Day 1: Cairo

The adventure has begun.

i am writing this in the lobby of the Pension Roma, fourth floor of a big old building in downtown Cairo, right next door to Cairo’s oldest Jewish temple, which comes complete with numerous well-armed soldiers in various strategic positions around the front and approaches from the side. A tad ironic.

The Roma is the unoffical headquarters of our Code Pink delegation, which is now comprised of 66 people from 10 nations (including 3 from Australia, one from Scotland, some nice Canadians, etc.) and from 18 states in the US.  i was especially excited to realize that an Ann Wright who is a CP organizer does not just coincidentally have the same name as the Col. Ann Wright who was prominently in the national news not so long ago: it’s really HER! (When Medea informed me that yes, it was that Ann Wright, the next time she came in the room where i was tap-tap-tapping away, assisting in media outreach efforts, i got up, went over and gave her a big hug saying You’re Col. Ann Wright! She laughed and said something funny which i don’t recall.)

Btw, this narrative is interrupted specifically for a huge shout-out of gratitude to my sister Eileen, without whom all of the media outreach i did on Code Pink’s behalf would’ve been impossible, not to mention the writing and distribution of this blog itself. Perhaps i should add — or does it go without saying? — that i am personally responsible for 100% of this blog’s contents. And while i’ve got her attention: Eileen, your suggestion that i play The Price of Silence on my radio show was one of the hottest musical tips i’ve gotten in the past year of DJ’ing! LOVE that song, and the Colombian rock tune by Aterciopelados from which it is derived. MUCHAS, muchas gracias, hermanita.

Hardly surprising that i wouldn’t recall an off-the-cuff comment from this morning, which at this point here seems like a week ago. i am energized, positively overwhelmed by this group. There is of course lots happening, too.

Marla dropped me off behind the Denny’s in Eureka where i boarded a 6:45 Monday morning Amtrak bus for San Jose. My last night in the US was spent with Matt and Gigi, who saw how loaded down i was with baggage when i left their house in San Jose. You all might be a little relieved then to hear that i abandoned my plans to save about $13 by taking a series of public buses from the airport, in favor of a taxi. It was so hot and muggy stepping outside the airport, and after traveling for 27 hours, i was glad for a quick ride to the French-run Select Hotel, on the 8th floor of another old building, reached by either one of two very old-fashioned elevators, the kind now only seen in old movies: the cage with the double sets of doors, creeping upward at a pace that makes you wonder if you should’ve just walked. It’s just around the corner from the Roma.

An Egyptian guy named Ehab checked me in around 9 pm (when my body was saying, wait it’s 11 am, right? why is it so dark outside?), and when he learned that i was here with Code Pink, he said, Oh your queen is here! CP co-founder and chief rabble-rouser Medea Benjamin, Ms. Wright and a 3rd CP organizer, a guy from LA named Tighe are all housed there as well, which turned out to be an auspicious coincidence.

After checking-in and dropping my bags,  i walked outside and into the first little hole-in-the-wall place that served up hookahs, where i enjoyed exercising my rusty Arabic-speaking muscles with a guy i met who knew about as much English as i knew Arabic. i bought an Arabic child’s book for learning to write on my way back, showered and fell into bed about 11:30.

Up before 6 this morning for coffee in the Select kitchen with Tighe, then out with him to buy on the street fruit, veggies and different, delicious freshly-baked breads for breakfast, then by 9 at work assisting with media outreach, mostly to Egyptian and American media outlets. Obama’s speech here on June 4 is already hugely in the news, and the excitement and tension as to what he might say is palpable. i won’t say for now what CP is planning, but some of us will be leaving Gaza one day early in order to execute an action whose plans i am not at liberty to discuss, which itself reminds me of my days as a secret agent in Amsterdam. (Ask me what that’s all about next time we’re F2F, if you don’t already know.)

i took a break around 2 this afternoon to go get a shave and a haircut, another activity i’d been relishing almost since the moment in mid-April when i first decided to make this trip! i watched my barber finish shaving a handsome client, as i tried in vain to remember the Arabic expression for nice haircut! Fortunately, the barber himself used it (ny EE mon!), so i didn’t have to struggle with asking in my broken Arabic how to say it.

