The Elephant and The Mouse

For anyone interested in media, a useful way to spend a few hours is switching among TV channels to monitor the different interpretations of the tragic events unfolding in Gaza. For what it’s worth, BBC presents the most carefully balanced coverage for its viewers. For the others …no surprises.

One disappointment with the BBC was that, although Hamas is the democratically elected government in the Occupied Territory of Palestine they still call it a “terrorist organization”.True, there is a wing of Hamas, and no doubt unofficial fighters as well, that continue, and will continue, to fight the occupation on political principle. The same way there are factions of the US Government/Military that fight “enemies of democracy” around the world – but the US doesn’t get labeled a terrorist government.

Gaza November 15th
Here’s what Gaza is looking like right now – and more bombing, both ways, will follow. Along with the threat of a land invasion, announced by Israel’s Military Chief at noon today.

I’m leaving Cairo tomorrow – I’ve been told by the Department of Palestine Affairs that I will not be allowed to enter Gaza as the dangers are very real and no area of the city is safe. A BBC reporter living in one of the “safe areas” with a white cross painted on top of the building to indicate “Internationals” living there, lost his very young son – I’m putting the photo here because this hell is going on – on both sides – and the fear is that a second wave of attacks will follow that will bring more pain to a territory already living under terrible conditions. Read the UN Report on Gaza in 2020 and weep for these people. When Cast Lead happened in 2008 – over 1400 Palestinians were killed and 13 Israelis were killed. Gaza’s water system was destroyed and thousands of homes were destroyed and schools were shut for two years.

 

 

The Elephant and the Mouse

We are not amused …We are still in Cairo

I’ve hated to write because, let’s face it, if I’m bored, so will you be after reading this  email. But apparently some of you are wondering if I am ok – thanks for that – and yes, “ok” just about sums up how I am …
So here’s the daily routine here at the May Fair Hotel in Cairo, which is no longer relatively posh: I wake up at 5 when the Call to Prayer is recited by the Muessin who stands, if not exactly on my balcony, then not too many feet away. I then drift off for another couple of hours, praying in my own humble Methodist way, that I can stay asleep until noon and thereby kill half a day.
No such luck – I get up at 8, slip on my long sleeved shapeless dress and flip flop my way down the hall and out to the balcony for breakfast. The breakfast is basic – white rolls (not thet kind you slip into your purse for a snack later), cream cheese wedges, nasty jam, hard boiled eggs, fig turnover cookie, and nescafe coffee or tea. Nothing wrong with it if you stay here one or two days. I’ve been here nine days.
Then the rest of the day looms ahead – I walk as far away from the hotel as I dare, given I fear getting lost. However the longer I am forced to stay in CairoI the more appealing the thought of getting lost becomes, so I walk further each day. I find the occasional souk – market – filled with odd stuff and junk made in China, which at one point I did find interesting but now just turns me off. I’ve found a couple of parks that you have to pay to get into – it’s autumn here so nothing is blooming except bougainvillea plus there are very few places to sit down. The few benches there are, were taken by young courting Muslim couples – by courting I mean holding hands and maybe an arm around a shoulder and a stolen kiss or two (ok, yes, I do watch them).

 

Yesterday I went to Coptic Cairo with an initially pleasant American woman from New York and her overwhelmed-by-mom son, who studies at the American University here. Under Mubarak, the Coptics were given some protection, but under the new government they are experiencing a new level of persecution and have been leaving Egypt in big numbers. The Coptic Museum is beautifully designed and displays are much better mounted than the Cairo Museum which is obviously resource rich but cash poor. Fascinating to see 6th century bibles with beautiful Arabic script and illustrations of Matthew and Mark and Jesus – all dark skinned and obviously Arabs. Of course – what were we thinking!
By the end of the day the mum had nagged the son so much that, when he was joking around with some workmen when we had stopped to ask directions, and she started yell at him again, I said “Leave the kid alone for once”. She was not amused and we returned to the hotel in silence, except for the son who said “Now you know why I am going to school in Egypt and not in New York” . They did not ask me to join them for dinner that evening.
Now – my Gaza news… I phoned the Ministry today, the day my permit was to be ready – and was told the Minister was out of town and to call next Sunday, Next Sunday. I had a small breakdown – the very sweet young men here brought me fresh squeezed orange juice, a box or kleexex, a cup of coffee and one after another kept nervously peering around the corner to see if I was alright. I am of course – but I am losing steam. The new bombings in Gaza aren’t helping of course – that may be why they aren’t rushing the permit through, I’m sure the fewer “internationals” hanging around, the better. A friend is confirming that date for me – and if it really is another week of waiting … I’ve found a shop called “Drinkies” where you can get everything imaginable so enough with the green tea and instant coffee…Kate
The weather is wonderful at this time of year – not hot and a mild breeze. If you ever plan a trip to Egypt to see the many wonderful sights, this would be a good time of the year to come. John and I toured Egypt on our way home from Botswana in June of 1980 and it was unbearably hot. A lifetime ago.
Kate

Waiting in Cairo

 

This blog I wrote over a week ago and I thought it went out – but it didn’t or did it? I’m sending it again – on November 12th and will send another later today. Kate

Needing to be checked out by Egyptian “Intelligence” has sort of an exotic ring to it – and there may have been a time when I would have cultivated the image but now – honestly, major pain in the butt.

