Sunday, November 28, 2010

Travel Log: Camels, Horses and Cairo Garbage

There are a few things I'd like to see revolutionized in the Middle East, of which two stood out inescapably clearly during my last visit to Cairo:

1. Environmental Awareness

2. Animal Rights

The streets of Cairo are dirty. Much like, I think, everywhere in the Middle East (with the exception of Amman that is always eerily clean for being located in the Middle East), there is trash on the streets; old plastic bags and empty water bottles blowing around in the desert; the Nile has soda cans and potato chips bags floating around on its surface.

I mean, come on!

People throw chewing gum and cigarette packages out of their car windows, leave fast food paper bags on benches. True, there is an acute lack of garbage cans, which tells us it's not only a problem of people not caring about the environment; it's also a governmental problem.

Put up garbage cans! Hire people to clean the streets.

Thankfully, though, there's an initiative on Facebook called the Keep Egypt Clean Project. They have 78,337 followers (out of something like 80 million Egyptians, but still) and they organize cleaning events out on the streets.

Their last status update is:

"Guys i want everyone of u to suggest a place to clean.. take a picture of this street or this place if u can.. upload it here and write full details about where is it.."

Power to the grassroots!

Bird in a heap of garbage at the side of the street in the 6 October neighborhood

But then Cairo, being a city of something like 20 million or more with almost as many old and crappy cars (it seems), located in the desert, is also unimaginably polluted and dusty. The once-white or light-colored buildings are literally black with pollution; the cars become dark gray if left uncleaned for only a couple of days.

They say spending one day in Cairo is equal to smoking one pack of cigarettes.

Cairo needs a serious environmental protection plan.

Cairo also needs a serious animal protection plan.

On day three I think, we went to the Pyramids area to ride horses (camel for me, because I don't trust horses), and that experience made me depressed for the rest of the day.

My camel looked skinny, dirty and she had an open wound on the side of her neck. I considered briefly to demand another healthier camel, but then I felt bad for wanting to reject Sukkar and stayed with her.

As if that made her happier.

In any event, we rode past other camels and horses on our way out into the desert. Some with chafed off skin and open wounds where the saddle or the reins were; some so skinny that you could see their bones protruding; one horse so tightly tied to a concrete wall that he was panicking, trying to free himself in vain. We called a man who was standing there to check on the horse; he said the horse had a stomach pain.

A donkey was leaning his forehead against a wall, just standing there, reaching into complete apathy.

Beside the wall that surrounds the Pyramids area, right before you ride out into the desert, two horse carcasses lay and rotted in the sun, spreading a vile, metallic odor in the noon air.

A slightly crazy-seeming man who was purportedly a trainer, was pressing his horse so hard that he had pink froth in his mouth surrounding the bridle. From the blood. He was whipping the horse to keep him going.

We rode out in the noon sun. Tarek's horse was farting. My camel was strutting along, looking as confident and unaffected by anything as camels always do.

My camel Sukkar and I

I gazed out over the sand, the pyramids, and thought about the monkeys at Cairo Zoo that are about as apathetic in their small, empty cages as the donkey leaning his forehead against the wall and wished that the whole world was vegan or at least vegetarian and that animals were treated with respect and love everywhere.

The Pyramids at Giza, behind the constant Cairo smog

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