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Egyptian Adventures

May 05, 2015



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  Airfield Models (http://www.airfieldmodels.com/)14057.jpg (29608 bytes)Egypt was an unforgettable experience for me.  I was deployed there as part of the Multinational Force and Observers.  The deployment lasted for six months.  I was attached to a unit who had no respect for my job and who kept trying to turn me into a medic even though that is not why I was there and I had absolutely no training as a medic.

While I was away my girlfriend left me, stole my car, gave my microwave and CD's to her new boyfriend and abandoned my dog and iguana, neither of which I ever saw alive again.   To this day I have no idea what became of my sweet puppy.  The iguana was taken in by someone who did not know how to care for her and she died soon after.  Other than those events, the six months I spent in Egypt were great.

The unit I was with was so afraid of mental health issues that whenever we did a briefing we were instructed to avoid discussing these issues as much as possible - even to the leadership.  Instead we were to talk about morale programs on camp even though we had nothing to do with them.   It is no wonder their soldiers were having all kinds of problems.  My last deployment to Kosovo was much better as far as how we were received by the unit.  I think this indicates that Army leadership is beginning to recognize what we do and how important it is.

The unit's overall disrespect for our section is exemplified in a nearly tragic incident that occurred.  A medic in the platoon was having problems on the home front and was asking to be repatriated to the states.  It is very unusual for a person to be sent home from a deployment due to personal problems at home, so the answer was no.

This soldier decided he was going home whether they wanted to send him or not.  He gave himself a local anesthetic and then cut his wrists deeply.  When he was found he was taken to the aid station where he received stitches from one of the doctors.  After he was "stable" he was sent to the Chaplain.  This soldier was very vocal about being an atheist, so the Chaplain was a bad choice.  They should have sent him to our section, but the "leadership" pretended we did not exist.

I was at work while all this was going on and did not hear about it until many hours later that night.  In fact, I did not even hear about it on our camp.  I received a telephone call from North Camp which is on the other end of the Sinai.  About an hour after that I heard from my unit who wanted me to come and guard the soldier.  So they still did not want me to do my job.

The capper to this story is that the unit made the soldier's own squad clean up the huge puddle of blood on his floor.  Many of these people were his friends.  They should have gotten people more removed to handle it.

OK, enough griping about bad leadership.  There was a lot about Egypt to enjoy.

13275.jpg (49919 bytes)It was hot in Kentucky when I left Ft. Campbell in July it was hot.  It was not nearly as hot as it was when we landed in Egypt.  We arrived at a little past 8 PM and the temperature was 126 F.   When I stepped out of the airplane it was like stepping into the oven.  I had been warned, but knowing what to expect and feeling it are two different things.   It is funny how the body can acclimatize to different environments though.  When we left Egypt the following January, the temperature was in the high 70's.  We did PT in full sweats and still everyone was shivering.  I never would have believed it if someone told me that.

I was stationed at South Camp which is located in the southern most tip of the Sinai Peninsula on the Red Sea.  This area has the most beautiful sunrise you will ever see anywhere.  My job was to run the mental health clinic on South Camp and counsel soldiers as needed.  Additionally, I was to visit our outposts in the peninsula when I could.

Throughout the time I was there it was very clear to me that the soldiers who were away from camp in the outposts were doing fine.  It was the ones on camp who were stressed out due to some of the bureaucratic nonsense coming down from the command structure.  Other than giving them some stress management techniques, I couldn't help them much with these problems because I was having them myself.  Nevertheless, everyone made it home alive except my dog and iguana.

We had our own little beach on South Camp where we could snorkel in the coral reefs.   A couple miles down the road was Sharm El Sheik, a diving resort that apparently is fairly well known.  I am not a diver and had never heard of it, but then I do not get out much either.  We were allowed to visit Sharm or the city on the other side of post, Naama Bay, pretty much whenever we wanted.  Unfortunately, we were restricted from traveling to several areas such as Giza and Cairo due to terrorist activities in the area at that time.

