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Showing posts from July, 2005

Lebanese adventures

BEIRUT--Visited the Jeita Grotto yesterday with my wife and beheld the astounding caves via a walk-through and a boat ride. Dazzling. All of my comparisons are genre-inspired: I was looking inside the Genesis Cave inside Regula, into the apertures and cloud-organelles of V'Ger, inside the depths of the Misty Mountains... hell, inside the belly of Monstro the Whale. The puddling asymmetrical sculpture of stalactite into stalagmite made for billions of angles of beauty, a gothic cathedral of infinite detail and inspiration.

As part of my work here with an NGO helping Palestinian refugees, I've been sitting in on meetings with partnered on-the-ground organisations, hearing from officials, aid-workers and even Canadian embassy staff about the obstacles the refugees face in getting decent treatment, facilities and conditions. Such a tragedy--all these people want is to go home. More later.

Beirut is, in surface area, perhaps smaller than Edmonton, and not much larger in population--m…

Beirut the Beautiful

BEIRUT--My wife and I arrived in Beirut this morning and were delighted from the start. Nice officials at the airport, nice people, NICE weather, and delicious food. We were met by our friend Nizar who's showing us around before Nizar and I begin our work here with partner NGOs rendering aid to Palestinian refugees.

Neither my wife nor I had much previous knowledge of Lebanon, yet somehow we've still managed to be surprised. Beirut is a beautiful city, and it stuns us both to imagine that this city emerged from a horrifying, generation-long, multifactional (72 militia) civil war only within the last 15 years. What we've seen of this city is as beautiful as Montreal.

Red Sea to Cairo--Moses's route remixed

CAIRO--We're back, away from the fire zone of the eastern side of the Sinai peninsula. Some heavy security checks yesterday on the way here. We took a mini-bus from Dahab, a ride that should have taken 5.5 hours, but which actually took around 8 (the main checkpoint was a 45 minute delay). Obviously these are minor irritations given the misery inflicted upon innocent people in Sharm el-Sheikh (most of whom were Egyptians, if what I'm told is correct), but I wanted to keep friends and family informed.

Cairo's big, man. Something like 15 million people here. Makes NYC seem like an also-ran. We're staying in the refurbished seventh floor of a downtown office building that is now a hostel, overlooking Midan Tahrir(Liberation Square--more like a plaza or traffic circle) and the Egyptian Museum. Today my wife and I are going to see the Great Pyramids of Giza, our final ancient monuments destination (and, arguably, the greatest ancient monuments anywhere in the known universe)…

My wife and I are fine; far too many others, sadly, are not

DAHAB, SINAI PENINSULA--Thanks to everyone who expressed concern about our safety. I heard about the terrorist bombings in neighbouring Sharm el-Sheikhonly a few minutes ago. The attacks,denounced by Egypt's Muslim Brotherhood, occurred on the country's Revolution Day; at least 76 people of various nationalities, including Egyptians, are confirmed dead so far.

My wife and I are very far from the zone--80 km away--we'll be out of the country in a few days and headed to safe, safe Lebanon. In the meantime, please pray for the dead and injured and their families, and if you can donate to the Red Crescent/Red Cross, please do so.

A favour to ask: I can't access my main email from here, so if you're a friend or relative, please let folks back home know we're okay.

I am not now, nor have I ever been, a member of the Conservative Party of Canada

At my wedding reception, one of my best friends, Carlo, told the false story that he and I worked for the PC party in Ottawa in 1988. This is completely untrue.

He and I worked for the Government of Canada, External Affairs, as students hired on a summer employment programme. He also claimed that I snubbed then-PM Brian Mulroney. Also untrue. I have never met the "esteemed" former PM.

However, all of us students were invited to have our pictures taken with Secretary of State for External Affairs Joe Clarke, which I did--at a distance. We were also asked to do the work of the PC party itself--an entirely unethical request, and I think illegal--by a senior member of the Minister's staff. We were to participate in envelope stuffing of some sort and to be paid in pizza, after hours.

I told Carlo something to the effect that "I'm not going to work for those pigs," and I meant it. Whether he went or not, I cannot recall--but within five years the PC party was reduce…

From Dahab, with love

DAHAB, SINAI PENINSULA--So I've never been a lie-on-the-beach kind of guy, and I'm still not. Nevertheless, the view from Dahab is pretty amazing. Looking out across the waters, I find myself staring at the mountains of Saudi Arabia. They're ghostly here, like half-forgotten memories. Below me from the window of this internet cafe, a local youth leads a tourist. They're both on horses. Some folks are wearing swimsuits, others hijab. It's a melange, to be sure.

Before arriving here, my wife and I spent several days in Hurghada, which had changed drastically from when I was tere twelve years ago. No longer the sleepy little sun-scrubbed town, it was now a miniature Cancun, more's the pity--glitz, glass, mirrors, and tourists thronging and dressed inapppropriately (Memo to Europe: Do not wear Speedo).

