Saturday, December 26, 2009
Arish via Checkpoints
December 26, 2009
We left the Lotus hotel in downtown Cairo today at 9 a.m. Each of us is carrying a back pack that weighs about 40 pounds. We have enough food and water to last us 5 days. In addition to the backpacks we are dragging along the mural, the crate is back in it’s suitcase, but it weighs 80 pounds, and since we don’t want to wreck the wheels we have to lift it up and down stairs. There are a lot of stairs in subway stations.
From the subway we caught a group taxi. to Arish. There were 6 Egyptian men including the driver Bill and myself stuffed into an old diesel Mercedes station wagon. The pre-arranged price was 18 Egyptian pounds per person, but it did not go that way. There have been too many foreign internationals making their way to El Arish which is the last town before the Raffah border crossing. A group of 4 Castellanos were traveling in another taxi at the same time, to this area that rarely sees tourists. The Gaza Freedom March has been banned and Egypt has said that they will not let any internationals through the gate. They have revoked all permits for gatherings of more than 5 people in one place and they will not allow CODEPINK or any other bus full of internationals to leave Cairo in the direction of Raffah. We decided to try to trickle in, but traveling so close together in time we were suspect. I think that if our taxis were not full of Egyptians who needed to get where they were going our taxis might have been turned back. Our drivers paid bribes to the police. At the last crossing they took the drivers licenses of our drivers and gave us a police escort to our hotel. We have had to say we are tourists and coming to El Arish to see the Mediterranean Sea. If we had said our true and final destination we would have been turned back right away. In the end we paid our taxi driver $150 pounds and another $20 to the police man who hung around to make sure we went in and registered at the hotel.
Aside from being on a mission that could get us in trouble and therefore a little nerve wracking it was a beautiful ride and it was great to get out of Cairo. The people are super friendly here too, but I have not been hustled here. This evening when we went out to get fruit for out camping trip some small boys were following us and begging, an older man swatted them both on the head with a newspaper they yelped and took off. I sure appreciated this kindness.
Our hotel manager is quite sympathetic to the Palestinian cause and has been very hospitable. He wants to get me a gift of a dictionary for translating Arabic into pronounceable English lettering for me so that I can do some more communicating. I’ve been having a good time learning some Arabic words and phrases, and the Egyptian people really seem to appreciate the effort.
We spent and hour or so with the Castellanos this evening planning strategy for getting to the Raffah border. Apparently we will have 5 more check points to get across, I suppose this means more bribes, and we are running really low on Egyptian money. We could spend dollars in Cairo, but not here.
Codepink’s new plan is to wait until about 25 of us reach the border and then they will descend on one of the embassies in Cairo and demand that that country help clear the red tape for those of us who are sitting at the border waiting to get in. They are not sure which country they will descend upon yet, but I am pretty sure it will not be the U.S.
We have one last meeting tonight with the Castellanos, off to bed and then on our way!
Wish us luck, if I don’t post a bog tomorrow it is because we are camping at the border!