Heading south to Upper Egypt

With our time winding down in Egypt we had one last item to check off our list - Upper Egypt. Done, and I am glad we saved it for last as it leaves a lasting impression of some of the reasons we chose to come to Egypt in the first place. A chance to travel. A chance to experience something unique. A chance to experience a history long learned about in books and on TV.

The last few months have been difficult and frustrating for us, and for Egyptians. After the great feelings of having lived through the Arab Spring and the January 25th Revolution and coming out the other side not only unscathed but hopeful for the future, the last few months in particular, have been met with frustration and dissatisfaction at the turn of events. The hopes and dreams WE had for the future of many nations and many people were summed up in the feelings WE had about the events of those days. The reality is there is a long way to go, and the road is much rockier than anyone wanted to admit.

The truth is WE knew it wasn't all it was cracked up to be, but we had remained hopeful and we were swept up in the words of the world who praised all that Egypt was, had been, and was going to be. But it is a long road, and traveling up the Nile to experience thousands of years of history was a helpful reminder. To hear the stories of pharoahs and gods as told by the walls of monuments some 4000 years old is a reminder of how far we've come, but also how long it took us to get here. Certainly the last 100 years, heck the last 10 years have seen technological advancement only thought possible in dreams. We now have indispensible things in our life than didn't exist five years ago, let along 4000. But our stories have remained the same. The stories on those walls told of love and love lost. Betrayal and revenge. War and peace.

It is a narrative that defined a culture 4000 years ago, and it is a narrative that continues to define this culture, and every culture. So much has changed in 4000 years, yet so much has remained the same. And it is on these walls that we can find our similarities so that we can remember what we share with those who are writing the story of today - a story that includes a growing democracy and an understanding that it isn't as simple as reading it in a book or watching it on TV. It requires thought and thoughtful action. Maybe that's why the pharoahs built things to last 4000 years and more.

Oh yeah, and the whole heading south to Upper Egypt. Turns out the Nile is not only the longest river in the world, but one of the few that flows north. Meaning to go "up" the Nile we have to head south!

And lastly, the size of some of these things? Crazy!? This is just a fraction of the some 400 photos we took - most of which look very similar, but all have a pretty unique story.

Photo Album

One Year Ago Today

A year ago today was a Tuesday. Little did we know.

A year ago today we enjoyed a day off, ignorant to what was in store. There were of course rumours of massive protests against the police, which at the time only seemed ironic, since the day we were getting off was supposed to be in honour of those very same police and security forces. January 25th was a holiday because it was Police Day.

We had certainly heard the stories of police brutality in our four and half months of living in Cairo, but had also heard that protests had occurred before and had failed to gain any real momentum. Most protesters, we were led to believe, were family and friends of those abused by the police and that the majority traded these abuses against “criminals” as a small price to pay for security. Who were we to argue? We had just come from Toronto, site of the most recent G20 protests, and many were still angry at the police response. It hadn’t on that Tuesday, seemed all that different.

This was different though. So different from that of the G20, and different from anything Egypt had experienced before. Unemployment was up, especially for the educated youth. Hosni Mubarak was ill. Or at least aging so quickly that talk of succession had been a hot topic for months. And the death of a blogger in November at the hands of the police seemed to get the twitter-sphere all aglow. These three conspired to increase frustration across all levels of society, including the normally passive elite, the traditional supporters of the regime.

With time on their hands, the loss of one of their own, and the growing awareness of the power of social media and all its possibilities , the protest movement had the momentum it had so long hoped for. Tens of thousands of people streamed into Tahrir Square on January 25, 2011; more than even the most optimistic had dreamed of, and certainly more than the authorities thought possible. As the numbers swelled throughout the day, the crowd grew angrier, louder, and bolder. Crowds chanted. Crowds surged. Crowds sang. Crowds wanted action. As is found in any crowd, patience is thin and the desire for immediate action strengthens. The desire to see action strengthens.

