Egyptogramophology

The first thing we see when our ferry drops us in Nuweiba after having spent some weeks in Jordan (LIEN), it’s a pyramid, yes the pointy thing. But not the one that is on the postcards, here it’s a construction out of rusted metal with dirty windows. We had read before that Egypt is amongst the cheapest countries in the world, and poverty choked us while walking through the houses in Nuweiba, which are usually one half broken and the other half not finished. Egypt that we will discover seems very different from Cleopatra’s one.

"Dromadaire dans son environnement naturel." "Camel in his natural environment."

From the big rock pyramid to the small rusted metal pyramid. What happened?

After having peeled all the bushes of the neighbourhood in -10,000 (more or less hé), the hunters-gatherers started to think that it wouldn’t be so much of a bad idea to settle down for a little while. So they invented agriculture followed by writing, to start many empires and to change Pharaoh often, to get invaded by the Persians, the Ottomans and co, and to build some pyramids, like the well known Gizah ones in -2,500. We will let you read the history of Ancient Egypt for those who want to know more in detail.

The control of the Ottoman Empire ends in 1914 and the country falls under a British Protectorate, until Nasser forces King Farouk during the 1952 revolutions to leave the power. Nasser has been a great actor of this time dreaming of a bigger unity of Arabic states (Pan-Arabism) and the motor of a strong liberalisation wave for Egypt. Very authoritarian, which is something that has often been reproached to him, he managed to implement many reforms concerning among others education, the status of women, social care, or nationalisation of big companies like the Suez channel. At the end of his term, which happens to be his death as well (yeah man, you shouldn’t overstress like that), the economic situation in Egypt is critical and the country is far from being out of poverty, but it became in the meantime the Arabic countries’ cultural hub and a significant actor worldwide. Someone told us that “the books were written is Egypt, printed in Lebanon and read in Irak”!

"Il y a beaucoup de vieux et beaux bâtiments au Caire que l'on trouve au hasard." "There are many old and nice buildings in Cairo you step randomly upon."

This era is followed by a Sadat’s decade , who’s main (and only?) achievement is a peace treaty with Israel and the taking back of Sinai territories. He is assassinated by an extremist. Mubarak takes over in 1981 and remains in power until the recent Arab Spring revolutions of 2011.

All these years, many different extremist groups made their way in Egypt, the Muslim Brotherhood being a major one. Since 1980, attacks against tourists and officials are relatively common and Mubarak struggles containing on one side the feeling of terror spreading across the country and the huge population growth, who like many populations, would love to work and eat a little bit.

2011 Egyptians cannot take it any more, and the revolution explodes. The constant state of war, the lack of freedom and justice, the abuses of police forces, corruption and the excessive price of goods of first necessity like bread are all factors that led to this revolution. Demonstrators invade the cities yelling “bread, liberty, social justice” and ask for Mubarak’s retreat. This one ends up leaving the country because the protests became too important, and the Muslim Brotherhood establish their control of the country through Mohamed Morsi who puts into strategic positions a good amount of the crew. But well, he will not stay long on his throne, ’cause Abdel Fattah el-Sisi has prepared a nice cute coup d’état, zoum zoum, like this, happening in July 2013. The Muslim Brotherhood, declared terrorist organization by many governments, is a powerful foe for Sisi who kills or puts into jail hundreds of them during the demonstrations.

"Barrage anti-terroristes/anti-manifestants au centre-ville du Caire." "Downtown road block for terrorism and manifestation control."

It is at this time that un tour deux singes comes in to rock the place and solve the conflict, like we are used to. Our article has to be read like if we were in July 2015 because things change quickly in Egypt. When we were crossing the country, the Egyptian government was in the middle of a war against the Muslim Brotherhood and all their supporters. For example a friend of our hosts in Cairo, in student exchange, has been thrown out of the country while she was writing her thesis about the Muslim Brotherhood and had met some of them. Egypt is traditionally a very militarized country, and nowadays, army is even more in shape than usual. Freedom of speech is not far from non existent.

And we arrive in the middle of all this with our beautiful ideals, that solving problems by killing people is never a solution, that media cannot be censored no matter the finality, and more of this young European blabla. From the discussions we had, especially in Cairo, it seems that reality is not that simple. The demonstrations and the different attacks created at the times of the revolution a real feeling of terror for the Egyptians, especially the average people living in Cairo. The seizure of the state by the army truly has calmed down the situation and improved the general tensed climate, even if it was by enchaining (literally and figuratively) all journalists and bloggers, and killing many Muslim Brothers.

So, like we saw, it’s quite a bazar now in Egypt.

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Lack of tourism and security reinforcement

On the way from Nuweiba to Dahab, “the hippie Mecca of Egypt”, incredible diving spot which made the city very touristic, we are racing with a camel who found himself on the middle of the road, before stopping with emotion at our first Egyptian check-point. It will not be the only time that we will be stopped. After a paper control in order to check that we are not mean terrorists (yep, ISIS is in Sinai), and the Red Sea opens again in front of our eyes. Surprise here, the touristic centre we were expecting is almost empty of tourists! So empty that we manage to get, without really trying to negotiate, a room for such a cheap price that we wonder if the owner is not losing money hosting us. Since the Arab Spring, Egypt that accounts on a fair amount of its budget on the Suez canal and tourists has seen its country deserted leaving the Pharaohs really happy and chilled in their pyramids. The huge boats operating Nile cruises are all stopped on the side of the river. Tourists got afraid and chose more calm places like Greenland, despite police and army doing their best to secure most areas. All along the country our travelling style allowed us to have the most interesting relations with the “bulice” as they call them there. Egypt is really afraid for its own image that anything could happen to a tourist, therefore policemen, probably only wanting the best for our safety, defend us from camping and make us sleep at the bulice office, or forbid us to hitchhike and pay us the train or bus ticket. We were also looking suspect when hitchhiking so doing only their duty, they stopped us at every check-point. And sometimes just to be real cowboys they drove crazy after us in their big armoured car to forbid our driver to drop us anywhere before reaching Suez (out of Sinai and therefore more secure). Actually it is quite simple: there are the place for tourists, a bit lame but it’s allowed to be here. And all that’s in between two tourists sites is, not theoretically but in practice, “forbidden” for the traveller. Egypt with our travelling style is difficult and tiresome, especially in our relation with the bulice.