The CP orientation tonight in the dining room of the Roma was a wonderful event, the room packed with close to 80 people, counting delegates, organizers, and a couple of young Egyptian journalists along for the ride: one male, one female). We started with brief introductions, and i can’t express adequately how inspiring and joyful it was to begin to get to know my fellow travelers. One gal, a second-generation Lebanese American, talked about how emotional it was for her to be going to Gaza, and to see so many of our non-Arab new friends making the same trip, for many of the same reasons. She sat next to a Jewish-American gal who’d grown up in a mostly Zionist household. Another Jewish American guy i walked out with this evening told me of growing up in a similar environment, and of leaving five months of community activism in the West Bank after Operation Cast Lead. i introduced myself to an older gentleman who was ahead of me on the stairs going down to the street, and hadn’t realized until a few minutes that yes, he’s that Norman Finkelstein: author of, among other books A Farewell to Israel: The coming breakup of American Zionism.

Imagine the reactions among this motley crew when we finished introducing ourselves, and Medea said, If you’d asked me two days ago if we were going to get through Gaza, I’d have said probably not. But now, thanks to your efforts — writing and phoning our members of Congress asking them to exert whatever influence they could bring to bear on the Egyptian government, getting our stories published in our local media before leaving, etc. — I am now happy to report that we are almost certainly going to get through! [Loud, extended applause.]

The highest levels of the Egyptian government had previously issued instructions to bus companies not to transport foreigners from Cairo to Al-Arish, and so things had been looking bleak. No longer: three smaller delegations have proceeded ours, and this fourth one is the largest of all. The timing of Obama’s speech could also not be better, Medea pointed out, as the Egyptian government would not want the world to see images of Americans camped out at the Rafah crossing, prevented from delivering toys and soccer balls to Gaza’s children.

Speaking of which: to all of you who so kindly donated to help the kids of Gaza, i was happy to put into Medea’s hands this morning the grand sum of $271. This does not include the checks that i know many of you have sent in the mail, or the amounts some of you have told me you planned to contribute at the Code Pink website. Most sincere and heartfelt thanks to you all.

Well as usual i could go on, but it’s just gone midnight, and we are all to meet in a parking lot across from the Nile Hilton at 8 am, to board one of the two buses being provided for our trip to Al-Arish where we will spend the night, prior to crossing into Rafah Saturday afternoon. (Cairo is 10 hours ahead of Pacific Time.)

i am one of many delegates who said yes when asked about interest in a possible home-stay. i am especially hoping to meet an English professor at Al-Aqsa University named Haider Eid, who has written often and at length about the Occupation, which he has termed “a genocide in slow-motion.” Even more memorable for me, was an article of his in which he wrote that the 22 days of Israeli bombing of Gaza will turn out to be, for Israel, what the Sharpeville riots of 1960 were for the South African system of apartheid.

And so for now dear friends and family, i would like to close with a quotation that looks like the one below, or better yet, sounds like the one below: Since it’s rhythmically poetic, i would suggest reading it aloud, if you feel you’re in the mood for poetry.

.

.

They stole my land,


burnt my olive trees,


destroyed my house,


took my water,


imprisoned my father,


killed my mother,


starved us all,


humiliated us all.


But I am to blame:


I shot a rocket back.


So they stole more of my land,


burnt my olive trees,


destroyed my house,


took my water,


bombed my country …



~ seen on a t-shirt, on sale here. [Author unknown.]

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One Response to “Day 1: Cairo”

  1. K. Lipman Says:

    I am not very articulate, religious or political, but feel I must say something.
    I am of Jewish decent. I have seen over the past 65 years a lot of hatred of people of my faith by people that did not know that I was Jewish. Funny how the condemnations usually ended, “But I have Jewish friends”.
    To the point; why has it always been the Jews that have been persecuted through time and people just forget about that; for instance, the slaves of the Egyptians’ and the Romans’, or the Holocaust of WW2, or the KKK of the south, and the call for the extermination of them now.
    Do you think some of this past history might make Israel/Jews a little paranoid? Could any of these past injustices have a bearing on them now?
    I for one would love to see peace in the world and especially in the Middle East. I just wonder if this is even possible when you are surrounded by people; Sunni and Shi’a that hate each other almost as much as they hate the Jews.
    Let us stop the finger pointing, name calling and killing and try to just get along.

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