Monday, July 05, 2004

Helping to Make History

One of the things about living in Egypt is that I have the chance to live right next door to pyramids. Every morning I wake up, look out my front door and there they are. It's easy to forget that for other people these are large objects of unbelievable mystery. But when I'm out riding my horses and we are ambling around the base of one of these massive things, they project an aura of enormous patience and majesty that is all the more profound for my having arrived by this ancient mode of travel. A couple of weeks ago I was contacted out of the blue by an associate producer for a television crew that would be shooting an episode of a History Channel program entitled "Digging For The Truth" to see if I could help them film with horses. I replied that I had horses for the work and also had a young friend who could play an Egyptian guide for the filming. Last weekend we set to work.

My usual Friday and Saturday mornings are neighbourhood riding times. There are a number of riders based in the area who enjoy getting out in the desert together in the mornings on weekends, but this weekend I had no time for those rides. So what did we do that was so special anyway? Not the usual Friday and Saturday morning rides, or even a decent moonlight ride although we have a full moon and clear skies. Instead, I washed and conditioned horse manes, assembled flashy riding equipment, and I rode horses to their appointed spots near Giza on Friday afternoon and Abu Sir/Sakkara on Saturday morning.

We tricked out two of my Arab geldings, Nazeer and Bunduq, with Arab breastcollars and dangly bits and fuzzy dooda's on their headstalls in raucous colours. Bunduq was dubbed "Rasta Man" for his Jamaican outfit in red, yellow and green. Nazeer was more tasteful in black, red and navy. We used my usual endurance saddles with rag kilim rugs over them for an added flare. The boys were amazingly cool about all the funny clothes and remarkably understanding and cooperative with the endless gallops up a short hill with a pause at the top and a canter to the bottom...I'm sure that they figured that these humans had lost their minds. We had water and a bucket and a huge pile of fresh-cut forage in the back of my jeep and it didn't take them long to figure out where the best place to stand during rests was! I think that the boys being very laid back was a real advantage with all of the "hurry up and wait" stuff that filming always entails. They'd munch away happily from the back of the jeep and then go off and gallop around the desert for 20 minutes at a time. The producers had especially requested a reliable horse for the program's star, since he didn't ride regularly and the schedule didn't include time to recover from a broken leg or worse. Bunduq, a 15 yr old schoolmaster, was my choice for Josh, while Morad, my neighbour who was playing the guide in a traditional galabeya/riding pants outfit, rode 7 yr old Nazeer.

We started out at 1:30 pm on Friday to get the horses to Giza for a 2:30 appointment. Luckily, the film crew wasn't any more punctual than anyone else here. Morad and my daughter drove over with gear and horse food in the jeep, while one of my grooms, Ahmed, rode Bunduq over with me. I don't often ride to Giza and today gave me a really good reason why not. The place is a dump. Disgusting. Not nice at all and full of tourists, thank least it is generating a good income. The ride over to Giza took about an hour and a half through the countryside dirt roads which gave us some shelter from the sun. Happily there was a good breeze blowing so even standing around in the sun in the desert wasn't uncomfortable, although everyone had to drink a lot of water. On the way back Morad and Yasmine met us part way back at the beginning of the farming area with some sandwiches and cold drinks that Ahmed and I really appreciated. By the time I got back home I had just enough energy to set my alarm for 6 am.

Saturday's shooting was at the pyramids of Abu Sir and Sakkara, which are basically our backyard, so the lead time wasn't so much. I only needed 30 minutes to have the horses at the meeting place. I dashed around feeding parrots and preparing dog food (we have to cook a stew for them here) and got to the horses at 7 am. We tacked them up and headed for Abu Sir where the crew was to meet us...with an hour and a half wait while they were stuck waiting at their hotel for the Antiquities Department stooge who had been assigned to them for the day. The wait wasn't bad since the guys had figured out the back-of-jeep dining routine the day before, and half the neighbourhood showed up to ask what the devil we were doing in the middle of the desert. It was the time of the usual neighbourhood ride, so the neighbourhood was riding by. Yasmine amused herself by chipping flint tools which she then tried out on everything she could....I kept her away from the saddles. Anthropology children can be a burden. Today was more galloping around the desert interspersed with stuffing faces on fodder from the jeep...or green grapes if they could be snatched.

We didn't get paid for the work but it was fun and in January 2005 you will see my horses and Morad in the episode on pyramids. They are going to send me a DVD since we don't get History Channel. I was terribly proud of my boys who galloped about happily, didn't fuss at standing around for ages, and didn't spook or buck once. The story line is that there is this adventurer character (done up like Indiana Jones) who is traveling over the world investigating mysteries in adventurous manners. The star, Josh Bernstein, runs an outward-bound type center in Boulder, Colorado, in usual real life and has been diving in ritual pools in Guatemala, climbing mountains, doing all sorts of weird things for the show. Not a bad sort for an Indy wanna-be. The premise was that he's investigating pyramids along with interviews with Egyptologists but that he decides to ride from Giza to Sakkara on horseback. It wasn't entirely fake, since the horses DID go from Giza to Sakkara (though on two consecutive days) as well as from my place to Giza and back and my place to Sakkara and back.

The actor and the crew were delighted with the horses, the desert, the pyramids and everyone had a good time. We are all looking forward to seeing the finished product and happy with the thought that others will be able to see the pyramids that live next door.