Posted by CODEPINK Staff
(Retired) Col. Ann Wright, Tighe Barry and I arrived Sunday in Cairo for a 10-day trip to Gaza, where they plan to witness the damage of the 22-day Israeli attacks, call for an opening of the borders, and meet with women's aid groups to organize a fundraising effort for the women of Gaza for March 8, International Women's Day. Here's my account of Day 1 of the trip:
We took the EgyptAir overnight flight from New York City to Cairo. It was about a 11 hour direct flight, packed mostly with Egyptians living in the US who were returning home to visit family. At $940 round trip, it was a pretty good deal, especially since we bought out tickets at the last minute.
We arrived at about 1pm, tired by excited. We had booked a room online in a hotel called Pension Roma, whose main attraction for us was that it was cheap and a good location right in the heart of downtown Cairo (which, by the way is a HUGE city of over 20 million!!!).
At the airport we bought a visa for $15, changed some money and got into a van-size taxi that promised to take us to the hotel for 70 pounds (about $14). Our driver, Mustafa, spoke great English and endeared himself to us by not only pointing out tourist attractions along the way and sharing his political views about how bad Bush was and what a good man Obama is, but also told silly jokes (he asked if we like Egyptian music and when we said yes, he started honking his home in the blistering traffic. “That,” he said, “is modern Egyptian music.”)
I had visions of crashing for a few hours at the hotel, but Mustafa enticed us with an offer to take us to the pyramids for $10 each. Figuring we might never get the opportunity on the way back from Gaza, we jumped at the chance. We made a quick check-in stop at the hotel, then scrambled back into the van and headed out for the pyramids.
It was a lovely drive of about 40 minutes and we got a chance to CROSS THE NILE. What a thrill. It is wide, and even right close to the city it was surrounded by lovely green fields being cultivated with alfalfa. We stopped to take some fotos with our banner (the only appropriate banner we found in the basement of the CODEPINK house was the one we had made when Ann and I were attempting to get into Canada after being banned at the border. It said “We Come in Peace.”).
Off in the distance we could already see the pyramids of Giza, the sole survivors from the ancient Seven Wonders of the World. The history of our civilization comes rushing at you at the sight of this massive monument to human creativity. The largest pyramid of Khufu was built around 2570 BC and is made of 2.3 million limestone blocks that weigh about 2.5 tons each!!! One can only think of all the workers/slaves who lost their lives building this!
The pyramid experience is also an experience of dealing with Egyptian hawkers who swarm around the tourists. Each has a more ingenious way than the other in trying to get you to part with some cash (some will insist on giving you a good luck souvenir—free—but then insist that you give them something of good luck back, i.e. dollars). There are young boys on LOVELY camels, soldiers on camels, camels for hire, horse-and-buggies that carry visitors from pyramid to pyramid, horses to ride, donkeys—the place is full of life and the past and present colliding with an intoxicating blend of people and animals and sights and smells.
Our last stop was to see the sphinx, a massive sculpture of a woman’s head with a lion’s body carved from the natural bedrock. It was a bit underwhelming compared to the majesty of the pyramids, but lovely nonetheless.
Back at the hotel (after sitting in a LOT of traffic), we were met by several newfound friends. Kathy Kelly from Voices for Creative Non-Violence had put us in touch with a young Egyptian/German filmmaker who has been working on Gaza. Also, we had sent out a note to the Egyptians on the CODEPINK email list that we would be visiting Cairo and would love to meet them. Many responded enthusiastically, and three women showed up at the hotel to greet us. We all drank tea and had a lively discussion about the situation in Gaza, the terrible response of our governments, and how we could collaborate to end the siege.
Philip told us that the border was open only for journalists and doctors to go in and out of Gaza. He is organizing a “Walk to Gaza” starting from Cairo on February 6 to call for the border to open, but thinks the Egyptian security forces will try to stop them. In terms of our idea to organize an international delegation for March 8, Womens Day, he thinks that by then, the border will be even more difficult to cross. We talked about setting up a “camp” on the border, as a way to pressure for letting us in and letting Palestinians out. The group promised to put us in touch with Egyptian women’s organizations to try to get their support. We were all very excited about the prospect of working together.
Exhausted, we went to bed and set our alarms for 6:30am so we could get an early start tomorrow…