Monday, March 31, 2008

Where are the Children's Smiles

Our first day in Luxor would soon become busy, very busy. But, before heading out to our ceremonies, I thought it prudent, to first take a picture of the Temple of Luxor, which was just across the street from our hotel balcony. As I look at it now I cannot help but marvel at the view. They say one picture is worth a thousand words. But in this case that is not correct. My picture is trivial compared to what is truly there.
These buildings were constructed 4,000
years ago. Our visit across the road will last not even a blink, in the life of the temples.
We have come to visit a track club on the other side of the Nile. It is after school and the kids are preparing for an upcoming meet. The kids are barefoot and the track is in questionable condition. I have spotted a herd of sheep making their meandering way down one side as the kids start laps on the other. Our little Harmony run team of 3 arrives there at dusk, in the middle of a hard workout.

Everything stops for our little ceremony. We have a translator who translates into Arabic, Rastia's talk. We have the kids guess each of the countries we come from. The kids enjoy this.

They also enjoy when we sing the World Harmony run song. The kids are very attentive. This may be the first time that foreigners have come to their school.

As I look at these pictures now, several weeks later, I wonder if I have somehow made a mistake somewhere. I clearly remember the kids smiling for us, and having a good time. Yet as I look now I can find few smiles.

I realize that the smiles will come later. After we have spent time with the kids the next day. We will spend nearly a full day with a small group and we will gradually got to become friends.

On this night the young athletes take turns caring the torch around their rugged track. It is hard for them to hold back. Each time one gets a hold of the torch they start to surge in front of the others. There is just so much energy.

On this side most of the track has just disappeared. It cannot be from rain, and I did not dare to ask the coach. I could not imagine how these barefoot kids could train here and yet they do. It is also very clear their dedication to training in all the disciplines of track and field.

We pose for group pictures after all have had their turn with the torch. As I look at this picture now, after not seeing it for a few weeks I think I can solve the mystery of the missing smiles. The kids felt like athletes who were representing their country in front of the world. In this case 3 guys from far away. They were proud of their athleticism and I think wanted to demonstrate it with dignity.
This then is another photo which doesn't show the whole picture. Click on this picture to see if I am right.

A Change of Place A Change of Pace

I would be hard pressed to find anything negative to say about our stay in Luxor. Just to leave the great cauldron of humanity, which is Cairo, was a relief in itself.
Here we were provided, courtesy of the Egyptian Athletic federation, hospitality, a van, a guide, and something unexpected, real friendship.

The Horus hotel is just a simple little place, right in center of Luxor. Our hosts brought us here after it had been recommended by our friend in Cairo, Mr.Fahmy.

The federation may have had a special rate, or relationship with the place I do not know. But it was
more than fine.

In the morning there was a simple breakfast on the second floor. The room, though small, had a real bathroom.

By this time clothes needed cleaning and we had this done here at a reasonable price.

This is around the corner from the hotel. It is just construction going on. A lot is happening in this small town. A swell of tourists come here for the spectacular antiquities. The infrastructure is trying to keep up.

If you were staying in a fine resort, enclosed in 5 star comfort you might not see this. Or only in your horse cart as you drive by.

Our first morning in Luxor turned into a relaxing get to know you session.

we went to a new library, and then we went for tea. In North Africa you have tea.....a lot.

The boys wanted to play dominoes.

They are playing with the coach of the local
track club.

He is man who will help us a lot in the next few days. He speaks some English but was uncomfortable about dolling out his limited vocabulary. We had a guide and translator but somethings just do not need translation. There is a sound a domino makes when it is slapped down on the board. There is no sound as friendship builds between strangers who cannot speak the same language.

Later I will take a break and look out our window. There is a small balcony overlooking the street. But across the street, between my toes is the splendor of the Temple of Luxor. We will be here for several days and despite the fact it was just there, across the road, we will not have time to enter.

