Hello Worcester

18 05 2011

I can’t exactly say ‘hello’ to the city now can I, but some sort of continuity is needed here since the last post…  I’ve been living in Worcester, Massachusetts for over two years now wanting to share my experiences at times but always feeling that I first needed to write something that would seamlessly bridge the gap between my life in Sinai’s deserts and New England’s woodlands. The difference between the two topographies being as radical as the transition itself, it’s not surprising that that post never came about. Instead of digging deep and trying,  I let the words written here fade into the outer frays of this web we all spend too much time on.

Racially different topographies

I’ve thought more than once that this blog should have had a different name, one that limited it to my Sinai musings. It would have been easier to let it stand on it’s own, pick it up next time i’m back there and so on.  I’ve also thought of shutting it down completely but the search engine redirects that are now the only source of traffic here may still be of use to some. Mountains Desert Blur – Push Yourself – Kelvin Fox Camp Egypt – What are those things that look like moving stars going across the night sky – villa for sale in la hacienda ras sudr – Low Barren Mountains in a Desert – Guy singing in the tribunal metro of madrid –  Wadi Arbaeen – Joshua Lohnes… 

Wait, who’s searching that last one?? Tops the list at 24 hits this year. Being “creeped on” isn’t the big deal, it’s more that the landing page isn’t really a full picture. I’m far from frozen in that last melancholic post of December 2008.  Had I kept writing I suspect some may have landed here with the following searches too:  Worcester Immigration,  should I jump off a cliff for the love of my life?,  winter garden mache, geography grad school rejection, Best Wedding Ever, 5000 gallon rain barrel, two-toned blue, fix refugee resettlement,  gender and parenthood,  purgatory ring, Bhutanese market, cleaning your baby after explosive poop, non-profits vs. the state, Azores Anniversary, Jewel’s pickles. I wish this list were real.

I like Worcester a lot, Jenna and I like Worcester a lot. It’s the first place I’ve lived where I could see myself (us) settling down and building lasting community. In August we’ll be living in West Virginia though, starting all over again… Another étape on life’s Camino is upon me, and… oh yeah that’s why I started this blog in the first place. Coming off of  that long walk 4 summers ago I wanted to  make it a point to continue reflecting on the steps I’d be taking ahead. Fail! Worcester has been a very big  step, and I feel I owe it to myself to process it by writing some here. So, now that pseudo-transition post I’ve been putting off for so long is finally written. Hopefully these next two months of writing can do the last two years’ of living justice.





Goodbye Sinai

16 12 2008

This is my last blog post from Egypt for a while. I left St. Catherine’s two days ago. It wasn’t easy saying good-bye, still isn’t. I had some friends visiting last week; it was nice having them be a part of the transition. We went on a walk with Ahmed and Salem, my last in Sinai’s majestic mountains, to a summit I hadn’t been to before, even though it’s on the track of some of our treks. Bab el Dunya, the door to the universe. It was a beautiful place to say good-bye to the peninsula I’ve come to call home this year.   The time of departure also happened to be Eid, the festival of sacrifice, a major holiday commemorating Abraham’s willingness to follow God’s commands. Friends and family take the time to visit to each other and share meals and gifts. I had meat from three different goats on the 8th… and thus started the good-byes. For the past two days I’ve been in Cairo. I leave tomorrow. It’s been a great year; I’ve been challenged, tried and learned so much through it all. I will miss writing about my experiences here. There were times I wanted to write more. The past week for example was full of things to share, but the nature of this blog makes it difficult to do so at times.