On the flip side, I had several once in a lifetime opportunities while in Egypt.  I climbed Mount Sinai, visited the Holy Lands in Israel and traveled to Petra, Jordan.  Other than that I sat in my office working on my computer and writing letters to my ex-girlfriend asking her to give my car back.  When driving around Egypt visiting outposts, I also had the opportunity to see other parts of the country.

One day when driving back to South Camp, we passed a long stretch of beach that was occupied only by a camel.  He was obviously disconcerted by my presence.  I stayed about 50 feet away from him to take my photos because I really did not want him to feel he was being threatened.

As I walked, he would look at me with an expression that said "You just better not even come one step closer or I will cover you with spit."  But then when I stopped walking he would look away with sort of a snobbish expression that said "I am better than you."   I am no expert on camels, but he looked fairly aged to me so I took a couple shots and left him to whatever old camels think about.

Our chaplain took groups of us to climb Mount Sinai from time to time.  I finally had the opportunity to join him after I had been in Egypt a couple months.  My supervisor had gone on a previous trip and I asked him what type of photo equipment he recommended I take.  He said the view is excellent and I should take it all.  So I did.

The entire hike up that mountain I was thinking of places I could dispose of his body when I got back.  That climb is no joke and carrying fifty pounds of camera equipment along with a gallon of water just makes it even harder.  I was told the climb is about three miles.  I am not sure if that is true or not, but it felt like twenty.  I drank the entire gallon of water before ever reaching the top and wished I would had more.

When we finally reached the top of the mountain we found that there is a stand that sells Cokes and Snickers bars.  That must have been convenient for Moses considering how many trips he made up there.  The view is excellent, however - you can see for miles.  The day I made the hike there was a lot of dust in the air which is probably usual considering the climate.  This dulled the vibrancy of the colors in the photos.  Nevertheless, there is so much light that it is entirely unnecessary to bring anything other than a camera with one lens having a wide zoom angle.  You can leave the tripod and other four lenses at home unless you are a masochist.

13270.jpg (46324 bytes)Prior to hiking up Mount Sinai, we toured Saint Catherine's Monastery located at the base of the mountain.  The monks claim it is the oldest active monastery in the world.  We were greeted by Father Paul (really), an Australian, who guided us through the monastery.  He did not allow us to take photos inside, but he did allow me to take one of him.  He also allowed us to take all we wanted of the outside.

Once we began climbing, we could see the monastery get smaller and smaller.  It was a good gauge of how far we had gone.  On the way back down the mountain, myself and another person lost the trail and went the hard way.  We were running most of the way down because it was less painful than falling.  We made it down safely and I never had the urge to climb up there again.

The last place I was able to visit was Cairo, even though it was off limits.  Our public relations person had obtained permission to go to Cairo to have our tour books made.  Because I am computer savvy and a friend of his, he obtained permission for me to accompany him.   We also had a butterbar lieutenant come along to keep us out of trouble.   While there, I took the opportunity to visit the pyramids.  That adventure was a fiasco in itself.

The dates that we were in Cairo fell within Ramadan.  I had asked a taxi driver how long it would take to get from our hotel to the pyramids.  He told me the trip generally takes around forty-five minutes.  What he neglected to tell me was that is how long it takes during other times of the year.  I wanted to get photos of the sun setting behind the pyramids, so my plan was to arrive in the area approximately two hours before sunset so I could scout a location and set up.  I would also be able to take photos while the sun was still up.  So I arranged for him to pick me up at a time calculated to allow me to achieve this goal.

Things did not work out as planned, however.  Because of the Ramadan season, it took over two hours to get there.  The driver then dropped me two miles from the pyramids at his buddy's place who rents horses.  They then asked me to rent not only a horse for myself, but a horse for my guide as well.  My guide was the son of the man who owned the horses.

The sun was sinking fast and I was nowhere near where I wanted to be.  I would not have another opportunity because we were going back to South Camp the next day.  After talking the man down from seventy-five to twenty dollars for the horse, I set off with my guide.  The poor kid chased me down the road carrying my tripod because there was no way I was going to pay the kid to ride his own horse.

