Sunday, 30th of January 2011 (Day 5 since the Jan 25th March in Tahrir Square)

I finally gave in to exhaustion at 3am and decided to go lie down and try to get some rest. A word that I am quickly forgetting the meaning off.

8:30 am I spoke to my mum and she said that thug/looter/thief was caught near our house and was beaten really badly by the neighborhood watch. She also went on to say that she couldn’t believe how fast and dramatically things had changed in the past few days. She said that when she saw my father and sister preparing the shot guns she didn’t think anything of it, but when she had come out of her room later and saw the guns lined up against the wall with boxes of bullets next to them she said her mind had a difficult time of registering and accepting the sight. I told my mother the events of last night while I was standing watch and how thankful I was that my friend had slept through the whole thing. I didn’t want her to have to worry more than she already was.

9:00 am The traffic stops all of a sudden and the street is in dead silence. I leap over to the window in time to see a long convoy of black SUVs driving from Salah Salem to Khalifa El Ma’amoun. At the back of the SUV the trunks were open and armed military men had their guns pointed out the back ready to shoot anyone who tries to attack. As more and more people woke up, the more calls came through of reports of how bad lootings were last night. Mohendiseen and Maadi had been hit pretty badly.

10am My friend and I leave the house in search of working ATM machines. for the first time in my life, I leave my house armed. I take a sharp kitchen knife with me and place it in my jacket pocket. If thugs can attack during the night, what’s to stop them in the day time. My friend has a concerned look on her face and asks; ‘Are you prepared to use it?’ and with out any hesitation, I answer ‘Yes’. The sureness of my voice even shocks me.

The first few ATMs we came across were broken, empty or simply not working. After half an hour and several attempts I finally come across one that was working and was spitting out money. Many obviously didn’t know that it was working because the queue for the machine wasn’t long, but word got out quite quickly. I was able to withdraw all my Egyptian currency, which was a huge relief to me because; I would not have any other means if anything was to happen. While I was standing in line, my friend made a dash to her apartment to check on things there and to collect a few more things.

While I waited I made my daily pilgrimage to Metro, the supermarket and it was even more crowded than the day before. I looked as though people were actually awakening from their sleep of denial and were beginning to realize the seriousness of the situation. Well, for the most part any way, some were going about it as though it was a typical shopping day. One woman wouldn’t buy dried bread, because it wasn’t the ‘fresh’ kind or brown. That’s when I had to say something. I just said ‘I would buy the dried bread if I were you, because you don’t know when any other kind of bread would be available again and dry bread lasts longer.’ I would also stock up on canned food, like beans, vegetable and fruit because, fresh fruit goes bad quickly.’ They didn’t take much heed of me, but I kept on talking until I saw a light bulb go off. ‘I was in Saudi Arabia during the invasion and I know what I’m talking about, our embassy gave us a list of items that we should stock up on, so please take my advice.

The queue for the check out/cashier was very long and it took me almost and hour, if not longer before I was able to pay for my supplies. Which consisted of lots of canned food and aerosol spray cleaners for cleaning and other self-defense purposes, (just in case)

2:00pm I was still exhausted and wound up from not having slept well, or for a better word sleep deprived and I told my friend that I was going to go and take a nap, while things were quiet and before I had night watch duty in a few hours time. It was no use, I couldn’t relax, I could shut my mind long enough to get some sleep. My eye lids would fly open at any sound that resembled a gun shot or explosion.

3:00pm My friend whose father is the warden for the Canadian Embassy had told me earlier that he was going to the airport to check the ticket situation, but it turns out that he and his family had hopped on a plane to Boston to stay with family. I can’t blame him really, he being an only son and having to stand guard at night is not a risk any parent would want to take. Some friends thought it was a rushed decision, but if I had the choice I would get my family out too. Not long after hearing about my friends departure does my best friend of over 20 years call me to tell me that she is going to get on a plane tomorrow morning to go to London and that things are not what they appear to be and I should get my family out of here as soon as possible. Having not slept and being really edgy made me really nervous and panic slightly. I tried calling my cousin in Liverpool several time to try to convince my parents to pack up and leave, but the line wouldn’t connect. I called my future brother-in-law in London to ask him if there was anything on the news at his end that we were not hearing or seeing here. He told me that there was nothing that reported immediate danger; he tried to assure me that everything is fine and not to panic. (I found that amusing because I’m the one who usually keeps everyone else calm, and is level-headed) I called my good friend in D.C but she thought that my call was her alarm so she kept hanging up on me, so I called my other friend in D.C and asked her to follow the news. I also gave her my facebook password and a message to post for family and friends, to tell them that we were all fine and well. She too said that everything on the news seemed fairly calm and there was nothing that hinted danger. (My gut was telling me otherwise) I surrendered any attempts to try to sleep, it was a battle that I wouldn’t win, and so, I might as well just stay awake.

4pm I walk out of my bedroom to a ringing phone, my friend answers and hands it to me saying it’s for me. I answer and there is a familiar voice on the other end, but I’m so tired I can’t identify who it is. I am holding a conversation but I still don’t know whom it is I’m conversing with. In the end I just had to bluntly ask who it was. Turns out it was one of my cousins calling from Liverpool. She had been trying to get through to us for days on our cell phones but lines were down or jammed. I must have sounded exhausted because she just kept saying ‘you sound exhausted luvvy, you poor thing.’ I  retold her some of the events of the past few days and information and accounts I had gotten from eyewitnesses and she just couldn’t believe what was going on. As if right on queue an F-16, fighter jet flies right over my house and at a low altitude. It sounded like Zeus’s lightening bolt had been released and exploded right in side my flat and had shaken (That makes it harder to convince family that you are fine and well)

No one really knows why the jets were told to take off and fly at a low altitude. Some say it was to show Israel that Egypt was still in control, (I highly doubt that), I personally think it was to scare the protesters in to leaving the square and go home for 4 o’clock curfew. The sound of the jets flying over head should have sounded normal to me, considering I lived next to an airport and an airbase in Dhahran, Saudi Arabia for 10 years, but today it just made me more jumpy than normal.

After I closed with my cousin, I called my family and more or less begged them to evacuate. I spoke with my father and pleaded with him, but he wouldn’t hear it, I told him about the jets and the looters carrying weapons, the prisoners that had broken out of jail. I tried to lay a guilt trip on him about me being away from them and in Cairo, but he said if you’re scared I’ll send a car for you to come to Alexandria. I told him that there was no way for me to get to the station and that there were no cars. My pleas fell on deaf ears.

I can’t leave without my family. So, if they stay. I stay and that is that.

5:30pm An old colleague and friend that I used to work with in Alexandria called from London after seeing my friends post on my facebook status that I had asked her to do on my behalf. She said that the whole world is watching and praying for a positive outcome She said that they are also impressed with how Egyptians have taken the law in to their own hands and have made many citizen arrests. 8:00 pm My best friend just called me and it was very hard to understand what she was saying. She was hyperventilating and trying to talk at the same time. She was going in to shock; she had just witnessed an exchange of fire between thugs and a tank. The last time I had heard her that scared was she had been in Naama Bay, when the car bombs had gone off and she had just walked out of Buddah Bar after the explosion. I was doing my best to reassure her that she was safe and that she was fine. I wanted to calm her down so that she wouldn’t frighten her grandmother that was staying with her. We did a few breathing techniques and we talked about the situation and after about 20 minutes or so of talking to her she was in a much calmer state. Not long after hanging up with my best friend, I get another call from a friend in Alexandria. He called to say that he had just had a rough hour. He had come of his patrol shift to rest only to have to go down again because a group of thugs had come in to his neighborhood. Unfortunately very drastic measures had to be taken and the thugs weren’t captured, they were killed.

9:00 pm My Mom called to check up on us and in the midst of the conversation the alarm was sounded. Intruders were in the neighborhood. I went to the window and saw that the men on duty tonight exceeded those that had stood guard the night before and this time they were in the street like a swarm of mad bees. They were stopping every car that passed by and checking the vehicles. Moments after the alarm was sounded a small convoy of black SUVs drove by at a hell of a speed, but this time the military men at the back of the SUV were firing continuously as they sped by. I hung up with my mom and grabbed my camera, and was able to get some footage. Like a motion picture summer block buster movie, the military guys from the National Guard, came running out of the base in front of my house and hit the deck, lay flat on the ground and took aim and were firing. Some of the guys were camouflaged on the grass; you could only see the spark come out at the tip of the barrel of the gun. Shouts from the military guys rang across the street as they warned the residence to take cover and to go back in side ‘Kul ye khush gowa’. I wasted no time in getting my friend down on the ground and away from the windows, because the chance of a stray bullet flying through one of them was very probably with the number of rounds that were being fired below. It was a continuous chorus of bullets being shot, along with riffles, hand guns and tanks being fired. It sounded similar to fireworks cracking and exploding in the sky on New Years Eve or on the 4th of July. I could hear mothers and wives screaming for their sons and husband to come to safety. Children were crying.

As we lay on the ground, my friend was coughing non stop, so I crawled like a marine and got her a blanket from the sofa to lie on so that she wouldn’t catch a cold and to retrieve my phone. There was so much happening at once and it was very hard absorb and to process. In the midst of madness that was taking place and whilst I was lying down on the floor two things came to mind. 1- I really need to vacuum the floor tomorrow morning. 2- Most of the people we spoke to earlier today had said that they felt things had calmed down and they felt safer…..ummm….they obviously don’t know what the hell they are talking about. (It’s amazing what goes through a person’s mind in a time of a crisis!)

Once the excitement had passed we pealed ourselves off the cold tiled floor and went back to the couch and finished watching the film “Julie and Julia” as one does after a big shoot out right outside your apartment building. When the movie was over we decided to go to bed and try to get some sleep. Only to get a call a couple of hours later telling us that Canadians are sending planes to evacuate them to Europe. Upon hearing that news there was no chance of getting any sleep. My friend went about packing her stuff.

As much as I wanted my friend to leave and be out of harms way, I didn’t want her to leave either. We had a strong bond before, but now I think it’s a bond for life. After the events of the night, I knew my parents wouldn’t want me staying alone and frankly, I didn’t want to be alone for hours on end day after day. So, I woke a friend of mine up in the dead of night and told him what had happened and he insisted that I come and stay with him and his family. He said he would pass by and pick me up later that morning.

By this time I can honestly tell you that I am drunk with exhausted. I haven’t slept well since the build up to Jan 25th began, my sleep then was 4 hours or less and it was interrupted and the past few nights I have barely slept a wink. I took a warm shower to try to relax. It did help me feel better, but it took me ages to get some sleep. Which was less than 2 hours.

Thermia Palace, Piestany, Slovakia

Thermia Palace, Piestany, Slovakia

For my sister’s wedding almost for years ago, I began my battle of the bulge with ‘Operation Megan Fox’. I was determined to look good for her special day and I didn’t want to appear like a shlumpadinka in my dress. I stuck to it and dropped the weight using the Slim Fast Shakes and watching what I ate.I looked better and healthier too. I had intended on following through, but life always throws us some curve balls. In all honesty, I fell off and got back on the wagon many times since then. I couldn’t figure out what the invisible force was that kept preventing me from accomplishing my goal of releasing my trapped thin self, until I did a detox earlier this year and discovered that  unbeknownst to me, I was the invisible force, who kept poisoning my body with foods that I thought were healthy and good for me. While I had a silent allergy to them.

