Some unforeseen maintenance interventions at home would’ve drained out five days from our planned stay in Egypt. If it weren’t for my nephew, we wouldn’t have been able to manage such unseen inconvenience. Dr. Seif Sultan, my nephew, a thirtyish promising dentist holder of a PhD in dental and jaw rehabilitative surgery, offered to control and supervise the works at least twice a day on his way to and from the university, where he teaches, or to his private clinic where he practices; so that we don’t have to worry and may enjoy our holiday.
That was “an offer we couldn’t refuse” bringing back a happy and satisfied smile to light up Alessandra’s face. She, as much as myself, wanted so much to drive up the valley to see our Upper Egyptian and Nubian friends in Luxor and Aswan: Sheikh Mohammad Er’Ramley the regional director for Al Azhar institutes in Upper Egypt and the New Valley, Ossama Es’Sayed the Rooms Division Manager of the legendary Sofitel Winter Palace Hotel & Pavilion, Nubeyia the fascinating Nubian Executive Housekeeper of Etap Luxor Hotel, Abdel Hamid the old felucca sailor (traditional Nile river sail boat), George Gaddis the jeweler, Hamed the Executive Chef in the Ex Novotel Resort now Iberotel, Fathi Hefni the impresario, Hakeem the Nubian river boss, El Ghoul the director of Sofitel Cataract Hotel, Gabriel the guide and a lot more friends of mine I’ve known through my long working career whom all became friends to Alessandra.
Driving a car up the river for almost 1000 km, is an experience I sincerely recommend to those travelers eager to know, to comprehend and to taste the real life of the country. Nothing like what they watch from a comfortable seat of an air-conditioned approaching airplane’s window or the one they frequent in hotels. Of course such a dare will not cross the minds of the new breed of tourists, the ones educated and programmed to fit in the mass and all inclusive travel packages to visit a country à la japonaise, in a week or ten days, convinced of having centered a good deal but never realizing that they brought nothing back with them, except a few insignificant souvenirs that in time they would even forget where did they get it from! Surely those haven’t got the will or drive to ‘Know’ or ‘Experience’ or at least ‘Discover’.. They just want to ‘Change’ their daily monotonous routine.. And the mere thought of having worked all year long to save some money and willingly give to someone to tell them when to wake up, where to go, what and when to eat, and most of all what to buy and wherefrom, doesn’t in the least bother or tickle their thoughts!!
That’s not my kind of tourism and hospitality.. My perception of both is based on exclusivity, personalization and quality.. On one hand, a traveler cannot be reduced to a room number and a wrist bracelet, but on the other hand should pay very well to be recognized as an individual with special needs and expectations that his host should meet and satisfy.. My perception is an old fashioned conservative and orthodox understanding of receiving travelers authentically and in nostalgic style. Perhaps even that’s why I decided to quit that business when I realized how the mutation in the culture of travelling is reflecting all the aspects of the globalized market economy: accumulating quick big private gains, abusing of manpower working rights and conditions, exporting wealth, degrading culture, establishing superficiality, producing low standards in quality, destructing ecological and environmental systems, drying national economy on the mid and long terms.. Realizing the quick changes happening to the hospitality culture, I refused to be part of it, so as I cant beat it and won’t join it.. I’m out.
But friends are friends.. People you shared with them and through them good part of your life’s ups and downs.. We’ll go, insha’Allah, and overcome the long drive to see each one of them.
Once again, I did drift far away with my thoughts.. A hopeless old man’s defect, but it’s no Elsheimer.. I assume! Well!! Unfortunately things didn’t turn out favouring such a long desired plan.. Once we reached Cairo, where we gladly spent the most valuable two days time with my daughters and grand-children, we came to know that the Upper Egypt main road has been closed by order of the AFSC (Armed Forces Supreme Council) the body that is temporarily ruling the country, due to certain unrests around the areas of Minia and Assiut! So we made up our minds to set off to Sinai for the remaining ten days. We still have dear friends there, especially among the Bedouin Tribes.
I noticed a 180° conversion in the attitudes of the young men serving in the fuel stations, in previous experiences, in Cairo and along the way, they weren’t attentive or caring to customers needs, while now all along the way and in the several distribution points we stopped to refill, they were alert, courteous, polite, initiative and quick.. You find your car dusted and the front and rear wind shields cleaned in no time.. As they greeted us upon arrival with a smile, they wished us a safe trip on departure.. It never happened before, you can feel they are now proud of working and gladly trusting their tomorrow, though the pay is still the same or maybe even lost some of its real value after the revolution.
On each one of the eight check points along the way as well as the tall stations, we noticed the presence of the armed forces next to the police agents. They control your documents and the car trunk then wish you safe and happy journey. As a matter of fact, they are very polite.. Nothing like the common oppressive arrogance of the police forces.
Late in the afternoon we arrived Sharm El Sheikh. After having passed that monster structure used as the city gates and going through the main “Peace Road”, two sceneries did grasp our attention and brought us uneasiness, the first was the port full of excursion boats anchored with no one on board.. We’re talking of several hundreds of them.. If you count on average for each one four sea crew members, three ground crew, the diving instructor, the cameraman, the courtesy bus driver, the diving center attendants, the sales representatives, the fueling caterer, the food and provisions supplier and so on, you’ll soon realize that we’re talking about an entire population of unemployed youth and a substantial economic harm to the territory.
We came across the second passing in front of the pyramid shaped International Hospital, where the ex dictator is presumably detained. Seeing the well known blue armored vehicles, six of them, belonging to the Interior Ministry’s Prison deportation department, and about 20 police soldiers and two middle rank officers. The absence of representatives of the Armed Forces in that case alarmed me a lot, and I’m afraid that I passed my worries to Alessandra, that strange absence cannot be attributed only to the Camp David Accords terms and conditions; It may also means that the ex dictator is not there at all. At such a troubling thought frowns replaced smiles, and we remained silent till the doorsteps of the Hotel.