Soon the fervour of the crowd turned on the very people they were supposed to be honouring on this day, but who had become the lightning rod for anger and protest, the police. No one really had showed up to do any honouring. The feeling of invincibility common amongst crowds meshed with the feelings that this was their time, that this time would be different. And these feelings launched themselves at anyone and everyone that stood in the way of freedom and change. Rocks were hurled. Fights broke out. The police responded with water cannons and tear gas. Protesters were beaten – some to death. Police were stoned – some to death. It became a running battle between the immovable force of change and anger against the rock of authority. The police with weapons of control – tear gas, water cannons, and of course their batons. The people with their will, their numbers, and their convictions.

It is difficult to know exactly how many died on this day 365 days ago, for this battle went on for hours into the night and the days that followed. The battles and the resolve were unlike anything anyone in Egypt had seen before. It was too early to count numbers. It was also a Tuesday. Many, including us, still lived in ignorance as to what was actually happening, how many people were actually in the square. For us, it was still a welcomed day of rest, and tomorrow we were going back to work. Little did we know. Little did Egypt know. This was just the beginning. A beginning to a battle between freedom and security that is still being fought one year later.

One year later it is another holiday. But today is different, we think. Today is a celebration of what was started one year ago. Today is being marked with an end to decades long Emergency Law, enacted so long ago to give “security” forces the right to arrest and detain any they liked. It was long seen as one of the main tools of oppression. It was seen as one of the last remnants of the fallen regime. Today it ends.

Today is a Wednesday. Little do we know. Much do we hope.

The Kenyan Safari - a dream come true!

Over the holidays, which are a little longer when working in private schools, we got to fulfill our dream of going on safari. We chose a five day trip through Kenya where we visited three National Parks - Aberdare National Park, Lake Nakaru National Park, and the Masai Mara! All were sensational. It is an experience that will not soon be forgotten, and serves as a wonderful reminder of why we decided to make the difficult decision to leave Canada and teach elsewhere.
As you have likely heard before, pictures are worth a thousand words, and the link below should take you to a few hundred pictures, so I will not waste too many words here.
Briefly though, in Aberdare National Park we stayed at a lodge called The Ark. This was built next to a watering hole where we got to see elephants and water buffalo, along with a few other small creatures, up close. We were literally five feet from the animals when in the blind at the base of the building. It was also where, as we were leaving, that we got to see the elusive leopard. A wonderful start indeed. Next it was to Lake Nakaru, which is known for its two million plus population of flamingoes. Unfortunately for us it was not the time of year to see the multitudes, but there were still a few hundred hanging about. There was however no shortage of animals, including a rather bold family group of baboons that under the watchful eye of the leader wandered arounder the vans and the people! Lastly we were off to the Masai Mara which is Kenya's side of the Serengeti. When the migration happens, it is either to the Masai Mara from the Serengeti, or vise versa. Again, our timing was not perfect, however as you will see there was no shortage of animals, and it only leaves us in further wonder of what a spectacle the migration must be!
So please, enjoy the photos, and have a wonderful New Year!

Kenya Safari https://www.facebook.com/media/set/?set=a.10151113002015405.780991.684235404&type=1&l=7411a23cd4

The Cart before The Horse

So we are now in the midst of the second of three rounds of voting here in Egypt. And just to clarify, this does not mean that everyone gets to vote three times – although some will likely try, and some do have to vote twice!?! In any event, the three rounds are set so that the different parts of the country have an opportunity to safely, and with a level of organization not seen in an age around here, make their vote count.

Regardless of the outcomes in these other two rounds, it appears round one was the one of significance as it centred on Egypt’s largest city and has seemingly given the “Islamists” the victory they were so hopeful of. I use the quotation marks around the word “Islamists” because you will get a very different answer from people when you ask what that word means. In fact, I have yet to hear two people completely agree on the term. There are as many facets and interpretations of Islam as there are of Christianity.

In any event, it appears as though the Muslim Brotherhood have got their long sought after electoral victory. The name alone seems exclusionary to me – but then again our own national anthem only asks our “sons” to have true patriot love, which isn’t even the original wording of this wonderful song but when that was brought to light late in 2010 it caused an uproar not heard in Canada for some time. But whatever, totally different right? End of digression.

Back to the point. The Brotherhood has received their mandate from the people, with another large section of the population supporting the Salafists (the truly scary group that has bastardized the Koran to almost unrecognizable levels), and then the leftist, independents, and remnants of the Mubarak regime making up the rest. There is some legislation in there to ensure farmers and more of the poor are represented, so it will be interesting to see how it all shakes out in the end.