Tomorrow night I’ll be home with my family. I look forward to having this time to reflect and be encouraged by those who know how to love me best. Jenna and I will be reunited on the last day of the year, having a whole week together before I make my move to be near her long-term. I look forward to writing from the U.S. I know the past 18 months have changed me significantly, how will this modified lens affect the way I head back West? We’ll find out soon.  Salam





Solace and Adventure

27 11 2008

Solitude was good. I spent 2 nights on Gebel Raba, the mountain opposite Mt. Sinai and pretty much its antithesis. As much as Moses Mountain has become a mass tourism circus, full of people, their trash, camels and their droppings, Gebel Raba is nearly virgin. It’s more difficult to access and thus barely anyone goes there. Beyond the many varieties of beautiful plants, the only living things I saw were a few feral donkeys and flocks of wild chicken. I found a huge boulder that functioned as a cave and settled in for the night.  With lots of dead wood lying around there was ample fuel for warmth and cooking. I enjoyed the spot and stuck around for my second night as well. Days were spent sitting, napping, singing, exploring the massif, climbing to its peak and looking down onto the town I’ve called home this year from 500 meters above…  I’m glad I took the time for silence, came back feeling refreshed.

A day back in the office, dealing with malfunctioning computers and miscellaneous busy work, rested my legs before taking off to the desert again with my colleague Dave. We are revamping our products to make them more understandable for potential customers visiting the website. Treks will now be divided into four categories. Relaxation walks, leisure treks, adventure treks and specialty treks. This particular hike was meant to explore the remaining areas of our Adventure Trek section, and what an adventure it was! We covered five days worth of trekking in two, walking camel speed (6km/hr) with 3,200 meters of height gain… without camels.

It started with an ascent of Mt. St. Catherine’s then down the back way, off the high mountain plateau and into Awlad Said Territory. This tribe has very little… few tourists venture here since the Israelis stopped coming and for the past 10 years, as in the whole of Sinai, they’ve had very little water.  Many of their members have been forced to migrate to the cities of El Tur, Sharm and Dahab working in the hotels and service industries there to support their families. Those who have stayed back on their land are surviving by growing opium poppies. When we passed the first small garden with its bright green sprouts and small shack the farmers excitedly welcomed us for a cup of tea. I enjoy tea with opium farmers. These men are rugged, living out in the desert for weeks on end tending their little plots of land which might bring in $2,000 dollars worth of income a year. Our combined Arabic was decent enough to carry on small talk before continuing on our journey. I’d love to spend more time with these men, understand their way of life, their trade and their views on “alternative agriculture”.  We traipsed across the desert all afternoon.  Zoning out, my legs seemingly on auto-pilot, I had time to think, to pray, to wonder, to ponder, to muse, to recall, to calculate and deliberate. Walking does that. About a kilometer from our campsite, I realized I had left my phone on a rock 3 kilometers back. We had taken a quick break there and I took it out to check the time. AARGH! Walking backwards is horrible… I found it, followed the orange peels to the rock I’d left it on. My phone is full of text messages from Jenna, I can’t delete them, in fact it’s time to copy them to my hard-drive again…. it being full though, I had 80 messages to re-read on my way back up to the sandy path. That was nice!

Yesterday was one of those days I won’t soon forget. Dave started the fire to warm up coffee before the sun had actually risen and we packed up and lathered on sunscreen as the first rays shone over the surrounding mountains. We climbed Gebel Abu Shagara in about an hour and a half, had magnificent views of the sun rising over the Gulf of Aqaba and Saudi Arabia on the other side of the yellow glow. Turning 180 degrees, we could also see the Gulf of Suez and the African continent beyond. We continued down to the ruin of Dir-Antush, a monastery at the foot of Gebel Umm Shomar which used to secure the supply and pilgrimage routes between El Tur and the main St. Catherine’s monastery. It’s but a ruin now.  A few photos and we were off again. Coming across another opium garden, we met Mohammed and Ibrahim with whom we shared a few cookies as they boiled up water for tea in an old tin can. Mohammed the older man, was very warm hearted. I enjoyed the fifteen minute break to air out my blistering feet as he told us a bit about his life, the valleys in the area and what we would encounter the rest of the way down this one. I wish we could have stayed longer, but we knew that we had barely begun the day’s march.