With this new-found knowledge of what foods weren’t good for me, I gave away and threw out a lot of products to make room for foods that were nutritious for me. During the clean out, I also got rid of clothes I hadn’t been able to fit into for a while, which served as a constant reminder of what I used to be and the intention of keeping them was to encourage me to get back into them, when all they did was depress the hell out of me, so I gave them to the needy. Throughout this process, I began to do a lot of reflecting. I looked within myself to see what baggage I had been holding on to and I found that I had quite a bit of unresolved issues, resentment and pain that had been weighing me down. It wasn’t easy to let go of somethings because, it made me feel vulnerable and emotionally naked. I didn’t like the feeling at first, because that’s all I seemed to focus on and once I realized how much lighter I felt, I knew I had done the right thing.

Last Summer, I did a lot of growing up on my adventure to Central America as a chaperon for students and then visiting friends on the East Coast of the U.S. This summer, I decided it was time to face the problem head on and grab it by the horns. So, I booked my trip to a wellness spa retreat for 3 weeks in Slovakia, to reinvest in myself.

As the day of my departure grew nearer, I was excited but mostly nervous. I questioned myself and doubted my decision to do this. I could have gone to England and Ireland to see my family and friends for the money I was spending! How would I communicate with the people, they speak Slovakian and Russian mostly! The best I can do is count up to 4, say ‘Yes’ (Da) and Good bye (Dasvidanya)!

Thursday 24th July

I am up before the alarm clock and dashing around the house like the Tazmanian Devil from Loony Tunes, putting a few more items in my carry on and in my case. As well as making sure that I was leaving my flat in a decent condition for when I returned. At 7;45, I made my way downstairs and got into the waiting taxi to take me to Cairo International Airport. I sailed through the ticket counter and passport control. I met two acquaintances who we there traveling to enjoy their summers holidays. At 10am, I made my way to the gate and waited to board. The time came and the flight hadn’t been announced. Travelers started to get nervous and began asking questions. ‘The Flight has been delayed for maybe 40 minutes, they are preparing the aircraft’ was the response from the men at the counter. A bad omen to the start of my trip, I wondered or am I being tested? The flight ended up being delayed for 2 hours and many passengers including myself were not at all pleased! It meant I would be arriving much later than expected and would lose out on my consultation with the doctors! The flight may have only been three and half hours to Vienna, but it felt like it took an eternity! When we finally landed, I whizzed through passport control, found my bag on the carousel and dashed out to find my chauffeur, who would drive the two hours or so hours to Piestany, in Slovakia. The ride was quite and long. The driver spoke very little English and it would have been difficult to make hand signals and explain myself that way, whilst he drove. So, I ended up just admiring the landscape and the green foliage until we arrived.

Thermia Palace is a large French like château on an island in the city/town of Piestany. The surrounding area around it was just so perfect and immaculate, I began to think I was on a movie set. It was so picturesque it could be on a postcard (I’m sure it is). I cringed at the thought of having to try to communicate with the hotel staff, but to my relief they spoke fairly good English. I checked in, was told my doctor’s appointment would be at 10am the following morning and then I would receive my schedule of treatments and meet with the nutritionist. I got to my room and the first thing I did was take pictures of it before I unpacked and contacted my  parents  to let them know I had arrived safely. My phone for some bizarre reason hadn’t automatically joined a network, so I had to depend on the hotel wi-fi to send messages.

After I had unpacked, I went for a leisurely stroll on the island to get my bearings. It was so nice to walk under the glow of street lamps and to the rhythm of rustling leaves in the summer breeze and not be harassed or gawked at by anyone. On my way back to the hotel, I held open the door for 3 women staying at the hotel and guess what…? 2 were from Egypt and 1 was from Lebanon!

Friday 25th July

I was up by early after a much-needed rest. i dressed and went down for breakfast. I helped myself to the buffet, but chose my items wisely. After all, that’s the whole purpose of the trip. Once I had finished, I went for a walk to see the island in the light. It was a warm day and everything was so fresh looking, like a crisp salad.

At 10am I went for my doctor’s appointment, where I had my  blood pressure measured, along with my waist, thighs and my height. My weight too! (how could I forget). After asking if I suffered from any pain, the doctor asked me to strip down to my undies to get a better look at me, (Talk about exposure, or so I thought). She checked my bone agility, my problem areas (tummy, waist, thighs) and feet. Once that examination was completed she had a brain storm while muttering in Slovakian an she finger pecked the keyboard all the treatments she wants me to do. The whole process took 20-30 minutes.

Once I got my schedule, I then visited the nutritionist, who gave me apple cider tablets to take with breakfast every morning and asked what I would usually eat, eating habits and if there where certain foods I didn’t eat. When the meeting was done, I dashed back to my room, to grab my bathrobe and all the other items I would need for my afternoon of treatments.

First on the list was mud packs; sounds squidgy!

I get to the waiting area of where I need to be and a woman dressed all in white comes out and looks at my schedule and in a Slovakian accent asks me to wait one moment. Not long afterwards, I’m shown to a room, where, I am instructed to strip down to my skin and then I’m called into an adjoining room where, another woman also all in white, slabs down a cow pat of warm mud onto a bed covered in 3 different kind of sheets and instructs me to sit in it, while smearing mud on my tush. As I sit in the warm mud, I can feel it ooze into places, I wish I could prevent it from going to, I am then asked to lie down, where more mud is being generously applied on my problem areas; hip, knees and feet. As I’m being wrapped up like a new-born baby a cold metal ringed disk is placed on my chest and I am left for 20 minutes in dim lighting. Being cocoon with warm mud smeared on you, makes you drowsy. If it wasn’t for the cold metal thingy-m’bob I think I would have turned into a soft-boiled egg. Every 5 minutes a person comes to check on you to make sure you’re o.k and to wife you face from sweat.

When the alarm goes off, after twenty minutes, you are unwrapped by two of the attendees and the mud is lightly scrapped off of you, so that you can get up. You are then led to a shower close by and left to wash off the mud. It’s not as easy as it sounds. Just when you think you have gotten it off, you find more! (You’ll find that when you take a shower later… more mud runs down the drain and for the life of you, you can’t figure out where it had been.)

Once your cleaned off, you go back into your cubical where you are given a cup of sparkling water (Perrier) and then told to lie down and rest. Where you are wrapped up again and left to… rest. After a short length of time, the attendee comes in to unwrap you and declare the session over. You get dressed and she returns your schedule with a signature on it your next are free to leave and make your way to your next treatment.

It’s important you get there 5-10 min before your appointment, they are very punctual when it comes to timing.

Massage

I have never really enjoyed the though of someone’s hands kneading my body like dough, until I had my first Thai massage in Gouna, so, I was looking forward to this. I know understand why people from Thermia Palace walk around in bathrobes. It saves them dressing and undressing several times. So, off come the clothes again and I lie on a bed in all my nakedness as a tall tanned short heard blond Slovakian woman massages my back for twenty minutes as I flinch when she works on the areas that are troubling me and then melt like butter when she massages the rest of my back with her oiled strong hands.

Magnet

After the massage I am whisked into another room nearby, where I am asked to hop on to another bed and there’s no need to take anything off. I lay on the bed and this plastic arch connected to a machine is slid and positioned above my mid-drift to allow magnetic waves to travel through my body. Again, I am left to drift off into the depths of my mind as the waves are left to do their work.

Elektro

Behind door three, I am then asked to sit on a bed and put my foot on a stool. I am handed a funky pair of glasses to put on. The glasses remind me of the ones Doc and Marty wore in ‘Back To The Future’, except they were cooler and everything had a green tint to it. A gel was applied to a device that was then put to my Achilles heel as a woman with pale turquoise talon like nails rubbed it against my weak tendons on both feet for less that 5 minutes. When the machine sounded, my session was over. Now, I had some free time… before my last session  of the day. What would I do?

I tried very hard to find the travel agency my mother ha d told me about when she had been here last summer because I wanted to rent a bicycle and see what day trips they offered to nearby cities and countries.  I followed her directions to the ‘T’ but couldn’t find the place. So, I decided to just walk. A past time I enjoy,  but rarely do since the revolution, because Sexual Harassment was rampant on every street no matter how conservatively I dressed. While I’m here, I will be walking my little socks off until my butt cheeks wince in pain, begging me to stop! (I did, just that!)

Gymnastic Slim 

I sat outside the room where the session was to be held on a hard wooden like bench. It was very reminiscent of films where students were sat outside the Headmaster or the Principles office when in trouble. Randa, the Lebanese woman whom I met  my first night here was taking part in the class too. At precisely   the time scheduled on the schedule, a small framed young girl came energetically up the stairs and opened the door. We waited a few moments for stragglers, but non came. We had our own private class.  We each got an inflatable ball and sat on it as instructed. For a full 20 minutes, were bouncing on the ball waving our arms and hands and occasionally  lifting our feet off the ground too. I had visions of one of us ending up like Humpty Dumpty, and going splat on the floor, just like the old children’s nursery rhyme says, but we all made it to the end!

Wooohooo!! All sessions completed for the day!

After the session I had quite a bit of time to kill before dinner, so Randa and I got to chatting and we ended up walking across the Danube River and into town, as we talked about our lives and occupation. It was very pleasant to talk to someone who had been to Piestany many times before and someone from the region. After our walk I went up to my room to shower, change and read a bit before dinner.

As I entered the restaurant for the third time that day, the Manager of the restaurant informed me that it was assigned seating. Everyone had their own table for the entire duration of their stay. Which was new to me, but I just went with the flow. I was also told the nutritionist had sent down my meal program for the 20 days  that I would be staying there. Having studied it while having dinner, I was impressed. They all sounded really tasty on paper, and I looked forward to trying each one!

Saturday 26th July 

I awoke early and went down to breakfast early.My  breakfast was quite a hearty and healthy one. A slice of toast, cottage cheese, slice of cold cut, one slice of Emmental Cheese, 2 boiled eggs, yogurt and on helping of raw oats, with a glass of fresh juice. Along with the two apple cider tablets, that I was instructed to take with breakfast. I was a stuffed dumpling after I was done. Seeing my first appointment wasn’t until 9 am, I decided to help my digestive system  and take a walk until it was time for my treatment. The calmness of the spa island is very relaxing. The stress I may have come with was no longer with me. The quietness, was deafening to my ears, they were not used to such quiet surroundings. I could actually hear my thoughts without the interruption of loud shouts coming from the street or the endless blazing of car horns and tire screeching from Cairo’s bustling traffic.

In my robe, I sat in the waiting area of the pristine IRMA spa building,  and waited to be called in for my appointment. I was asked to bare my back, lie face down and what looked like our rubber suction cups were placed on my back and as the attendee switched on the machine, the electric impulses began… I felt like Frankenstein! The current was strong and a bit uncomfortable to begin with, but I quickly got used to it and the sound of the machine lulled me into a light nap.

With an hour to spare I had enough time discover where the next session would be held. Once I had found the place I sat outside in on a bench watching birds go about their life and the people passing by. When the time came for Water Gymnastics, the receptionist handed me a key and I followed the scent of wetness, until I found the changing room. They key was for a private vestier to leave my belongings in I quickly put on my swimsuit and made my way to the pool. As I rounded the corner and found the hook to hang my key and robe on, I couldn’t help but gasp. The pool areas was of stunning architecture, it resembled an old fashioned conservatory or solarium, with a sky light. It would be something you’d expect to see in the hit TV series Downton Abbey.  Being the photo junky that I am, all I wanted to do was run back and get my phone to take a picture and capture it.  I resisted the urge and ascended into the warm water of the pool. I found a place to stand and followed the instructors motions and enjoyed the session. After changing out of my swimwear and was about to leave for the next session, I snuck back to the pool area, unseen and took a picture. ( I couldn’t help myself!)