As I mentioned, the politicians have received their mandate, but even in that there is debate. What is their role? Their powers? What about the military? Have they been voted in to draft a constitution (as the politicians will claim), and if so, what happens once it has been agreed upon? Or are they a representative body that is going get down to the work of actually running the country (as the military believes they should do). But how do you get to running the country without laws? It is a sticky and murky situation that has many scratching our heads. Three weeks ago, to a person in the streets, everyone would have felt that the role of the people they were voting in was to draft the constitution. But the recent results seem to have changed that tune a bit. Where before, the politicians seemed intent of working with the military, they now seem to be negotiating and posturing for a greater role, including the complete subjugation of the armed forces (who can argue with a military actually being accountable to the people they protect?). Meanwhile, on the streets people seem to be feeling that maybe having the military presence involved in much of the decisions is not too much of a bad thing – these are the guys apparently willing to live and die for the country regardless of who is in charge, regardless of your political stripe, and regardless of religion, or so they say.

And for many, who once scoffed at this notion, and still do, it should be remembered, the American Bill of Rights, often held up as the gold standard of people working for the people, were themselves un-elected, many with military ties. And our beloved Canadian Charter of Rights and Freedoms? My gold standard by the way. It was hardly an election issue. Trudeau did promise some changes and worked tirelessly at it, speaking publically about for some two years, but ultimately it was a small group of intellectuals and advisers that gave us a document most see as fundamentally Canadian.

The point is, the system cannot dictate the constitution. The constitution, in whatever form, MUST dictate the system. People without political ties or motivations must be at the heart of this. If not, Egypt is in for a long and protracted debate about how to move forward, costing the people of this great country even more.

Whatever happens, it is hoped the horse eventually gets in front of that cart and takes Egypt into a bright future for all citizens.

Well, it could be worse!!

And after few too many posts with a few too many words, it is hoped the next couple posts come chalk full of pictures of animals and anecdotes of us watching those animals as we head off on safari in Kenya and then an ocean paradise in Zanzibar!

Merry Christmas and Happy New Year!

Today they voted...

I have often found myself lucky enough to cast a ballot. Whether it was the first time I did it in Grade 7 during Student Council elections (for myself no less!) to choosing a person from where I live to represent me at the national level. It is something I have taken for granted before, but never again.

We've all done it. Reminded others, or been reminded by them, of the importance to vote. Yes! Today is the day! And then having gone about our day return home only to realise there's about 15 minutes to get to the poll.

Do you go?

I will. Now.

The privelege of being able to walk into a polling station with a piece of plastic that has my picture on it, put my mark on a piece of paper, and then be home before the poll even closes is something I will never take for granted again.

Today, Egyptians voted. Some would argue for the first time in 30 years. Others may say in 60 years. Still others may say never - but I've learned never and forever are very different things to different people. In any event they voted.

They voted despite incredible disorganization that had people waiting hours for the ballots to arrive. They voted despite fear of violence. They voted despite the most confusing electoral system I have had the pleasure of reading about.

And despite some rather intersting and tense moments - a judge has been rumoured kidnapped until the ballot boxes get locks or something like that; a candidate in one of the areas was accused of helping people fill out their ballots (it is hoped he was helping them sift through the up to 135 choices and plus all the other malarky and still allowing them to make their own choices); candiates on all sides stretching campaigning rules - the day went better than I think many had thought and planned for. Sure security was out in full force, but so was the will of the people - best shown by the LOOOOOONG and orderly lines outside the polling station, and even by those willingly signing up to be election monitors on the spot because whoever was supposed to was lost or afraid to come. Being lost...ahem...I mean, late, a common occurence for all walks of life in Cairo.

As the first of two days of voting comes to a close, it is hoped that the long peaceful lines of today will continue tomorrow. That today's peace was a positive first step in tempting even more people to flow into the streets, over to the polling station, all feeling a little more confident in themselves, a little more confident in their country.

If it happens, then I feel assured they are both headed in the right direction.

Oh, and they voted too! Just in case you were wondering.