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Aggressivity, tension and hospitality

But tiresome as well in our relation with the restaurant or diving centre hawkers only pooping out of their siesta (LIEN) to jump on to our necks, offering the most marvellous deals or tours with half-starved horses. Because we are “not allowed” to stay out of touristic areas, we have mostly monetary exchanges with the locals. Negotiation, talent that neither Rémi nor Arthur is blessed with, is a normal thing here. But the sellers don’t really play the game: when we have negotiated to bread price the first day, it will have changed every day after when we come back, sometimes doubling. Prices seem to be very random and each time one wants to buy something, it has to come prepared. Several days in a row in Aswan, several times a day, we cross the Nile on a small ferry, and every time we have to get angry because we know the official price, and we would like to pay this price. (Getting angry is by the way a very good technique to get what you want in all Egyptians exchanges!) And Egyptians, like Jordanians, will always try in random ways to extract some money out the tourist; for example when we go sleep on the beach in Nuweiba on our first night, locals try to make us pay until they understand we will not, and then become so nice and let us do what we wish.

"Les bateaux à Aswan qui font la traversée du Nil, entre la ville et les villages Nubiens. A droite sur l'image, le "Love Baot"." "The boats in Aswan crossing the Nile, between the city and the Nubian villages. On the right in the picture, the "Love Baot"."

The tension of the Ramadan end because people are tired adds a lot of aggressivity between people and in our relation with vendors. In Cairo we will see more than one time a day fights and conflicts, which of course attract the entire neighbourhood. Here, one likes to jump into other people’s affairs. Egyptian seem as well not to have the same conception of sleep as we have. They can sleep anywhere and it is very normal to wake up somebody any time and for any reason. For example when sleeping at the police station after forbiding us to camp, they were waking us up every hour to ask us questions like “but actually how do you finance your trip?”.

And at the same time hidden in between all these tough aspects of Egypt, we still have found this hospitality and kindness of people. While the European conception of hitchhiking is unknown here, cars stop quickly and we soon hop from the one to the other. Well, after they still didn’t get our point and drop us at the bus station, but the intention is good! When we look for Sharm el-Sheikh’s public beach in order to spend the night there, the first answer we get is “no no not possible”. Five minutes and a light negotiation later, here we are facing the sea, people from the surroundings bringing us more food than our stomachs can absorb, and even two beers each from the pub next door.

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Conservatism and other worlds

We have been talking a bit about Ramadan in our article about Jordan, and like there, we have been invited several times as well in Egypt during Iftar, sometimes on the sidewalk between the cars of Cairo, with Bedouins in the middle of the Sinai desert, or with the checkpoint policemen. It’s the tradition: during Ramadan everybody, especially the traveller, must be able to eat at nightfall. This religious tradition is not the only sign of a strong conservatism in Egypt which is in clear opposition with the others tourists and the expat world. While during Nasser’s era society was much more liberal, it is now trying to take distance from Western influence to get back to values closer to Islam. Most women wear the veil, and an impressive percentage are totally covered (niqab). Bars are by law not allowed to serve alcohol to Egyptian citizens during Ramadan, no matter if they are Muslims or not which forces Christian Egyptians to follow the rule. The beers our nice beach hosts offered us in Sharm el-Sheikh seem therefore to touch the boundary of law. But these “tourist parks” are exceptions just like the rich hotel rooftops which are full of expat. Sharm el-Sheikh city, a giant Ruskovland, is a big hamster wheel for Russians and British coming to buy plastic souvenirs and admire fake whirling dervish. And here Egyptian law has no real enforcement, like Dahab we talked about earlier.

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From time to time we must as well undergo sexist notice while travelling with our female friend Marie, or a classic preacher trying to convince us to read the Quran, either persuaded that you will become a better person if you do so, or afraid for you when the bells of your death will ring and you didn’t convert.

We mentioned as well the poverty that shocked us in Nueiba but something else surprised us: it is this huge Mosque, new and clean, shiny and neat, all surrounded by houses falling apart and poverty.

Mess and noise.

While travelling here, there is something that is impossible to miss and that seems to be in the very heart of Egyptian culture: the mess. This is really Egypt’s picture for us, people everywhere at any time, honking cars, noise, camels on the road, goats in the middle of Cairo’s soukh, and thousands of others crazy things, Cairo being the peak of it. In Cairo, when you don’t know what to do simply walk around because it is a real life theatre. So impressive that after half an hour your brain is done with all this turmoil! We had the whole lot with Ramadan’s end when everybody is nervous and tired, and stop to sleep during the night. So people get into conflicts all day long, or sleep EVERYWHERE in the most random places.

"Le Caire est une ville très agréable pour les piétons, et la circulation y est très bien régulée comme vous pouvez le voir." "Cairo is a very nice city for pedestrians and car circulation is very well organised as you can see."

Cairo is considered as the most noisy city in the world, and from our experience it is true! Here you better convince yourself that honks are pretty bird songs, even though you manage to get used to it (a little bit). Shisha bars all around the city are often packed and the chaos there is very organized. Waiter come every five minute to check if your coal is still burning well, and one of them is spending his entire evening only preparing shishas in an industrial way. One drinks tea, one discusses politics, one tries to stop the waiter to tell him a joke. And of course, only men or (female) foreigners.

Crossing a street in Cairo is a sport, an art. Cross the first line, then stop just so two buses can drive right in front and back of you, three steps forward, the car avoids you, forward again. Those who are good or born in Cairo develop some kind of sixth sense and manage to calculate instinctively the way to walk in order to, without changing pace, go through all this cars driving at different speeds! We tried as well but it was not always a success. And in between all these cars there is a very special specie, the on-bicycle-bread-deliverer. It is someone on a bicycle zigzagging through the cars (which is already an exploit), but at the same time carrying on his head a 3-meters long wooden mesh holding a bread pyramid. It allows the bread to cool down and for the delivery man not to burn himself on the way from the bakery to the place he has to bring it.

"J'ai jamais vu quelqu'un distribuer autant de pains à la fois." "Who wants sooooome breaaaad???"

This is our article about Egypt, article written with quite some hindsight as we were there more than seven months ago!

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Jordanie 2/2 – Lost in the landscapes

Hey hey, all good? Here is our second article about Jordan in the continuity of the first one. Still at the first person telling, mix of our personnalities, we tried as good as we could to integrate our thoughts and feelings of the country in the story of our journey.

Since we are in Dana, the valley is teasing us. We decide to walk a loop and come back some days later to the village where we left the useless equipment. After shopping is done we start to walk down the valley. It is a bit too much for me, I don’t know where I’m supposed to lay my eyes on. Every hundred meters is different from the one before, between red and flat stones, pebbles sleeping in the dried river, sand or rocky blades coming out of the mountain flank. Rare thing in Jordan, we don’t see anybody for more than several hours until we reach the Bedouin tents just before the desert. What were their tents made out before UNHCR handled over tarps or before they gathered some pieces of fabric here and there? And why did people come and settle here??

"Tente bédouine en bas de la vallée." "Bedouin tent down the valley."