The warm welcome of our friends kept our spirits high, but the knot in the throat remained all the same.. If he’s not in the hospital, where then? A question that kept buzzing like a trapped bee inside my head. Alessandra knew how to drive away those worries.. A massage, a long shower and a nice cup of our favourite Italian coffee; that’s her magic recipe for recovering long drives and worries.. It always worked perfectly, specially the massage bit and its undoubtedly certain followers.
I will not go through the daily details of our stay at Sharm El Sheikh, but I’d rather draw some characters I met this time so you’ll be able to make up your mind about which category to allocate them:
Mr. Mohamed S.: the lawyer who follows the registration practices for a small apartment we bought there. He’s the Head of El Tor City Council who practices privately from office and home. Before the revolution he assisted foreign ‘investors’ to join Egyptian speculators in destroying entire areas of the South Sinai governorate under his jurisdiction. Now he’s preaching a plan to create agriculture cooperatives for new type of medium range speculation.. To allocate blocks of five thousands feddans to ‘serious investors’ where to provide them with paid assistance to drill water wholes, and for the essential infra-structure needed to start cultivating. When I discovered the absence of a regulatory plan of crops and times, I realized the speculating edge behind such a scheme.
Mr. Ehab O.: the hotel’s Rooms Division Manager a typical liberal moslem young fellow, who doesn’t miss a prayer, and yet seriously enjoys every moment of his working day doing his utmost to see to the comfort of his guests, trouble shooting and solving problems while always alert to the interests of his hotel and to those of his employer: the guest. Ehab is very enthusiast about the future of the country after such an overwhelming revolution. He finds the time for introducing his newly wedded Russian wife the essentials of the Arabic language. But as many of his peers, can’t decide where to give his vote.
Mr. Wasfi K.: My life long friend, career colleague and companion, and the Area General Manager for one of the famous hotel management and touristic investments companies operating in Egypt since three generations. He judges the revolution as “Born Crippled” because it didn’t settle the pending account with the past first. He’s very pessimist about the near future and is encouraging his son to migrate abroad. Even if I don’t agree with him, but I respect his views.. He’s my last remaining friend.
Waleed: The senior beach attendant, a very reliable young fellow who’s soon to be married, but his contradictions hit me. First he truly believes in the necessity of change as a tool to convert the present into a better future, however he doesn’t have a clear idea about what the next step should be. I think it’s normal in such case of young men having to work for twelve and thirteen hours a day having no time for the luxury of self education or even the energy to do so.
Ragab: The fruit shop owner in the old market place where we always got our best fruits during our repeated visits to South Sinai. Though the business is very limited, he still have faith in the coming days and wish well to Egypt. He will vote like his family in the valley. They will tell him when the time comes.
Guirguis: the head waiter of Sadiki restaurant at Hadaba area, believes that El Baradei is a better choice for the country being a Nobel Peace Prize holder, a well connected internationally, have a solid view for the country’s strategic future, yet he lacks mediatic appeal. Here’s one with a clear opinion.
Captain Hassan L.: A pioneer who came to Sharm El Sheikh more than twenty years ago and forged by his bear hands a business that cost him long and painful sacrifices. Now that he built his small empire, He holds his caring strictly to his lady friends, to his business and nothing else. He’ll decide the vote at the very last moment, if he’s in Egypt and not travelling!!
Mr. Nasser Z.: The V. Travel Regional Manager, he’s a militant who did participate at the “Tahrir Square” manifestations almost from day one, just took the time to move his family from Cairo to a country side village with his parents till things settled down, and he joined in the square giving a helping hand anywhere needed. He’s convinced that the past régime with all its components and culture should crash and burn first, then a constituent committee chosen by the people should prepare the draft for a new constitution, to be able to build a parliament on new electoral laws, as a preparatory step to elect freely and democratically a new president. Nasser is ready for any kind of sacrifice for the good future of his three young children. He’s the first person I met in Egypt who recommends the French Revolution example.
Ayed the fisherman, Khodeir the park ranger, Soliman the cafeteria owner: My friends the Bedouins belonging to “El Mesaynah” tribe, and are living in what should be called ‘reservations’ where for ages and ages were treated as a touristic attraction but never as Full Egyptian Citizens. All of them are eager to see what the future will bring for them, their tribes and their families.. They have every right to hate the past, survive the present and doubt the future. Just a small note: the average daily earning of a Bedouin is less than ten Egyptian pounds a day! (1.5US$).
Gamal: the barman in a Five Star Hotel regrets the peaceful mind owed to the security the ex régime provided even if it meant “No Rights” or “ No Laws”.
Now, as I can’t describe all the characters I encountered in a month, I can tell you for sure that they all have one thing in common: “they are all looking for freedom and democracy, but neither have the slightest idea for an answer to the following questions: What is the price to be paid for freedom and for democracy? Are you ready and willing to pay it? and, once you have freedom and democracy, what will you do with them?”.
I wish you will fulfill your part of the deal and categorize each individual I mentioned, as I told you earlier in the introduction of this series of articles. Once you do so, I want you to carefully consider each candidate, applying for the legislative, administrative and presidential elections; having in mind the following question: “Which one of those candidates have a strategic solid plan and program to meet the contradicted needs of all the characters you’ve seen here with me, and the others you may see, should you decide to use this kind of magnifying lenses?”.
Good Luck, and see you there..
No matter what, give your vote..