On the Eve of History

There is a story from nine months ago, when in the midst of the worldwide celebration of the triumph of Tahrir Square, an Egyptian was in an airport going through customs. When the official she was dealing with alerted those around them that she was in fact an Egyptian, everyone, EVERYONE began cheering and congratulating her. As word spread throughout the airport as to what was happening, it is believed the entire airport stopped and cheered. Tears of joy flowed. It was a scene that had never been seen or heard of before. Or since.

So here we sit – the day before elections to determine a parliament that is going to create a constitution to move the country forward. This is the result of those triumphant days in Tahrir Square. It should be a day of excitement and anticipation full possibilities and dreams of a better future to come. Instead, it feels anxious and even dangerous, full of possibilities and dark days ahead.

See in this country, for the past 30 years, people have been so wary of elections that most did not participate. They worried at being in the wrong place at the wrong time. Showing up to a polling station that one group or another had staked as ‘theirs’. Now…no one’s sure. The feeling is everyone wants this to work but no one believes it will. Who, or what, is this underlying sense of helplessness? Not a person I have spoken with wants to see this get ugly, but not a single person believes it can be avoided. Too much history. Too much at stake. Too much.

And yet, this revolution, that started some 10 months ago (but simmering for years before), began with fear, exploded into elation, saw moments of violence and brilliance, and then seemed to build on frustration, continues to inspire many of these same people. The belief that freedom is worth fighting for. The belief that Egypt is capable of so much more. The belief that the will of people will ultimately rule the day. They just don’t seem to believe that tomorrow is the day. Or the next. They are prepared for a long, bloody battle they see as inevitable.

And so I sit here on the eve of this historic day as a somewhat ignorant ex-pat and hope that the impossible will happen. That people will realize the potential of free and fair elections. That people will be able to sift through the dizzying array of candidates and parties – my best guess is 47 parties in some 17 or so coalitions with thousands of candidates running the gauntlet of the political spectrum – and be satisfied with what they choose. That the military will continue to live up to its mandate as the protectors of Egypt, and not the rulers. That when we wake up Tuesday morning, or Wednesday morning, or some morning soon, the Egyptian sun that always shines will shine a little brighter because Egypt has once again set the example of what is possible when the will of the people chooses peace.

We are watching. The world is watching. And we hope we have reason to stand and cheer for Egypt once more.

Canada's Turn


To whom it may concern,

The year 2011 has been an interesting year to say the least. It has been a year of extreme highs and lows, and now it is Canada’s turn to wade into this year of history. And fortunately for Canadians our place in what may prove to be a defining year for our planet does not require us to make much of a sacrifice. It requires us to vote. But how does our vote, a single mark on a page, place Canada at the forefront of this historical year, you ask? Because more than ever our vote means something greater than whom we elect. On Tuesday morning, newspapers around the world will have one or two lines about who is our new Prime Minister. More in-depth analysis may include the name of the governing party, but likely will end at that. That is unless, you vote. We all vote. Not 60% of us. 100% of us. If as many people vote as possibly can, THIS WILL MAKE NEWS AROUND THE WORLD. It will be the lead over who won and who didn’t even here in Canada. It will be news. And then those people, reading this news around the world will begin to ask why? Why, in this year, have Canadians decided that one of the most important things we can do on a Monday is vote.

And we will answer, “Because we can. Because thousands have died this year in hopes of achieving this right for themselves. Because the youth of so many countries have risen up against tyranny. And because we know this same youth is watching, on TV, on the internet, and we wanted them to know, we are watching too. We are watching them struggle and we are hoping and praying they will be victorious. We are voting so we can add our voice to the millions around the world that are asking for theirs to be heard, and we are telling them that we hear them, and we are honouring them by casting this vote.”

Please vote. Vote for whom ever you like. Vote because you don’t like something. Vote because in this year, 2011, we understand, Canada is a country others hope and dream about. Theirs is a good dream. Ours is a good reality. It may not be perfect, but it is all we have at this moment in time, and it is more than many will realise in their lifetime. But it is a good dream that is only getting better.

I began this letter to you with, “To whom it may concern,” and I firmly believe, this concerns us all. We are watching here in Cairo, and we are hoping the momentum of 2011 continues on Monday, May 2 with Canada taking its turn to have its say. Good luck.


John Arthur Dinner
Grade 7 Teacher
Canadian International School of Egypt
Cairo, Egypt