Friday, June 17, 1998

Carlisle Residents (and Tourists) Comment on Massacre in Egypt

Dave and Natalie Ives of Heald Road traveled to Egypt in October on an Overseas Adventure Travel tour, "The Eternal Nile." The Ives' two-week tour included Cairo, Giza, Saqqara, Thebes, Karnak, Luxor, Komo Ombo, Aswam, Philae and Abu Simbel. Following the November 17 massacre of 71 tourists and citizens in Luxor, the 'Mosquito' asked the Iveses to comment on the tragedy that had taken place in a country, and at a site, that they had visited just the month before.

by Dave Ives

What was our reaction to the recent massacre of 71 tourists and citizens in Luxor, Egypt? One month earlier, Natalie and I visited Egypt (October 1997), and spent two weeks touring the country from Cairo all the way down to the Sudan border. Our reaction to the killings was one of sorrow, certainly for the victims, but also for the people of Egypt. There is precious little wealth in Egypt and upwards to 10 million people rely on the tourist trade for their livelihood. This, of course, is exactly what the terrorists were trying to destroy when they attacked the tourists in an attempt to bring down the government.

We never felt threatened or in danger during our entire stay, and in fact have nothing but fond memories of all our experiences and the people. The family in Maadi who invited us into their home for dinner and conversation. The gentleman in Aswan who gave us a sunset felucca ride on the Nile. Our visit to a Nubian village where we enjoyed a hibiscus drink in the home of a local family. The camel ride to St. Simeon where a wizened old man pantomimed his way through a guided tour and meowed when it was time for us to proceed. The shopkeeper in Luxor who said to me "Mr. David, I want to marry your wife!" The awesome feeling of history when we were alone inside the burial chamber under the great pyramid of Cephren and later when we descended into King Tut's tomb.

There was some apprehension when we first arrived in Cairo, since a few weeks earlier, nine German tourists and their driver had been killed in front of the Egyptian museum. However, this was now undoubtedly the safest place in Africa, since there were armed guards with machine guns on every street corner, and our visit to the museum gave us confidence that the situation was under control.

From time to time during the weeks that followed, we found a silent passenger dressed in civilian clothes riding in the back of our mini-bus. Since our guide showed no alarm at this intruder, we were content to let him ride along, especially since he carried a gun. We joined a convoy for our four-hour ride through the desert to Abu Simbel, supposedly to control the speed of the bus drivers. Maybe so, but it was still somewhat disconcerting when we passed by a burned-out tourist bus lying in the desert.

Our most precarious situation occurred in Abu Simbel when we took a solitary walk to view the temple at sunset and later found ourselves surrounded by eager street vendors in a darkened parking lot. We were alone and helpless, but after we finished haggling over their wares, they politely stepped aside and let us continue safely down the street.

By the time we reached Luxor, all concerns about safety had been forgotten. This is a lovely town located on the Nile and the region is filled with tourist attractions, such as Karnak, the Luxor Museum, Valley of the Kings and Queens, Colossi of Memnon, and Queen Hatchepsut's (known affectionately as "Hot-Chicken-Soup") temple.

The attraction at Queen Hatchepsut's temple was the upcoming presentation of Verdi's opera Aïda. A huge stage was still being constructed when we arrived at the site and Aïda was to be performed during the following week. This would truly be a world class event and a source of great pride for Egypt. What better place to

stage the opera than in the natural amphitheater of fierce mountains surrounding the temple?

A temporary bridge was built across the Nile to transport dignitaries directly to the performance and President Hosni Mubarak was scheduled to tour the site the day after our visit. We passed groups of school children gathered along the street as we left the next day for our flight to Cairo, and headlines in the newspaper later declared that Mubarak was suitably impressed and vowed to make Aïda an annual event.

All this publicity is probably what later doomed Queen Hatchepsut's temple as the most visible location in which to stage the massacre. Fortunately it wasn't during one of the opera performances when thousands of people were gathered at the temple. Even so, it was enough to attract worldwide attention, embarrass the government, drive away the tourists, and eventually deprive thousands of Egyptian people of their only source of income. One can only hope that it is temporary and the three million tourists a year will return to enjoy this fascinating part of the world.

Would we go back—today, tomorrow? Absolutely! The world is a dangerous place and we have survived a TWA flight to Paris, the grounding of the Royal Majesty off Nantucket, and even a trip into Boston. Save us a room at the old Cataract and what night does the belly dancer appear on the Sun Boat II?