Friday, March 23, 2007


Last week I lamented the deplorable trashy conditions at the Pyramids and other tourist sites. Then this past week, Sandmonkey mentions The Feast At The Pyramids, where some far off prince wants to use the Giza Pyramids as an open fire pit (okay, that's an exaggeration) to entertain highfalutin guests, with all the money going to Medicine Sans Frontiers and his country, and nothing going to Egypt, the host country. I hope this princely ass brings in his own cleaning crew - why should Egypt clean up his fucking mess! Obviously, this trash gets my blood boiling.

At the same time, I've been reading a book, River In The Desert: A Modern Traveler In Ancient Egypt, by Paul William Roberts. In short it's about his travels in Egypt. It's humorous, enlightening and I’ve gotten beyond the 50 page boredom minimum (meaning it isn’t boring at all). It was first published in 1993, but I'm reading the 2005 edition. The author makes comments that seem so close to the way I feel on certain topics and surely true with respect to antiquities in general. It all seemed to tie in with my complaints. Obviously from the quotes I've included there's a lot more that goes along with this argument than I could possibly address.

Please don't get me wrong - I do not believe we should put the care of our historical sites before the care of the people, but I do think those who abuse these sites are just as likely to abuse people, as well - both tourists and governments alike - it's a prevalent greedy "fuck all" attitude. Forgive me for my “common” everyday references for my arguments. I do think his comments are a general social commentary on current affairs and something that has become a personal challenge for me.

Instead of trying to paraphrase and mucking it all up, I’d just like to get in a few quotes.

Page xii: (Re: antiquities)

"The cultural heritage of Iraq has all but gone now, trashed by US and UK troops, and by the war. This is a crime of the first order, perhaps unparalleled in its wanton mindlessness, and it stands as a grim harbinger of what could easily happen in Egypt...Because we do not own them. We have merely borrowed them from our children and their children. We are caretakers, but have grown used to carelessness and the uncaring plutocrats, merchants of emptiness, vampires of superfluity, who suck up beauty, truth, and tomorrow, leaving us only fire, barren dust, and the dry wind."

Page xiii:

"We have the same hopes and dreams as other earthlings, whether in the alleys of Cairo or the malls of America, and they are generally modest ones involving the quality of life and the future of our children. Our common humanity shines out above the miasma of money and politics, and it is to this we should cling. Visit Egypt while you can, for it may not always be there to visit. What it offers is far more than the spectacle of extraordinary ruins, old stuff in cases, dead people wrapped like parcels; for what you will see, and what will abide with you long afterwards, is a glimpse of the limitless potential in human beings for both aspiring to and creating a better world. The Old Kingdom Egyptians built one; we can build one. Knowing it once was done means it can still be done…."

On page 57, while visiting Aswan, he writes:

"I sat in the hot breeze beneath the shade of some acacia trees waiting for my fellow tourists to return to our bus. Behind me, leading down to the waters of Lake Nasser, the steep hillside was strewn with tourists' trash-candy wrappers, countless dented plastic mineral-water bottles, all carefully swept out of sight but not away. A sly-looking man approached me with an arm full of beads for sale and a hangdog attitude suggesting I should buy some out of recognition of his poverty. In some way-I didn't like him-I saw the trash as his fault. I asked him why the locals didn't help keep the place tidy; he shrugged as if the matter were irrelevant. I waved his beads away.

...The facade of Abu Simbel is a useful metaphor, stretching beyond the transplanted shell of temples. The whole town exists for tourists to visit the temples; the one main street is broad and clean, festooned with signs that recall the celebrations held when the removed and restored complex was finally unveiled. Yet off the streets, carefully concealed, is the garbage that reveals a country that doesn't really care enough about itself. The pride and optimism about the past and the glorious future are tempered by a lazy hopelessness regarding the present. That's what colonialism does...."

As Number 1 Son said while we were at Giza, "why would anyone buy a sheesha pipe here, at Giza, of all places? Don't the tourist buses take these people shopping?"

Good question Number 1 Son, but even at Vergina where Phillip II and Alexander the Great's tombs filled with gold have been recently uncovered and open to the public, you will find small kiosks set up. Apparently they haven't established permanent rip-off facilities yet. It was clean when we visited in 1999 and it was the only clean ancient site we saw in all of Greece (except for the pristine Byzantine Meteora which the nuns and monks protect) and we were on a 3 week self-driven tour.