Nevertheless, the owners Hussein and Warda of the Sea Waves hostel and the staff including Nasser, Abdel-Nasser and Tariq were real highlights of our stay--extremely …

Nice guys Finnish last (and other tales of non-ironic joys)

THE NILE--Sailing away from Aswan (yes, this post is out of order) turned out to be a spectacular experience, despite saying goodbye to the wonderful people at the Memnon Hotel on Aswan's corniche. Those folks included Ahmed, kind of a SudaneseRadar O'Reilly and his aunt Senna who'll be moving to Washington DC to join her husband soon. Michelle and I already miss these fine folks; Senna bought some fruit for me, a Nubian kufi (skullcap) and made mango juice. Wow.

Anyway, our "Aswan coordinator" Ayoub hooked Michelle and me up with a felucca (sailboat) trek from Aswan to Esna (?) further north. I was nervous about who else would be riding with us--being trapped on a sailboat with strangers for two days could be nightmarish. Instead it was phenomenal. Joining us were joker, electrical engineer and devil's advocate Jeff (Geoff?) from Australia; architectural student Nika and air-traffic control student Frank from Norway; G.P. Jenni and self-proclaimed nihilist bu…

The Red Sea (but where are all the Reds?)

AL GHARDAKA (Hurghada)--I think it's Sunday. You lose track of these things when you're away from your home long enough, away from daily news, away from your first language or even text you can (easily) read. The Red Sea coastal town of Al Ghardaka is far more developed than it was when I was here in 1993--kind of like South Edmonton Commons on meets the Aquarius Complex from Frank Miller's Ronin, if you can dig it. Still, when you wander in front of the sea itself, you find your breath taken away.

My wife and I arrived last night from Al Uqsor (Luxor, or to use its proper ancient name, Waset). The bus ride was unpleasant, though not anyway near the unpleasantness of Kenyan buses. The wind makes up for the high temperature here--windy like Lethbridge. Cools you down a good 15 degrees, easily. We've been met by the good fortune of a host named Hussein and his Finnish wife Warda who took us to their hotel and have been treating us with tremendous hospitality. They've …

Aswan, the heart of Nubian Egypt

ASWAN--Weather report: "Hot with occasional Damn, it's hot!" I'd dreamed of coming back here, and this lovely, relatively small city (certainly smaller than Cairo's 15 million) is peaceful and on a human scale. There are as many touts (men who drum up business) as in Cairo, but at a higher density. The corniche (road on the east bank of the Nile) is a terrific place for a romantic supper, with a superb view.

The Nubian Museum,new since I was last here in 1993, is a spectacular building housing some of the few antiquities saved when construction of the dam flooded the valley for hundreds of kilometres and destroyed untold millions of archeological objects and treasures.

My wife and I visited Philae Templetoday, a chapel for Aset (called by the Greek name "Isis"), the Afrikan deity who when holding her son Heru (Horus) was the icon whom art historians acknowledge as the archetype for the Madonna-and-Child image. Philae is beautiful, no question, although it…

I have entered the Red Pyramid

CAIRO--I spent yesterday with my brand new wife exploring many of the ancient wonders of Kemet (i.e., Egypt). I'd been here before twelve years ago to research a still unpublished novel called The Disharmony of the Sphere,and I've literally dreamed of returning ever since (at least once a month I've had such dreams). Went to Sakkara, the first pyramid and the first vast architectural work in stone, as designed by the genius Imhotep.

Later we went to a site to which I'd never been, the spectacular Red Pyramid and the so-called Bent Pyramid at Dahshur. Twelve years ago I'd gone inside the pyramid of Unas at Sakkara, home to the most ancient religious writings of any faith anywhere in the world, the so-called Pyramid Texts. But the Red Pyramid is not only a far larger building, almost on the scale of Giza's Great Pyramids, its inner chambers form a dazzling, haunting cathedral ceiling of stepped trapezoidal glory. Magnificent. These Brothers knew what they were doi…

No freaking kidding: kidnapped girl rescued by LIONS, and a baby rescued by a DOG

In Ethiopia, lions rescued a girl kidnapped and beaten by men trying to force her into marriage. Call it a scientific curiosity, call it a miracle--it's bizarre and touching. Read up here.And elsewhere in animal news, a dog rescues an abandoned baby.

42% Back Impeaching Bush If He Lied Over Iraq

Democracy Now! reports today: "A new Zogby poll shows that 42 percent of [American] voters believe Congress should impeach President Bush if it is found that he did not tell the truth about his reasons for going to war with Iraq." Meanwhile, "nearly 8,200 Iraqis have been killed over the past six months from attacks carried out by the Iraqi resistance. An average of forty-five Iraqis are being killed each day. The minister estimated another twelve thousand Iraqis have been injured." Read, watch or listen to the entire storyhere.