At nightfall our camp was all set up, and after advice from a guide living here, far from the snakes prowling around the trees. We climb the hill to spend the evening with the guide and his family. Under the desert stars these neo-Bedouins laid some carpets and, apologizing for only having leftovers, bring us their food and a chemical drink that I cautiously avoid to drink. While Marie, despite of being “officially” my girlfriend tonight, gets hit on by the stodgy guide, I have to undergo series of funny videos on a Youtube connected cell phone. “Do you have music instruments?” “Oh my grandpa has one, but we don’t need anymore, we have the phones”. Bedouins too have the right to Internet in the desert, but it still hurts my ears a little to hear the same ringtones as my old university buddies and to see that these young fellows listen to the same shitty music we have on our dear French radios. I have to admit that I had another image of Bedouins, I surely was a bit naive. We will not let ourselves convince by our Bedouin friend who tries to decide that the “better for us” is to rent a 4WD to carry our equipment while affirming, sure of himself, “this is the program”. We are now used to these kind of conversations. Marie neither has not let herself charmed so we walk back to sleep under the open sky, just outside of our tent that we yet had pitched.

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We continue our loop trekking up the Wadi Ghuweir. Yesterday’s guide, far from him any idea of selling his company and the famous 4WD to bring us back to Dana, warned us that the entry was blocked by a huge rock (impassable for us incapable Europeans). But well, I am 1/64th Guatemalan so I manage to climb it. Again my brains gets a slap, it is too much for me. It is my first canyon, a real one, with water and narrow corridors, white rocks like waves, palm trees almost falling on you, and all and more. It is so much of a paradise that we decide to spend the night somewhere in between. Marie allows herself a bikini under the sun, rare luxe in these regions. But she is quickly interrupted by one of the guide’s brother and his friends. He comes to offer her his heart and wants to spend the night with us. I have to get upset so he leaves and we move our campsite a bit up in case they decide to come back. The place is incredible, it is full of life, and after having spend days in the desert and fought against the Dead Sea, I really fell like I am in heaven, the fresh and clean water always close to us. We play with our huge dancing shadows against the rock created by the fire, and I dive into these cartoon images.

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Next morning we shall leave with regret our beloved canyon because food supplies start to be limited. But before we bath one or two times. The more we walk up, the rarest the water, the river disappears under the rocks to reappear some fifty meters further, and finally slips in again forever. While we exit the valley I wonder if I will ever come back and how it will look like. The first signs of civilization emerge in the form of plastic bottles and shisha aluminum foil, taking its apogee when we meet a hunter while finishing our last crumbles. Now no choice, we have to go back to civilization not to starve.

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Here we are on this empty asphalt road except from a black sedan that very gently drops us in Shobak at nightfall. At iftar, Ramadan’s fast breaking, it is pointless to hitchhike, no car is passing by because everybody is supposed to eat at this time, so we do the same. Just next to the main road there is a big tent made out of these colored fabric I have often seen in this country. Under it some tables and chairs as well as plate of chicken, rice and dates. During Ramadan nobody can be excluded of eating, so people organize themselves so that even the poorest can have a meal. Once again I am surprised by this solidarity and generosity, and tonight added to the needy and the people passing by there will be three Frenchies eating with pleasure. I wonder how it is possible to hate and love at the same time a culture, it will be important to only keep the good sides.

As we head back to Dana, it is already night but very quickly someone stops to take us. To my surprise it is a luxurious car, a first one here. The nice and young guy brings us all the way to Dana despite he is not going there. He talks about his thirty camels that he does not really use for anything, just because he like camels. It is his collection, like stamps actually just a bit bigger. Incredible.

The next day it is time to say good-bye to our little hotel guy, Mohammed (a very rare name in the area), because we leave for Petra.

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Since we arrived in Jordan, and even before, I heard about Petra a countless amount of times, incredible site, world heritage unmissable i tutti quanti, so that I almost want not to go just by plain contrariness. All over Jordan we are offered taxis to Petra like if there was only this. Of course we don’t go to Petra by taxi but hitchhiking, until one of our drivers decides without really asking us that we will come to his place to eat and sleep. It is a bit of a classic trick I have the feeling, where everybody knows better than you what is good for you and it starts to irritate me. How many times will I hear in these Arab countries we crossed the famous “this is better for you”? We arrange to sneak out to get a last lift to Wadi Musa laying right next the archaeological site. Jordan is a Bedouin country so no worries to camp, but still now there is some challenge as we are in the most touristic place of the country. In roughly two seconds a guy managing a small snack comes to us and pays us a tea followed by a meal. Thousands of phone calls later and 500 “yes-yes-no worries-my-cousin-is-arriving-to-pick-you-up-ah-no-actually-it-will-not-be-my-cousin-but-my-friend”, we are sitting in his brother house who has a good ex-prisoner’s face. Jordanians, besides being the nicest and hospitable people in the world, are sometimes a bit pushy and oppressing. Here it is the opposite: take a seat, have a tea, I’ll do my business and I come back every half-hour to see if you don’t need anything. Everybody a bit in his world, each of us laying on the floor sofa, we sink one by one into our dreams.

Petra the pink, Petra the gorgeous, Petra the unmissable, Petra the super mega expensive. Too much for our budget. Jordanians explain us that entry fee is that expensive because many tourists only come to Jordan to see Petra and otherwise stay in Israel, so some don’t even spend a peseta in the country. The site is huuge and luckily for us, poor people, is not fenced. The three of us try the different canyons to get in, we unclimb, we jump, until at the corner of one of them we get a glimpse of a small carved image that amazes us and comes confirm that we did not do all this walking for nothing.

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As good VIP, we arrive from behind and I quickly go to loose myself in the pink rock houses. They told me unmissable, and I have to admit it is true. Especially in these times! The daily several thousands of tourists have been scared since the start of the Syrian war and it is low season: we are around fifty in this vast place. Having Petra for ourselves is not bad, we thank all the people scared by their TV’s, despite Jordan maybe being the safest country in the Middle East. Proud as a French rooster I leave in the end of the day the beautiful Petra through the main gate with a mocking wink to the tourism police.

Another funny thing is that all the hawkers, organizing camel or donkeys tours, are dressed as Jack Sparrow. Yeah yeah, like in the movie. Don’t ask why…

Jordan’s second “must” is Wadi Rum, the Rum valley. I mean, I think this is the right translation, I have to check. Not easy to reach hitchhiking but I decide not to talk bad about tourists anymore because it is some of them who stop and bring us there. We walk a bit further from the last village until the spring right where the desert starts. Boh, and what a desert. Red, thin sand, a corridor spreading to the infinite surrounded by hills and bare mountains. Arrived at the spring we put camp under the only available tree.

