Sunday, December 05, 2004

War On Gerbils And Other Musings

My left hand is more or less healed now (meaning that there is an impressive looking gash in it but I can leave the bandage off now when I'm not riding) and I can type properly again, but do you think that the gerbils would let me have enough bandwidth to use Flickr so I could post a picture? Not today, lady...nor yesterday and so on. Pics will have to wait for at trip to a friend's house. This is why I have a laptop. For some bizarre reason the bandwidth on our phone lines is now about 19 thou bps, a miserable level but what can I do? I'm lobbying with Vodafone to get a Mac compatible PC card to access the net wirelessly, but so far it's a no go.

Winter is underway here as I mentioned before, having dropped in on us like a busload of in-laws, that is without warning and in full glory. One day we were in t-shirts and the next we were hauling out sweaters. I invested in an oil radiator for the living room to take the edge off the chill at night and found myself in a stream of cars at our shopping center (on the other side of the Nile and closer to higher income civilisation) with large square packages of similar objects all struggling to get home to take the ice out of the dwelling places. Okay, those of you with REAL cold issues may laugh, but the way that buildings are constructed in Egypt concentrates on the dispersal of heat rather than the retention of it. That means that they tend not to collect the summer heat but to bounce it off or radiate it, and during our admittedly short and not very cold winter, our houses turn into refrigerators. They heat up a bit during the day but the chill of the night takes it away. When we were living in Canada, we would come to Egypt in the winter and the children would only wear their winter coats in the house when we were visiting their grandparents. Needless to say, this drove the grandparents right around the bend, but they had trouble believing that it was actually spring outside for these transplanted penguins.

The horses love the chill and have a great time roaring around the desert when we go out there. I have a riding client who comes with her daughter twice a week, a diplomatic spouse who was trained as an archaeologist, and we were out in the desert yesterday for about 3 hours. I wanted to show them how the illegal strip mining is actually removing a major plateau just west of us so we took a straight course out of the country club. I was shocked to see how much more of the plateau had been carted away by the gravel trucks. Thousands of cubic meters of desert are simply gone. I have no idea how to try to do something about this since it is being done under the unwatchful eyes of the governorate of Giza and the Egyptian Army.

After the plateau, we headed back down into a wadi where we ride all the time. I wanted to show them a hill where there was an old hole from some "informal" excavations and large limestone blocks that were left behind from ancient Egyptian work. We had a wonderful gallop across the wadi and up the hill where, again, I was brought up short in utter shock. The old small hole was now about six times larger and the piles of sand from the effort were new. Below the hill there had been some small holes and chips of limestone, but as we approached it was easy to see that there had been some clandestine work in that location as well. An old screen for sifting had been left on the sand and the sand itself had obviously been disturbed by digging although it had been put back into place.

Interestingly, the department of antiquities feels that horsemen are not their allies in the fight against antiquity pilfering. At Giza they've constructed a huge wall between the desert and the habited area of Nazlit Semman and there is talk of doing a similar contstruction here in Abu Sir. Walls accomplish nothing, however, when trucks can move in from any other area of the desert to transport shovels and men. In fact, having horsemen in the desert is a deterrent of sorts since we notice problems and activity and can report it. On the other hand, much of this work is done at night and there is no feasible way to patrol the entire desert at night. The fact is, less than 20% of the sites in Egypt have been explored by the archaeologists and Egypt simply doesn't have the budget to either explore it all or to spread people all over the desert to safeguard it. The poorly paid employees of the Antiquities Department actually contribute to the problem since it is so easy to bribe someone who makes so little to "guard" something if they can't make their extra income simply by showing off the site.

For someone who loves this country, watching the theft of antiquities and of the desert itself is killing. The desert is being stolen with the agreement of the government itself so to whom can one complain. Local rumour is that the biggest gravel customer is the government of Israel for the construction of their infamous wall. That may, in fact, just be rumour, but if true, it is really criminal. Sometimes I do get frustrated here.

1 comment:

Anonymous said...

quote: "Winter is underway here as I mentioned before, having dropped in on us like a busload of in-laws, that is without warning and in full glory."

HAHAHAHA....that was made me laugh out loud and think of how my mother doesn't get along with her in-laws!

I've been to Egypt and think of it as the best holiday I've had in my (short - I'm 17) life. I was under the impression that the Egyptian govt. had preserved all archeological sites and was ekeing money out of the tourists, and that it was on the Sudanese side of the border that evidence of history was being neglected and demolished. Guess I was wrong!

Enjoy the gets HOT all too soon.

- a regular reader of your blog (I'm shy)