Wednesday, December 12, 2001

This entry is dedicated to the memory of "Amoury", a Frenchard who likely lost everything during a vigorous stripsearch at the Egypt-Israel border.

Here I am then, finally getting off my ass and moving from Cairo. And into Tel Aviv. I was beginning to get scarily settled in Cairo, building up a little routine that went something like "get up, buy two little pizzas from the bakery round the corner, achieve a minor goal for the day, buy the cheap but filling koshary from the koshary place round the corner, sit about talking, go to sleep". It was a cheap existence, but ultimately one which was going nowhere, and so the incentive of meeting with Arnon and Rinat and hiking forced me to break the cycle I'd entered into.

And so I've moved from Cairo to Tel Aviv and it occurred to me as I did this that it was the first time I've travelled alone. Almost four months with Simon there, and even the last week with Simon gone I was effectively travelling with the Spaniard Susannah, but this time I was by myself. It's a strange feeling really. Part exciting, part scary but for the most part just different.

Even so, I still wasn't really alone, not until actually getting to the Tel Aviv hostel. The Liverpool guy, Andrew, who'd I'd been sharing a room with in the Cairo hotel was leaving Cairo likewise, getting a 10pm train to Aswan (as opposed to my 10pm bus to Taba on the Egypt-Israel border). So we got a taxi together which I'm hoping wasn't an error on his part because although I was delivered to the bus station with several minutes to spare, the near-stationary traffic situation meant that it would have been very tight for him arriving at the train station on time.

Ok, so I got there, got my ticket and found out where my bus was supposed to be waiting (Egypt doesn't believe in bus stop markings - you just have to ask around and figure out which kerb to stand at). Near where I stood was a fellow white guy, dressed a lot smarter than me, hopping from foot to foot edgily. He saw me and we got talking.

He turned out to be a curious one, certainly, and our conversation spilled over into the bus. He was a Frenchard, a journalist who'd been spending the last five or so years of his life in Arab countries. Including Iraq, and he had two visas in his passport to prove it. Iraq was in a bad way, you won't be surprised to hear. He'd been living in the "asshole of Baghdad" as he succinctly phrased it. His name was something ludicrously French like Amoury, according to his passport anyway.

It didn't take me too long to realise that Amoury was a little eccentric, as many Frenchards are, lively and talkative and somewhat bizarre. I think he'd been staying in Arab countries too long and it had begun to affect him. He was a journalist and was fluent in Arabic, and had spent a lot of time in Iraq, Syria and Lebanon, among other countries. He kept talking about the Arab mentality, a sort of careless live for today attitude without too much regard for building for the future (something you definitely get the impression of from visiting Egypt) and appeared to have both admiration and disdain for them. It didn't stop there. It emerged that he'd spent a considerable amount of time with various terrorist organisations, the Hezbollah and Hamas especially. He said he had some important phonenumbers and said with a laugh that when the World Trade Centre had gone down, some Palestinian terrorrist leader had initially been implicated and that he'd met him not too long before. It didn't sound like an idle boast.

Crikey, what's happening outside? A policecar is stopped just outside the door, lights flashing, bringing the traffic outside to a halt. Some police guy keeps saying something through a loudspeaker but as it's all in Hebrew I don't know what he's saying. I'll let you know if any bombs go off. I wouldn't worry too much, this is the second time today I've seen such a thing.

It was Amoury's first trip to Israel however, and he was feeling somewhat nervous. He was Muslim, spoke Arabic and had spent a considerable amount of time in Arab countries. He wasn't sure how Israel would take to this. Plus, perhaps naively, with him he had an extensive collection of Arabic literature, the exact content I can only speculate upon.

We spoke for ages... well he spoke for ages. Initially it was a two way conversation but as time went on I was getting really tired and so he just kept going on and on. As time went on he seemed to grow more oddball. Though I doubt it was the case, it was like I was the first Westerner he'd spoken to in years. Strangely too, he seemed rather in awe of me travelling around Eastern Europe and the Middle East with just one bag. Oh yeah, he appeared to have some issues with his mother too. I think she babied him.

I eventually got some patchy sleep but any hope of more than 20 continuous minutes rest was shattered by Amoury's realisation that he'd mislaid his glasses. He'd had some rest too and had put his glasses somewhere as he'd done so. And managed to utterly and comprehensively lose them. So he tore apart the back of the bus maniacally, occasionally giving a loud shriek of madman laughter. Searching desperately and frantically for his glasses for what seemed to be approaching an hour, but without luck. Sometimes he would sit very close to me, so that I could smell his slightly rancid breath, and look at me with a craziness shimmering in his eyes, and exclaim "I can't believe I've lost my glasses!"

Sometimes, travelling with Simon didn't seem so bad.

It got worse. We still had several hours before reaching Taba. Several hours for Amoury to search for his glasses like a madman? No, because the bus stopped, a pile of people got on and we were told we had to change buses if we wanted to go to Taba. If Amoury's glasses were lost somewhere on that bus, then there they would remain. There was nothing we could do.

Sleep on the second bus was a precious joy, as Egyptian TV was played in full force, only just drowning out Amoury's maniacal mutterings.

Eventually, as daylight cautiously crept in, we arrived at Taba. Myself, Amoury plus two Korean birds ("Susie" and something too foreign for me to remember, like Li-Jung) all made our way through the border. The Egyptian side was no problem, and the border people were friendly and pleasant. It's such a novelty to deal with an Egyptian who isn't trying to sell you something, or get baksheesh. It was entry into Israel that caused a bit of hassle. Oh yes.

They were quite thorough, but myself and the Korean girls got through, although we were only allowed a two week visa. Because of current troubles or because of our association with the Frenchard? Because Amoury was having some serious trouble with the border people.

We'd waited for him as they checked his bags, but it was clear that what they were finding (ie extensive Arabic literature of a likely dubious nature) was not to the pleasing of the Israeli border people - a fair number of which were strikingly attractive females, though I didn't notice any big guns. We were asked if we were travelling with him. We just told the truth and said we'd met him on the bus. We were asked to move along. The last I saw of Amoury was him being led into a room and a curtain being pulled closed. I didn't even hear his screams.

Outside we waited about an hour, without any sign of him. We were forced to go outside the whole border area, and I asked a guard if they knew how long he would be. "A while" was what I was told. "Several hours?" I asked. The guard didn't appear to know.

So we were faced with a dilemma. Should we do the moral thing and wait for the glasses-less Amoury, however long he might take, presuming he even got through? Or should we do the cold hard practical thing and get a taxi to Eilat so we could get a bus to Tel Aviv that would arrive at a sensible time? Thus leaving poor blind Amoury at the mercy of the Israeli security?

Yeah, of course you know what we did. The practical, immoral option. Deserting Amoury, thinking of ourselves. We're going to hell, sure. Our only defence is that we really were on a tight schedule and we couldn't afford to wait for hours for a crazy Frenchard we'd met on the bus who'd brought in a ton of extremist Islam literature into Israel. We might have waited many more hours without result. I have no idea what his chances of getting into the country were.

So Tel Aviv now. The Korean girls, who were friendly and funny, proved very useful as they'd just spent three months on a kibbutz and knew of a few good ones I might like. So that's something to check out. But after my trek in the Israeli wilderness. I phoned Arnon today and I'll be picked up at about 6pm tomorrow for a four day trek. That costs nothing, except food and water I expect. I've just got enough cash to survive a few days and pay for the kibbutz administration.

When will I write next? I might be able to slip in a quick entry before I head to my kibbutz and then... I don't know. I don't know how much internet access I'll have. Meaning entries could become scarce now, for the next few months in fact. But we'll see.

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