Mark Gillett

Come back frequently……

Cairo Ramblings

with 2 comments

If I were going to LA people would say, “have a good time”, When I told people I was coming to Cairo they said “Stay safe!” however is LA I would fear being out alone after dark, being shot, raped or mugged, and would have a hell of a time at the Airport. Cairo? Read on……

Now I know you cant judge a country on a few hours but I have…I’ve now reached 50, so I can. Ha!

Its all a bit surreal.. tired and back in the Middle East but North Africa this time… I arrived in Cairo by bus from Sharm. The road was fast and the journey so easy. One stop for food and one for a police check, nod off and wake up in Cairo.

On the flight I spoke to two passengers next to me who asked where I was going.. when I told them Cairo, their immediate reaction was “oh? thats off limits. No flights in or out”. I couldn’t believe that they had heard the Foreign Office had stopped flights.. My bus was pretty full and everyone was friendly.. Asked where I was going and helped if they could..I paid my €8.

Why is there such horror back home about the Middle East? It has never made sense to me so why does the media portray this part of the world so poorly?  Is it to undermine the existence of such places so to make us feel that ours is so much superior, or that we are lucky to be European or American? Is it politically led? I am always confused.

Reporters like Jeremy Bowen have a responsibility to report. Document and tell stories that are true. But he and others will so often stand in front of the camera and paint such a desperate picture.. How the government is “under fire”. The palace is “under siege”. Is this to make his job seem all the more perilous? Is it to feed his ego? I just cant figure it out. I know the tanks rolled in to protect the Palace but that’s only because they dont have the normal Fortress like security that is in place around our political leaders.. They dont have the ongoing fear.

Over the last 5 years, added to my many years in the Middle East from the age of 20, I have been returning often to Kuwait.. There I had the same feelings…. Similar experiences. Such a great place full of great and interesting people.. Very free. But mention it at home and the eyebrows go up.. The eyes widen in shock or wonder.

My daughter was worried about me coming here.. Worried about the “riots”. Its an unknown for her. But she has an reason to be worried as she knows no better, even with my reassurance. She is faced with our media on a daily basis.… as we all are and the misguided reports that come from our news networks. I will make it my mission to help her understand real world we live in. A world of beautiful cultures, differences but deep similarities in moral beliefs and so on…. People who want to live without war, without fear, without trouble but working to keep their families. Striving for a holiday from time to time.. Getting their children through school. 99% of the planets population want no more than this…

That is the reality of our world. But the powers seem intent on disrupting this and instilling fear. Fear to keep us in order. To keep the worker “bees” buzzing away to increase the wealth and power of the few. The powers who destabilise as with the CIA in Syria and before that, Egypt under Mubarak, Libya and pretty much anywhere they can spread our version of democracy. Is Egypt next for the second time now that they have a muslim government in place.. Even though it was democratically elected.. ?

In so many ways it makes me ashamed of what we did in the world prior to and during the great wars.… The carving up of the Middle East. The Balfour Declaration

As a writer, I just feel it necessary to report what I see. And here in Cairo in just a few hours I see nothing out of the ordinary except cultural differences. Thats exciting not fearful.

I am currently sat in a bus station. Its 2.30am and there is a TV on with  an arabic film, two guys playing a board game… A few taxis passing by beeping their horns and some dogs relentlessly barking.. Do I feel threatened? Not in the slightest.. I have my bags with me, cameras, Macbook on my lap and iPhone on charge… I fear absolutely nothing. A man has just joined me for a chat… he offers me a cigarette.

Where would this happen in the UK? or US? It wouldn’t! I could not sit at a bus station at 3am.. I could not feel safe, I could not get a coke. And I certainly would not strike up a chat with someone… So which society has it right?

Relatively, Egypt is a poor country. The infrastructure is not what it is in Europe.. The cars are for getting around not show.. The houses are more flats.. Yes, its crazy, its dusty and sometimes loud… There is no lane discipline on the roads.. So what? I do not, however, feel controlled by the state and see everyone doing things “Like robots”. Its real life here. Few brands, few CCTV cameras, a bit of craziness and huge smiles!

So which is more real? Living a life of debt and depression with quick fixes from the GP or a little life with less material belongings and greater social and personal responsibility? Self regulations and moral discipline or rule of law and sophisticated mob culture where fear and debt is the key to controlling a nation. A nation of Brand lovers. And I am just as guilty of this.

Its each time I return that I feel the same.. I feel a oneness with the life here, but I also like my life back home. I like what we have, I just cant criticise what they have… I can only enjoy it.

I left me fellow passengers in Sharm. They were booked into a hotel offering everything for £390 for the week. Their purpose was to sit by the pool, get their drinks brought to them all day and spend little if any time at all seeing what Egypt is about.. Cairo was just too dangerous. But thats their choice and I sincerely wished them a good time. This is my choice.

I am not a hero for coming. I am not gung-ho for getting the bus. I am not tight or in a situation where I couldn’t afford a flight to Cairo directly.. I chose this route.. It was cheaper but the prime reason is that it was always going to be more real. More fun. And I could find out just a little more about this beautiful country and more importantly its people… And now I am with a very good friend who also loves this city for what it is..

Written by markgillett

December 9, 2012 at 11:57 am

2 Responses

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  1. Thanks for this inspiring piece of writing. Like you, I have a special place in my heart for the Middle East having grown up in Bahrain and Dubai. That experience shaped my whole perspective on life and I wholeheatedly agree that in the UK /US we have missed the point. We are chasing after illusions of stability and safety, with the resulting level of unease so apparent in the population in the form of obesity, depression, unhappiness the list goes on…
    It’s real in the Middle East and the people are so much more in touch with the important qualities in life, hospitality, friendliness, generosity and happiness. They’re more WHOLE.
    Enjoy the rest of your stay, love the photos – making me very HOMESICK!!!


    December 9, 2012 at 1:07 pm

    • Thanks, Angela…


      December 11, 2012 at 1:17 pm

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