Monthly Archives: November 2011

Nasty turn

It has been a day of people heading for Tahrir, either physically or in spirit. The call went out for a million to join the demonstration and streams of Egyptians headed down the surrounding streets to the square. I passed students, doctors, middle aged couples and businessmen in suits all walking quietly and purposefully.

We’ve been watching and experiencing the build of tension and drama, since the first peaceful demonstration on Friday to the gassing, beating and deaths of the last 3 days.

Yesterday. I went down to the square mid-morning with my colleague here, Nick.

I wanted to see what it was like and at that time it was pretty quiet but with lots of restless eddies of people. We quickly got surrounded by a group of teenage boys, who got out of hand. I was thoroughly manhandled and got a bit of a scare really. A quick lesson in crowd mentality. We got pulled out by some older Egyptian men, and no harm done.

Talking to people, they all want progress and they all want the elections to go ahead. EVERYONE says they are going to vote. The desire for some sort of system to be put in, so that Egypt can get on with dealing with the real problems it faces, is universal. Two words in Arabic that you hear above all others here are Nizam – which means system and Thiqqa – which means trust.

The general who holds power here, Tantawi, responded to the demands of the demonstrators tonight. He offered a firm date for Presidential elections, and a referendum on the immediate transfer of power if demanded.

It’s not clear yet – as crowds still fill the square – if this will be enough. For me, it is off back to blighty tomorrow and the peace of the Peak District! I’ll be watching closely, though, and hoping the Egyptian people get the good government they deserve.

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Images from Tahrir

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in the middle of the second revolution

All kicking off

Scene from last night

Demonstrator faces police

Today we are unable to get in to work. The TV building is a focus for demonstration and there is anger over the way that the media has been portraying what happened in Tahrir last night.

Added to that our Egyptian colleagues are all working on the story and do not have time for our training programme – which is more than understandable.

So, we are waiting to see what happens next. Yesterday afternoon, the police tried to break up a sit in on the square which was a hangover from the huge, peaceful demonotration on Friday. An armed vehicle was set on fire and then things escalated. Police and demonstrators clashed both in the square and surrounding streets. Paul, one of our fellow trainers was caught up when he was going to the metro and a crowd with knives rushed past him. Shots were fired.

Overnight, two people were killed and over six hundred injured.

We had spent yesterday with the journalists of the Egyptian broadcaster, ERTU, talking to them about election coverage and how to work towards free and fair reporting. They face dozens of problem from lack of accurate information to how to cover the violence that we are seeing today.

The TV station itself has a military presence around it. Barbed wire surrounds the building and there are armoured vehicles parked outside reception. It has been the scene of big demonstrations.

Talking to ordinary Egyptians, they are worried about the future. Everyone I have spoken to is going to vote – and a for lots of different parties. Most said that they had chosen their party because it was “organised” and there is a really strong desire for organisation in the face of what many see as potential chaos. When I ask why people, choose certain candidates, the main reason is that they are mukhlis which means sincere or honest.

So, now we wait and see what happens and hope that tomorrow we will get a chance to resume.

From the protests

50,000 people gathered in Tahrir Square in Cairo today to protest against proposed changes to the constitution. There is no doubt that Egyptians are worried about the future but this huge demonstration felt like a nice family day out.

All ages were in the square – from the very old being helped by their relatives to children enjoying the drama hugely.

Everyone had their cameras out and were taking group shots and shots of themselves in the crowd for posterity. The two lions that flank the bridge into the square were very, very popular.

Street sellers were doing a roaring trade. roasted sweet potatoes, flags at 30p a go, and pleated paper hats were the best buys.

The crowds were incredibly friendly. I got welcomed to Egypt at least 100 times and no-one questioned why I was standing in the middle of the square with my tiny tourist camera.

As the elections approach and the pressure for things to actually change and progress increases, I hope the spirit of Tahrir carries on.

Postscript: A day later and as I leave the ERTU building after our first training session,  residual protestors in the square set fire to an armoured vehicle. The nervous group of young soldiers outside the TV building are trying out their tazers.

