Susannah's friend Christina bargains with a Bedouin woman on the beach in Egypt.
Producer Susannah George is on vacation in Egypt, and will be sending us blog posts from her travels. Here's the first:
Although the drive only took five hours, once we arrived at our "camp" -- a cluster of thatched huts on the beach -- in the Sinai , Christina and I felt a world apart from the choked streets and gray skies of Cairo. The Bedouin style seating, low tables and hammocks -- not to mention the camp owner, Salame, who greeted us in a bathing suit and a beaded necklace -- looked more fit for Goa than Egypt. The Sinai is an oasis of package vacations that boast all the attractions of a vacation in the third world (sun, sand, cheap five star hotels) without any of the hassle (dress code, language barriers, foreign cuisine). Generally, tourists fly directly from Europe to either the Taba or Sharm el-Sheikh airport and are then shuttled into resort compounds that act as western bubbles. You can watch belly dancing, go for a camel ride, and get a necklace of your name in hieroglyphics all while wearing a bikini and sipping on imported alcohol. While our camp was far from a five star resort, it was still a western bubble. Two women traveling alone in Cairo attracted attention, here we didn't get a second look. One night over a Sakara (Egyptian beer), Christina asked Salame if he'd seen a decrease in Israeli tourists since the Taba bombings. Salama replied that he had, but slowly Israelis were starting to come back to the Sinai. Then he said, "You know, this floor is from the Taba Hilton." He gestured to the mismatched marble and stone floor of the camp's main dining area. "After the bomb they threw it out so I drove up and took it to make my floor... Nice, huh?" I'd love to go all Tom Friedman on you and extrapolate a wider metaphor of the Middle East from this story, but won't. However, it still amazes me that upon hearing of a bombing, someone's reaction is to think about building materials. Is that adaption or callousness? We asked what he thought about terrorist attacks in the Sinai in general. He said that he didn't approve of the bombings because they were targeting tourists. "If they changed the world that would be one thing, but nothing changes." Christina and I had both heard that one before. It was a common way to condemn terrorist attacks (albeit lightly), but avoid condemning the "struggle." Then Salame sighed and continued, "Plus we don't want the world to change, we like it the way it is." He gestured at the Red Sea and the surrounding landscape. "Life is nice." Now that is something that I don't think I had ever heard in the Middle East before.