There are a series of young guys at this hotel  (May Fair Hotel- good location, very reasonable, absolutely no frills) who are helpful, each in his own way. After some false starts, I found the man who was “good friends with Mr Google” and in 10 minutes he had pinned down where I needed to go and who I needed to see to apply for the document that would get me across the Egyptian border and into Gaza.

Armed with this information, none of which I could pronounce, I walked down to the huge Government tower beside the Nile and discussed the matter in my flawless Arabic with the men in the guard house interviewing everybody who thought they might want to go into their Government’s building. This is Egypt remember.

I was explaining I wanted to go and see Mr xxxxxx. He kept shaking his head no, I kept nodding my head yes and pointing to my watch and showing him the name of the Deputy Minister. He called another officer who spoke English, I explained my situation (alone in Cairo, running out of money, my Consulate not supporting my trip to Gaza etc) and he kindly phoned up to the Ministry of Palestine Affairs and I was allowed to go up … with an escort.

I met with a woman and a man – never did get clear who they were – and again went over the story. They promised to try to get the security approval I needed through in a week – although it could be as long as two weeks if the department is backed up.

So I’m here for another few days at least, and no one wants to hear me complaining about being in Cairo so I’ll spare you.

I’m here but I’m not there …Yet

I was sure I’d have a second blog published before now, but things haven’t gone as smoothly as hoped. No surprise to anyone who has travelled in the Middle East.

The trip from Toronto to Frankfurt and on to Cairo was fine. I arrived about 9 in Cairo and was met by Walid, (“Egypt welcomes Mrs. Catherine”) from the tour company that was to drive me across the Sinai the next day. He got me settled in my hotel and we agreed to a 4:30 start the next day.

The drive across the Sinai was quite beautiful – the moon was going down on the left side of the car as the sun was very gradually rising on the right. A large man named Ali was the driver and drive he did – at top speed all the way. Luckily for all of us he was highly skilled and, next to John van, had the best reflexes I’ve ever seen – which drivers in Egypt must develop at a very young age to survive. Walid the tour guide was supposed to be pointing out interesting sights and answering my many questions, but he fell into the deep sleep that a new parent can only dream of and woke up only when we stopped for coffee three and a half hours into the trip. However the desert always offers something new to see despite its surface sameness and I was happy watching the land come to life as we sped by.

One odd sight was the long lines of cars at gas pumps. They told me there are gas shortages in many parts of the Middle East and waiting several hours to get gas is quite common.

After five hours, we arrived at the town of Rafah and then the Rafah Gate. The entry to Gaza, the place I’ve thought about for the past year. I put on my bright orange backpack – a first for me – and wheeled my suitcase along the road leading to the border post and took my place in the surprisingly short line up. When it was my turn I handed my passport, with my Egyptian Visa and my Gaza Entry Permit letter. The guard looked at them carefully then walked over to the main office and gave my papers to the head border guy and told me to wait. Why are these people always so miserable looking?

Within five minutes he came back and told me entry was refused.  No reason offered, no explanation. Sorry. He suggested I go back to Cairo and ask for an explanation from the “Egyptian Embassy”. Try to picture this: I am already in Egypt. I am trying to go through an Egyptian border post that is 100 yards away from the Gaza border. Yet they say I can’t go through that specific Egyptian border and on to the Gaza border, even though I have a letter of invitation from the Gaza government. Huh?

The rest of the day was spent in phoning people trying to get help and asking for an explanation of the refusal. Gaza Mental Health phoned and tried help but couldn’t. David Heap, leader of the two Canadian Boat to Gaza trips (he was jailed in Israel the second time) happened to be in Gaza and he got busy, thank God, and got a colleague working on my problem on the Gaza side of things. I was all set to go across via the tunnels but that would have meant that GCMHP wouldn’t have been able to work with me as an “illegal”. and might have meant getting out was a problem if the tunnels were closed down.

Since last Wednesday (today is Saturday) I have been staying in the town of El Arish and Google may say it’s a vacation paradise but check with me before you go. However, despite the fact that I am covered in bed bug bites, I have really enjoyed interacting with the people who live here a lot. Friendly, full of pride about Egypt, lots of questions about Canada and open to my questions about their faith and customs. Most of the woman here wear the nigab and are happy to explain their feelings around wearing it. The young girls are beautiful and graceful. I have made friends with a dear young man who is at the desk of my hotel. He has helped in so many ways, basically a very kind guy. He invited me to his family home last evening for dinner. They are Palestinians originally from Gaza – expelled in the mid 40’s by the British along with so many thousands of others. What a privilege to share a meal and the evening with people like this – very conservative Muslims, living their faith on a daily basis, and such a mystery to the rest of us.

Tomorrow, if everything is in place, I try another way across. I’ll fill you in later, i hope next time from Gaza.

Finding My Voice

I’ve always thought about blogs much the way I’ve though about Christmas letters that tell what every family member has been doing for the past year – no thanks.

But since I leave Monday for Gaza, to work for several months as a volunteer at a community mental health centre, the opportunity to let others know what life is like for 1.6 million Palestinians living under occupation is too good to pass up so I am tip toeing (awkwardly as you will see) into the world of  blogs and twitter and Facebook. My hope is to send a blog weekly, letting friends, family and whoever else is following the situation in Gaza know what I am hearing, seeing and thinking – well, maybe not the thinking part since I need to keep polities out of the equation …if I want to stay in the country.

I was going to put a photo of me leaving home but I can’t figure out how to do that just yet – so here’s a photo of my Nova Scotia Duck Tolling Retriever Minnie – just to add a bit of colour to my first blog.