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Two hundred meters up on the rocks we find the spring’s source where I sit and admire the desert which distances are hard to estimate. And then little by little I see dots in the far growing and growing. These are not people, these are not cars. Camels! I run down the rocks (taking care of my safety as promised mummy) and arrive just in time to talk with a Bedouin who came to check on his beasts. Those live in semi-freedom and come about once a week to the spring to drink, the rest of the time hanging around the desert looking for drugs. Euh no food. When time comes where camels would like to go further to find food, the owner clog them so they cannot go too far. I imagine quite well Momo taking out his new Samsung to call Ahmed when he his camels “oh Habibi I saw your camels, they are on the way to the trough”. Under the moonshine in the middle of our conversations we see big specters walking swaying to the water trough. All night different camel processions will come with cuUuUute babies. After not having filled their hump but just their belly, because it is a legend that it is their water tank, the specters’ caravan fades again in the sand. A magic moment, we really arrived at the right time.

"On observe des chameaux qui viennent à toute heure du jour ou de la nuit s'abreuver, avant de repartir pour une bonne semaine." "We observe camels that come night and day to drink, before going back for another week."

Moving during day time is a mission only hyper trained secret agent elite camels can fulfill but still we try to cross to the other side. I would have sworn that the mountain over there was only ten minutes away. Walking in the desert is actually quite spiritual. One feels so small, crushed by the heat and the immensity, every step not really making you go forward, so I empty my soul and let myself getting absorbed by the sand.

"Marie dans le sable." "Marie in the sand."

Our final stage is Aqaba that we reach thanks to two technicians passing in Wadi Rum to check the cell-phone antennas. It seems like an evidence for them to invite us for dinner at the driver’s home. Our host goes carefully hide his wife so that we, foreign men, cannot see her. While Marie was invited several times to talk with our different hosts’ wifes, we as men, have only had very few interactions with the other gender. They then take us to the southern beach so we can spend the night there, I don’t say no to the offer. It is incredible that it is possible in Jordan to squat, camp or sleep wherever, people don’t care or better, are happy about it. There is wind but I start to be an expert in all-weather-proof shelters. Three days long we will squat this beach where men can, Ô folie, swim topless without risking a general panic attack in the crowd. Our friend keeping the neighbor little shop takes us for snorkeling trips. Even in the water it is not us that choose what we see and how long. “So we are going to see this coral, and then this coral, this is better for you”. Too bad because if the Red Sea corals are astonishing, we have the feeling to overlook everything, our guide leading the tempo. And of course, Marie who is a woman, thus weak, must not drop our guide’s arm because he decided that she cannot swim well. I’m really perplex. How can people be so nice, and at the same time not leave freedom to others and reduce the women’s condition like this?

"En route pour le Wadi Rum." "On the way to Wadi Rum."

Two kilometers further a big marina for rich Thomascookians has been build. Another universe, other rules. When I arrived in Jordan, I thought it was a country where alcohol was flowing in torrents which surprised me a lot. Actually I think that people where drinking the country’s reserve before the month of Ramadan when it becomes almost impossible to get some. But this marina is not Jordan, it is ghetto for rich and there the shop does not have restriction on alcohol selling.

Before taking the ferry we spend the night on the city center beach, overcrowded during Ramadan. Everybody lives at night in this month. But nobody comes to wake up the three Frenchies installed there to sleep. We wake up with the first sunbeams to take the ferry to Egypt, the rest is another story!

Kiss from Arthurémi. And from Marie as well, though we did not ask.

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Jordan 1/2 – Fish in the desert

Hey pieces of ham and vegetarians sausages. Two month and a half only after we left Jordan, it is with outrecuidance and oronymie that we offer you the first part of our Jordanian adventures. We decided to change a little our writing style and to juggle with the personal pronouns, mixing our points of view into one character.

Until I’m dropped at the Israeli-Jordanian border, everything was fine. From there it became a huge party of mistakes, of offices and queues, of border policemen slightly stupid that stamp my passport despite that I asked forty times to have the stamp on a separate paper. At the exit it is the fair of taxis all over the place, the famous “border effect”. I manage to find a truck going slowly through the small villages until Amman. BOUF, it’s a shock! Turkey surprised me on quite a few aspects but remained in comparison very European, we were far from this pile of donkeys and mess, some roads having a bigger proportion of holes than asphalt. On each side people spread their sun-bleached plastic gadgets, their shiny chocolate bars and their dusty but magnificent vegetables. After being used, each package is neatly put in order to occupy all the public space, the road edges being of course a place of choice for the crisps and cigarettes packages.

In Amman I spot the young guy who walks the coolest way. Marie, who I was supposed to meet does not give any sign of living, so after having imagined all possible scenarios of what could have happened to her, I just start following this dude and his friends who take out the Arak while watching the lights of Amman on the hilltops, and I end up in this apartment full of shisha smoke and young males. Marie shows up the following day, not realizing I waited for her all night asking myself where she was. We simply made the appointment with one day difference.

Second night in Jordan for me and we do the Arak session again, together this time. Our host and guide is lost between two cultures, between Pink Floyd which he mimics one by one all instruments, his facial expressions following the music’s intensity, and between the Ramadan that starts soon, a masculine and religious society, somehow archaic in which his dreams do not make much sense.

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The main axis in front of the apartment open the road to adventure for us while we quickly reach the first village hitchihiking. The hardware store offers us the bread. Further on a small road that zigzag through a park, a family forces us to come and to eat barbecue with them, cozily installed on their carpets. Five minutes after having left the tribe it is whiskey and beer that fall upon us with two young engineers. Probably finding that time passes slowly when mummy is preparing dinner, they make a 20km detour to grab a beer for each of us, while relaxed by the first one, while a chill wind is blowing, we watch the sunset carving out Ajlun castle on the other side of the mountain. Under the stars around a fire, I listen to the coyotes howling while asking myself if they would dare to attack me. If Jordan continues this way, I don’t see the point of buying food.

Taking advantage of my naiveness one of our driver manages to put me aside for some minutes, and taking the hand of Marie, wants to bring her further down the forest. He understands quickly that she doesn’t want and ashamed to death he sped away while I was running to the car. It’s sad, but it is probably better for a girl not to stay alone.

The police-hitchhiking day starts. I actually think that in Jordan, half of the people are either policemen or military related, and I cannot figure out if it is appeasing or not. Before crossing the desert to Azraq, impossible to get bread or water without being offered some watermelon. Policeman or military we had one chance out of two, so it is a military who offers to host us. We take seat under the big tent in the garden in front of three glasses of Coke and the entire family extended to the neighbour kids. I am nailed by the twenty-four eyes. Follows an intense communication face-to-face, really taking off when we start to use paper and pen to help our young military’s English, and when we learn how to write our names in Arabic. The patriarch rolls a cigarette and goes in the garden next to the water hose which overflows his plants. He stands up, puts the hose on another tree, sits down and rolls an new cigarette. We go to imitate the scream of the donkeys and camels parked behind the house, and when we come back the dad has changed the hose’s position and has rolled another little one again. On the menu tonight, French fries-fish. Fish in the desert. I wonder if it something usual when receiving guests, some luxury sign. In the mean time, old man is smoking one or two more. Everybody sleeps outside, men under the tent, women and children next to the house.