Parafango

I was very excited about this session because it sounded like a form of dance.  I thought it might be a combination of Tango and Flamenco, at the back of my mind I was fretting about whether my sneakers were appropriate shoes for the class. I was somewhat disappointed when I found out that it was not a dance class but another treatment session with mud. Only this time it wasn’t messy! For this treatment I was only required to be half naked from the neck to the waist and to lie on my stomach as warm solid blocks of mud were placed on my back from the nape of my neck to the bottom of my spine for 15 -20 minutes. I must admit that the warm mud blocks were very soothing and I couldn’t keep my eyes open. I didn’t fight it and I enjoyed my little cat nap.

It may not have been a dance class but it certainly was enjoyable. I’m looking forward to my future sessions!

(I have no idea how this is meant to benefit me, but it was lovely)

At lunch time, I met the Lebanese woman in the restaurant where she informed me that it was her last day and she would be leaving tomorrow to spend some time in Paris. Before I headed back to my table, she said ‘wait’ and handed me a bag of Zaatar ‘hadi ilik’, which translates to ‘this is for you’ in the Lebanese dialect, she said as she handed it over to me. I was deeply touched. It was on our walk the previous day she learned how much I loved the herb mixture, when I told her that I had been in Zaatar heaven, when I visited Lebanon 2 years ago. I didn’t want to insult her, by refusing the gesture, so I gladly accepted it. I was so touched by her generosity that I couldn’t help but post about it on my Facebook page.

Mirror Pool

Unlike it’s name there are no mirrors (Thank Goodness!), this experience might not be for everyone. The pool is filled with sulfuric water, that is naturally warm and full of minerals. It is said to be very good for your body. You may bathe in the pool with a swim suite on, almost everyone bathes nude. My mother who had come to Piestany last summer had told me, you didn’t have a choice but to go in starkers, so I had enough time to mentally prepare myself to fully exposing my body but seeing other naked women as well. (The pools are segregated, so don’t panic too much! I don’t know if I could have summoned up the courage to have to see both genders in their birthday suites!) Coming from and living in a fairly conservative country, where kissing scenes are censored in films and T.V shows this was going to take some getting used to.

Lucky for me, I arrived early for my appointment, which was great because I had the pool to myself. I de-robed, took the necessary shower before entering the pool and ascended slowly into the water, to allow my body to get used to the temperature and not to slip on the stairs that are barely visible through the murky sulfur water. I checked the time on the large wall clock, so that I could time the  20 minutes that I was meant to stay in. The pool reminded me of the hot spring in Siwa Oasis, except it wasn’t in the open air in the desert and I wasn’t wearing a swimsuit. As I waded around and the nice warm water encompassed me,  it felt like I was having a bath, but in an enormous tub. I began to wonder if this was how Cleopatra felt when she bathed in the hot springs? Before my time was up more women arrived to bathe in the pool. ” Oh!Great!!” I thought to myself, “so much for getting in and out anyone seeing me. I suppose, I’m just going to have to walk out gracefully and pray I don’t slip, so that I don’t draw attention to myself”. That’s precisely what I did and no one even batted an eye lid in my direction. After all we were all in the same boat and I suppose it was the respectful thing to do.

By the time I got back to my room after all my sessions and treatments I was refreshed and relaxed but drowsy. I forced myself out for a walk around the town. I enjoyed admiring the little cafes, glancing at the display windows of little shops, the unique architecture, which I couldn’t help but take pictures with my phone, so that I could upload them later on to instagram. I found my way to the little mall and got a few necessity items that I had put on my mental check list and then continued walking for a little bit longer.

At dinner time, I ate slowly in the hopes that I would see Randa again. She hadn’t come by the time I had finished so, I placed a little thank you note on the table that she and her father sat at, if it wasn’t for the bowl of Zaatar there, I may have placed the note with a small box of chocolate on the wrong table. I left the restaurant, full, tired and ready to turn in for the night.

There’s More To Come!  Keep a look out for part II :)

 

Part of letting go, is being honest with yourself, admitting your mistakes or fears and being able to face your past.

Part of letting go, is being able to admit things honestly and face your past.

For the past seven years or so, I have built a cocoon of fat around me along with invisible barriers to keep certain people out of my life, to prevent them from further plaguing my mind. After a lot of falls and revelations I discovered that negative people like vampires suck the positiveness right out of me and leave me, with nothing but voices that fuel myself loathing and doubt.

One particular person who I believe to have caused the most damage was an ex of mine. One of his many hurtful and parting phrases to me were; ‘You ruin the reputation of Egyptians and have no respect for your religion’, along with ‘No other guy will want you’. You would have thought that I had committed treason of the highest order or brought shame to my family and their name, but in ALL, SINCERE honesty, my only fault was being helplessly in love with him. The onslaught of verbal character bashing came after I had told him that a jealous ex had called with the intent to rein revenge on me by destroying my reputation and sullying my family name on social media. Why? What did I do? I must have provoked him. That was All because I refused to see him or go out with him, due to being faithful and informing him, that I was in a serious relationship. Instead of my beau being gallant and coming to defend me, the wool had been yanked away from my eyes and I was met with another arrogant being.

(I later found out he had been cheating on me and used this as his means of ending the relationship)

That all happened in 2007, it has taken me all this time to follow the trail of bread crumbs that lead back to that particular moment in time, where I have been harboring so much hate and resentment towards him for saying such degrading things to me. Secondly I was angry at the person I was back then for allowing him to trample on me like that and not standing up for myself and just cowering and hiding away in the shadows. Since then, I have not really dated or been in a long (or short) term relationship with anyone. I have gone out with a few gents, but all the while, I would keep them at a safe distance because I deeply feared that history would repeat itself and the thought of having to pick up the broken pieces of my shattered heart and put it back together again sickened me to the core. So, I subconsciously tried to make myself undesirable and unattractive to ward men off, like a scarecrow in a field.

I found that when I do start to let my guard down and allow gentry to approach me the echoes of the girl in the shadow, who resembles a female version of Smeagol (Gullom) from Lord of the Rings, is always whispering words of doubt and negativity; “He will turn on our precious”, He will hurt precious just like the other one did, we can’t have that. “It’s best precious stays away.”, He doesn’t really like our precious, he just wants to use precious”, Precious is not good enough or good-looking enough for him/them”, “precious must stay away, stay in the shadows where it is safe.”

My inner Smeagolina would win and I would end up pulling up the draw bridge, manning the battlements and using every trick I had to provoke the person to show their dark side or simply push them away. To put it in simpler terms, I would put an end to it before it’s even had a chance to begin. In recent months, I have grown stronger and clearer headed than I have been in years. I now know that I can no longer live my life lurking in the shadows alone. I need to come out into the light and tap into my inner Celtic Saeedy warrior and meet each challenge as it comes.
When a guy would pay me a compliment, I wouldn’t believe him. I would automatically think he was being sarcastic or trying to get in my good graces so that I would lower my guard and the drawbridge. Just last week, I caught myself doing that whilst catching up with a very handsome, successful entrepreneur friend of mine when he had told me I was pretty. I snickered and gave him a look that read ‘Yeah! Right! You must be crazy.’ He was taken aback, because out of the many people I know, he is probably one of the most straight forward and honest.

When he or others pay me a compliment like that, I would instantly think, ‘WHY ME?’ ‘ WHAT COULD THEY POSSIBLY SEE IN ME?’ ‘THEY NEED A CATSCAN OR A TRIP TO THE OPTHAMOLOGIST TO GET THEIR HEAD OR EYES CHECKED’ or ‘THEY MUST HAVE A HIDDEN AGENDA?’ It’s a terrible habit and a train of thought! I have to put a stop to IT, because if there is any chance with this guy (or any other), and I allow Smeagolina to override my brain, I’ll lose whatever chance I have with him/them.

On a positive note, at least I recognize the signs now.
I am still working on peeling back the negative layers that have been encompassed around me. I am slowly beginning to see and believe that I am good enough, smart enough and pretty enough for the opposite sex and that they aren’t all assholes in sheep skin!

It isn’t just about the men, it’s mostly about ME. I have been learning myself worth these past few years and months. I have found that I AM worthy of being spoken to and treated respectfully and politely, because I don’t have to put up with disrespect. Why should I have to?!

I have been a bit more adventurous this past year and come out of my hiding place a bit more. The first step was when I went to Central America last summer and was alone with myself, for the first time and got to push my limits and see what things I could overcome. This year, I have traveled quite a bit, taken to going out of my way to reconnect with old friends, who were dear to me and making more of an effort to keep the lines of friendship open. I have also pushed myself far out of my comfort zone and gone on photography walks and a caving trip with people who within the first hour were strangers, but by the end of the walk/trip became valued acquaintances. Some of whom I found share similar views and passions as I do.

I am feeling optimistic because, I have decided to be honest about my past and to let go. I am letting go of all the animosity that I have been holding on to for so long. It has been a heavy burden to carry around all this time, it has also been weighing me down and draining me of my positive energy. In addition to preventing me from reaching my full potential and holding me back from being social, adventurous, taking risks, climbing the ranks and trying to start projects that I genuinely and firmly believe in.

Enough! Is enough! It is time to believe in me and to prove to those that lead me to believe that I couldn’t amount to anything, That I CAN and I WILL!

It’s time say good-bye to Smeagolina and to allow my inner light to shine as brightly as it can, while I take a stand and make my mark in this world.

I hear by free myself of the shackles of my past! I give myself permission to move forward!

P.S I recently heard the sone ‘Human’ by Christina Peri and I felt that it reflected a lot of what I had been through. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=r5yaoMjaAmE

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Confession letter

In October I had come to realize that all my previous efforts to fight the battle of the bulge were in vain. There must have been something that I had over looked and not seen that was my invisible and deeply rooted obstacle that prevented me from reaching my goal of being healthier and fitter.

I had heard of detoxing but in all honesty, knew very little about it. I got in touch with a woman who does this professionally. I asked her endless questions about what to expect and how it is meant to help me. After several e-mails back and forth, I was less skeptical and more willing to take the plunge into the unknown. I won’t lie, I was terrified of what demons that might surface, because after all, this wasn’t just a food cleanse, it was one for the body and psyche. Having nothing to lose and everything to gain, I paid to take part in the journey.

Detoxing, is a way of getting rid of all the junk that you have unknowingly been storing in your body, by eating healthy. For the first 8 days of the cleanse you are gluten-free and vegan. Vegetables and Fruit and lots of water are the source of nourishment. I had no difficulty giving up grain, carbonated drinks, sugary foods and protein, but I did find it hard to wean myself off dairy. Yogurt had been a huge part of my daily diet. I didn’t suffer from caffeine withdrawal symptoms like other members of the detox did, simply because I could never drank it. I learned years ago, that I was allergic to coffee and would get severe heart palpitations, where my heart would beat so hard against my rib cage that, I thought it would rip through my chest cavity and land on the table. The experience was enough to never make me want to try it again. Little did I know that I was on a road to discovering other things I was allergic to.

During the course of the 8 days, I noticed that I was looking trimmer, feeling lighter and less bloated, I was sleeping better, my mood was more upbeat and positive and it felt like there had been a haze in my head that had been clouding my thoughts and hearing, it slowly began to clear and I was seeing things in technicolor with a more accurate perseption and able to hear my own thoughts more clearly.  It felt as though, I had been awakened from being on auto pilot or I had come to a clearing and left the fog behind!