I can't say whether I totally agree with Paul Roberts' statement that colonialism is responsible for the trashy, lackadaisical attitude tourists or the keepers of these ancient sites have. I think it goes somewhat deeper, but colonialism plays a big part in the disposition. When I was looking for an apartment in Maadi, I said to the current homeowner, "there's no dishwasher." At which she replied in her Egyptian accent, "Ah yes, but you see, that's what we have maids for. They wash our dishes." (Uh huh.) I just wanted to ask if they wiped her ass too, while they were at it. Regardless of where I have lived, it always seems that there are people who think that there are others (lower in class, life, etc.,) to clean up after them. There's that attitude of, "let that little brown men pick it up. That's what they’re here for isn't it?" It has more to do with racism and the attitude that one has the perogative or is privileged, you know like "executive privilege" - "I make the mess and you clean it up" attitude, or "shit happens," or as Rumsfeld says, "stuff happens and its untidy." That kind of "shrug it off," "your my bitch," mentality.

But Paul Roberts makes another point that it's not just trash, but the environment that's killing some of our antiquities. Thus the British Museum's excuse for not handing back over to Greece the stolen Elgin Marbles, scrubbing them with bleach and abrasives, pretending their environment (the Museum) is "safer." (Don't get me started.) With his statement, "visit Egypt while you can," I agree totally. We should visit all these ancient and historical sites, but with respect for them. Let's face it Giza is the last standing of the original "Seven Wonders of the World." Which takes me to another sore point in my little domain.

We invite our friends and family to come stay with us, to visit Egypt, offering free housing. Last week, Boss Man e-mailed photos of us with Number 1 Son at the Pyramids, to friends and family in the States, mentioning they should come for a visit. Several expressed reluctance, stating that they were hesitant to travel to either an “unstable country” or one where there were terrorists (they've obviously never heard of Timothy McVeigh). And these are college educated, what we thought were open-minded, individuals. It’s a mind-numbing reply. Why cross the street - you could get hit by a car! You can also get e-coli from fresh spinach and lettuce; you could get salmonella from peanut butter; and you could get bedbugs at the finest hotel in NYC.

Maybe I don’t want any of these people to come here anyway if they're going to be like that. They probably wouldn’t know how to behave (and they'd probably bring their bedbugs with them), which gets me to the closest American-style estimate of the trash and attitudinal problem I can come up with, which is something like this: when your relatives come to visit, let their kids tear apart your house, make a huge mess, turn your house upside down, and then leave (no "Thanks," "Good-bye,' or "Kiss my ass," either); or when you're not home and your teenage kids decide to have one kickass party and no one's in the mood (er, right frame of mind) to clean it up; or like one family, when I was a child abuse investigator, decided to use their garbage bags (full of reeking garbage) as mattresses (they didn't have bedbugs, but they did have roaches).

I learned a big lesson as a social worker – you can’t change people. You can’t change their minds for them, you can’t change their attitudes, sloppy behavior, racism, pomposity, and you can’t deprogram them from the assault of jingoism seen daily on American TV.

I certainly don't have the answer, but in the end this situation is just a disgusting mess.

All I can say is, I think Egypt is a great place. I want to do all the traveling I can here - to see and do just about everything; the terrorists can kiss my ass; please do not litter especially at the ancient sites and I promise not to either;

and VISITORS WANTED! - Go ahead, abuse me, and my hospitality – I’ll be your bitch for a week! I'm asking for it, just like my antiquated neighbors along the Nile Valley. Come visit us before we're all gone. Trash my house, don't say "thank-you" but take away the memories, because they will last forever. Btw, it's my pleasure.

Here's something I will remember - Number 1 Son at Giza (I know I promised I wouldn't, but I just had to):


  1. Yeah, finally I can view a photo. Still not the others. Did you do anything different here?

  2. Yes I did. I loaded the picture of Number 1 Son from my desktop. Most of the others are linked to flickr and that's probably where the problem is. I haven't had any other comments on it, although, I don't get very many comments to begin with. That's all I can say. I'm as confused as you are on this. Sorry.

  3. I've just realized. is blocked in the UAE. That's why I can't see any of your photo's.

  4. I think I came up with a fix for that. So I'll try it out soon. Sorry for the inconvenience. I know Etisalat is a pain in the ass for some of that stuff. I don't know if they're the major (as they were when I was there) internet provider, but I think I might be able to work something out. Not that my photos are great, or anything, but I enjoy taking them and adding them to my postings. Thanks for the feedback.