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This desert is quite unwelcoming and I am not displeased to leave it behind. On the road the desert castles are coming one after the other. I imagine, drowsing, the merchant caravans going through the desert and taking a break in the castles. I think again about the refugees camp we saw the day before, huge, as far as the eye can see, surrounded by fences. With the Palestinians and the Syrians, it’s one third of the Jordan residents who have the statue of refugee.

The crazy one who takes us after is a bit frightening… He overtakes everybody, brakes at the police controls doing big friendly signs and then triples his speed 500 meters further. He gives me three times the phone so that his cousin, who speaks English, can repeat me twelve times that her uncle is an awesome guy. Once arrived in Madaba, the Christian reference in Jordan, we play the differences game with Muslim towns. In fact, not much compared to the other cities except the big church that has the upper hand on the mosque and the little fish stickers on the back of the cars. Tomorrow, Ramadan is starting. We refuse the hosting offer of our next driver and we go to squat four walls and a terrace in between the well-rounded hills that open themselves in front of our eyes just enough so we can see the Dead Sea. The great food managers that we are did not take enough water and food, which is actually good, because we decided to do the Ramadan. We unclimb our terrace and from there the descent into hell starts. The throat is dry and every step is hard under the weight of our backpacks, and the car ridging down to the -427 meters of the Dead Sea drop us in an area empty of life. Empty of all energy I take a look at the sun disappearing on the Israeli side, where we were only few weeks ago. The releasing call of the muezzin rings while we are passing next to security guards waving at us, who will not need to convince us to come in order to empty their water and chicken with rice.

"Squat d'un bâtiment dans les collines au dessus de la mer Morte." "Squat of a building in the hills above the Dead Sea."

We walk five minutes to find the less horrible place of the surrounding. I tinker a shelter against the sun for the next day. The water coming from the pipe probably had something fishy. We all get sick under a sun that doesn’t allow us any kind of movement. We still go floating with a heavy heart, the head blown up and the stomach messed up. The place is so unhealthy that we cannot stay, and this despite our state. So we take the hard way of the South to go back to the heights and leave this basin of death. I dreamt a lot about it since the beginning of Jordan and it happened: we got a ride from a woman in a Muslim country. Two students who, because it’s Ramadan, have to find an occupation. A classic one is to take the car and take a ride with no aim.

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My all body is upside down, but I am really happy when I get to see our destination, the castle of Karak, and when in the city the three fruit shopkeepers offer us a crate to sit down and to share the Iftar, the fasting breaking. The Ramadan is definitely over for us since yesterday, but we proudly managed to do it one entire day. The good news to sheer us up is that the traveller is exempted of Ramadan, like women during period, the old people and the young ones, or the ill. The bad news is that in the coming year we are supposed to make up all the days we missed. The others do like they want, personally I will make up my days maybe the year after. Or the next one.

The next day, still feeling bad, we meet two policemen clever as policemen, who decide that today’s mission for them is to bring us to the swimming pool. It’s just an outside swimming pool, quite basic with nice green reflections offered by its algae. Marie of course cannot show any piece of skin (it would be indecent) so she swims fully dressed among the cowboys doing many tricks and jumps into the water to impress the only feminine attendance. The policemen want to host us, but we find a trick so they let us go. It’s in the next village that we discover the magical technique. When I go out of the toilets of the mosque, I realize that the others have disappeared, and before I can even panic, a guy takes me to a house two streets further where I found them seating around a tea. If you are hungry or in need of an accommodation, you just need to hang around the mosque at the time of Iftar. After the meal we are invited from house to house. It’s really the first time that I meet a polygamous, and it’s quite normal here, an old grandpa surrounded by his whole family and indeed has two wives. But we are told that it is very rare among the new generations. Third day of Ramadan, third time we are invited to eat.

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Back on the road the day after and quickly a policeman stops. Is there any other profession in this country? Until Al-Tafile the scenery is incredible. I lay my head against the window of the small car and I dream looking at those mountains passing by. They are beige, empty and dry, with from time to time a Bedouin tent overlooking the valley. I get out of my daydreaming when we arrive in the city and we find easily cars to get to the small village of Dana. The big valley stretches in a straight line up to the desert far away which we can catch a glimpse of, and at the start of this valley a small village with stone houses sits on a hill next to the cliff. The inhabitants abandoned the houses which slowly became ruins. Only some of them were rehabilitated and transformed into hotels. The spring not far transforms into a small river giving water to the village, the water is good.

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Quickly I decide that I like this place. After two seconds of intense negotiation, we find a hotel for one dinar each, or one Euro twenty, acceptable even for our budget. I like our time spent on the terrace basking under the sun, preparing coffee being the most important mission. Mohammed the hotel guy makes me smile, I like him as well, he spends his days cleaning the terrace and watering the few plants he’s growing, and he is not hot-blooded like the other men in the country. I like a little bit less Bilal the “manager” who shows off too much and try to flirt with Marie explaining her how he’s young and successful in life, and that women could never do in a lifetime what he already did. We stay a few days here resting in this beautifully calm place. Everyday I ask Mohammed if the Internet connection he promised us is finally working, and every day he answers that it’s coming. I think he decided to build Internet himself, it should take some time. The second group of tourist in the village consists of a Saudi Arabian man who brings us apricots every morning and discusses with us with interest about religion, culture, sex, and his viewpoints are close and open minded in a strange mix. These talks divert me a lot. For Rémi’s birthday celebration we go to the hotel’s restaurant, youhou! Not a drop of wine, no cake, it’s a first, but it’s like this and everything is alright.

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It’s all for now and the second part is under construction. Tchuss!

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Israel, Palestine 3/3 – Can I have the hummus?

Here is the third and last article on our reflections about Israel.  We hope that you carry on and that at least one or two of you will read until the end. If you missed the last episodes here are article 1 and article 2, easy!

« I realized I was not only defending my country. » a friend that signed a 10-year contract after his military service tells us.

Invoking self defence Israel allows itself to replicate with huge power. The military technology and the means of Israel are by far superior compared to the Palestinian ones, like the Iron Dome for example. On the website Breaking the Silence soldiers talk about their experience explaining that often orders are not given respecting war conventions and that civilians are not spared as much as they should. The unbalance of forces is terrific, the Israeli army is overly powerful, and if it is of course normal to defend yourself from terrorist attacks, the truth is not that simple. Many Palestinians are killed while the amount of dead on the Israeli side is insanely less. Often the fault is given to the “terrorists” that are said to use civilians as human shields and to launch rockets from inhabited places (schools, public buildings, etc.). It is likely that these people use this methods and commit many war crimes, but Israel doesn’t strive all the time to protect the civilians as the international conventions ask for. While reading the testimony of these soldiers it becomes obvious that the Israeli army, considered as legitimate, is far from being irreproachable. As an example, during the last war against Gaza in summer 2014 (“protective edge” operation), there has been according to the UNO 1400 Palestinians civilians killed against 6 Israeli civilians.