When the time came to reintroduce foods back into our diet one by one, I discovered that grains and I don’t mix well. It makes me feel sluggish and bloated. The Nature’s Valley granola bars that I used to eat as a snack or for an energy boost had an ingredient in it that caused nausea and dizziness. There were other foods that had the same affect on me, like birthday cake and Cadbury’s products. Milk would cause phlegm in the throat and make my stomach uneasy,
(bye bye Easter Eggs, Flakes and Crunchy Bars).

On this journey, I kept a journal and discovered that I was eating much less than I would usually consume and not feeling hungry as often or the need to munch or snack on something. It was then that the reality finally hit home, that I AM one of those people who self medicates with food. I eat to numb the pain, to relieve stress, to get over disappointments, let downs, overcome the feeling of failure, not feeling pretty or smart enough and heart ache after a break up. I was my own worst enemy! I was the main culprit! I was the one who had been poisoning myself sub/consciously and making myself ugly to justify the pain (in some twisted way). I have been standing in my way of moving forward and achieving my dreams and aspirations. It was ME!
(now… I have to make up for a lot of lost time!)

Although the cleanse was for 15 days, I continued eating mostly fruit, vegetables, fish and chicken till mid December. I hadn’t felt that good in ages!!! I was happy again. My mother even noticed the difference and said, “That is the old Irish, that I used to know!”

Then Christmas came! My family and I spent the holiday in the UK and that’s when it all came crashing down, (again). The temptations of all the delicious food and treats was too hard to fight! For the first few days I was really good and maintained my healthy way of living, but it was too much for me to resist. The real trouble started when the trip and holiday came to an end. Back to work and life, I found it very hard to get back on track. The addiction had its hold on me again. The weight was piling on, the restless nights were coming back, the stress of work was getting to me, I was finding it hard to see the silver lining in things and was becoming more and more negative as the days passed.

Towards the end of March, we had a fundraiser at school and pictures that had been taken had been posted and when I saw what I really looked like and not what I thought I looked like, I made a conscience decision that I had to do something about it and now, before it was too late! In 4 more years I will be 40 and as I get older my body will find it harder to get rid of all the fat stored and it will just add to higher health risks. So, as soon as Spring Break started, I went cold turkey again! I have been gluten free and vegan for two weeks. It is a very difficult thing to do here in Egypt, when carbs, sweets and protein are on the menu of every restaurant and eating is THE SOCIAL PAST TIME! (knock on wood, so far so good).

I have also found that my problem of abusing food dates back to when I was a child. There was a time when I was really unhappy at the school I was attending and when I would come home, I would binge snack to the point of feeling sick. Once I left the school the problem went away, but since I graduated from university it has been a roller coaster battle. Now, that I know what and who I am battling, I have a better chance of defeating it this time round.

This awakening moment came to me, last week. My cousin in the UK had a project that I said I would help her with. She needed a handwritten letter or note for her university project and it could be about anything. When I began writing it last Saturday, the two page letter turned into a handwritten confession from me to my trapped inner thinner self, apologizing for holding her captive and crippling her behind layers of blubber and that I had been wrong in doing her such injustice and that having seen the errors of my ways, I was ready to let go of the things that I had mentally been holding on to, that had been signaling my body to store fat and eat crap. I would from now on do her right by peeling away the layers that I had been binding her with to release her, so that she could be free from the lonely prison I had so selfishly been keeping her in and to let her be free to live and accomplish everything she had ever dreamed of setting out to do. Allow her to become the rightful person she was meant to be and allow her to love herself and be loved by others. Another trigger to this was Elsa, the character from the hit Disney animated movie, Frozen. Elsa had been locking herself away from the public because she had been afraid of her gift and once it became public knowledge of what she was and she had run away from her prison and felt free, she was on the road of becoming who she was meant to be.

Now, when I look at my reflection in the mirror, I see her, (my thinner self) gazing back at me. The anger and frustration in her eyes is still there, but she is closer to the surface than she has been in a long time. In addition to eating healthy, I have also made another important decision. For three to four weeks this summer, I will be going to a weightloss specialized center/spa where I will have the help I will need from professionals to help me unlock the shackles of my past and will be left no choice but to focus on the goal that I have set for myself.

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=0HtACLaRDk0

This journey that I am on, will probably be the most challenging thing I have had to do, thus far. I do not expect it to be easy, there is a high possibility that I will tumble and fall, but I need to stay committed and pick myself up and keep going forward, for me, to be free, so that I can see, what I can do and test my limits and break through ;)

Wish me luck!

 

Bassem Youssef

Bassem Youssef

I was on my way to a family event this past October (2013), when my brother-in-laws aunt was talking about how she didn’t like Bassem Youssef’s crude sense of humor and she thought he needed to tone it down, as well as rethink his choice of vocabulary. I was very amused by this, so I asked her if she was a fan of the king of Rock n’ Roll, Elvis Priestly. ‘Yes’ she answered as I saw memories come flashing back, while her eyes flickered and twinkled as she remembered a time when she was young and he was popular and still in his prime. I then asked her what her parents thought of him and his music. She said that it wasn’t their taste and they didn’t particularly like the way he dressed or danced. My response to that was, Bassem is our Elvis of comedy, our generation find him to be humorous, while the older, more traditional generation find him to be vulgar. It’s a sign of a new fashion or trend, that is why his approach is met with such controversy and disdain. She sat quietly for a moment and thought about it, and answered ‘I never thought about it like that’.

For anyone who lives in the Middle East or speaks Arabic has probably heard of Bassem Youssef and his show ‘El Barnameg’. El Barnameg is very similar to, John Steward and Steve Colbert’s shows in the U.S. It is the first satire show of its kind in our region of the world. Before Bassem made his way into our living rooms every Friday night, he would record his own segments and post them on YouTube. His humor and wit soon earned him a large following.

When CBC, a television network station picked him up and aired him, he became one of the most recognized and powerful people in the Arabic speaking community. Here was a man who gave up his career as a heart surgeon to follow a passion in not only making people laugh for a living, but making them stop and think about what is being said in the media and how it can sometimes be manipulated and how some speakers are hypocrites. His program became so popular that people would schedule their Friday nights around it, so that they wouldn’t miss it. Facebook status updates would be almost instantaneous whenever he gave an ingenious punch line.

In his first season on air, he was untouchable and unrivaled. He was adored by the masses for making fun of the first elected president, Mohamed Morsi and many of the Muslim Brotherhood members. They didn’t take too kindly to it. It was no surprise when Bassem was accused of insulting the president, being anti-Islamic and in addition to that received death threats. Most people would have quaked in their boots, but Bassem didn’t retreat into the shadows and wait for everything to blow over, he just got a bigger soap box and continued to stand tall and speak out.

The night of the first episode of the second season, three or four months after President Morsi, was removed from office; his fans eagerly awaited his return to television. His show was met with mixed reviews and the country was once again split. His loyal followers thought his return was exceptional, while those who favored the hero General did not appreciate him making fun of their admiration for the man who had stepped in to save them from three more years of Morsi rule.
Alas his return to our living rooms was a very short one. His second episode never aired and the rumors and conspiracy theories began to whiz around the internet like a wild-fire. The second episode had been taped but never aired and this left a lot for people to speculate. Did the General not have a funny bone, couldn’t he take a joke? Was he the one who flexed his muscle from backstage and had the plug pulled? Or was it someone else? To date, no one really knows why the network canceled the show without notice.

This is not the end of the tale of Egypt’s satire revolutionary and trend setter. Although we have not had the company of Bassem Youssef in our sitting rooms for the past three or so months, he will be making a comeback. Another station has decided to pick him up and he will be back with us this Friday night, 7th of February. Some believe he might not be as popular as he had been before, others feel he will be more so now, that he has once again, beaten the odds.

http://english.ahram.org.eg/NewsContent/1/64/93235/Egypt/Politics-/Bassem-Youssefs-ElBernameg-attempts-another-comeba.aspx

Perhaps we could all learn something from Bassem. Never give up, no matter how hard people try and knock you down.

‘Our greatest glory is not in never falling, but in rising every time we fall’- Confusius

I do not know Ahmed, but I have his written consent to post his eye-witness account of what he saw first hand when he went to investigate what was happening at the El Fat7 mosque in downtown Cairo.

By Ahmed Amin

Before I begin, I would just like to say that there are numerous perspectives to the events that have been occurring over the past few days, and these perspectives are all altered by your vantage point – or the angle at which you are witnessing the events. This was my vantage point today:

As soon as I neared the Metro exit, I could hear loud crowds and gunshots. I exited the Metro and took a minute or so to look around and try to grasp and decipher the situation to decide which direction I should head in.

It is important to say that those that surrounded the Muslim Brotherhood inside the mosque were not thugs or hired mercenaries as a lot of news sources have been reporting, but rather vendors, shop owners, and residents of the area who had their belongings destroyed by the Brotherhood. They were there seeking revenge.

I walked up to the mosque’s main entrance and noticed that it was completely void of security, and was manned by civilians. I walked around the mosque to another corner, which I could recognize as the “dead zone” that TV cameras don’t show. At this corner, there were a lot of officers and CSF soldiers standing. I thought a group on the ground was a human shield of Brotherhood members denying them entrance to the mosque. Little did I know, those people – about 50 or so sitting on the ground – were all arrested. The officers refused to escort them outside until the situation was a little cleared and calmed. The residents were crazy for revenge and seeking blood.

One officer – very high in rank and was the guy in charge – was extremely harsh and exercised police brutality at its best. He was cursing and hitting the Brotherhood members. I asked a conscript why he was so harsh and he explained to me that his little brother – who also a police officer – was shot at and killed last night. I felt bad for him, but that still didn’t justify the insane police brutality.

Another officer approached him and told him that they were ready to escort the Brotherhood members outside to the police trucks. The divided them into two groups, and I went with the first group. As soon as the exited the mosque grounds, the residents began charging them trying to beat them, but the CSF conscripts cordoned off the area. This happened twice with both groups. Nobody was technically allowed back into the mosque grounds, but I somehow walked right past the officers and conscripts into the mosque grounds. As I was taking a picture of the mosque (as you can see on my timeline) I was pushed inside by a charging group. I turned around and noticed they were MOI special forces. An officer looked at me and asked what i was doing inside. I had no answer so I just said I was a friend of “3ameed [colonel] Ahmed”. I have no idea who that is, but I heard the name being thrown outside by the conscripts. He looked at me and asked me to follow his team, and that if I took pictures he would break my phone.

The special forces team was a team of about 12 soldiers that diverged into the different sections of the mosque seeking out armed perpetrators inside. In one side room about half a floor up, we found four Brotherhood members hiding behind a large wooden shelf. They were armed with homemade pistols and sticks. They surrendered immediately and we took them outside. As soon as I came outside, the special forces went back in to continue clearing the mosque. An officer started questioning who I was and thought I was a Brotherhood member, especially since I just came inside. i was about to be detained, but a conscript and other officer who I had given my water battle to earlier recognized me and let me go. For the next 30 minutes or so, the Special Forces team would constantly open the door and throw people outside the mosque. I thought it might be best to leave the police lines just so I don’t get caught in the mix up and wrongly arrested.

This entire time, I could hear the sound of gunshots. I didn’t know who was shooting or where, but i could recognize the sound of different caliber ammunition. As I walked away from the mosque and towards the Metro station, I came across a group of military personnel carriers. They all had the intimidating “Sa3ka” badges on their uniforms. I stood around talking to a few of the officers there and that’s when I noticed the mosque’s minaret was peppered with gunfire. I asked what had happened and they explained to me that there were Brotherhood snipers inside the minaret firing at them. Because of the size of the minaret and the numerous floors and windows, it was difficult for them to shoot at them from the outside (hence the peppering). They eventually called in an army helicopter to rappel soldiers down to the roof of the mosque to take care of them. And they did.