Sunday, March 30, 2008

The Overnight train to Luxor

It seemed on the surface of things to make a lot of sense. Take the overnight train from Cairo to Luxor. This would mean not having to spend another night at the Hotel Gloria. It would also mean not having to spend a night in the untested and most likely faded comfort of its equivalent in Luxor. In wasn't a bet, but somehow we all figured that putting ourselves in the hands of first class Egyptian rail had to be the best choice. We walked to the station from the hotel. There were lots of bags, and lots of bumps, and it
wasn't as far as I thought, but was further than I would liked to have walked with that much stuff. Getting to the track we handed our tickets to a porter who took us to this room. Soon 2 other guys showed up. One took this first picture. We weren't this happy. As the train pushed along a few hours later a porter came in and whispered in the ears of each man in turn. It was clear that with the donation of a few pounds more they were being taken away so that they could stretch out and sleep. I was not sad to see
them go. With each departure, morsels of delicious space started to open up.

Then there was just 3 of us and this seemed now suddenly right, though not quite perfect. Then the porter came and whispered in my ear. It was late, I was delirious with fatigue, I wanted a bed. I followed the man down the corridor with horizontal heaven whispering to my shattered brain. He took me to a room just like ours. Nobody was in it but there were a

strangers bags on one of the seats. I demanded my money back and walked back several cars to where the boys were. The train decided to punish me. An hour later a strange Egyptian man came into our sleepy room through the open door with a ticket saying he wanted to sit where my feet had been. I grumbled, sat up, and glowered at he who was taking away my peace. Soon he just got up and left his jacket in his place.

Sometime later, and I do no know when, he

came back and took away his coat. I vowed to never take a first class Egyptian train again. The normal cars, with reclining seats even looked more comfortable. At the end of the long night we were met by this scene. The ancient splendor of Luxor suddenly seemed worth the long tiresome journey.

Staying at the Gloria

I was surprised at first when the boys told me they were changing hotels in Cairo. They said where they were staying was bad. I asked, "How bad?" They replied, "Real bad."

I was surprised at this because you could find the hotel on the internet. People had made comments about the place that were not flattering, but at least they were not so blatantly incriminating as to suggest not to use it at all.

I told them I did not care where we stayed, just as long as I knew where it was before I left New York. I had to have an address of some kind. So then they moved to the Gloria.

I spoke with them and said, "Heh, I can't find
find the Gloria hotel at all, How can it be better?" "Trust us, its better."

So I wrote down the name and address on a pad and when I got a cab at the Cairo airport nobody blinked. When the driver and I got to the street however, he turned to me and asked where it was, I told him, "Number 26."

But it was a tired and old street and there were no numbers, and certainly no big signs saying Gloria Hotel. Eventually the driver

stopped at a corner and asked some people. They looked puzzled. We drove on. The driver looking up, me looking up with jet lagged eyes and doubts creeping into my tired brain.

We stopped a second time and the same results. This time though a man who had leaned in said he would go and find out. We sat and waited. He came back and said, "It is on the next block." We drove on.

The driver looked and I looked and we both could not see it, and then, I spot it. A small sign hanging over the road. The driver asked for a tip. It did not occur to me to disagree with him.

The greeting inside was memorable. This humble little hotel had two good friends waiting for me. They asked what I thought. Knowing it was not like the 4 star charm I have been accustomed to.
I said, "lets see."

I surveyed the room and its limited attractions. I wondered at who stayed in a place like this and how there could be anything worse. The boys said that it least it had a tv here. I don't think we ever turned it on.
They thought I would enjoy the all in one bathroom. The logistics of its use is probably familiar to many economy travelers thought I had only seen one once before while staying in Venezuela. Showering and toileting in the same region requires some

skill and accommodating friends. We worked it out.

And later over a meal, things were starting to look like they would work out just fine.

Friday, March 28, 2008

Sounds On the Street Below

It is my first morning in Cairo and I am exhausted, after taking a long flight from New York via Zurich to get here.

