there is something deeply discomforting about the feeling of wasted time. A feeling of wandering directionless in between directions, of exploring new lands, countries and cultures, growing accustomed to extremely different methods of thought and process, of cultural expectations and taboos, of trying to wave off unwanted male attention ; but of wandering through them in a semi-touristic – semi-traveler – semi-purposeful manner makes for many wonderful and free days and also many very uneasy days. Of attempting to allow myself just to travel and see and be and snap snap and wow wow. And also of worrying about not having enough money to pay the man to see the land, and instead stepping about nor here nor there. Of wanting to be working, to have a focus now I have left Israel and the exhibition is postponed until September, perhaps. of occasionally feeling free and happy to just be traveling but also knowing that I need more than that. And that in between the time in gaza, returning to Israel and spending uneasy days there sorting/not sorting visa issues – going back into Egypt and learning Arabic then meeting Em in cairo and having adventures, a lot of set backs of motorbike accidents, and gastroenteritis – and planning for the next trip to gaza at the end of may – feeling like this time in between should not be spent aimlessly, it should be spent preparing, getting work done, preparing for what we will do in gaza, for what we can do pre and post gaza, and feeling almost at a loss because I am not in my home country and I feel like I cannot be as effective through my computer, and feeling hopeless that from the last trip I haven’t achieved enough yet. And also just allowing it to be the way it is and not expecting so much of myself and others; as I am young and I am still filling in the lines, still being swayed here and there, still allowing the uncertainty to be positive and not something to resent. but still it remains, a sense of unease in these days, these days of traveling not traveling working not working spending not spending creating not creating. And so it goes this way for a little while until the bank goes $0 and the feelings write/right and we part ways and who knows, what comes through or doesn’t come through and how I respect myself amidst a feeling of not doing enough and of wasting my time and money. But I remind myself that all travel is worth it despite shittiness and setbacks.
I haven’t written much since writing about gaza, so it has been a month of masr (egpyt) and of in between time and new happenings and change of pace and thoughts and all – so it almost feels redundant now to write about travels after gaza and all that happened there. But it is still part of this story and all relevant to process and experience and creating and seeing and clicking and gathering and and …
I shall attempt to write something in semi-dot-point form of the past month or so. please excuse the somewhat self indulged laments of priviledges and unsatisfactions.
April 1 – 11: spent in Dahab taking 2 hours of Arabic classes a day in another attempt (1st attempt Spanish) to not just be only an English speaker, snorkelling diving, walking, processing, writing and sleeping.
Met em in cairo, we spent 5 days wandering about the madness of cairo, shops selling the same thing for kilometers on end, getting dirty feet, seeing masri art, learning to cross the road, being semi-touristy, feluka-nile – horses-pyramids…
Bussed to north west Mediterranean town masra matruah for one night, en route to siwa oasis in the western desert. We were the only foreigners in sight, many looks, many comments. Good fish.
Next day of attempting to barter 3 hr ride to siwa in a taxi, failing through miscommunication, kateer, too much; joined micro bus for 15LE = AU$3.80 for a silent three hour trip inland to siwa. One of two wives sleeps most of the way, her hand flopping on to mine, i don’t want to move to disturb her – they don’t move, don’t leave the car. I wonder what this life is like. or if this life is just like this.
Arrive siwa, check in cheap hotel in village. Shower over toilet. Bed collapses. We hire bicycles ride out to ‘fatnas island’ under the palms over some water-body-lake mountain, jamilla jidan, smoke shisha drink shay, get stories of siwian ethnic tribe from longago through siwian storyteller, more shay, fire; told about the land before borders, crossing from morocco to algeria, libya to there, settled at the oasis, had fights, stopped fighting, stayed. Rode back to funduk (hotel) in the headlights of omran-the-storyteller’s motorbike headlights. Eat good feed. More story. meet young Egyptian women and man who work with art and children. Drink more shay. Sleep.