Walking, jumping, scrambling through boulders and scaling down the dry waterfalls of Wadi Zeraiqiya  was quite fun albeit a bit precarious. Plant life abounded, but many palms were brown, a few green branches holding on. It must have been stunning when water flowed through there!  The valley eventually opened up into a long sandy stretch, the high mountains looming above and looking very alpine-like. We devoured a lunch of tuna and bread on a boulder in cool shadows before starting the climb around 13:30. Up, up up, climbing to no end and feeling weak we popped peanuts and split a chocolate bar, bits of energy refueling the body… Our water was running low… Still no choice but up up up, not sure what was at the top, or even where the top was. A photo of a 1927 map and Dave’s GPS points were all we had guiding us. We did finally arrive, exhausted, at the top of Wadi el Quein just as the sun was setting. Another beautiful view of the Gulf of Suez would be our last vista of the day. There is something grand about catching a mountaintop sunrise and mountaintop sunset in the same day. Closer to the Gulf now, we could clearly see the shadows of the container ships that supply our so called flat world, all waiting in line for their turn through the canal; Egypt’s second largest source of income after tourism. Economics really didn’t matter at that point though; we were home in Wadi Gibal, the peaks surrounding us now all familiar. After a few “we have conquered” photos, we kept on walking, now high on adrenaline. The last rays of sun and a couple planets rising behind us only added to the beautiful feeling. For the next two hours, we would trek with our headlamps, exhausted (adrenaline fades quickly) from our 12 hr walk, but somehow still marching under a beautiful blanket of stars. It feels so good to push yourself, and I’m glad I have people like Dave around who push me beyond what I believe to be my limits, no way I’d be living these adventures on my own! 

 

The "We Have Conquered" picture

 

I’ll miss this place, and my job here. It’s all winding down now. The next few days we’ll put the finishing touches on the products, I’ll finish all the Google Earth mapping, will keep helping the trainees with e-mails (they’re answering real inquiries now) and organizational tasks all the while slowly starting my good-bye rounds.  It’s been such a privilege to discover Sinai, its deserts, mountains and especially its people.  I’ll be back inshaallah for more solace… and adventure.





Je me retire

20 11 2008

The desert… 

alpine-desert

Heading out for two nights of solitude tomorrow. I’ve often taken advantage of the setting here to go out on walks alone. A half hour from my home or office is all it takes to be confronted with the wild expanse of the desert. The barren mountains and their networks of palm dotted valleys have become familiar now, not as awe-striking as when I first arrived last October, but the silence – often pure silence – is fantastic. The vast empty spaces and lack of distractions inevitably lead to contemplation, a reevaluation of those things that truly matter, one’s place among them and thus prayer. Three days of it will be a first… 

I’ll be leaving most things behind… bed, books, music, cigarettes, friends, work, phones, e-mails and chats – just pen, paper, food, water and warm clothes. I’ve been looking forward to this for a long time, but now that it draws near I’m apprehensive. Why is that? I know it will be good for me, that I’ll come back feeling rejuvenated, and at peace. Right now though,  I’m tempted to stay back with my comforts and my routine, or take a microbus to the beach… Why are we always tempted to run away from solitude?  I think because we’re afraid to confront our naked selves, apprehensive of what might be revealed there. I am at least. 





November 15th, 2008

16 11 2008

The last three days were spent with a group of ten fifteen and sixteen year old high school students from the New British School in Cairo. They were training for their Duke of Edinburgh Award, a good scheme which is intended to get kids involved in outdoor activities, community service and skill building. This being pupils from a well-off international school, the Sinai trek was just a warm up before going off to conquer Mt. Kenya in March for a part of their certification. It was fun being with a youthful crowd for a few days, took me back to the time I first made my first big transition from France to boarding school in Germany. Thinking that I was their age then, and seeing a group of rootless kids talking amongst themselves brought me back a bit, to the life I had 12 years ago now. It was good to get out in the mountains again and leave the concerns of the world beyond behind for a while. Walking for kilometers on end in fresh air and through the stunning scenery that has become ordinary all too fast has a way of calming the soul, even with 10 loud teenagers. Many of the places I walked through knowing it would likely be my last… It’s countdown to the next step now, with three weeks back in France at Christmas and a move to Worcester, MA and Jenna in January.

