Oil and Water

Oil and Water

Greetings, Casa people.
I wanted to write something short about going back to Israel through Egypt, but then it kept getting longer. It may feel shorter if read fast…

It's night and I'm somewhere in the desert outside of a small town in Sinai.
I fell asleep during the bus ride and woke up in its last stop, not sure where I am at and why I haven’t been waken up earlier at a check point (the previous 100km ride evolved 3 police check points). I've been averaging about 2 hours of sleep per night for the past 3 nights, I guess I got tired.
My water bottle is empty. I’m trying to fill it up in a small gas station, but can’t find a tap. Buying bottled water here is significantly more expansive per liter than petrol. These are the two damn things this region is about, oil and water, no wonder things don't mix well.
Now I'm walking into the desert to find a quiet place to sleep.

The past few days were strange and restless. Geneva was pretty and white when I left. The airplane started heading east, just before sunrise, displaying the sun rising up to the clouds and changing colors outside the window.
The airport lined up people peeling off their heavy winter jackets, waiting for the border control. People in shorts and flip flops were waiting on the opposite side, for the security check.
Outside, it’s all sand, heat, dry air and people welcoming you and your business all over the place, in a manner that is charming at first, but gets annoying after a while.

Sharm el Sheikh turned out as an awful tourist trap. Swarming with vacationing Europeans, it’s full of private beaches owned by hotels, they won’t let you sit anywhere near the water there.
I headed out fairly quickly, walking towards the local neighborhoods, main bus stop direction. Walking along the highway I had to explain to every taxi that passed me by, automatically stopped and tried to convince me to use its services, that they won’t be needed.
After taking a dinner break, watching people during prayer time, in front of a huge mosque that seemed like it’s taken out of Aladdin, along came Issam.
This country started looking like the only place I actually got to feel awkward about traveling as a solo female. Hardly any local women could be spotted in the streets and local men were staring a lot and trying very bluntly to hit on you.
Issam seemed like a very nice guy, but spoke only 3 sentences in English. That of course didn’t stop him from trying to chat, mostly in Arabic I didn’t get, not going away, asking me to stay in Egypt, giving me a ring off his finger and looking heart broken when I finally took off and managed to explain I’d rather go alone.

Stealth camping is easy. Seems like Sinai is one big construction site these days, so that night I slid into a hidden unfinished building for a sleepless mosquito-ful night.
In the morning, rubbing my face, a mosquito corpse fell right off and my eyes only opened 2/3rds of the way, eyelids bitten by the buzzing bastards.

That morning I took a local bus to Dahab, a town 100km away.
This place seemed a lot more relaxed. No big hotels, no private beaches, walking down the street everyone tries talking to you. Though I was never quite sure what their motive is, some seemed genuinely nice, most attack you with their identical questions.
I roamed around town most of that day and hung around with a local group that afternoon and evening. They all were very nice people and it was extremely interesting speaking with them, but at some point I got concerned regarding the Israel topic. They all said they don’t care where I’m from and claimed most people in Egypt wouldn’t care either. But 90% of the maps I’ve seen around, completely ignored Israel’s existence, I was advised to come up with a fictitious nationality if I get into small trouble and some of these people genuinely believed that Israel’s main goal is simply to kill children. If that’s the popular opinion in a country that Israel is supposed to have a peace agreement with, I was getting alarmed.

I got a tip on a place to camp that night, a couch in an empty outdoor’s Café on the beach. Someone I knew spoke with his friend who worked there and promised to look the other way.
Around 3AM the friend started circling around me, lighting with a flashlight and making noise until he made sure I’m awake. I got up and asked if I should leave, but he just sat on another nearby couch, talked in Arabic and asked if I want coffee. I said “no thanks”, he disappeared, and later appeared with coffee.
I decided it’s getting too sketchy and it’s time to leave. Took my stuff and went up to a nearby roof in attempt to sleep there, without much success. No outside disturbances this time, mostly just racing thoughts. Well there was the rooster calling an hour later, then 2 or 3 different muezzins calling simultaneously from their mosques and later I watched the sun rising across the sea, over Saudi Arabia.

A new day, I went off for another roam around. A Bedouin man invited me for tea and asked me to stop over again on my way to Cairo, saying he would drive me there – 10 hours away.
Feeling pretty restless, I decided to keep going and not stick around there longer. My passport dictated only one direction to go - north.
That evening I took the bus, woke up, got a bit more oriented and then got some water.

I keep walking straight along the road for a couple of kilometers, turning into the sands and keep walking until the roar of the road turns into a silent hum. Unpacking my sleeping gear, I manage to spot a couple of falling starts before my eyes close and daylight arrives sooner than ever.
Morning. I’m all packed and already managed to figure out from where and when the bus to the border town is leaving. 10 minutes before the bus arrives, a taxi driver pulls over, telling me that the morning bus is cancelled and offering to drive me for a bargain price - 15 times the bus fare. I thank him and say I’d wait for the next bus then, 6 hours later, yet he insists. Yesterday someone tried the same trick. I’m waiting a few minutes more and the bus arrives, on time.