13866.jpg (45072 bytes)When we arrived at the pyramids, I was told that the desert was closed.  At this point I was not a happy person at all.  Between the cab ride and the horse, I felt like I had been fleeced even though I am sure this is standard business practice to them.  At any rate, I set up my tripod, shot what I could and went home.  The photos came out ok, but were not worth the money they cost.  I did give the kid a good tip for being a good sport even though I was pretty miffed by the time it was all over.  The exercise was good for him so I do not feel so bad.

On the way back to South Camp we saw some Bedouin women in the desert.  Our lieutenant decided he wanted to take some photos of them even though we had been expressly told not to mess with women over there in any way shape or form to include photographing them.  Unfortunately, one of the women noticed what he was doing and went running and screaming deeper into the desert.

The whole time she was waving a shawl over her head to warn others.  The lieutenant decided that this would be a good opportunity to do some PT and he started chasing after her.  My buddy and I yelled after him to get back in the vehicle and get out of there before somebody shot us.  Finally we got him to listen to reason and we took off.

13797.jpg (62839 bytes)At another point on the drive back we passed some men on camelback who were dressed in colorful attire.  I was told that camel owners in Egypt are generally wealthy.   We stopped and asked permission to photograph them.  They immediately started looking through our vehicle for anything they might want as a payment for the privilege of taking their picture.  The price wasn't bad.

I think we gave them a case of water, a couple packs of smokes and a roll of lifesavers.  One of them had a boom-box strapped to his camel and I asked him to turn the camel so it wouldn't be in the photo.   In retrospect, I should have taken the shot with the boom-box as well.

There were two things I found really annoying about some of the Egyptians.  We were told to be sure not to offend anyone in the country and instructed on some customs and courtesies.  Unfortunately, courtesy did not work both ways.  I am not sure if this is true of the entire country but it was in areas around South Camp.   There is no such thing as window shopping.

13990.jpg (60582 bytes)When we would stop to look in a window, the shop owner would come out and physically grab us and try to drag us into his store.  He wasn't gentle about it either.  At that point they would pour us a cup of boiling hot tea that kept us there much longer than we wanted to be while he tried to hawk his wares.  Once we caught onto this, we would window shop from a distance.  If we did not walk into a shop, the owner would come out and yell obscenities, flip us off and tell us how badly we had offended him.  I just let him be offended and kept on going.

The other thing happened pretty much where ever we went.  Especially tourist areas.  Local kids and some adults will go out of their way to do things that are entirely unnecessary and usually annoying and then demand that you give them money for doing it.

Some of the older Egyptians told us to never give these people money because it conditions them to get a free handout.  For example, when we stopped at the horse guy's place, a kid ran up and opened my cab door and stuck his hand in and told me to give him money.  I asked him why and he told me it was a tip for opening the door for me.

Do not get me wrong.  I understand that this is a third world country.  I do not mind spending money there for legitimate goods and services.  Many of these people do not have a lot of money and if I have the opportunity to spend I will.   However, having people constantly demanding money for doing basically nothing or grabbing me and trying to force me into their shops is not acceptable.  They only treat visitors this way - not each other.

13822.jpg (66125 bytes)When January finally rolled around everyone was more than ready to go home.  It was an interesting experience having its share of ups and downs.  In the end I am glad I went and if I had another opportunity to go I would.  The capper to the whole experience was the plane ride home.  While boarding, the stewardess was directing us where to sit.

I followed her direction and no sooner than I did so, my platoon leader told me to come over to his side of the plane.  Each of us carried on board our weapon, a ruck sack, and a lot of other gear which made maneuvering in a crowded airplane very difficult.  Nevertheless, I did what I was told.  As I walked between the seats, I got twisted around so badly that I tore the ACL in my left knee and eventually needed surgery.

Egypt is one of those places I really need to go back to.  The unit I was assigned to as well as my lack of understanding of the culture prevented me from enjoying the experience as much as I could have.  On the flip side, I took a lot of really nice photos while I was there.  I had never seen a desert sunrise or sunset before and it is one of the most beautiful things I have ever seen.  Many of these photos are in the galleries.

This link is to the MFO website.  It has good information about the mission although the site is way over-loaded with cheesy Flash animation.

 
 

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