I am staying in a tired section of Cairo which feebly hints of a glorious and glamorous past.
The hotel room I have spent the night has no pretensions whatsoever.
The other occupants who I am sharing the room with tell me, that at least it is superior to the room they had prior to it. I shudder at
that possibility.

The morning calm is suddenly shattered by shouts coming up from the street below.
I am instantly compelled to become a voyeur but can't make out what if anything has taken place to disturb the peace
I see a swirl and sway of a large group of men.
Sides have been taken, but I cannot tell for sure for whom.

There are loud voices and angry gestures but I have seen no violence.

There is an obvious hint though that one man has received a blow to his stomach.
Practically all are appealing for calm. One angry man and his small group are held

A woman comes to the aid of the afflicted man and tries to give him comfort.
A wife? A sister? Who can tell?

I can barely hear the words rushing up from the street even if I could understand Arabic.

The aggrieved man is brought to a car that is
rushed to the curb and sits inside as though
he is about to be whisked away for treatment.

Instead of rushing off to the hospital he is brought a cup of mint tea carried to him on a silver platter.
Soon life on busy Amin El Dein street returns to normal. Once again it is peaceful and serene. It whispers again sweet dreams off its past. It asks us not to dwell too long on noises, that are so brief, they almost cannot be heard.


It is a kind of dance in which one of the dancers...."me", cannot hear the music or knows the steps.

I have arrived at Cairo airport from Zurich and have little idea of where I need to go in Cairo, but at least have some vague notion of how much I should pay.

I am approached again and again by one questionably sincere man after the next.

I dodge and plod on pulling heavy bags.

You cannot help but feel like live bait in a great sea of sharks. But the truth is tamer and certainly there is no danger. You may loose your money but not your life.

A price is finally agreed upon. Who knows whether or not it is fair. It is no longer at least outrageous.

I am handed off now from one man to another. On my third exchange I proceed

into the heart of Cairo.

I will take many trips here in this great capital. Many times the driver cannot speak English, or simply does not know where I want to go.

A solution presents itself when stuck in interminable traffic.

Ask the man in the next cab. Most likely if he doesn't know he will like at least to have a chat.

You can almost wish at moments like this how great it would be to reach out and hand them a cup of tea.

He is pleased, I am pleased, we all are


There is another option of course, and that is to simply pull over to the side of the road and ask for help.

People and life move here at quite a different tempo.

People do want to help.

You can get to your destination.

Just be patient.

Maybe everyone will smile

Friday, March 7, 2008

The Search for a Beginning

We sometimes, in our search to analyze things, hope to find an event, that signals a new beginning in our lives. Perhaps even a change in direction.

Our mind may attach itself to a specific event, that demonstrates, that now , we are taking a another journey on a new path.

Most likely, if we were to truly examine our life, we would simply discover, that our journey has been, and always will be, just one eternal path.

Fortunately, from time to time, as we travel life's road, we are able to lift up our heads and look out at what is happening in and around us. It has always been there, just that we haven't been able to see it before.

We are surprised by this evolving reality and because we have been able to notice a a tiny fragment of life as it passes by, we exclaim, "O yes, this is something new in our lives."

In this picture I am at Kennedy airport, about to leave for Cairo. Armando here is one of those special people we sometimes meet along the way. He was not in a rush and he was not business like, he was just being a good and caring person. I asked if I could take his picture, and without hesitation he said yes. The smile on his face, I believe, is there most days, and I expect with most other air travelers, who rush up to his window with bags and problems, hoping to escape.

He patiently told me about his love for cameras, and wanted to see mine. He said he had owned many, and though not a professional, once loved to take pictures. He envied I think a little bit my trip to Cairo, and the chance to explore and record my journey.

It was just a nice and pleasant encounter. Before I left he asked, if he could take my picture as well.

Of course I could not refuse. He was proud of this shot. Maybe not of my mugging portrait in particular, but of the American Airlines sign in the background. He handed the camera back to me and said. "This is a nice picture."