Lunch in a Cave

Thousands of years ago, the hands and feet of the Nabateans roamed over the ancient rocks that make up the city of Petra. They scaled mountains hundreds of meters high and carved majestic buildings, tombs and caves into them. Today, it is the feet of tourists that frequent it most.

The Treasury Building in Petra

However, Petra is home to many secret inhabitants. There is a whole community of Bedouins that live and function within the old desert city. They live in the caves, selling random items to tourists and offering “naturally air-conditioned” donkey rides to far away destinations within the city.

My friends, Kait and Aaron, and I entered Petra for the second time in two days with the intention to take a different hike to the center of the city. Typically, visitors enter Petra by way of the “Siq,” a narrow, mile long gorge cut through the massive rose-colored mountains that lead up to the city. After having done this route on our first day in Petra, we wanted a new experience. I found a different trail on the map, the Muthlim trail, and with a few bats of my eye lashes, I convinced the police offers that turn tourists away from the trail to allow the three of us to attempt it.

I took off my sandals, and traversed the rocks barefoot, hoping to place my feet where many before me had. The path started off by taking us through a tunnel and on the other side, cavernous rocks and gorges pointed us in the right direction. It was a trying hike. There were many steep drops and inconvenient blocks to the path. But after walking for a few hours, we made it to the end of the closed in path. It opened up to show us the back side of the city of Petra. There were caves and tombs spotting the desert landscape and it was completely devoid of any other life, or so we thought.

The Muthlim Path

Entrance to the Muthlim Path


The Muthlim Path

It was unbearably hot walking in the afternoon desert sun. So, we shambled up toward one of the caves in hopes of finding refuge from the sun. As we neared our desired cave, we realized that there were people there already. Aaron, who had gone up first, noticed them and not wanting to disturb them, he urged us to get away unseen. It was to avail. They saw us and immediately ushered us into their humble (very humble) abode to share some Bedouin tea.

The Cave

Inside the cave, which smelled faintly of urine and moist sand, the little family sat on an old, thick blanket. There were three adults in the cave, two women and one man, and an adorable little boy with the darkest skin and lightest hair I had ever seen. The mother of the little boy hobbled over to the corner of the cave and set fire to some desert brush she had brought in. She built a small make-shift stove out of rocks and placed a pot of tea on top of it. After the tea had boiled, she poured each of us small glasses.

Bedouin family

In return for their hospitality, we offered to share the little bit of lunch we had with us. We brought out the six pieces of pita bread we had, along with a small bag of Doritos, a wheel of cheese and a can of hummus. They sliced up a tomato they had stored and we all feasted for a good hour. The little boy scooped up handfulls of cheese and hummus and shoveled it into his dirty little mouth.

The only one who spoke any english at all was the father of the little boy. It was broken and he only knew a select number of words (words he had obviously picked up from haggling with tourists over many years of living in Petra). Consequently, much of the time we spent in the cave was spent in silence.

Regardless of the fact that we had no way to communicate, there was an unspoken bond between us. It did not matter to them where we were from. It didn’t matter to us where they lived. In that moment, our nationalities, boundaries and all other limitations were stripped away. We were just people, sharing a modest meal, enjoying one another’s company. I could have easily walked away that day with nothing more than a pleasant memory. Instead, it taught me that beneath all of the politics, the religions, the nationalistic hullabaloo, there are people; people who need and want the same things.

Eventually, we finished our meal, we sat in the cave sipping our tea contentedly for a little longer — trying to force ourselves to believe that it was really happening. The sun was going down and it was time to continue on our trek. We thanked the family and headed out of the cave.



Cats and Cairo

I’ve been in Egypt for about three weeks now.

I fell in love with this country almost instantaneously. However, I haven’t been able to actually decipher exactly what it is I find so mesmerizing about this country, and Cairo in particular. Obviously the hospitality of the people, the genuine cultural character, and the overwhelming antiquity of this place has contributed to the fondness I have for Egypt. You can’t deny the power of any of those things. But there is something else, something… unspoken and almost tragic that I find so captivating. It has taken me this long to get these feelings off the tip of my tongue. Unfortunately, it came at the cost of two cats…

It wasn’t until late last night– when I saw two dirty, malnourished cats tearing one another limb from limb on a dark street in Cairo– that I figured it out.

First of all, for those of you that don’t know Cairo, ferile cats are everywhere. They pretty much run the underside of the city. It’s not altogether uncommon to see a bundle of dead cats by the side of the road, most likely beaten to death by some angry store owner or resident tired of their incessant meowing.

Anyway, these two cats were standing facing one another on the side walk, beside a pile of garbage. The cat on the left was a larger, grey and white cat. His opponent was a frail looking black cat with a swath of white fur on his front left paw. They were both incredibly thin and their ribs were visible through the patches of fur missing from their bodies. They stood there just squealing and hissing. The black cat appeared to know that he was the lesser of the two, and stood in a more defensive position. However, he didn’t appear to be backing down. Instead, as I walked by them, staring at them in horror, they leapt at one another. They were clawing and making noises I’ve only heard in movies (like Monty Python and the Holy Grail where the peasants are heard beating cats in the background).  It was after 2 am so, per usual for Cairo, there were a number of people walking the streets.  They heard the squealing and saw the two cats locked in a death grip but they kept right on walking down the sidewalk; they were completely numb to the life or death battle taking place right in front of them! Maybe it’s because people really are numb; with all those cats wandering around Cairo, cat fights can’t be all that rare. But I think it’s more than that…

Life in Cairo is a constant struggle for everyone, not just the cats. And that is what I love about it…  This country, this city is a reminder that I’m alive. Furthermore, it’s a brutal reminder of what life is really like. Life is suffering. If it’s not, you’re probably doing something wrong.

I’ve always been fairly conscious of the fact that my precious little life is a giant farce.  I parade myself around, feigning meaningful experiences out of fairly ridiculous things. I have actually convinced myself that shoe shopping and reality television has actually improved the quality of my life, when really, it’s done nothing but deaden the senses of both my mind and my poor feet. I can tell you one thing, the kids living on the roof tops of building in Cairo have never needed a pair of stilettos to give their lives meaning and they couldn’t care less about who Bret Michaels picks to be his Rock of Love. They’re too busy selling small packs of tissues to foreigners so they can help feed their families. And yet, somehow, we gluttonous westerners are the miserable ones.

For example, in recent years, Egypt’s economy has stratified the people drastically. There is a small, very wealthy upper class; a massive, very poor lower class; and a rapidly disappearing middle class. The differences in wealth are shamefully apparent all over Cairo. Walking down the streets of Cairo, within a few moments, you’ll be passed by someone driving a BMW followed immediately by someone riding a donkey.

It may seem as though I am complaining about the way Cairo is. In reality, all of this is what I like about it. Life is not easy here. Every morning you wake up in 109 degree weather, sweat-soaked and more exhausted than when you closed your eyes, you remember that you’re alive. Every time you turn away a begging child on the streets of Cairo, you remember that you’re alive. Every time you walk away from an epic cat battle on the streets, you remember that you’re alive.

My greatest fear is that I’ll leave Cairo, return to my monotonous life, and forget how unbelievable it feels to feel…