Next day riding bicycles around, we notice that the siwian women are always fully covered in traditional dress and when I attempt to ask for directions the response is an urgent “no, no”. apparently the women are not allowed to make any economic transactions in the village, they have to send the small boys to sell their handicrafts in the village, drive the donkey carts, etc. etc. we wonder, wonder as we women who believe in women’s rights and equality and self-determination, about all this, and how this view must be for these women, and we do not find out. Yet.
After a couple of days of wandering around, being enticed into drinking home-made Bedouin vodka, attending a traditional siwian party and many failed attempts at bartering for a cheap desert trip. We hired a motorbike to ride out to one of the oasis just 30km out of the village. Emma had been riding a bike in aus for a while before coming OS and we wanted to show the men here that women can ride! The bike itself was kind of dodgy, and em was told not to use the front brake because you will (charade of crashing). So I get on the back with our picnic on my back, start making giggling happy excited noises as we head off slowly down the sandy laneways out of the village. We didn’t get more than 5 minutes down the road before we found ourselves crashed on the ground. Apparently em had used the front brake to slow down over a speed bump just doing what was natural and the bike just swerved drastically so we both came off. Em came off much worse, smacking her head pretty hard on the ground; I ran up to her to find blood coming out of her skull, saying “im broken im broken” – “no no, you’re okay, you’re okay” so we get a crowd of siwian men around us, we get off the ground and sit in some shade while em calms down. She is slightly delirious and laughing then crying, we go to the hospital and she asks how to say “anaesthetic” in Arabic, I say “anaesthetic”, and the doctor says “I will give you a local anaesthetic”, we laugh, she gets one stitch very quickly and spends the rest of the day dozing and sleeping off the drugs and the headache.
Later we spend over 3 hours in the siwian police station attempting to make an incident report so em can claim on her glasses that were broken in the crash.
The police seemed to do nothing but write the same report about 5 times in English and Arabic and spend most of the time smoking cigarettes, talking about soccer and ordering lackeys to do some photocopying.
We leave the next morning to Alexandria and spend a night and a day catching up on work before catching an overnight bus to sharm el sheikh then spend too many gineas on bad coffee on a quiet Friday morning in the resort town, before enduring a painful taxi ride with a young Bedouin man trying to get too close to me on the way to Dahab; at one point he attempted to explain that he wanted us to get out so he could pass through the police security while we walk around the border looking very dodgy and jump back in… I just pretended not to understand and we passed after some huffing and “enti mish fahma” (you don’t understand) (I think he had to pay a 10LE fine for not having the right papers or something).
Finally arriving in dahab very tired and queasy. We snooze and eat a nice dinner drink a bottle of wine, wake up the next day quite sick. I get up thinking that I’m okay and maybe we just have a slight hangover or maybe em is just sick, but after not wanting to drink my coffee and unable to walk more than 5 minutes I get back into bed and find myself becoming incredibly unwell in the coming hours. My fever reached about 40C at one point, we were unable to eat anything and were only able to move between the toilet and the bed. The next day my fever was still bad and em was feeling a bit better; I hadn’t been drinking enough because I just couldn’t, we got the local doctor to come over and he diagnosed us with gastroenteritis and pumped me with antibiotics and rehydration fluid. Normally I would just let it be, but there’s only so much toilet-bed-vomit-bed-pain-sick one can handle. After all these drugs I started to come alive again and managed to eat something in the evening.
So we spent the next few days moving slowly from bed to the toilet and around Dahab. Even attempted a quick snorkel at one point. After all the antibiotics I get an onset of thrush; laughing and crying I add it to the list of sickness and setbacks.