They also spoke to me about street battles that they felt helpless in because they had not been given orders to fire, until one of their men was shot through his bulletproof vest. That’s when their commander gave them orders to shoot to kill. He continued to tell me that the armed gunmen they were dealing with were not what they were expecting. They were not amateurs and were trained and armed pretty well compared to what they’re used to.

That’s basically all that I saw today.

The conclusion, however, is that things are a complete mess. There is no visible distinction to sides and nobody really knows what’s going on. In the midst of all this chaos, innocent people are losing their lives, and it truly is a shame.
.

If you haven’t been watching the news for the past two or so years then you are way behind on the times. I’ll try and give you a quick summarised run through of what has been going on in the time you’ve been watching ‘Keeping Up With The Kardashians’.

It will be three years in January when the Egyptian people took to the streets to demand the resignation of former President Hosni Mubarak. (Why?) He had been in power for 30 years, he was not democratically elected by the people and his cronies were sucking the country dry of resources (billions of dollars), the poor were getting poorer, no jobs for graduates, inflation, no benefits (financial/medical) and we were under military rule. (Are just some of the many reasons why people were frustrated and fed up)

After 18 days of clashes, resistance and protesting, former President Mubarak steps down. GREAT! (or so most of the people thought) Once he left office lots of the people who were activists and fighting for the cause of the revolution dusted themselves off and went back to their everyday lives, which was a HUGE mistake. They didn’t have a plan to put in place once the president had stepped down. Which is when the Muslim Brotherhood and other Islamic parties who had been oppressed/banned by our previous rulers (Mubarak, Sadat, Nasser), seized the opportunity they had been waiting decades for. They have had planned their ‘coming out party’ for years and they swept the elections and seats in parliament like a tsunami! They were prepared while liberal parties and activists were not. They were blind sided, had the rug pulled out from underneath them and the wool over pulled everyone’s eyes if truth be told. WE WERE NOT READY and we can’t blame them for being ready.

About a year after Mubarak stepped down we had an interesting look at presidential elections. EVERYONE wanted to be president. If you could get 30, 000 signatures and were 100% Egyptian on both sides (mother/father family) then you could run. Over 3,000 people ran for presidency!! It was eventually filtered down to a handful of twenty or so, which split the votes every which way. A second round of elections came about between Mohamed Morsi (Muslim Brotherhood) and Ahmed Sahfik (former minister of Aviation), which to choose? Vote for someone who represents extreme conservative Muslims, or someone part of the regime that had just been toppled and many people had lost their lives for? Who would your vote go to? Many people didn’t go and vote, they boycotted the election because they believed that there was foul play. Morsi won by a VERY small margin (51% to 49% I believe).
Congrats! Egypt has its first democratically elected president… who on June 30th 2012 takes office and is sworn in. Morsi vowed to represent ALL the people in Egypt.

For the first five months of his time in office he took no action or decision on any important issues in the country. (I guess he was learning the ropes or getting comfortable in the chair that everyone seems to want) He did however pardon some of those who had been imprisoned for petty crimes like having a hand in the assassination a former Egyptian president.

Then in November, he comes out and declares that he is above the law and that no judicial court or person can contest to his decisions from that point on wards. In other words he declared himself SUPREME PHAROAH & DICTATOR of Egypt.

(SAY WHAT NOW? The Egyptian people didn’t have a revolution and people didn’t die for him to become another dictator, back to the streets we go!)

A peaceful sit in takes place and Pro Morsi supporters armed and angry attack the sit in, killing some of the protestors. If the president or leader of your country did that, would you sit and take it and just break open another can of pop and bag of potato chips or would you voice your disapproval?

(WAIT ! There’s more…)

A few weeks later protestors take to the streets again this time to prevent the justices from meeting so to prevent any judicial review of the president’s decisions. Instead, President Morsi dissolves the (our equivalent to) the Supreme Court and labels all those who are members “traitors to Egypt”

(It Gets Better!)

A month later, he makes the ‘new’ constitution null and void and forms a constitutional committee to draft a new constitution in just FOUR days; those chosen to be on the committee were extreme Muslim conservatives and preachers. In a referendum not supervised by any judicial branch because judges all over the country boycotted it and the ‘new’ (biased, one sided) constitution narrowly won.

(Meanwhile)

The Egyptian economy was plummeting, foreign investors pulled out and our main source of income, tourism was not revived because the tourists were warned to stay away, plus the president and the minister of tourism never did anything to beef up security to make tourists feel safe, so it died!
In the warmer months of his term in office, in a country as hot as Egypt electricity/power cuts were a daily occurrence. Some people were lucky to have it cut once a day, while others would be without power for hours on end.

Egypt a country rich in fuel witnessed never seen before lines at petrol/gas stations that went on for blocks and were 8 hours long in some cities. Eventually petrol/gas stations had NO gas to sell?!
Egypt that has direct access to the river Nile, suddenly was having sever water shortages! Schools, Businesses and homes would have water shortages some for a few hours others for days on end.
Unemployment has almost doubled, and the value of the Egyptian pound was almost worth nothing. The exchange rate on the black market for the dollar reached 8 Egyptian pounds!

(Still not convinced…need more proof?)

President Morsi outlines his plan to lease the Suez Canal for 50 years giving full administrative control!
Then we had the endless accounts of sexual harassment of women (veiled and non veiled) who would be targeted by groups and assaulted along with the attacks on Christians in and around the country. Not one member of government or the President ever came out and condemned or demanded it to stop. Due to these actions and many of the above decisions hundreds of people have sought Political Asylum in other countries across the globe, some desperate enough to cross the borders into Israel to build a better life for themselves there. If that isn’t fear or desperation I don’t know what is?!

The above is just some of the crap that the Egyptian people have had to endure over the past year under President Morsi’s governing. Months before the 30th of June, a group called El Tamarod (Rebellion) started collecting signatures to demand the resignation of the President, because they honestly did not feel that he represented them and did not have the countries best interests on his agenda. For them to be taken seriously they needed to collect 15 million legitimate signatures, they collected over 22 million. One June 30th, 2013 on the anniversary of the Presidents one year in office, over 30 million Egyptians took to the streets to demand his resignation. They stayed there for four days!

Hearing the cries of 30 million people, the army gave President Moris an ultimatum, (this came after months of trying to negotiate with him), he had 48 hours to come out with a clear all party inclusive road map for the country or they would remove him from office. Just before the deadline Morsi came out and said that he would agree to hold early Parliamentary elections.

(uh, too little, too late dude!)

As promised the military removed him from office and placed him under house arrest.

(Coup or not a Coup?!)

Weikipedia’s definition: “A coup d’état typically uses the extant government’s power to assume political control of the country. In Coup d’État: A Practical Handbook, military historian Edward Luttwak states that “[a] coup consists of the infiltration of a small, but critical, segment of the state apparatus, which is then used to displace the government from its control of the remainder.” The armed forces, whether military or paramilitary, are not a defining factor of a coup d’état. Lately a view that all coups are a danger to democracy and stability has been challenged by the indication of the phenomenon of a “democratic coup d’état”, which “respond to a popular uprising against an authoritarian or totalitarian regime and topple that regime for the limited purpose of holding the free and fair elections of civilian leaders.”[5]”

We had no extant government takeover of the country; outside parties are temporarily in place until elections are held in 6 months time. The actions that were taken were to save democracy because the Egyptian people were NOT being represented.

Foreign Media and foreign governments all began clucking like chickens and called it a Military Coup; The Egyptians call it the People’s Coup! As you can imagine the Pro-Morsi supporters and members of the Muslim Brotherhood did not take to the news very well, so they took to the streets hurting and killing people who were Anti-Morsi supporter and Christians. General Sisi, in a speech came out and asked the Egyptian people to show their support by going out into the streets if they agreed to him protecting Egypt and her people from the terrorists who have been trying to divide Egypt and cause anarchy. The people answered and 30+ million people gave him their consent.

That brings us to the Pro-Morsi supporters and their 6 week sit-in in El Nahda and Rabaa Adaweya in Nasr City Cairo. The residents and business owners in the area were being obstructed from going about their daily lives, the area became inaccessible. Those who were part of the sit in and had torn up the tiles on the sidewalks to build walls/barricades across the streets preventing vehicles from entering the area. They had set up tents and make shift day-care centers too. Many attempts to negotiate with the protestors/squatters failed because they would not agree to anything, their one demand was that Morsi be reinstated.

(If UK’s Prime Minister or NY’s Mayor had a 6week sit in Trafalgar or Time Square, would they leave it or clear it? If you chose clear it, how would you go about it? (let me jog your memory, think back to occupy Wall Street))

After several attempts of negotiating, meetings of what to do, advice on how to clear the squares and warning of not to do it, the Interior Ministry (who are by no means saints themselves and are responsible for many deaths during the 2011 uprising), felt they had no choice but to go in and clear the squares. Early Wednesday morning, when the crowds would be sparse, they went in with police forces, bulldozers and tear gas. They were met with resistance.

What the foreign media is showing the world is tunnel vision reporting! They are failing to show the WHOLE picture. Many (NOT ALL) of the supports were (and still are), heavily armed with machine guns and rifles, who shot at the armed forces.

When word spread of the clearing of the sit-ins, this angered lots of the Pro-Morsi and Muslim Brotherhood supporters who took to the streets with anger in their eyes and fury in their hearts. Some of these protestors were peaceful in their protest, while others vandalized, burned public property and churches (and I mean OLD churches, like 4th and 5th century), they also stormed several police stations, killing and mutilating the bodies of police officers. (Peaceful and misunderstood protestors right?) This has not been reported on any of the International News Stations and when someone being interviewed would bring it up or mention it; they would make no comment or act as if they hadn’t heard it.

Now that you have a clearer idea of what is going on in Egypt, would you have let your President/Prime Minister drag your country into the ground, or would you have done what the Americans did, when Nixon was in office?

If Egypt and the US’s had facebook accounts, their relationship status would read “it’s complicated”, they are on the verge of a devastating break up. Which would make Russia and China really happy, because they would gladly swoop in and come to Egypt’s aid.

(That would be a WORLD game changer!)

If you require more evidence photos or videos get on twitter or youtube and you can see it yourself. You be the judge, don’t let your media censor the information, speak or think for you.

Here is a link to an article written in an American perspective;

http://www.theblaze.com/contributions/putting-egypt-in-context-what-if-president-obama-did-what-morsi

Fouad Street, Alexandria, August 14th 2013

Fouad Street
August 14th 2013

Wednesday, August 14th 2013 at 7:45am my father barges into my room to inform me that security forces have taken action and are attempting to disperse the sit in at Rabaa Adaweya and El Nahda.
As the day began to unravel, the more I began wot wish, I had never woken up.

As the news spread about the security forces trying to force their way through the barricades to clear the 5-6 week long protest that had been obstructing the lives of residence and businesses of the area, Pro Morsi and MB (Muslim Brotherhood) supporters became enraged and took to the streets in several cities across the country.
Being an avid user of twitter, I read reports about the sea side (Corniche) road being blocked. I warned my father about going out, but he decided to try his luck, only to have to turn round and come back after being caught in a traffic jam caused by civilian made road blocks, they let him through and he made it home safely. Not long after his return our street in Alexandria became heavily populated with Pro-Morsi and MB supporters.

