A new blog from the creator of The Vincent Zandri Vox about writing, traveling, and the world in the present tense.

Friday, October 26, 2012

Egypt in the Future Tense

The very poor and the very curious (photo: Vincent Zandri)

The present tense of Egypt is solidly rooted in a past tense of revolution, assassinations, military crack downs, religious ferver and, of course, its rich heritage of stunning antiquities, both discovered and yet to be excavated. Amidst all this is a sense of instability and anxiety. While the new president is described to me by my Cairo fixer, Dendera (not her real name), as a moderate, he is also a card carrying member of the Muslim Brotherhood. And this is precisely what has her so concerned.

Fresh kill for the feast (photo: Vincent Zandri)
Dendera is a small, richly tan-skinned young woman in her mid-twenties who is both very well educated and career-minded. So much so she has shunned the notion of a boyfriend since her life is so busy with school, work, and her extended family. She has a kind smile, a soft voice, huge brown eyes and she has made the decision to always wear a scarf around her head to hide her hair when in public. She is religious, but not fanatically so. She believes in equal pay for all. Men and women. She wants to have a life which includes traveling beyond the borders of Egypt. But when she tells me this while standing outside the massive, ancient sea-side castle in Alexander, her characteristic smile begins to fade. She shrugs her shoulders, lowers her head and walks on.

When I catch back up to her, I try and cheer her up by telling her that if she ever gets to New York she must look me up. She perks up and regains that smile. She tells me she'll message me on Facebook. That during the revolution, Facebook and Twitter became so important to the young protesters. A cheap and effective way to communicate to the rest of the world one people's passion for freedom and a break from the old tyrannical ways. That freedom was exercised however briefly until supreme power was handed over to the Muslim Brotherhood. When I ask Dendera if it will be possible for Egypt to maintain the freedom that so many died for in the streets of Cairo while maintaining a government run by Muslim fanatics, she shakes her head, looks one way and then the other.

"No," she whispers.

But that whisper, however quiet, hits me like a scream.

We walk silently for a while along the hot pavement. On occasion, Dendera's hand brushes up against mine. The touching sends a wave of electricity up and down my spine, as if I were suddenly sixteen again.

"Don't forget," I say, after a time. "You can find me on Facebook."

"I will message you," she says.

"New York," I remind her. "I will be your guide this time."

She giggles.

"I would like to see the Statue of Liberty. Is it true that it's possible to climb up insider her?"

"It's true," I confirm.

"Lady Liberty," she says. "This dream is something I carry for one day."

Tuesday, October 23, 2012

You Say You Want a Revolution

Cleaning up after some unfinished business in Tahrir Square. October 23, 2012  (photo: Vincent Zandri)

You say you want a revolution...In Egypt.

Depends upon who you talk to.

The "Arab Spring" has come and gone, but I have a feeling that an Arab Winter has just begun. From what I'm told from those Egyptian citizens who know best, conditions in the country don't seem to be getting better. In fact, they just might be getting worse than they were prior to the ousting of, let's call it, the old regime. Often there is no electricity and even more often, no water. The trains don't run on time. The Nile cruises that once served as the foundation of the western Disney-like tourism industry have all but run aground. There's a gas shortage...Yes, a gas shortage in the Middle East. So bad the vans and cars can line up, one behind the other, for nearly a mile. That is, unless you're carting a precious tourist (or writer) around, in which case you are allowed to proceed to the front of the line.

Then there's the tension in the air. A tension so palpable you can feel it like the oily damp that coats your skin in the center of an overheated, overcrowded city like Cairo. Today...right now...right this minute, there is peace. But tomorrow might be a different story altogether. Whatever the case, I don't dare tell anyone in the street I'm an American. Better to tell them I'm from Canada. Only last month, being an American in Cairo would have placed you in serious danger while the American consulate was attacked by marauding revolutionaries taking their cue from the deadly consulate attacks in Benghazi, Libya.

Ask the poor black-robed woman picking through the piles of garbage inside a dump that contains a fetid green lake if the revolution has been a good thing in her life, and she might tell you "Yes. My family can eat now. Most of the time."

                                          A new mural on a Brotherhood wall in Luxor: Who wants to become a martyr today? (photo: Vincent Zandri)

But then, ask the shop-keeper who runs three stores that not so long ago supported his entire family on the sales from the tourists who consistently and constantly bought his goods, and he will say, "The revolution has taken away my living." He will also tell you that the horse and donkey shit that piles up in the streets no longer gets cleaned up. He'll tell you there is a movement amongst the Brotherhood to ban all alcohol from the country. That's the kind of move that will not sit well with the few British ex-patriots who are still toughing it out here. It also won't sit well with the few tourists still braving the constant rumors about Egypt being a dangerous place. And I suppose it still poses the possibility of being dangerous. Perhaps, very dangerous. In the same way a beehive can be dangerous if you decide to hit it with spray from the garden hose.  

Everywhere you go you will finds signs of the Muslim Brotherhood. A mural depicting a martyred soldier here or a civilian who has given his life to Allah all for the cause of political change. The Brotherhood is very organized with its own campuses and even pleasant green, neon lit signage out front facing the street. The signage serves to divert your eyes from the Brotherhood soldiers bearing AK's locked and loaded with banana clips. Clips that are doubled-up for twice the fire power with either duct tape or strips of colorful cloth. You don't double up your clips unless you plan on using them.

Still life goes on.
Normal. Life.

In Cairo, the traffic piles up and bottlenecks just like it does in good times and in bad. The smog blocks the view of the pyramids in Giza. Word up is that even Noam Chomsky is in town to speak to the students at the American University located just a few meters away from the American consulate that was attacked last month on September 11th.

