Sunday, February 10, 2008
Fouling The Nest
Most days when I go out into the desert with my horses, I feel blessed. I have equestrian friends all over the world who have to load horses into a trailer and drive for hours to get to someplace where they can ride for a morning. I can saddle horses, get on, ride for about ten minutes through a village full of friendly children calling out to me, and find myself in some of the most beautiful desert in the world. With the amazing pyramids of Abu Sir, Sakkara, Giza and Dahshur within riding distance, I have what most riders just dream of.
When I first began riding in the desert around Abu Sir and Sakkara, there weren't very many riders out there. During the early 90's we didn't have that many four-wheel drive vehicles in Egypt, so there weren't many vehicles out there either. The desert, once you were well away from the three-ring circus that is the Giza Plateau, was clean, unmarked and silent. The few riders who went out exploring on horseback left a few hoofprints, but that was about it.
A big revolution came with the introduction of the desert endurance races under the "guidance" of the UAE/FEI...races that saw as many, if not more, SUV's racing across the desert as there were horses, with passengers in the cars passing water bottles to riders who simply dropped them onto the sand. Many of these bottles were eventually collected by the villagers who recycled them, but many more remained to remind us of the racers. Not only did the racers leave their trash (water bottles, electrolyte syringes, and power bar wraps) but the cars' tires tore up the desert sand in a way that horses never could. The fact that the desert is a delicate environment seems to have evaded the notice of most of the organisers of these events.
There has always been an understanding of sorts between the riders in our area and the antiquities department that riders would maintain a good distance between ourselves and the antiquities. We don't bother the archaeologists who are excavating their sites, we don't interfere with the antiquities' activities, we don't dump our trash in the desert. After all, that would be self-defeating, wouldn't it? We have the world's best riding area...so why ruin it? Lately, however, the Antiquities Council have joined the ranks of polluters of the very place that they are supposed to be protecting. When archaeologists are excavating an area, a lot of sand, dirt, rock and debris is generated. A lot of time this excess is just piled near the dig after it's been sifted to remove any important objects, however small. Over the past few years, however, piles of debris that are obviously from digs have been appearing along a track that leads from the main Sakkara pyramid area to a hill that the Japanese have been excavating for quite a long time.
These piles include very old mud bricks, pottery fragments, pieces of old wood, and quite a lot of old human bones. Even with only the basic understanding of human anatomy, a skull is pretty identifiable. One might feel that it was inappropriate to simply dump human remains in the desert, that perhaps they could have been sifted out and then reburied, but on the other hand, all the old stuff kind of goes with the area, after all. What definitely does not go with the area, however, are old paint cans, plastic bags full of ordinary day-to-day garbage, and bricks, tiles and old steel reinforcement rods that have been removed from the remains of a building that the Antiquities Council decided to remove. These are definitely eyesores.
I suppose that the logic is that the piles of trash can't be seen by the tourists who are walking around the Step Pyramid compound. Well, if they don't know what to look for, probably this is true. They can be seen on Google Earth however, and they are certainly seen by the riders who pass by this area as we exercise our horses. Maybe because we live here, we don't really count. It isn't as though there is no place to put all of this rubbish, after all. The Giza Municipal Dump is also within eyesight (read: eyesore) of the Sakkara Antiquities Area, a fact that has been brought to the attention of Dr. Hawass. Sure, the dig crews might have to arrange a truck to carry it to the dump about 20 minutes away, but since they are using a truck to dump it all in the desert, this shouldn't be much of a problem. Maybe it's time for the Antiquities folks at Sakkara to start cleaning up after themselves. We don't see this sort of mess around Abu Sir or many of the other antiquities areas that are currently being excavated. Come on, guys, clean up your act.
copyright 2008 Maryanne Stroud Gabbani