I returned from the desert with the news that things had not improved at work. There have been misunderstandings of late that have brewed to boiling point. I’m not directly involved, but it’s difficult to watch and to be wise through it all as news, often twisted news, spreads faster here than wild forest fires. The afternoon was spent visiting people, catching up on the latest developments in town including a stopover at Farhan and his family. I asked his wife if she could make me a new laptop bag as my nine dollar Wal-Mart purchase last January is falling apart. I’m happy to be able to give her some work. They fed me and we talked about the changes in the area over the past few years, how people now need money for everything… even water! The low November sun slowly left the garden in shadows as I watched Farhan shave, the sound of each stroke of his razor making the sound of sandpaper on wood. I was ready to go, but they would not have it… I needed a bit of a break from the Arabic though and told him I would come back in a few minutes with my computer so we could take measurements for the bag. Once the dimensions known, I proceeded to show Farhan pictures of my family and videos of him making olive oil last March when my sister was visiting. Back, at the office after it being finally appropriate to leave my host, I talked with Andy for a bit, Sheikh Sina’s newest volunteer, who has entered the eye of a storm that nobody quite understands.

I had had my fill of people and needed some time to myself. With a group of ten joke-cracking and self conscious teenagers, the desert had not been as rejuvenating as it can be in that respect.  Jenna had been on my mind for three days straight and all I could think of was talking to her. I called from my cell phone direct, which I still haven’t figured out the exact price of but absolutely love doing, and heard her morning voice on the other side of the world. She would Skype me back 20 minutes later… After emptying the trash stinking up my apartment and cleaning up the flour my guest mouse had spread all across my counter I settled down to read my book on the history of the tobacco market in Egypt, a fascinating look into the story of the commodity, colonial Egypt, the nationalization years and the cigarette’s transformation from hand-rolled luxuries to a mass produced staple. Jenna called and we talked for a good 15 minutes before the line cut out. The telecom infrastructure has been as sporadic as ever over the past couple weeks, and I suspect we won’t be linked back to the network before tomorrow morning. I could picture her, trying to call me back for the next five minutes, frustrated at the situation as I was. One more month… 

What to do with my evening? Read or play Civilization IV? That game has gotten the better of me this past month! I should shower first…  looked for the sweatpants in my rucksack only to realize that I had left them in front of the supermarket where I bought the ingredients to make crêpes, my meal of choice these past few weeks after an overkill of pasta, rice, lentils, beans and potatoes. I walked the 200 meters back to the store to fetch the bag that had been sitting right where I’d forgotten it for the past hour and a half. Turned out to be a convenient overlook, not only because I’d also forgotten to buy lemon but because I ran into Salem, a cameleer on the trip I’d just come back from. A quick chat about how much the customers had tipped and whether he preferred work in the high mountains or the masses of Mt. Sinai, led to my telling him where I lived. I returned home to start the batter…

Half way through my second crêpe a knock on the door broke the silence of my gas burner. It was Salem. My house is a mess, I’ve stopped trying to keep it clean beyond the times when I have guests coming from outside, which thankfully is fairly often. I was a bit embarrassed about the mess and explained that I don’t really live here much… rationalization is one of my fortés. He asked me which room was the magad, the “gathering room” every Bedouin house has, but which I’ve failed to set-up appropriately in mine. For a year, home has been my individualist refuge, a personal space in the inescapable collective world beyond. I finished cooking up the crêpes as we talked about the approaching winter (always a good starter), his dropping out of school after 5th grade to start working for the family, his lack of English skills, and the house he has to build before he can get married to his girlfriend. He’s started construction, but it will probably take another two years to complete as he slowly earns the money for materials and labor. I prepared a lemon-sugar and chocolate crêpe for him, the first time he had tasted such treats.

