Red Sea Diving

SHARM EL-SHEIKH, Egypt.   With the Eid el-Fitr holiday this week, the university is closed and many who can afford to, leave Cairo for their holiday homes.  So I got outta town and came to the Sinai peninsula, where today I took my first dive in the Red Sea.

Two amazing dives, with great visibility, along coral reef walls, and out into the deep blue, where some big fish came to feast.  I saw lots of colorful fish, moray eels, a sea turtle and plenty of coral.  The area where we dived was in Ras Mohammed national park, a marine preserve that’s somewhat protected, though there were dozens of dive boats onsite. 

Sharm el-Sheikh is a booming tourist town, in spite of the bombings that took place here last year.  In the past several years, hotels by the dozens have sprung up in the desert, along the coast and inland roads.  Most of the development is typical of new tourism development: there’s a Hard Rock Cafe and a Starbucks, and the bedouin-themed restaurants all appear to be cut out of the same stage set from a Hollywood version of the Middle East.  The other night, I had sushi at a bar called Little Buddha, which has Russian waitresses and a giant gold statue of the namesake, seated in a lotus position, rising from the lower level with his head peaking above the balcony and bar.  With all the ruckus over recent depictions of religious figures, I wondered how people in the far east might feel if they knew their icon was seated in the middle of the hottest pickup joint in Sharm.  What if it were a religious figure from your faith?  I won’t illustrate the images here, but you an imagine it would be quite a picture. 

Later this week, I’ll go to Dahab, which is a little more laid back.  And I may take a camel trip to a dive site, or I may climb Mt. Sinai and recreate a scene from “The Ten Commandments.”

And I’m studying my hand-made flash cards to learn my Arabic vocabulary.

Will write more when I get back to Cairo and my own computer.

Keep in touch.

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If I Were Oprah…

If I were Oprah Winfrey, I’d recommend to this book to millions of people:

Leap Days

But I’m not Oprah, so instead I’ll suggest that the dozens of you who read this blog go out and buy my pal Katherine Lanpher‘s book of funny and poignant essays about her life and her move to New York City on Leap Day 2004.

The glowing Publisher’s Weekly review calls it “A reflection on midlife’s transition and a cultural comedy of manners, as [Lanpher] marks the ritual of becoming a ‘true New Yorker.’”

Available in bookstores tomorrow.
Buy it, read it, enjoy it.

Faith Versus Farmland

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Before I left for Cairo, I had the great pleasure of working with New York Times reporter Diana B. Henriques. I produced video segments to complement her year-long investigation into ways federal law trumps local and state regulations as exemptions for churches and other religious organizations grow.

The first of Ms. Henriques’s series appeared in the New York Times on October 8, 2006.

I accompanied Diana to Boulder, Colorado, where a church is in a dispute with the county. In 1978, Boulder County began instituting regulations that would maintain green belts and open space in areas where suburban sprawl would have otherwise trod on unchecked. The Rocky Mountain Christian Church wants to nearly double in size on its 55 rural acres. The county said no. The church sued. The county counter sued. And observers say it will likely be a case that will test and define a federal law.

The Boulder story is only a small part of the much more expansive print series. We put together two video reports which can be viewed on the Times website via the links below:
RMCC Cross

A Battle in Boulder – In part one, we learn how the Rocky Mountain Christian Church has grown from a congregation of a few dozen families to more than two thousand members and counting. The church’s lead pastor explains why he believes the church must expand to accommodate 4,500 parishoners. And we hear from Boulder County officials who explain their land use laws and describe their fears of what a church exemption may mean for the region.

house cross

Zoning and Regulation – In part two, Diana Henriques talks to opposing attorneys about the Religious Land Use and Institutionalized Persons Act (RLUIPA).

A Stroll Through Medieval Cairo

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Here are some photos from my walk through the old Islamic quarter of Cairo. Its rustic streets and alleyways were the city’s main thoroughfares for a thousand years after the Fatimids conquered Egypt in 969 AD. Today, a stroll along the dusty paths that crisscross among the historic mosques and crumbling walls is quite a time warp. On a Friday afternoon — on a day that was also a national holiday — a couple of bearded North American visitors (even one with a big camera) went practically unnoticed as life went on as usual.

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Kid with Bread

A New October 6th War

October 6th is a national holiday in Egypt. It was on this day, in 1973, that President Anwar Al-Sadat launched a surprise attack, crossing the Suez into the Sinai, starting – with Syria attacking simultaneously in the Golan Heights – the Yom Kippur War.

It was also on October 6th, 1981, during a military parade commemorating the eighth anniversary of that war, that Anwar Sadat was assassinated.

And October 6th happens to be the day I declared war on my doorman.

I’m struck by how often ideas and advice are already floating in the ether before events happen (it’s as if the writers of the Truman Show: Cairo Edition plant them as plot points for me to act on in the days after I hear them). Just Wednesday night, at a birthday party for a photographer I recently met here, I heard a guy talking about how he dealt with problems with his Baawaab (pronounced BO-abb) – the Egyptian Arabic word for doorman*. He said he had learned, after living in a few apartments over the years, that you can’t be too friendly with them, or they’ll just take advantage of you. He said what has worked is to establish the master/servant rules immediately, be nasty and let him know who’s boss for a couple of weeks. Then, after a while, you can lay off the cruelty and be a decent human being again. I guess it’s kind of like asserting your alpha male status with the help.

I immediately thought of how I have been with Nasser, my building’s baawaab. For the past month, I’ve been exchanging friendly hellos, smiling at him and his family as I entered the building. He’s got a beautiful little daughter who’s always laughing. Was I too late to press his nose to the ground, force him to show me his white underbelly while I growl my superior growl and pound my chest?

Had I been too good a cop to now become the bad cop?

And then, on Thursday night, Nasser crossed the line.

Continue reading “A New October 6th War”