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Against All Odds
Date: September 05, 2006
Whew!!! Just as Egyptian drivers routinely manage to squeeze six lanes of chaotic traffic into four (scary as hell!); we just managed to turn three days of work into two. What an epic road trip! Mt. Sinai climbed, multimedia data gathered and correlated with curriculum itineraries, subjects interviewed, Ben’s stand-up T.V. news pieces shot, gear set up, gear torn down relocated and recreated again and again.
It certainly was a successful whirl wind trip into the Sinai Peninsula for our little team.
Monday, Sept.04, am: We delivered several Cairo pieces via the internet then loaded six of our cameras, two computers, tape, batteries, notebooks, sat. phone’s etc., etc. and drove the 500 km. rough desert “highway” that tunnels under the Suez Canal and alongside the Red Sea before turning East into the desert mountains that surround Mount Sinai. Along the route there are numerous police and army check points. Every-one of them pulled us over and, with guns ready, inspected our passports, our permits and our electronics and of course demanded to know what we were up to. (I really wanted to reply; “We are Canadian journalists and we would really appreciate if you wouldn’t hold up our traveling circus because we have a demanding deadline of just 150 days to produce a plethora of multimedia material for T.V., radio, the internet and a number of Canadian school boards about the entire East side of your Continent and you sir are just one more little barb in the surplus of thorns that we’ve already run into”), but I bit my tongue and let Ben do the talking. He has a well practiced diplomatic “gift” when it comes to communicating with troublesome people. We later found out that there was in fact a bomb scare at Mount Sinai on Aug. 30th causing the Egyptian police to be extra vigilant.
Upon arrival we retired to our rented mosquito infested rooms to organize thoughts and clean camera’s one more time. (Customs in Cairo had their hands all over them while taking their time cataloguing every little item right down to the numbers on the lens filters!? In the end, Ben had to pay them over $6000.00 U.S. in guarantees that it would all leave the country with us.) No-one slept this night and we were on the move again at 2:00 am in order to reach the mountain top before sunrise. We were searched yet again before being allowed to begin our 3,750 step ascent up the sacred old mountain. We spent a couple of hours at the top, got the story, got the pictures, enjoyed the view then proceeded down the scorching trail to our next roadblock at the historic St. Catherine Monastery. Although the process of permissions and permits had been started 8 months earlier, the sluggish Egyptian Press Centre official who was to meet us with our papers first-thing this morning didn’t bother to show up until just before the Monastery was scheduled to close.
Here we were, phoning and phoning, (expensive satellite calls!), waiting and waiting, pulling other stories from our hats and chasing them down as substitutes but we all knew that it was the cathedral piece that the Catholic School board absolutely wanted. We tried everything to get in without the permits but all efforts failed. No-one is allowed to take cameras inside this ancient Orthodox Church, so without our government papers we were no better off than the tourists. It wasn’t like we could come back another time either; we had other stories also requiring dated permits the next morning back in Cairo! With just minutes remaining before closing time, our man finally showed up. We quickly ushered him inside and were told by security, “you must leave in three minutes”. (Three minutes!!!?) In the noise and confusion, I thought he had said “you must leave for three minutes”! As I turned for the door, the hushed and anxious voices of my three team-mates stopped me in my tracks! “No, no, no…Start shooting”!
We arrived back in Cairo late that evening with the products of our efforts in the “can” and with sleepy heads on pillows, after 36 hours without sleep; I suspect we were all smiling. I can’t help but wonder though, if this intrepid little team will continue to win, against the clock, the odds and the circumstances that seem to be repeatedly stacked against us. We understand the government’s security concerns but we have our own. Our mandate is to deliver on time… period.
With tourism generating about 1,600,000 jobs here one would think that visitors, especially from the media would be treated well and expediently. Five Months may appear as a long time but in the context of just four people covering countless stories down this entire continent, we must not be slowed down by this Egyptian black hole bureaucracy. Each day will be critical for us; it appears each day will be a challenge.
Wish us luck!
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All content copyright 2006 by: Mike Swarbrick