But the imbalance is not only in the amount of people killed. The Palestinian people suffer, their country is not recognized and is getting surrounded by a wall, their freedom is taken away. And during this time, one hour driving away in the Tel-Aviv bubble, David is jogging and doing push-ups on the beach. A surrealistic gap that makes one quickly forget about the rest when spending a few days playing beach racket on the water side.

“Ah this is an Arab town.” one of our first driver tells us.

“Hein? What do you mean by this?” We are a little bit shocked at first when we hear about “the Arabs over there”. But actually the Israeli society is really organized like this: there are some “Jewish” villages and some Arab villages located only a few kilometres away from each other and with very few exchanges between them. An Arab village is different from a Palestinian village because it is on the ground of Israel and the Arabs who live there have the Israeli citizenship. But it is as well another world where the laws and the general organization are not quite the same as anywhere else. This ghetto-phenomenon, although happening all around the planet, seems very strong in Israel. The society is divided in a great deal of mini-groups, the Arabs in their villages, the settlers in their new barbed-wired residential cities, the Palestinians surrounded by walls, but as well the Sudanese district, the kibbutz and the Druze towns (a surprising stream of Islam). It is almost like there was a will to separate folks, it is better that people don’t meet too much. The Israeli Arabs for example don’t have to do the military service as their allegiance to Israel or Palestine is doubtful, but it actually only keeps each side far away from each other. If instead of doing nothing they would have to do a civil service to integrate the global system?

We ask ourselves about the Israel-Palestine programs that really exist. People often talk to us about the Arabs, who are like this, who build their houses like that and so on. And like many clichés there is a part of truth. “But have you been to Palestine?” “Euh no not really or I was a child.” We want to compare it to the ‘banlieues’ (suburbs) in France where people that have never put a feet in these places allow themselves to criticize them. When you only live with the same people and when mixes are rare it does not really helps mutual understanding and does not make hate vanish.

No English” answer us an orthodox man when ask him our way.

If there is one surprising community, not to say weird, in Israel, it’s the ultra-orthodox Jews, the Haredi. They are people who dedicate their lives to religion, the study of the Torah and who are strictly following the Halakha, the Jewish laws. Different branches exist in this community. The classical ultra-orthodox man walks around with a black suit, a black hat with wide edges and a white shirt. Very often he has a long beard, has some kind of long braids in pig tail shape that grows on his temples (payots) and wears the tzitzits, kind of weaved strings that hang from his pants that is visible to make them remember God’s commandments. You cannot miss them. The women also have an official clothing style, not really sexy, going along with a quite ugly hair cut. They are spending their time pushing pushchairs. Pushchairs, pushchairs, pushchairs everywhere, the orthodox Jews are making many many children and the families with ten kids and more are not rare. They live recluse in neighbourhoods or entire cities, the children are going to specials schools. They meet only people from their community and are only learning the Torah, oh yes, no Mathematics or English for these little orthodoxes. It then becomes difficult to get out of this system in which their thoughts are completely focused in one narrow direction. And the people who have the courage to get away from that end up completely lost, to find a job for example, because they lack so many skills. Hearing somebody telling us “no English” in a country where everybody speaks perfectly English is a bit weird.

With an early marriage and an immoderate number of kids by couple, it is easy to see how the Jewish orthodox population is growing and how important it becomes for the Israeli government to win the votes of this community. This part of the population that is dedicating their lives to God and the reading of the Torah is a problem that impacts the rest of the Israelis. Since they are not working they live from the help of the State, especially the child benefit, while doing some arrangement in between their very closed network. With a little signature from the rabbi, they don’t have to do the military service. But well, they already have a quite high dose of brain washing from their life style and religion, it’s maybe enough.

To the ghetto-phenomenon we talked about earlier about the Arabs, we need of course to add the ultra-orthodoxes who are a perfect illustration of it.

Don’t hitchhike with Arabs car” tell us approximately 10,000 Israelis.

The Israelis are afraid, they are afraid of the Palestinians, they are afraid of rockets. Often when we are talking about our trip and we are saying that we want to go to Palestine, Jordan or Egypt, they think we are crazy, they tell us that we are going to get murdered. Every Israelis repeat to us that we should never go inside an Arab car when we are hitchhiking, those same Israelis who have never been to Palestine.

This fear make us often laugh, and is completely out of step with our hitchhiking experience in Israel, where it’s not rare that a young women give a ride to the two bearded guy we are, at night, on a small road. It never or very rarely happens in Europe.

Today we celebrate the day when Jerusalem got captured. Should I say captured or liberated ?” “Well it depends of the point of view” we answer to an Israeli teenager not sure of his French.

Jerusalem is one of the main disagreement point of the conflict. High place of many religious streams, Jerusalem hosts tourists and pilgrims from the whole world. 1967 following the Six Days War Israel took over the control of all the city, and every year the ultra-nationalists Jews happily remember it to everybody in a giant manifestation during Yom Yerushalayim, the day of Jerusalem. Of course, the Palestinians don’t agree with this occupation. While Jerusalem could be a place where every religion live in peace, it is instead the demonstration of the inability of some men to deal with their differences.

It is when we ask a boy in the street during Yom Yerushalayim pretending not knowing anything, what the origin of this agitation is that he answers this superb sentence. During several hours we will make an indigestion of blue-and-white flags and exacerbated nationalism. Jews from all the country came to follow the procession in the street of Jerusalem. Some teenagers were throwing fliers asking the expulsion of the Muslims from the last place in the old town that they still really control, the Temple Mount. We have been warned, a package of hundreds of army and policemen is on-site, and it’s actually quite normal when we see that the march passes through the Muslim quarter yelling very elaborated slogans like the classical “Death to the Arabs!”. A little bit of originality would have been appreciated. Many altercations happen with the pro-Palestinians and their anti-protest is of course kept aside by the “peace” keepers. utds_2015_05_17-17_40_26

In all that mess, a small group of people are carrying roses and offering them to the crowd to cool everybody’s ardor. From both side of the protest, pro-Palestinian and pro-Israeli, people asked for a flower with a genuine smile before destroying it petal by petal in front of their face and throwing it on them. It’s quite difficult to express the human madness that we experienced this afternoon. They were no more men, only enraged sheep going crazy with every slogan, waiting for the next friction to find a reason to hate the other side even more, and if possible to fight a little bit.

The women had a different track than the men’s that we didn’t follow, so we can not say if they dared also to destroy the roses.