The head of the march was peaceful, the people walked down the road chanting their anti Gen Sisi slogans, calling him a murderer, calling all of the people who aren’t joining them traitors, praising the people in Rabaa Adaweya and El Nahda squares for standing their ground and chanting how Egypt is Islamic. There were no weapons (guns, swords, knives or home-made bombs), there were several people carrying sticks and one guy dragging a metal shield often found outside of embassies.

The other members of the march who followed were nowhere near as peaceful. They were fueled with anger and expressed it openly. They chanted the same slogans and called out ‘Allahu Akbar’ (God is Great), which sent chills down my spine. Why the need to call out that?, This is not a Gehad! No one is trying to convert them or cause them to doubt their beliefs. These people carried big chunks of cement curb from near by and threw them in the middle of the road. Some tore down the metal fence of a construction site and threw it in the street along with the wooden guard boxes that are placed outside of consulates and banks and set fire to them. They also took the dumpsters and through them down and used the garbage to feed the fire. Tires, chairs, plants and many other things that they found were used to create their mini bonfires all the way down Fouad Street. There were NO security forces chasing or shooting at them. There was no one pursuing them, they did this of their own accord on a main street in a residential area, where business, foreign cultural centers, banks, restaurants and a consulate were also located.

(I have video and pictures of all this)

Residents looked out of their windows and off of their balconies in horror. They couldn’t believe that our quiet neighborhood had smoke billowing all the way down it and there was nothing that they could do about it.
This went on for an hour or so. As soon as the march had passed and had made their way further down the road, my neighbor’s sons went down in to the street to put out the fires and clear the road from obstruction.

Once that passed, my ears and eyes were glued to all forms of media, listening and watching to the reports on TV, facebook and twitter. The news from both camps was harrowing. Egyptian Muslim’s firing at each other, injuring and killing showing no mercy! Christians and churches continued to be targeted. Several churches across the country were attacked and set ablaze! Two reporters killed doing what they love and trying to shed light on the situation. It was enough to make your blood freeze.

I can not bring myself to call the events of today a massacre, for the plain and simple reason because the organizers of the sit in anticipate and knew that the chances of violence would be high. With this they armed themselves, (I am NOT saying that everyone had ammunition, but they definitely were prepared). Security forces were supposedly only supposed to only use teargas and blank or rubber bullets, (that didn’t happen). Which resulted in a two-way onslaught and loss of irreplaceable and precious life.

Scores and scores of casualties of civilians and officers with horrendous and gourish injuries from both sides. I don’t give a rat’s ass who pulled the trigger or cast the first stone! What I do care about is that Egypt lost sons and daughters at the hands of their own kin men. There is no excuse or rational reasoning for that!

I sincerely hope that we (Egyptians), find our way out of the dark tunnel that we are presently in and do detour away from the road towards civil war.

The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

The Challenging Mound at Cahal Pech

If you missed my last blog post I have just returned from my summer vacation. The first two weeks of my trip was spent in Central America, in the country of Belize, formerly known as British Honduras and shares its borders with Guatemala and Mexico.

A colleague of mine was an archeologist and used to work on a site there before a career change and joining the league of International Teachers. My colleague’s friend has been running an archeological like camp, (AFAR), for highly selected High School Students in Belize for several summers and extended the invitation to our staff and students. I have always been fascinated with the ancient civilizations and I thought this would be a great opportunity to travel to a new country, experience a new culture and learn about the Maya.

The morning of the 21st of June, I waited nervously at the airport for my colleague and the two students to arrive to begin the adventure. Once the gang was assembled and we had become acquainted with one another, the long journey across land, sea and ocean began. The afternoon of the 22nd of June exhausted and hungry, we landed safely in beautiful Belize and met up with and were introduced to the rest of the student body and staff whom we would be working alongside for the next two weeks.

The following day we were taken on a tour of Cahal Pech (Place of Ticks), with Mr. Saunders, Dr. Marc Zender and Mr.& Mrs. Pritchard, they talked to us about the site and the Maya way of life as we walked around and through Plaza’s A and B. Cahal Pech was the site where we were to help excavate. My first impression of the site was how quiet, secluded, nicely shaded and small it was. In my mind I had imagined a much larger complex and a huge temple like the one in Luxor, never the less it was still spectacular in its own right. As we walked around the site there were several excavation projects being carried out by BVAR (Belize Valley Archeological Reconnaissance Project), in my little mind I assumed that we would be helping them. When our tour of the site came to an end, a physically fit man who looked like he might be in his late fifties, with graying black curls, glasses and a big smile came striding across the floor of plaza B towards our group, this man turned out to be the renowned Dr. Jamie Awe an archeologist and expert in the Maya, (he would be the equivalent to the Zahi Hawas of Egypt). He greeted us warmly and explained what it was that his team was doing and what he would like us to do.

He pointed towards one of the large structures in plaza B, that had stairs and an a rectangular archway and said that, that structure had been excavated many decades ago and parts of it had been reconstructed and conserved, he also asked us to follow the wall to see where it abruptly ends or disappears beneath a huge mound of dirt that had numerous tall trees deeply rooted and growing out of it. He explained that when the Maya abandoned the city, the place was left to ruin and with time the hurricanes caused a lot of structural damage to fall and deteriorate due to lack of maintenance. Seeds that had been carried by the wind or deposited (pooped), by animals fell and took root, which caused more damage to the city. He then turned to this fairly big hill and said and pointed at it and said, that he would like for us to uncover the remains of the wall.

As I stood there taking in the length and height of the hill, I couldn’t help but wonder how, he or anyone else for that matter expected us to uncover a wall with just brushes? Surely that would take forever. He then added that it would take probably the first week for us to find structure… (Yeah, right! I thought to myself). For the remainder of the afternoon, students learned how to measure out units using measuring tape, thread, compass and a construction plumbob, (A plum what? (was my first reaction when I heard it too), the definition from Weikipedia; A plumb-bob or a plummet is a weight, usually with a pointed tip on the bottom that is suspended from a string and used as a vertical reference line). The boys got busy carving wooden stakes to put into the ground to tie string around to divide the units up. Others picked up rakes and started raking away small rocks and fallen leaves to clear the ground.

The following morning the students and staff were divided and assigned to the units that we would be working on for the next two weeks. I chose to be with unit one, “The Silverbacks”. There were a couple of logical reasons as to why I chose that particular unit; One of which was because they came highly recommended (most of them had a lot of experience excavating and had been coming for the past couple of summers), the unit was the closest to the already excavated wall and I was certain that we would find a lot of stuff.

In all honesty the mound that we were expected to get through intimidated me (GREATLY)! I seriously began to question why I was there and what had possessed me to want to do this in the first place when I could be doing something that would not require me to tap into my inner badger. After a little mental pep talk, I got myself ready for the challenge ahead. I am somewhat stubborn by nature, but I hoped that I had the resilience, stamina and persistence to keep up with five teenage boys and that I would be able to make a difference. I walked over to them and introduced myself to them one by one and that is when I was presented with a pick axe. I looked at the manly tool with puzzlement, (where were the brushes? I thought to myself). I jokingly asked if these were to break knee caps, (I hoped to hide my ignorance and break the ice. I’m not sure how I did). The team leader, a graduated high school senior very politely and patiently explained what we needed to do first and how the tools were used to excavate the area. First we needed to clear the surface of the rocks and make a pile because some of the rocks will be used to reconstruct some of the structures at the site. Once that was done we take our pick axes and start picking away at the layers of dirt. The dirt would then be scooped up into buckets which would then be taken by one of the team members to the big hanging sifts, to make sure that pieces of pottery (clay) or chert were not accidentally thrown away. If pieces of clay or chert were found, they would be placed in artifact bags. At the end of the day an artifact card would be filled out in black pen to explain what the contents were and how many bags of each had been collected. Sounded simple enough, but I tell you…it sounded a lot easier than it actually was. This job is not for lazy bones, wimps or girls worried about ruining their manicure. The students and staff took it seriously and expect those who come to take part to work hard. Some of the rocks were the size of my torso or just as heavy as the bucket full of dirt that had to be carried over to the sift. The shade of the canopy and the light breeze could cause you to forget that you were hot and in need of keeping hydrated. In the first half of the day, I found pieces of clay and beautiful pieces of quartz. These little finds gave me the incentive to keep on going. At lunch time (noon), I was hot, sweaty, hungry, thirst and exhausted! I couldn’t believe that we had been working for almost four straight hours and were expected to continue till four o’clock.

After a much-needed lunch break, soft drink and a bit of socializing, our hour was up and it was back to the grind. I found it very difficult to get back into the rhythm that I had been working to before. My heart was beating rapidly for some unexplainable reason and I was sweating more than I had been earlier, (I might have been having a mild panic attack, my mind and body might have been putting up a little protest to the manual labor, but being a stubborn person I wasn’t going to let it get the best of me). I tried talking to the team but being the newbie no one was really talking, so I chewed on a stick of gum, took out my iPod and listened to music as I worked away until the end of the work day. When quitting time came about, I was out of fuel and all I wanted was to stand under a shower and wash the dirt and sweat away, drink a gallon of icy cold water, EAT and recharge!

I woke up feeling not as sore as I had thought I would, which I took to be a good sign, (maybe I wasn’t as out of shape as I thought and perhaps I can do this with gusto? I didn’t want to jump for joy yet, it was ONLY the second day). The day played out very much like the first, except this time I felt like I knew what was expected of me and what I needed to do. After lunch time the guys started to open up and talk me, which helped pass the time and a bond between my team mates had begun to form.

As the week went on, the site of Plaza B changed drastically. It no longer looked like a well-kept garden, it looked like a bunch of gold diggers had set up camp and had torn up the lawn. There were piles of discarded rocks and dirt dotted around the plaza which I think took away from the beauty of the ruins. Tourists who came to visit the site would come and stop and watch us work and would often ask members of the group questions as to what we were doing and what we were looking for. (The little devil who lurks deep within my cranium, though we should have roped them into doing some of the labor, so that they could also witness archeology first hand and like us appreciate the time and man power that goes into excavating… mwaaahaahaahaa!)

By the end of the first week, my relationship with my 5 team mates had been sealed. I was one of the guys and a fully fledged ‘Silverback’. We had succeeded in finding the ancient floor of the plaza and were well on our way to finding structure. The mound that had looked so intimidating to me when we first began excavating looked unrecognizable, huge chunks of it had been dug out and when I stood back to look at our progress as a whole, I couldn’t help but marvel at all our combined efforts. It was then when I realized that the thing that really stands between us and doing the things that we want to do, is usually our own insecurities, self doubts and fears. The students on the project reminded me of the young teen I used to be and how I rarely ever let anything (except my parents), stand between me and the goals I wanted to achieve. Anything really is possible if you set your mind to it.

For our first weekend in Central America, we crossed the border into Guatemala and stayed on the eloquent and colorful island of Flores. Where we toured the ancient Maya city of Tikal and it was there when my tendonitis came back with a vengeance. Luckily I had anticipated the possibility of this happening and had brought the medication I would need to reduce the inflammation. Having experienced the strain and pain of this before, I knew that when we got back to Belize and the site, that I would not be able to work as hard as I had been the previous week. It was a big blow to me. I didn’t want to have to give up or sit on the side lines and not be able to help my unit complete the task that had been given to us. I was determined to find away to continue to work at some capacity, so that I could see the project through, not let the guys down and prove to myself that I can still do anything.