Bagpipes and Blisters

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This morning I watched the last of my blackened toenails drop off and swish down the plug in the shower. Time to write about the adventure that was… Scotland Coast to Coast

The story actually begins in Namibia on the border with South Africa in a beautiful place called Felix Unite. We were on a rest day from the Tour D’Afrique. So, as usual, we were all crammed into the internet cafe, eating chocolate and catching up with home. I was feeling relaxed and, as it turned out, vulnerable to ridiculous ideas.  Hence when Paul Spencer, God amongst Men, turned round and said, “Alice, you’re Scottish, let’s race across the Highlands when we get back. ” I said yes, thinking September is a long way away. In my defence so did Liam, Dennis, Chris F, Sam and a host of others….

Scroll forward to September 17th at 7.30 am in a light drizzle after a summer of couch potatoing and continuing to eat 8000 calories a day whilst doing no exercise, and it didn’t seem like quite such a good idea.

Three of us finally ended up on this intrepid adventure – me, Ruth and Paul Spencer. Ruth and I were in the Challenger category – we had two days to do the race in – and Paul was in the Racer category – he had to do it in one (did I mention he is a God amongst Men)

The race is organised annually (and very well) by Rat Race and this year over 1,000 people took part. It starts in Nairn on the east coast of Scotland and ends at the Isles of Glencoe on the west. Day 1: Run 7 miles (5 off road), Bike 48 miles and Kayak 2 miles. Day 2: Bike 33 miles (16 off road with some singletrack), Run 14 miles and Kayak 1 mile.

Somehow it doesn’t look too bad when you write it down, but the two things to remember are: 1/it is a race so you can’t just pootle and b/it is across the Higlands of Scotland so it is going to be hilly… and raining.

Having waved Paul off an hour earlier, Ruth and I stood at the back ready to go. The rain had stopped and the sun was peeking out and we were feeling good apart from a few butterflies. The klaxxon went and off we trotted. Trotted is actually a pretty accurate description, with a big crowd of fellow runners the pace was dictated by the mass. We set off by the sea and then cut inland through a beautiful woodland by a river. This stage was mainly flat, and the only real hazard was the mud, made worse by hundreds of eager racers.

First transition stage was at Cawdor Castle (yes, as in Macbeth) where we grabbed our bikes and bike kit and set off. Hills from the start. But not all my bike fitness had disappeared so this felt easier than the run – even if my legs were a bit wooden when I first got on. About half an hour in, the rain started but couldn’t damp our enthusiasm. An enthusiasm heightened by Ruth’s genius decision to stop and have a coke break at a wee cafe on the road. Not classic racing tactics admittedly but it was great.

The last bit of the bike was up a long, draggy, killer hill. I was delighted to see that quite a few people were pushing their bikes as I ground up in Granny – no matter that some of them were walking faster than I was riding.

Last stop the kayak at Fort Augustus. We turbo powered ourselves across the Loch by singing Flower of Scotland and Bonnie Bonnie Banks. Then day one was done. I had to change my tyres ready for the off road – managed to rope about five people into helping”. Ruth was amazed that I don’t actually know how to get my back wheel back on. We had managed to book into a hotel for the night so a big dinner and a very hot bath and then porridge for breakfast.

Day 2 was always going to be harder – we were tired after the first day and also had the 14 mile run at the end. But it was so beautiful and such fun that it was actually even better than day one.

The first stage was brilliant! 16 miles offroad with some nice poky, muddy, rocky single track. I loved the fact that I passed loads of blokes who were horrified as I yelled “on your right” and mashed on through. Then, lots of up on the fire tracks and a final stretch on road with the sun glinting off the loch.

Transition was at the bottom of Ben Nevis and the bit I had been dreading most was now upon us – the half marathon. We started off up the Ben at a fast walk, and that was the pace we kept up for the whole route. After a shortish climb we went back down towards the youth hostel and then crossed over into the forest. Endless up on endless fire tracks. My will to live faded. But we eventually came out onto the moorland. More ascent but with the most stunning views until the final down on a boggy, boggy hill.

Ruth reckons we spent more energy laughing on this stage than actually doing it. I would like to extend my apologies to the three men who she invited to join us in the bushes, and also to the poor man whose legs I threatened to cut off when he passed us. I did offer to stick his feet back on with duct tape but I don’t think it helped.

Our final dash was on the kayak over the shining loch to the Isles of Glencoe. Massive smiles, fantastic feeling of satisfaction and a reunion with Paul plus hot soup.

I know this will come as a shock, but we didn’t win. Paul did brilliantly and came 19th overall and we came… 438th!

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