                      A young teen hides her face from the camera (photo: Vincent Zandri)

Then there are the children. The kids. The kids go to school and pray on Fridays in the many mosques. The kids just want to eat and smile and have fun, just like all kids the world over. Revolution means nothing to them. On the surface anyway.  But life means everything. They smile at me when I ask them if I can take their picture. Sometimes they touch my arm. Sometimes they follow me around. Always they are smiling. Their ignorance is bliss, in every benign sense of the word. They are the lucky ones in the midst of revolution. But they are also its inevitable victims.

This revolution isn't done. It's still unfinished business. 

                                          Optimism in the eyes of a young girl? Or is it sadness? (photo: Vincent Zandri) 



Friday, October 19, 2012

Bombs in the Desert

It's one thing to get up early. Before the dawn when the streets are quiet and the dampness that comes with the cool night leaves a sheen of dew on the macadam and the garbage that litters it. After a night of sirens, some distant gunfire, shouting (in Arabic), I might have been better off not sleeping at all. But somehow I managed a couple of hours in which I dreamed that I was driving my car down a steep cliff with no brakes. Go figure. When I woke up I was already running late for the driver who was to meet me in the lobby of my hotel for the drive to Abu Simbal where the famous temples carved out of stone are located.

Under normal circumstances, the 200 KM drive across the desert would be a no-sweat, garden variety tourist activity. But in today's climate in which the American consulate emailed me a warning about nationwide demonstrations taking place today all across Egypt and that Westerners had best watch their backs, the drive takes on a different luster altogether.

Inside the lobby, the driver, a small, thin dark man greets me, handing me a box lunch. He speaks almost no English and I wonder if he can smell me since water in the city of Aswan has been unavailable for 24 hours and I pretty much reek. He smiles anyway while leading me to the van parked outside on the curb.

I get in, and he drives, picking up some tourists along the way. Some Germans, a couple of Brits, and some Aussies. No Americans. We don't proceed to the highway. Instead we drive to a rallying point where dozens of other vans and buses are parked. Attending to the rides is an army of machine-gun toting soldiers. They examine the rides inside and out. The also check the undercarriages with a tool made from a long aluminum handle with a big round mirror attached to the end. He's checking for any explosive devices that just might go off during the ride.

It's early. I sip a Nescafe that was prepared for me roadside by a robed and turban-wearing old man. My stomach is rumbling from the lentil soup I should not have eaten the evening before with a Nubian family on an island surrounded by the Nile waters. I'm not in the best of moods and now I have to worry about getting my ass blown off on my way to seeing one of the most amazing archeological wonders of the world.

As we cross over the dam on our way to the desert, my mind drifts to the young woman who operates the small desk inside my hotel. She is a pleasantly attractive Muslim girl who wishes to go to New York one day. When I tell her I write thriller novels for a living she smiles and the smile becomes infectious. She asks me if I was afraid to come to Egypt. I tell her I wasn't afraid. That I'm more afraid of walking certain streets in my hometown at night. But that was before my van was to be searched for the bombs.

Many hours later, when I make it back to the hotel, exhausted, covered in sand and sweat, she smiles that smile. It draws me in so much that I find myself approaching the front desk instead of trudging up the stairs to my room.

"We have water," she announces in her Arabic-accented English. I get the feeling she's been waiting to tell me this all morning and afternoon.
"Wonderful," I say. "Thank you very much."
That's when she holds up her hand, makes a fist.
"Give me the rock," she says.
I raise up my right hand, make my own fist, touch hers.
We share a moment...a connection...a life far away from the possibility of bombs.



Tuesday, October 16, 2012

Cairo in the Present Tense

Early morning.

Writing this is the dawn with the heavy smog already coming down hard on the this congested city. The streets smell of acrid exhaust. Garbage strewn about the roads and narrow byways. The occasional pile of shit. Half the torso of a slaughtered goat hanging by its torso outside a shop, a bearded man dressed in a white robe and hat watching over it with pride.

I've already been outside for a quick morning jog. Stupid, I know, considered this socio/political climate. But then I promised myself I would give it a try. So, I'll say it again. Stupid. Soon as I came upon the young man standing on a street corner in black lace-up boots, white pants, black shirt, an AK strapped around his shoulder, I made an about-face, headed back to the hotel.

Now, back in the sparsely populated hotel that's costing me about $20 per night, several workers are asleep on the floor and on the couple of old couches pushed up against the walls. One man hawks up flem in his sleep, and rolls over. Another sneezes and laughs as though dreaming of an oasis. Sounds of pots and pans and china plates clanging and banging in the near distance, and always, the sounds of automobile horns that come from the unrelenting traffic outside these concrete walls.

Good morning Cairo.


Saturday, October 13, 2012


My life in the present tense...bulleted:

# Cleaned out the apartment, handed the keys back over to the landlord
# Moved the books and extra clothes into storage
# Deep-sixed the furniture
# Quit my energy account, my cable/internet and my gym membership
# Packing only the things I can carry, including what I need for writing and dispatching
# Got plane tickets and train tickets
# Got fixer/driver all set up
# Got cash and credit cards
# Got passport and entry visas
# Got new life...

I'm going...


Tuesday, October 9, 2012

Somebody or something pirated my Google account and my The Vincent Zandri Vox.
If I my home were trampled by a tornado or someone dropped a bomb on it, I would rebuild immediately, so here I go.

Welcome to the The Vincent Zandri Voyager...Stay tuned!