When we returned to the site on Monday morning, I had difficulty getting back into the routine and finding a way to work comfortably without putting too much strain on my heels. It wasn’t as easy as I had hoped. I had to make a choice, to push through the pain and possibly ruin the remainder of my vacation touring the East Coast of the U.S or to take a sick day. I eventually gave in and took the sick day to elevate my legs, do some stretches and ice my heels. Although I was bored out of my mind and felt sorry for myself, I knew I had made the right choice. The following day, wild horses couldn’t have kept me away from my unit, I can’t tell you how happy I was to be holding a pick axe and being back in the pit. I wasn’t able to work as well as I had the week before, but I kept on going, stopping and taking necessary breaks when I needed to, so that I could make it to the end of the two weeks. Which I am proud to say I did!

By the time Thursday had come around, we had found more worms and ant hills than I care to remember. We had seen interesting looking spiders, fever worms, a small snake and beautiful butterflies flutter through our unit as we pushed forward. We had filled hundreds of buckets and wheel barrels full of dirt, as well as numerous artifact bags with clay and chert. Like a colony of worker ants, we had uncovered several layers of white plastered well-preserved Maya floor, the outer remains of a long-buried and forgotten wall, revealed a looters trench and parts of a damaged staircase in just two weeks. Many of the participants were disappointed with our finding, but I couldn’t have been prouder of what we had accomplished together as a whole group and as individual teams! Our discoveries might not have been as exciting or as grand as another excavation team at the site that uncovered a tomb, with skeleton and well-preserved antiquities, but I was impressed in what we had achieved together.

People working together is powerful as well as unstoppable… but most of all inspiring!

In all honesty, I have never had to work that hard in my life! The physical labor that goes into excavating must be right up there with training for the Olympics! I might have suffered from tennis elbow, tendonitis, sore muscles and many mosquito bites, but the experience was by far one of the best I had ever had and one of the most memorable and fun summers too. If there was a chance of me being able to go back next summer or sometime in the future, I would most probably do it all over again.

http://www.bvar.org/

http://www.nichbelize.org/ia-maya-sites/archaeology-of-cahal-pech.html

Cahel Pech Maya site

Cahel Pech Maya site

After a long absence I am back at the keyboards writing again. So much has happened over the past few months in Egypt and in my personal life that I am not sure where I should pick up from or what I should write about. I have just returned after a month-long journey to Central America and the East Coast of the U.S for my annual summer get away, perhaps I should begin there?

As you can imagine the daily stress of living in Cairo and very close to the new demonstrating stomping and chanting grounds of El Itahadeya (Presidential Palace Area), had taken a toll on my attitude and perspective on many things, I felt trapped with the road blocks and constant possibility of violence. I was very torn about going away on my pre-booked summer adventure. I wanted to be here for June 30th and to be with my parents to see history in the making first hand (again), while the other little voice inside my head said,” You have been here since the very start and as a result you have many strands of grey hair, you need to get away. While you are abroad be the diplomat that Egypt needs. Show them what Egyptians are really like and explain to them our current bind and most importantly ENJOY YOURSELF.”

On June 21st with butterflies in my stomach, my journey across the globe began. My destination for the first two weeks of the journey was Belize, a small tropical country, formally known as British Honduras that shares the borders with Guatemala and Mexico and home to many ancient Maya sites.

You might be asking yourself what possessed me to trek all the way over there, when I could just hop over to Europe. Well, I had received an e-mail from a colleague of mine, who is an archeologist and had previously worked there before making a career change on an excavation site and he asked if any staff members or students would be interested in going to take part in a project to excavate part of a Maya city/ruin that a friend of his has been working on, along with a large number of carefully selected High School Students from North Carolina and other parts of the United States. I had always wanted to go to Latin America and this looked like the closest I’d get to it, so I leaped at the opportunity. I signed up and paid for the trip long before June 30th had been announced.

Before leaving we (staff and two students from the Egyptian delegation) as well as those in the U.S had reading assignments that needed to be read to give us background knowledge on the Maya and what the site we were working at might hold clues to. As I read I became more interested in the ancient civilization and looked for similarities and differences between the Mayas and the Ancient Egyptians. They were both very advanced in the sense that they were able to do complicated mathematical calculations, develop a calendar, build fascinating architecture, and cultivate. They both had gods they believed in, but the Ancient Egyptians loved their gods and gave the impression of being less hostile than the Maya, who seemed to be more aggressive and fearful of their gods. (I read up on as much as I could and watched a few YouTube documentaries to get me up to speed, I felt like I was back in school cramming for a final)

After flying over 3 continents (Africa, Europe and North America), 3 cities (Cairo, London and Newark) exhausted, sleep deprived and hungry, we had finally made it to Belize. The heat is the first thing that hits you, the second is the beautiful lush green landscape that surrounds you, the third is the spirit of the people. The people reminded me of the Egyptians that I had grown to love after I had moved to Egypt, friendly, hospitable, helpful, with a witty sense of humor.

After a meal, brief introduction to the large party of staff and students that we would in the days ahead bond with and work closely with, a much-needed shower and good night’s sleep my Maya adventure began! Clear headed and more alert than the previous night I reintroduced myself the following morning to the staff that I would be working with and right off the bat, we hit it off and a mutual respect and interest in each other’s culture was ignited in addition to our passion for adventure.

Our first and second day was spent touring the site of Cahal Pech (place of ticks), is located in San Ignacio. This site is where we would be working on uncovering the extension of the already excavated wall. Looking at the mound of dirt that we had to work through made me realize that this is going to take a lot of physically labor and energy on my/our part. Reality sunk in when the units were being divided up and these people were serious about the task ahead of them. I just couldn’t fathom how they expected to uncover a wall, with fallen rocks, huge mounds of dirt and large tree roots in the way with a brush. Surely this would take forever! No wonder ancient cities remain hidden and undiscovered! (DUH!)

On the third day, once all the units and the teams of volunteer archeologists had been divided and I was handed a pick axe and trowel not a dainty little brush like I had anticipated. That is when the romantic notion of archeology evaporated from my mind, (cinema/TV really does rot the mind). This was not going to be easy and this isn’t a task for glamour girls, fashionistas, mama’s boys or wimps. This was going to take energy, sweet, determination and collaboration! To get myself psyched for two weeks of digging and getting down and dirty in the unit were two mottos; ‘Go Hard, or Go Home’ and “The Only Easy Day Was Yesterday”.

The first day of digging I thought I was going to collapse from exhaustion and heat. In all sincerity, I NOW have nothing but admiration and respect for archeologists that work so hard to uncover ancient ruins to reunite us with our history and lost culture. I also have to show my admiration to the 60+ students who joined the project to volunteer to uncover ruins in a foreign land and to my team, ‘The Silverbacks’, the six strapping high school lads that I had the pleasure of working alongside were inspiring and incredible to watch, they seemed to have some synced rhythm that they worked to, in my eyes they had well and truly earned the staff’s name of ‘The Dream Team’. The first part of the day there would be little talking, we were on automatic pilot and just chipping, digging, shoveling, sifting through dirt to an unheard beat as well as hauling and sifting dirt and rocks out of the unit. After lunch time the boys turned into a bunch of comedians while we continued to work our way through the never-ending mound of dirt. They would be talking in different accents, poking fun at each other, asking one another questions, playing harmless pranks or singing along to Henry’s music selection. (Henry, Kieon and Marlin, were Belizean boys, who worked on the site with us. Some of the strongest, well-mannered and disciplined guys I have met in a while)

While digging the unit with these five guys for two weeks you can begin to understand how bonds are formed with troops in the trenches. They are with each other day in and day out and to pass the time and to keep each other motivated they talk to one another and exchange stories. Being the outsider and new to the posy, I had to step up to the plate and earn their respect. I had to prove that I was up to the challenge and able to keep up with them, as well as share stories and teach them a few Arabic phrases ;) As the days went on I have to be honest, I thought I was in some kind of boot camp or Olympic training program. I was using muscle and strength I didn’t even know I had!

When quitting time came, we were all dirty, sweaty, hot and tired. If I still had reserve energy I would grab a nice ice-cold drink from everyone’s favorite person at Cahal Pech, Oscar, the resident bar tender and check messages from my family, notification and reports on twitter and facebook, then head to my room to shower off the dirt. If I didn’t have the energy I would go straight for the shower and have a quick cat nap before venturing into the hang out area/lobby where everyone congregated for free social time. The students would go change quickly and cool off in the pool, get sodas and grab a snack to keep them going until dinner time.

During the working day, the down time after digging and meal times, is when I noticed that if you stand back and look at the scene of people you really don’t see any differences between them, they all look the same. It’s only when we choose to take a closer look with our social magnifying glass do we notice the differences. We all may come from different parts of the world, speak different languages, have different skin tones, have different religious affiliations or nationalities, but in all honesty we all more or less behave in the same manner and want the same things out of life. It just puzzles me why there are groups of people who are hell-bent on making us out to be more superior than the other when we all conceived the same way and started our lives off in diapers. It’s baffling if you really sit and think about it. I took an interest in watching how our students adapted to their new environment and how they interacted with everyone. For the most part, they both represented Egypt well.

The members of staff that I spoke to were well-traveled people and experts in various fields (geology, author, an expert in ancient hieroglyphs, forensic archeologist, artist, teachers, parents and business people). I wasn’t made to feel like some alien or outsider like I have been in the past when I have been to other places. We would hold intellectual conversations and ask each other questions about each other’s fields and experiences. This trip turned out not only to be for us learning about The Maya, but a cultural exchange. It turns out some of the students had been to Egypt on family vacations, while others had heard about it in the news and didn’t quite understand what had and was taking place in Egypt. So, the students and myself individually answered numerous questions related to politics, religion, culture and a great many other things in the two weeks we were there. By the end of the trip, I think those we spoke with had a better understanding of what was going on Egypt and expressed sincere hope that things would get better because from having read about our ancient civilization and having met us and other Egyptians they would really like the chance to come and visit someday, (I hope that things stabilize here so that they can come and see Egypt for themselves).

In the time that we were there my unit found what was presumed to be the base of a stela (statue) and part of a fallen stela as well as many pieces of pottery, quartz,chert and the white plastered well-preserved Maya floor. By the end of our two weeks the hill that we had been presented with no longer looked the same. The entire crew had moved, shoveled and sifted through countless buckets and wheel barrows full of dirt, (the animated movie Antz, kept coming to mind when I saw what we had accomplished). We had all found the various levels of floor, we found the base and remains of the wall as well as stairs. We were a bit disheartened that we didn’t find anything as significant as human remains, an undamaged artifact or piece of precious jade. The project leader and his staff assured us that our work was important and that we did assist in uncovering a missing piece to the Maya puzzle and that we should be proud of ourselves. I can’t speak for everyone else, but I was darn proud of what we had done.

The First weekend we were there we ventured across the border to Guatemala and our group toured the island of Flores and the ancient Maya city of Tikal. The last weekend we went to the ATM caves and spent our last few days at an eco-lodge in Pook’s Hill (those will be in other blog entries).

When the two weeks were up, I still couldn’t believe how much I had learned, seen and done in such a short time. I was stunned at how I had overcome so many things that I thought I would not be able to do and the fact that I had crossed off a few things from my bucket list of things I want to do. My last night at Cahal Pech, I was also sad to have to leave and say goodbye to so many amazing people who I had met on this journey. I will carry most of the people I encountered in my memory for a very long time, but it was the students and the teachers that I think have made an everlasting impression. Their spirit and desire to learn and see the project through has been awe-inspiring. The fact that many of the students have been returning for the past two or more years is impressive. I sincerely would love to go back next summer and volunteer again along with more students from Egypt. If we could somehow convince them to come, they might have a new-found appreciation for their own heritage and the amount of work that goes into uncover and preserving our history as well as creating a new generation of Egyptologists, my deepest wish is to help bridge the gap between cultures to eradicate misconceptions as well as prejudice and have our students act as young diplomats representing the real Egypt that isn’t shown or seen on TV.

