Monday, May 02, 2005

Two Bombings and a Beach Trip

It was a fair indication of the week we have had, when we sat down together to dinner at the Embassy’s house at Agami in the north of Egypt, and agreed that it hadn’t been a bad day.

The Defence Minister had left the day before (more on that trip later). The day had started with a three and a half hour drive to Cairo with three in the back of an Embassy Mercedes, traveling from North Camp on the Sinai Peninsula where we had farewelled the Minister. Then we had a couple of hours to catch up on mail and throw clothes into bags and food into eskis. At three o’clock we discovered that our four wheel drive we had intended to use to drive ourselves and the Consul and his wife to Agami had a flat battery and would not start. There were two Mercedes, including Bob’s, parked at the house, but we had keys to neither. A call to the driver to bring back the key was made, and he set off. About forty five minutes later, another call to see where he was found that he was fifteen minutes away, but that dodging jammed traffic meant that he had had to come the long way around.

He arrived with friends who were there to work on our car, and carrying the news (via our guard) that there had been another bombing, this time at the underpass of the 6 October Bridge near the Cairo Museum. I wish Egypt did not name places after dates. I simply do not remember dates, and am often confused about just where I am because I can’t remember the numbers. Names are not as hard. But I digress.

At this point, when you work with an Embassy, and a bomb goes off, all else takes a back seat. Everyone moves through a set of standard procedures. Consular emergency people in Canberra have to be notified, a ring-around of Australia-based staff to check they are safe, the seeking of information, often long before anyone really knows what happened, in the hope of finding out if Australians are among the dead or injured.

The story varied according to informant. Someone had thrown a bomb from the overpass onto people below. Someone had been carrying a case and had blown himself up, targeting Israelis. A man had been running from the Museum and had detonated the bomb when police challenged him. Two Israelis and one Italian were dead. Two Israelis, one Italian and one Russian were dead. Only the bomber was dead, the others were just injured. On local television the cameras were fixed on the scene, and riot and tourist police swarmed the area.

Threaded through this were our driver’s reports on our car. The battery was cracked. The dynamo was dead. We hadn’t used it enough. At least the last one was true.

We decided to pack the Mercedes and go as far as the consul’s apartment. He is also our Administrative officer, but this was a day for the consul hat. At this stage we were a good two hours late and it was starting to look as if our long-promised chance to relax after a few very heavy weeks was just not going to happen.

Over a cup of tea came some more fact-based information. Only the bomber was dead, no Australians were involved. Bob decided we could leave town.

We left, threading our way through traffic jammed solidly in the hope of going in the other direction on the 26th July Bridge.

Out on the road to Alexandria the phone rang again. We were still chasing details of the bombing, and the men’s phones had been taking turns – like the dueling guitar and banjo.

This was another bombing. Or a shooting.

The different stories started again.

A man and woman had tried to blow up a tourist bus and had been killed. Two people had tried to blow up a bus, made a botch of it and had shot each other. Two women in nekab (the black covering that leaves only the eyes visible) had tried to blow up a bus and had shot each other. Two women in nekab had tried to blow up a bus and had been shot by tourist police traveling with the tourists on the bus.

The whole standard procedure started again, while we drove steadily north, in hope that we wouldn’t have to turn back. Bob said one more bomb and that would be it for the weekend away.

Finally it was established that no-one else had been injured in the second incident and we headed on to Agami. We arrived at eight o’clock, tired and hungry. We microwaved large potatoes and reheated the beef dish which had been my back-up “in case I have to feed the Minister’s party” meal.

In the well fed and contented frame of mind that a good meal and a couple of bottles of good wine engenders we decided it hadn’t been a bad day. That was when we realised that two terrorist attacks, six hours of driving, and a car breakdown and are not anyone else’s idea of a ‘not too bad’ day. It is a real indication of what our last week had been like.

This morning the news reports that the two incidents yesterday were linked. The man who had the first bomb had tried to get to the Cairo Museum and been challenged, then chased, by tourist police. He had detonated the bomb as they gained on him. His sister and fiancé had fired on a tourist bus, then one had killed the other, then herself.


Blogger Helen from Canberra said...

Hi Jenny,
I have just spent the past 30 minutes or so reading and rereading your entire screed and studying the photos in detail (I would have loved that bookshop). Your life in Egypt certainly isn't boring is it? I do hope that you finally managed a little relaxation in Agami. The weather in Canberra has become a little cooler.
regards Helen

8:28 am  

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