2011

Leaving on a Jet plane

It’s about 8 in the morning here. I am sitting on the 11th story balcony, overlooking an area of Cairo from out apartment for the next few days. Steam comes off my freshly made cup of tea (look mom, no hands!) as the sun starts to warm up the city. It will get up 70 today, and I couldn’t be happier.
Plane ride over to Europe was great. I have never flown in a 747, and flirted my way to an open row with the nice woman at check in. I got all 4 seats to myself and promptly went to sleep sprawled out. When I woke up we were in Europe. Most of my friends, and many Drake students will get off at the European stop. They will see wonderful things, probably taste wonderful liquids of varying results, and be immersed in a different western lifestyle. My European adventure consisted of a frankfurter (when in Frankfurt) a beer and another nap. Eiffel towers, cathedrals, and tapas places are fine, but some crave a little more adventure.
I am not sure what it takes to come to the Middle East. We met a group of students headed to American University Cairo. There was a confidence amongst both teams, a sort of “I’m ready to take on the world” mentality. Undoubtedly the stresses of Middle Eastern life for Americans will rear up at some point. We will be ready. The next week or so is orientation and acclamation before we push north to our actual apartment.
The tea is getting cold.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Changes in latitudes...

6,000 miles. 23kg luggage allowance. 4 months, 2 weeks, 2 days. 181 pounds (I fully expect to drop back to 165, upon return I am starting the new fad diet: falafel and hummus, Atkins beware!) 1 hideous beard. All set to roll down the tarmac.
I’m all packed up, ready to go off on another adventure. This time it won’t be for a week in Des Moines. Or even three weeks playing tourist down the Nile. I have prepared for this ever since Ms. Brey said “hey, want to go to Jordan?” I will be exceeding previous stays in the region by more than double. This time there is no mission; no metrics to be judged upon, no team to oversee. The goal is simple: be. Learn more Arabic. Open up the world, and come back with stories. There will be lots of stories.
Almost all of my previous posts have been song names or lyrics, so in that fashion I will end with the following:
“Reading departures signs in some big airport reminds me of the places I’ve been…Visions of good times that brought so much pleasure make me want to go back again!”
So I will.
See you in the Sandbox!

Friday, January 7, 2011

Golden Glow

The day started off rather dreary and cold. This would be my last day on Drake’s campus for quite a long time. When I left work today at the admissions office, I wandered through Meredith and then by Morehouse-the places I have spent the majority of my Drake time. As I came out, the sun was setting, casting the warmest of golden glows on campus. I will miss Drake very much, but cannot wait to start the Egypt trip…

Normally I start these trip blogs with some sort of this is why I am going, what I believe we will accomplish, etc. This time is different. I am not leading anyone, I do not have a particular mission other than to just be there. We don’t have State Department meetings, embassy parties, or a schedule outside of classes. I am quite excited for this change of pace from my other endeavors in the region. I am also looking forward to the photography opportunities and challenges, which I hope to share here.

In terms of the recent bombings in my future city, which left 21 dead, we will keep our eyes open and our security tight. However we cannot, and will not back down. Putting Americans in the region, learning the language will continue to minimize the chances of these atrocities happening again, as was the case in Jordan. No Americans were targeted or killed in this particular attack, and both Butler and other organizations I seek counsel from have deemed it a safe place to travel. Regardless of kill counts and risk, dialogue promotes peace, and soft diplomacy, of a people to people style is one of the best ways to promote a common understanding between cultures.

“A ship in port is safe, but that's not what ships are built for”-G. Hopper
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