I’m walking towards the Israeli border on autopilot, without much enthusiasm. Any minute now I’ll be back, huh? Will it all turn into some sort of a distant memory, I’m not ready for that. I’m already scheming the next escape.

I’m crossing the border, they all speak Hebrew and soon it’s all around me, filling the air. It sounds a bit odd, not quite like I remember. More distant, not as natural as it used to be. I’m hardly ever traveling with Israelis, so it’s always months and months at a time where I don’t hear or speak Hebrew. Whenever I do encounter an Israeli, switching always feels a bit strange, then I get used to it. But at the moment I’m not and the dosage is infinite.
I’ve walked about half way to Eilat, the south most city in Israel, till I manage to get a ride to the edge of town. From here I get a ride going 5 hours north, 30km away from Haifa, the city I’m headed to.

I found a wireless network in the terminal. An email from my dad says something about a big fire around Haifa and everyone freaking out, apocalyptic style. Well, I’m headed that way anyway and he said my cat is safe… I wonder if the cat remembers me.

We’re driving through the deserts in the south of Israel for some hours and then up to a greener terrain. The driver and I chat. I’m used to those talks and telling the background story, but I’m used to doing it in English. I’m a bit surprised to catch myself thinking about it in English and slightly fucking up some of my sentences when saying them in Hebrew.
He asks if my parents know I’m coming. I say no, no one here knows. He doesn’t like that idea and rushes me to call and say I’m on the way. I say I’d consider it, but I already know my conclusion.

He drops me off and I’m getting alarmed again. If in Egypt they wouldn’t acknowledge Israel and believe all sorts of ridiculous stuff, now the other side of the coin is showing. The bus stop, next to which I was dropped off, has an anti Arab graffiti all over it. People talk about how the Jews plant trees (that happened mostly around the ‘50s) and Arabs burn them (in addition to the big fire, extra smaller fires were started, the police suspects Israeli-Arabs) and so on, it goes. I guess I’m back.

Two extra short rides and I’m within a walking distance.
I’m buzzing the intercom, saying it’s a delivery and then knocking on the door.
I was not expected, but everyone look pretty chilled, surprised though. All but the cat who ran away hiding, then popped out, sniffed me and my bag for an hour and went to sleep on my bed, what a strange place to sleep.

A day later I’m knocking on my best friend’s dorm room. Now, she looks more surprised… and mad. She likes schedules and if something isn’t on her calendar, she gets upset. So, scumbag – that’s my nickname by her for the next day, other than that all seems well.
I’m calling a few friends and they all sound excited to hear from me, wanting to meet up faster than I expected (before I left I rarely got to see them for a while, ever since they got crazy with their university stuff). That was a pleasant surprise then.

So I guess I’m back, well at least for now. I switched to the language fast, slower to that darn tropical weather but things just felt a bit weird. Mostly the small things, you know, like why do I have all that stuff on my shelves, why do I even have selves, opening my closet and wondering why on earth would anybody need so many socks or spotting a government flyer laying on the counter, saying when and where it’s possible to pick up our gas masks.


rene's picture

I've just read the post...

I've just read the post... and I like it, thanks for the story.
Despite the fact that the account take place in a really bright area, it looked dark to me... on both sides of the border.
Specially the tourist compounds, those places are hell on earth.
But on this very moment (first of February 2011) who knows what's gonna happen to those places...

Zuphit's picture

hitching in Arab countries

Thanks :)

I think hitchhiking would be difficult in the places I've visited, probably applies to more spots, at least the more touristy ones.

In a bunch of areas, esp with no local public transit, locals who drive a car stop (or honk) for you in the street and ask if you need a taxi, trying to make some extra dough.
So trying to get the idea across might be tricky, but with knowledge of some Arabic and lots of patience... might work.

valentina's picture

Wonderful story and

Wonderful story and adventure. I 've always wondered if I could be able to hitchhike in Arabic countries... I don't really feel ready for it.. yet.

But your words really described the images of your trip.
Thanks a lot Tsufit, thanks for sharing. And good luck with everything else. :)

Curious George J.'s picture

hitching in Egypt

I've incidentally hitchhiked in Egypt a couple times. One time Adina and I were walking along a road toward a remote set of pyramids and a guy in a truck pulled over and picked us up, let us ride in the back of the truck for a couple miles, refused payment. Another time it was dark and we had a few miles to go to the tiny oasis-town nearby, and the local inn-keeper said he'd give us a ride when he was done serving dinner, as he had to go in to town. We got to ride in the back of his donkey-cart with the greens from the farm and some propane bottles. Around Mount Sinai is a tourist trap, but when we walked a ways first, some greeks noticed we were not normal tourists and told their cab to pull over for us.

So in more remote places and strange times, people give rides freely in Egypt. I imagine it's the same along long empty highways and outside of Cairo or Alexandria... now I miss Egypt :'/