I will be posting more about my trip in greater detail in the days and weeks ahead. This might have been one of the most physically challenging things I have ever had to do in my life, but by George it was definitely one of the most memorable and exciting things I may have ever done yet! Stepping out of ones comfort zone to experience something and somewhere new can be very rewarding and enriching! I am grateful to have had the opportunity !

TJ with us celebrating my bday

TJ with us celebrating my bday

Since I moved to Cairo in 2004 I have met many interesting people, with equally interesting characters. Some of those people I may have met once or twice, while others were part of a very special group of people I am forever grateful for being introduced to. Without them, I highly doubt that I would have endured or enjoyed Cairo as much as I have. Timothy J. Quinn III was one of those people. Not only was he one of the most adored and friendly members of the group, but he became like an adopted brother to some of us and you could talk to him with the greatest of ease.

I remember the first time, I met T.J at one of our ‘Tuesday Nighter’ outings, he very politely extended his hand to me and said, ‘I don’t believe we have met before, my name is T.J, forsa sa3eeda giddan (translates to, the pleasure is mine)’. I was shocked at how well he spoke Arabic. A conversation from that point on ensued and we talked like we had known each other for years. I learned that he was of mixed heritage too, (Irish/Italian) but was a Boston boy!
(Go Fighting Irish)

Every time I saw T.J from that time onwards he would always greet me with a genuine warm smile and hug no matter how much time had passed since we had last seen one another. When we would get chance to talk he would always ask how I was and what I had been up to and be sincere in his wanting to know.
I may not have known him as well as some of the other people in our group, but T.J had a way of making a lasting impression and being in everyone’s good books. In all the time I’ve known him, I can’t recall him ever saying anything negative about anyone or anything. If anything it was his graciousness and positive upbeat attitude that is still fresh in my mind.

T.J like another dearly departed friend of ours, Nathalie Atalla had the ability to bring out the best in those around them and could effortlessly bring people together. T.J knew EVERYONE! Whenever we went any where, it didn’t matter what part of Cairo or the country it was, T.J always had a ‘buddy’ there. Come to think of it, I am sure that he has a buddy in every corner of the globe. There is a theory that between you and a stranger there are six degrees of separation. That may be true for most of the world’s population, but not for T.J.
T.J loved to laugh and enjoy himself with those he knew, (he had a great laugh, and when he did his face would turn crimson red). If he was at a party and there were people who didn’t know him when they arrived, they most definitely would have by the time they left and it’s highly possible they exchanged numbers or became facebook friends not long afterwards.

T.J although a Boston boy, loved Egypt more than most Egyptians I know. He had traveled around the city and the country to places I had never heard of and wouldn’t know how to get to even if I wanted to, but he could and if he was free, he would gladly take you there himself. He knew where to buy most things at great prices, he wasn’t afraid to ride public transportation where he would interact and talk to the people he sat next to. He would come back and tell us stories of his adventures and have us gasping for breath as our sides hurt from laughing and tears streamed down our face, with his witty remarks and unforgettable sarcasm.
We would often tease him and say that with his knowledge of the country and his spoken Arabic, he had to be working for the CIA and was gathering intelligence, because lets face it, even though he had a great bald head, he was no Bruce Willis.

In the autumn of 2012, to the best of my knowledge, T.J went home to Boston for a visit. I had no idea he had been away until the 2nd of January when he emailed us with some shocking news.
He sent and e-mail titled; ‘Happy New Year and a stroke of good luck.’

“dear all!
a happy and healthy 2013 to all.
Just a quick update: I had a stroke. at the ripe old age of 32.
expecting a full comeback in the coming months. for now, it sucks. I speak spottily/sloppily with some slurring and my left side is much slower and weaker than my right side. I was hospitalized over the weekend and am now home in allston (boston), where I have been for the past few months, albeit now under new circumstances.
i was given initial physical therapy at the hospital and will get regular outpatient treatment over the coming weeks. Family has been looking after all of us here. I am in good hands.”

(ever the comedian and optimist)

As you can imagine we flooded him with well wishes and encouragement, reading back on my reply to his, my words ring true now more than ever.

“T.J

I now know why you had been on my mind recently. I’m sorry that you
had to experience a stroke at such a young age. I too am going through
some odd medical things that most people don’t get until they are much older,
so I can relate to what you are experiencing on a minor level.
I am glad you were home when it happened so that you had/have the
support that you need and the medical attention too. Take good care of
yourself T.J and never give up. You will make it through this and just
remember to thank God daily for your blessings!

Take care friend”

We got a total of 3 up dates from TJ and they were full of optimism.

February 14th, update number 2

“Dear all,

Thank you so much for all your support and help. I just got back from the ‘bubble test’, which seems to have gone well. My parent’s said my doctor sounded excited by the results. That’s the good news. The test was not fun.
(following is largely minutiae) It was similar to an angioplasty (anyone?) but instead of cleaning up gunk from your arteries (or heart) with a small bubble, it sent to one of the arteries in the brain and stopped blood flow just below the aneurysm to see how I reacted. I was awake during the whole process. It was literally a pain in the neck. I spent yesterday night at the hospital under observation and left today. My left hip is very sore (as that served as the entry point) today, though that is thankfully getting better.The therapist gave me a cane in case I needed it, though it is better to use as a prop than using it to hit him.

I’ll be in contact soon when I get the doctor’s to get the next course of action.
In the meantime, thank you again so much for your help and supporting emails!
All the Best,
TJ”

March 26th, update number 3

” Dear all!
Happy Easter!
Thank you again for all the signs of support! It’s really helping!
Just saw the neurologist and the neurosurgeon and wanted to share the news:
The bubble test last month bore positive news and I am having surgery in late May. The surgery basically involves clamping the artery ‘feeding’ the aneurysm, thereby reducing pressure and slowing potential growth. There are secondary arteries that can sufficiently “power” the area. Apparently, there is a fair amount of risk involved, but doing nothing is even more risky. They also mentioned waking me up during the surgery to make sure everything is working properly. I hope this kind of “wake up” surgery is not a growth industry.
There was also a stroke check up. The stroke, as far as strokes go, was a huge one, which is surprising because I am basically back to functioning ‘normally’ – to the point where I could agitate the aneurysm, and handle a Quinn Family gathering. Even my speech is almost totally clear (so long as I keep away from those pesky tongue twisters …and copious amounts of beer). However, running a 5k for St Patrick’s Day did not happen as hoped – I can ‘run’ about a 100 yards/meters, at which point my left leg starts dragging. Instead, I’m going out for extended walks, weather permitting.

This was definitely not what I foresaw returning to Boston from Cairo, but makes for a great ‘overcoming challenges’ story whenever work interviews begin.
Thank you again so much for all the notes, words, and help over the past few tricky months!
Love,
TJ”

My contact with him continued, I had just finished sending him two drafts of my latest blog posts and wanted him to read about the latest drama I had experienced. His last email to me was on April 21st not knowing it could very well be my last. The following day his group of friends were forwarded an email from his sister Nina.

” Hi everyone.
I apologize for the mass email. I wanted to let everyone know that TJ is currently undergoing surgery at MGH.
His aneurysm ruptured this morning – less than a month before his surgery (which was scheduled for May 20) to clamp it. He was home and my parents called 911 and he went to MGH in an ambulance.
I got the call that he’d been taken to the hospital around 215 and went to meet my family in the ER. We were able to see him a few times before he went into surgery. He was in a medically induced coma with the ventilators and all sorts of wires leading to all sorts of beeping. I was definitely a freaky for me to see my big brother (who I was literally laughing with yesterday) look like that.
We spoke as a family to an ER nurse, a nurse liaison, the head of neurosurgery at MGH and one of his people, and a few nurses on the ICU floor where TJ will be staying. I cannot say enough about the MGH team. To say he’s in good hands is an understatement.
My parents are going back around 930/10 this evening and will speak to Dr. Ogilvy (head of neurosurgery at MGH and arguably the best in the world) to see how the surgery went. I’m waiting to hear from them with any updates, though there might not be any this evening. Though Dr. Ogilvy was positive, this is a really tough case (TJ Quinn: making things difficult since 1980) and it’s too early for a prognosis of any kind yet. I also don’t believe visitors outside immediate family are allowed at this point, but I’ll let you know otherwise as news comes in.
Again, I’m sorry for the mass email, but wanted to keep you all informed as possible. I’ll share any updates as they come. Feel free to forward to friends and folks I may have forgotten.
Thank you all for your love and concern over these past few months. You have been a HUGE support for me and my family. I’ll be in touch as I have more to share. “

The news of the possibility of losing T.J came as a big blow and although we were optimistic, the news that followed on April 29th was heart wrenching and shattering.

” Dearest Family and Extended Family,

I write today with sad news. TJ is not going to wake up. We knew his situation was serious and, though the surgery was technically successful, we found out on Friday that he was not responding positively, and will not recover from the ruptured aneurysm.
This weekend has been spent saying our good-byes. Your prayers and thoughts over the past week have kept us all strong – I have been reading all your messages to TJ. Tomorrow (Monday) we will remove the ventilator and let nature take its course. It should not take long even though TJ is strong.
Though completely devastating, I write with the knowledge that he received the best care possible. The doctors and nurses and staff at MGH are truly special.
I can’t thank you all enough for your kind words, texts, emails, and prayers. Each one was felt. I will share details about services over the next few days.
Peter and I know that we shared TJ as a brother with many of you and as a friend with all of you. We are honored that he touched so many hearts – one of his many gifts. I know he will be missed.

All my love,”

Although the chances of T.J defying medicine were slim, we his friends for the most part chose to hold on to that last shred of hope, that he would choose life and that God all mighty would grant us a miracle. He had already claimed a dear friend of ours a couple of years earlier. Did he have to take T.J too?

I am grateful that I got to meet and know T.J. He was an exemplary individual who was liked and adored by many. He siezed moments and enjoyed each day.
I am also grateful that he was back in Boston when all of this happened, so he could be home with his immediate family.
Most importantly, I am grateful that he did recover from his stroke, so that he had the time he needed to spend with them over the past few months and we, his friends could let him know how much we truly cared for him as we encouraged him to keepy defying fate. Maybe the miracle we had hoped for last night didn’t come true, but the fact that he fought his way back the first time was a miracle in itself.

T.J even during this very difficult and delicate time as we say our goodbyes in our own way and make peace with the fact that we will not be seeing you, you have succeed in bringing people closer together. The outpouring prayers, well wishes and condolences that were sent by people you knew and those who were touched by your story was overwhelming and heart warming.
As a friend of yours on twitter posted this mornind ” @rbecker51 @tjquinn3 is #BostonStrong”

(Irish Blessing) I raise a glass to you today and say;

If tears could build a stairway, and memories were a lane,
We would walk right up to heaven, And bring you back again.
No farewell words were spoken, No time to say goodbye,
You were gone before we knew it, And only God knows why.
Our hearts still ache in sadness, and secret tears still flow,
What it meant to lose you, No one will ever know,
But now we know you want us To mourn for you no more,
To remember all the happy times, Life still has much in store.
Since you’ll never be forgotten, We pledge to you today,
A cherished place within our hearts, Is where you’ll always stay.

We will miss you T.J, come visit us in our dreams from time to time.

Slainte!

April 30th 2013

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