Actually, it was a quite sad day for us and we got home with an heavy heart. But that being said we saw the city during more normal days and Jerusalem is a really cool city.

We made a small video of the day to give an idea what Yom Yerushalayim looks like.

The best hummus it’s here.” We still didn’t got where it was, every Israeli has a different address.

The Israelis are proud of their few specialities. They all know the best address in Israel to eat falafel or hummus, and they all have the best recipe to make a shakshuka or to prepare the tahini. In the end, they admit it, those meals are originally Arab while they integrated them to their culture. When you get to know both cultures it becomes a game to spot all the similarities between Israelis and Arabs. The language is a good example, most of the Hebrew words having an Arab origin.

“Make hummus not walls”, the solution is all found for this street artist on the separation wall of Palestine in Bethlehem.

« Hey but in France you are not afraid of the extremism rise?! » many drivers tell us.

In Israel, and even more in Tel-Aviv, we hear all the time speaking French. Many French Jews, often from Paris, emigrated to Israel using the law of return in order to get Israeli nationality. Many of them moved out because they think being more safe in Israel. We often got this same discussion with Israelis explaining us that they saw on TV that it is dangerous to be Jew in France and that the country is full of Islamic extremists and Anti-Semitics. We are very surprised and needed every time to explain that no, the Islamic extremists are not doing the rules in France, and that no, it’s not very dangerous to be Jewish in France. We still wonder because we only have a limited knowledge on the topic, but we have the feeling that the French Jewish community, closed on itself, tends to exaggerate anti-Semitism and the problems Jews could face in France.

Trying to summarize everything, we ended up with something quite long and we didn’t even speak about our experience as travellers (which was great), but it will be done in a future article.

Hummus to everybody! Arfer and Raymi.

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Israel, Palestine 2/3 – Walls again?

Here is the second article on our reflexions about Israel. If you didn’t read the first one, it’s here.

I got my car’s window broken by a kid that threw a stone at me.” a woman tells us. She wanted to stop to take a young Palestinian who was hitchhiking.

Before coming we had some trouble to really understand what Palestine was. The territories are composed of both West Bank and the Gaza strip.

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West Bank, the biggest part, is more or less occupied by Israel that doesn’t acknowledge the existence of an independent Palestinian state. It is divided in three areas, A, B and C, and despite reading ten times about it, we could not really put a picture behind the words. But once we got there the difference became clear. The A areas are entirely controlled by Palestinians, and Israelis cannot enter it except for some soldiers once in a while for military raids and operations. In B areas Palestinians are in charge of the civil sector while the security is split between both Israel and Palestine. Israel’s army is everywhere in these places. C areas, completely controlled by Israel, are inhabited by settlements since 1967. A settlement is a small village build out of nothing and surrounded by barbed wire with a check-point at the entrance, often inhabited by very Zionist Israelis. This smart technique from the government to colonize the territory blocks slowly all chances to see the conflict ending. The settlers who come to live in Palestine consider that it is there right to live everywhere in the Holy Land, no matter the climate of fear that the extremists could create. And they benefit as well from the government’s subsidies to help them enjoy the joys of familial colonization.

The other part of Palestine, the Gaza strip, is a little region in the South-West of Israel. First military occupied by Israel, the management is given to the Palestinian Authority in 1994 with the Oslo Accord, until the Gaza strip is left entirely autonomous since the revocation of the settlements in 2005. With the election of the Hamas in 2007 and the Israeli-Egyptian embargo, the relations got worst and worst and some big fights took place. Between the embargo, the state of war and armed attacks, the people of the Gaza strip undergo huge humanitarian and sanitary disasters. Adding to the chaos, the Hamas has implemented a very strict Islamic regime where very few freedom exists and in which it is taught to children to be ready to die as a martyr in a suicide bombing on Israel.

After the recent fights Israel decided to protect itself against all kind of attacks, like the stone-throws that this women describes to us, and quickly got equipped with an entire and efficient anti-terrorist system. The Gaza strip was completely surrounded by a wall stopping all communication with the outside world, which lead to the traffic tunnels that were dug year after year. The cities considered as ‘A-areas’ are similarly isolated with little consideration for the children that come back from school and find in front of their house a 12-meter high wall. The roads with risks are surrounded by a wall anti stone-throws, and Israelis are not doing things gently when it is about fences and barbed wire. A bit everywhere in Palestine check-points grow and decorate the landscape.

« Can you open your bags ? » a soldier asks us at the entrance of every public building.

When entering any mall, university or else, cars must open their trunk, our bags are regularly opened for a rather superficial check and we go all the time through beep-beep doors.

« We need a wall to protect us from the terrorists. »

All the measures of protection and population control are justified with the anti-terrorism fighting argument. And it works! The attacks on Israelis have significantly diminished while people are always more convinced that this measures are unavoidable. However, these techniques that are undoubtedly efficient, maybe even necessary, are only a short term solution. How can you hope that Palestinians will calm down when they feel parked like animals? Does the government really believes that he is working towards peace when he limits the freedom of movement from the Palestinians?

While discussing with a friend we were questioning ourselves about the term terrorism. If terrorism is the creation and the use of terror to achieve certain goals, it is normal to ask who creates the fear. For the Palestinians civilians it is with no doubt the Tzahal, the Israeli army considered as legitimate. Because in fact Israel came and imposed itself where Palestinians lived, killing civilians to achieve their aim. As for the Israelis, this comes from the organizations internationally declared as “terrorists”. So is it really possible to talk about legitimate army and terrorist groups?

The engines of the terror and the groups that feeds it exist on both sides. In Palestine for example we see on the walls propaganda pictures of young soldiers exhibiting their most beautiful riffle gun.

« From time to time there is a cow exploding in the Golan Heights. » a friend tells us while sipping a beer. Or two. I don’t remember very well.

While Jordan and Egypt signed a peace agreement, Israel is still in war with two neighbor countries, Lebanon and Syria. The borders with these two countries are completely closed and opaque. The Golan Heights, an area in the North still disputed with Syria and witness of different fights, is full of land mines very handy to stop Syrians from passing. And from time to time a very nice and cute cow, totally lost in this conflict, gets her head blown up while she was quietly eating her grass.

« Last summer we often saw rockets above the farm. » our friends sheepherders in Nes Harim tell us.

When you travel in Israel it is easy to forget that you are in a country in war, and even with some long periods of calm, a climate of tension is in the Israelis’ minds as many details reminds you daily about the situation. We see fighter planes passing above the beach, we see soldiers shopping with their assault guns, we see armoured cars everyday, we see regular people with a gun popping out of their belt and we see bunkers in most buildings. It is not rare to hear about “last summer” when rockets were launched all the time. We were in Israel when a simulation of war was done, a day during which alerts ring all across the country to warn from a combined attack from more or less all their enemies.