So now we have crossed the gulf of aqaba in a ‘fast-boat’, spending at least 4 hours more than needed waiting in the port at nuweiba, spending too much time being distracted and delirious to read or be productive during this nothing time, and have arrived in Jordan; we went to wadi rum, in the desert, on a “WWOOFing” program with a Bedouin family (with 10 children) business who runs desert tours and has a Bedouin camp in the desert just 12km out of town, they also have a garden that contains mostly fruit trees that we hoped to be spending our time working in. The next day we woke at dawn to find ourselves ushered into the kitchen and domestic cleaning duties with the young women of the family. Gritting our teeth at this work given to us because we’re women we hope that the next week or so isn’t going to be like this.
Later we get a lift out to the desert to the camp and walk off into the mountains. It really is amazing out here, the desert just goes on and on, scattered with small Bedouin camps here and there, every so often jeeps pass by and the mountains stand ominous and magnificent. But the feelings I get when I am in the Australian desert, wandering about not knowing where I am or what may have happened here, the feelings that are that full bodied gut feelings of homeland connections don’t follow through when looking at foreign beauty. It is still amazing, but it is just “wow” and not more. Maybe spending more time here, learning about it from non-business minded Bedouins would give me some more knowledge and understanding/connection, but for now it remains unknown, still beautiful and amazing, but not inside my skin.
We spent a day out there cleaning the tents, beating out the mattresses after an unusual rainfall overnight; after snoozing in the noonday heat and we walk over to a mountain in sight, there are springs in these mountains, trees growing out from here and there, dry river beds reminding me of home; times spent driving in uncle kev’s car guessing where the underground bodies of water lie.. “whadyya reckon? Here?” he points to significant shrub and other plant growth…”ohh I dunno kev..could be…”
Later we’re fed by a Sudanese cook who has left his wife and three children to come here to work for 5 months now. We hope that the rest of the days here won’t be spent so slowly; but perhaps we need to remind ourselves of our geographical location and just let it be slow.
In the evening we ask about the land, looking for some stories, about history of the people here, what connections remain, what the soil contains in the memories of the present living. But not much response from this business minded Bedouin “some questions I don’t have an answer for, the places are just like this because of him (points upwards), and that’s it”.
“good morning, breakfast, ok? Cook cook” mohammed sudan gives us his wake up call at 7am- we dress and move into the food tent for sweet shay, ful, tahina & halva. Once in rum village we insist that we want to work in the garden, to get the water working and bring some goat poo to use mix with some mulch to feed the trees.
The garden is located in between and at the bottom of several mountains just a 10 minute walk from town; it’s about 1 acre and consists of mostly olive trees, also some apricot trees and grapevines, also some desert herbs. The next two days there we spend trying to reconnect the hosing which is connected to a spring in the mountains that feeds the garden; the hosing is often disconnected by members of the village who go there to fill their own trucks with water. We bring out some goat poo on our backs from the village just to make us feel like we’ve actually done some ‘real work’ in this idle time of travel and exploration. The tank hasn’t filled due to poor water pressure and many leaks we can’t find so we can’t water the garden. During our day in the sun in the garden em is having constant head spins, it gets worse at night and when she wakes she can’t walk very far without feeling very sick; after seeing the doctor today we find that she has flarengitis, nothing serious, but another setback; it seems that every time we plan to do something like a ‘tour’ we are hit by constant setbacks of sickness and accidents; perhaps we are just not meant to do touristy things. So due to this minor glitch we caught a taxi to Wadi Musa, near Petra, check into a hotel with a tv so I can watch al-jazeera and feel connected to the madness in the world. While em is resting, I am typing and a rooster is crowing (it’s 4:41pm). Once em has recovered we shall attempt to succeed in minimal cost tourist activities and then attempt to make our way back to cairo by the 14th of may for a human rights in the middle east conference, before heading to gaza with another Codepink delegation in late may to put pressure on the Israeli and Egyptian governments to end the blockade of the borders, also to bring aid for the children, and continue to support the people of gaza. I am tentatively going to be in Gaza for about a month working on a doco with NY photographer Paul Park. more to come on this.
more to come when there is more to say.
x : jess