We moved into my bedroom, he rolled up a cigarette, and I showed him his world via Google Earth. Zooming in from virtual space, down to a picture of the house we were sitting in was beyond anything he had ever seen. I helped him find his house, and his family’s garden in the mountains. We flew from Mt. Sinai to Mt. St. Catherine’s in about four seconds and laughed about wishing it were that easy in real life. He asked if the pictures were taken from an airplane… I told him that no, those little bright dots that look like moving stars he sees across the night sky – satellites – are taking the pictures. I also told him that if the Egyptian Government paid enough, it could see him walking with his camel through one of the Wadis. I can barely handle the changes this world is bringing upon us, and I’m a part of the forces driving them… I feel for a guy like Salem, who isn’t, yet is so affected by them!

I got up to make tea, and a little disagreement broke out because he was insisting on being the one to make it. I wouldn’t let him, told him that he had served me the past three days in the mountains, that I am served tea every time I go on my visits around town, and that the least he could do was let me serve him in my own house! A bit later, the electricity went out. As winter approaches people are turning on their electric heaters and overpowering the “grid” whose noisy, dirty power plant can’t handle the load. I lit a candle and played guitar while Salem rolled another cigarette. I taught him English words useful to the cameleer’s trade. Sun, Moon, Sand, Rock, Mountain… After a nice visit he got up and left, I told him to come back sometime.

A few minutes later I was down around the fire with my neighbors Siggy and Musa despite myself. It would be a night filled with company after all. Siggy is taking over my position after I leave next month and there was quite a bit of work talk to catch up on as we hadn’t seen each other in over a week. Kelvin showed up saying that he really needed a warm place to sleep for the night… he’s been living out in one of the gardens and is coming down with a cold. He also hadn’t showered in weeks and asked to use Siggy’s shampoo so he could get the knots out of his hair. I should dedicate a post to Kelvin sometime, he’s become a good friend. We talked about neutering cats and Zoltan’s new garden project before I headed back home and began to write this up.

It’s late now, and I’m fading fast. Still haven’t showered, nor did I read or play civilization. But that’s just fine, cause in the end, if I’ve learned anything from the past year and a half, it’s that all that really counts is making room for others. Everyone has something to teach, the potential to encourage or the insight to challenge.  Those times when we feel like we have nothing left to give are most always opportunities to receive. Make room for your neighbors today…





My phone in Katreen

9 11 2008

I’ll be leaving Egypt soon. I’ve had a cell phone here, as most everyone does and thought it would be good to write out the contacts for memory’s sake. It’s odd thinking of leaving all of these faces behind… some I know well and they have become good friends, others are acquaintances, yet others are random meetings in the metro, bus or street. All have a story which I soon won’t be a part of anymore.   

I have 6 weeks left here before heading back to France and then the US in January. This year has shaped me in many ways, and the names below were a big part of the learning process. If you want to call to talk about it, my number is: +20 (0)1 68 13 67 18. Would be good to hear about your world too, would help with the transition and all that… Salaam!

Abdu – One of my co-workers here at Sheikh Sina

Abdu M Tur – A guy a met in El-Tur while playing dominoes and smoking Shisha

Afrash Metro – A guy I met on the metro that wants to practice his English

Ahmed Mubarak – The man that was digging a big hole into the rock by my house with a pickaxe

Ahmed – My neighbor, friend and our Sheikh Sina Accountant

Ahmed Taxi – Will give me a ride around St. Catherine’s in his old bright green beat up car if needed

Alex Kleeman – My fellow pilgrim on last summer’s Camino who stopped by St. Catherine’s for a visit in July

Anne Marie FTE – The director of Free Trade Egypt who I had a meeting with in Cairo once

Azza GCC – Member relations officer at the German – Arab chamber of commerce

Becks – My sister

Becks Israel – My sister in Israel

Cecile NS Xchg – A lady I never met but that coordinates the North South Exchange in Cairo

Dave – My coworker, office mate and running partner, in charge of training up guides for Sheikh Sina

Daviff – Ultreïa

Debs – My sister

Dr. Ahmed – The man down wadi Itla’h who teaches about traditional Bedouin herbal remedies in his Garden.

Eric – Backpacker concierge a start-up in Cairo, he sends us customers.

Erin Lawyer – A girl I met at a house party in Cairo who was thinking of coming to St. Catherine’s

Essam TO – A guy interested in marketing our trekking products in Belgium

Faraj – Owner of Fox camp and one of the beneficiaries in Sheikh Sina

Farhan – My friend, the first Bedouin to welcome me into his home.

Farhan Katreen – A guide who took one of our groups up Mt. St. Catherine’s

Gameel – One of my co-workers here at Sheikh Sina

Gharib Safari – A great guide in the western Desert who took Jenna and I on a three day Jeep safari

Gina Penninsula – A lady in Dahab who wanted us to write for her magazine

Gordon – One of the expats here in St. Catherine’s starting up his own business

Hageazy – One of the staff at Bedouin Camp

Hamed – Father Justin’s assistant in the Monastery library

Hamed Micro – A microbus driver

Hassan Fruit V – One of the guys who holds the produce stand I buy from

Hussein – Driver for one of the other E.U. projects

Jack – A reporter who came on a one day hike to write about the project

Jameel Al Karm – The manager of Al Karm ecolodge

Jared – My friend in Amman

Jeannette Work – My Project manager

Jeannette – My friend in St. Catherine’s

Jebally – Fox camp manager

Jeff Neumann – Reporter for Egypt Today that wrote an article about our Project and the Bedouin here.

Jenna – My girl

John Crowe – A home in Cairo

Khalil Sudan – A guy in Heliopolis who kept calling to ask about my sister who he seemed to fancy.

Khaled – An architect on one of the EU projects

Linn Crowe – A home in Cairo

Lubna GCC – Magazine editor for the German Chamber of Commerce – Came out to write about the project

Mabrouk – The man who designed the project for the E.U.

Marie – My French friend in Katreen

Mark Knutton – The man renting Bedouin camp and starting his own trekking company – Bedouin Paths

Mhmd Pickup – A guy that gave me a ride home once

Mhmd Ali Micro – My microbus driver

Mhmd Eid – A Bedouin EU field officer

Mhmd Mafrash – The man I bought a carpet from

Moehl – My friend who passed through for a visit

Mohamed Hussein – Not sure who this is

Mohamed Pyramid – A kid I met at the pyramids who insisted I take his tel

Mohamed Musa – Sheikh Musa’s son

Mohamed Jewel – Owner of a hotel in Dahab

Mongy – Volunteer who worked with us on designing the ecolodges

Mousa Pipeline – My neighbor who works on the pipeline bringing water from the Nile to St. Catherine’s

Musa Football – I guy I played football with

Musa Kebir – Old Musa

Musa Feiran – A guy I met on the Bus who lives in Wadi Feiran

Naguib Amin – A consultant for the EU who stopped by a few times to tell us how to do things.

Nashua – Project manager of the Architecture program

Nasser Tur – A man in El Tur who wanted to crash at my house

Omar – The only Egyptian man that I know of married to a Bedouin woman. I’m at his house fairly often.

Paul NBS – A teacher from the New British School in Cairo bringing a group of students out on a hike

Philip – My friend in Cairo

Philip Palestine – Same friend in Palestine

Poppop – My grandfather

Rajab Eid – My co-worker and lead guide

Ramadan Micro – Microbus driver

Rania – Summer intern/volunteer

Saad Fraj H2o – The guy that delivered my drinking water for a while

Said Micro Bra – Microbus driver

Said English – The English teacher in St. Catherine’s

Salama Eid – One of our guides

Saleh Musa – Manager at Bedouin Camp

Saleh Arbaeen – A cameleer

Salem – One of our guides

Sheikh Musa – Big man in town and one of the beneficiaries of our project

Siggy – My co-worker at Sheikh Sina and friend

Stephan – A german anthropologist who was in the area this summer doing research for his book

Suliman Saada – A guy who works in the monastery and gave my sister a royal tour while she was here

Suliman Micro – A microbus driver

Tariq Microbus – A mircobus driver

Travis – He came on a hike back in March, we meet in Cairo when I’m there

M’Salem – Our guide during a 120 km trek through the desert.

Vanessa – She wrote for the British guidebook footprints and I held her head while a doctor stitched her lip.

Wadala Ayman – Don’t know who this is

Wafaa – Lady who works at the Swiss – Egyptian business association

Yasser – A would be Sheikh Sina volunteer

Yehiya Bus – The man who runs the bus station in St. Catherine’s

Zayman – The number to Castle Zayman, the best eatin’ in Sinai

Zoltan – My ex-coworker and friend





The cost of happiness

7 11 2008

 

La Hacienda, south of Ras Sudr on Sinai’s east coast is a different feel from the little bamboo huts and luxury hotels that line the Gulf of Aqaba. The Suez side is wider, surrounded by low desert plains that assure cool strong winds along its shores. As much as the lines of resorts on the other side of the peninsula are developed with foreign tourists in mind, this side is meant for Egyptians. On Friday, the beach was full of Cairo’s nouveau riches, talking above loud disco music, testing their new camera phones and enjoying the easy getaway from Cairo’s heat and smog. Of course only a certain class of society can enjoy this luxury… a class seemingly detaching itself further and further from its heritage and fellow countrymen.

La Hacienda is not much different from the gated communities I used to deliver patio furniture to in Southern California and one would be hard pressed to actually recognize anything Egyptian about the place. In Orange County, wealthy pockets of society fleeing their community’s problems in L.A. for larger villas and “security” live totally detached from the realities of their society at large, their view of the world clouded by the inevitably agenda driven reports and commercials beamed into their life by cable television. Sadly there is little sense of community in these enclosures as rows of houses, one 6 bedroom dwelling no different from the one across the street, make up an illusionary town, free from markets, restaurants, services and the less privileged employees that would staff them. Landscapers are usually the only permanent manual laborers around; all others are transient… as I was during my two hour deliveries. That this negative social phenomenon is being exported to Egypt and beyond saddens me.

La Hacienda is beautiful. Palm trees swaying in the wind, manicured lawns, a pool near the shoreline and tiki umbrellas on the beach make for a picture perfect resort, but with what consequence? As long as one stays within the delimited confines of the resort, the world is a beautiful place. But just a short walk up the beach is sadly revealing of the real impact such development has on its surroundings. Plastic bags, cans, bottles and wet cardboard are awash on the sand. A desalinization pump scars the shoreline to provide water for taps and toilets… in a desert. A dead fish eerily adds to the scene. Blocks of grey cement buildings foreshadow more destruction. Why are we creating artificial paradises, only to destroy the natural one around us? Does no one see this as strange? I know I’m critical but I also fully realize that I am a part of the problem. I was there for two days, and enjoyed my time thoroughly, but my presence was a small part of the demand for such resorts in the first place. So what needs to change? I do. You do. We do.

Our own collective self-interest is pulling the strings today and leading to many of the problems we blame on politicians and forces “beyond our control”. Our interests and desires are created by corporations and the marketing machines behind them telling us what we want and need. The high praise we give to the efficiencies of our system could our thinking and we barely realize what is actually happening. For example, I am preconditioned to see pools, manicured lawns and tiki umbrellas as desirable because magazines, movies, television shows and other people’s acceptance of this artificial beauty have shaped my views of it. But do we ever stop to look at the costs of these contrived desires? Resorts and the construction companies that have an interest in building them are but one example. We could apply this problem to shoes, shampoo, flat screens, phones, SUVs…  Living in Egypt for over a year now and witnessing the changes taking place here as people begin to conform to the economic model championed by corporations, I’ve come to resent the export of our system. The cold war was “won” and carte blanche given to the capitalist model to shape the world as it saw fit. The result is constant conflict and destruction in order to secure an ever cushier standard of living we have come to see as an alienable right, the pursuit of happiness. The wars now waged are meant to assure that all 7 billion of us seek this pursuit… happiness as defined by those that can convince you of its meaning while looking over at their balance sheets.  We are being exploited, being programmed and conditioned to want things we don’t really need, but that we’ve been told we do. In the process we are destroying our beautiful world and creating a bland, uniform society. Let’s realize this and then change!