Another interesting anti-terrorism project is the Iron Dome, smart system that intercepts rockets launched from the outside if they will fall on inhabited areas, and which has a very good interception ratio (with a cost going along with the efficiency).

Israel is actually some kind of island surrounded by land, hard position to keep in these times.

« What is this? You turn 18 and they put a gun in your hand. This is how you start your adult life. » a young driver tells us and she, for once, has been to Palestine.

First day in Israel we see in a bookshop a soldier with a huge gun choosing a book for his little sister. And then we see some everywhere, and after a while we kind of get used to it. Israel is a small country, but with a three-year military service (depending on the position, the unite or else, it can be two or sometimes five), almost all the citizens, including women, are potential soldiers. People that we meet are fighter plane pilot, were teaching the newbies how to drive tanks, or were serving in a submarine. Every now and then the ones finished with the military service must come back for a short amount of time. A good way to force into the mind of the 18-years old teenagers the message of the government. The argument that is used? “Seen our position, we need everybody to be a soldier”. Even if the military service is not as hard as the professional army, once finished, the young Israeli go invade India and South America to let go with the pressure.

The military service is a great tool to control the young Israelis’ mind. It is a way among many others that make that many Israelis are not aware of half of what is happening, rarely question the legitimacy of Israel, and don’t realize to what extent Israel impose its power and will to the Palestinian people.

Israel needs an army, this is now undeniable. But does it really needs everybody to be a soldier? What would happen if half of them would do a civil service working towards a peace process instead?

« They are lonely soldiers. » a bartender tells us while showing a table.

Because Jews are settled all around the world and some feel very close to Israel, young non-Israelis come as well for the military service under some social pressure, answering familial duties for example. These are the “lonely soldiers”, often American, that do the military service but have no family to spend their permissions with. The law of return, one of the principles of Israel State, guaranties to any Jew the right to immigrate and to get the Israeli citizenship. A melting-pot of cultures and opinions are thus found all across the country along with a certain tolerance.

« No but I don’t care, I prefer to give them a lot of land and that we make peace. » a young guy tells us.

Zionists will most likely not agree with this and are not ready at all to let some of the Holy Land go. However a very large amount of people would prefer that the conflict comes to an end and make two independent states. It actually is the most supported solution at an international scale instead of trying to integrate Palestine to Israel that no longer seems a viable option.

And soon, the third and last part of our article, that will transcend you, that will make you fly, if you manage to read it entirely.

Tractor love,

Us.

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Israel, Palestine 1/3 – Holy Land?

Israel is a complicated country that made us ask ourselves many questions. We decided to divide this article in three parts, because there is to much to say that seems important to understand the country. We will later write an article about our stay in Israel, where we loved travelling, and you can also have a look at our pictures in the gallery.

« Don’t worry this is standard procedure. » the immigration girl tells us.

We get out of a cargo-boat in Haifa in the north of Israel. After two hours of interrogation during which we get asked what we want to do in Israel, why we come by boat, who we know in Israel and their addresses, how long will we stay, where we are going after, but also how we pay for our travels and more, then comes the bags inspection, followed by a second person asking the same questions, and we finally have our stamp, on a separated paper as we wished to. We got it, Israel is not joking about borders and the fear of terrorism make them do deep search on the travelers coming inside the country. Even more since we are two French guys coming by boat with a non-common traveling story, we don’t fit into their boxes and they find it suspicious. We’ve been warned, Israel is a special country. Let us discover it!

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What do you think about this miracle?” a cool-looking Orthodox asks us.

“What miracle?” we answer. “But, THIS!!” – while showing the landscape – “Israel!”. Oh yes Israel, I see. To understand this country we needed a small historical refresh.

Since the end of the 19th century the Jews of Europe were undergoing a rise of anti-Semitism with a climax in World War 2. Jews all over the world had the desire to create a Jewish State while getting back to the Holy Land. Zionism is the philosophy and the political movement that supports the existence of a state for the Jewish folk on the land of Israel, where Palestine had settled in the meantime. Therefore since the beginning of the 20th century the Jewish community were buying little by little land in Palestine. After the Second World War the creation of an Israeli State was made possible thanks to the British Government that handled its mandate on Palestine to the United Nations. 1948 Israel does its declaration of independence which leads to a war with the surrounding Arabic states. Israelis win the war and many Palestinians are forced to exile. In a great movement of humanism and compassion, what will be called later Israel came and imposed itself in a place where people were living since generations, and knew it perfectly. Ben Gurion, Israeli Prime Minister at that time, said in 1938: “The country is theirs, because they inhabit it, whereas we want to come here and settle down, and in their view we want to take away from them their country.” (Address at the Mapai Political Committee (7 June 1938) as quoted in Flapan, Simha, Zionism and the Palestinians).

During twenty years the Israeli population doesn’t stop to grow and the economical help of the diaspora allows Israel to develop quickly. However tensions with the Arabic states do not disappear, they still disagree with the presence of the Jews in the area and bloody attacks occur inside the country. The 5th of June 1967 the neighbour Arabic countries, Egypt, Jordan and Syria attack at the same time Israel in the “Six Days War”. The Israeli army, the Tzahal, answers back and destroys the Arab offensive. After six days the war ends and Israel more than defending itself, conquered the Sinai Peninsula, East-Jerusalem, the Gaza strip and the Golan Heights, proving at the same time its superiority against the Arab armies.

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1979 a peace agreement is signed with Egypt and in 1982 Israel leaves Sinai.

1982 Israel invades Lebanon in order to stop the PLO (Palestine Liberation Organization), 17,000 Arabs and 670 Israeli soldiers die. Many will later say that Israel acted against international laws and the United Nations considered the Sabra and Shatila massacre as a genocide. During this massacre the Phalange, a right Christian Lebanese party, attacked refugees camps and killed many Palestinians right under the eyes of the passive Israeli Army.

The First Intifada (“uprising” in Arabic) starts in 1987 and during six years an over-equipped army will fight with demonstrators throwing stones. 1162 Palestinians and 160 Israelis died.

The years following will be marked with different treaties according more autonomy to the Palestinian people, especially Gaza and some cities in the West Bank which are becoming independent, but the tensions with the Palestinians remain vivid and Israel continue to protect itself. 2000 the second Intifada starts resulting again to the death of 4400 Palestinians and 1000 Israelis. During this conflict Israel starts the construction of a separation wall between Israel and Palestine.

Until today different wars and military operations are taking place one after the other opposing Israel and Palestinian armed groups, like Hamas that took control of Gaza in 2006 during a legislative Palestinian election. Palestinian civilians are killed each time, meanwhile Israel is building up an always more efficient defence on its territory, assuring a huge decrease of the numbers of Israeli civilians killed. For the Zionist, just like our orthodox, everything is like a miracle.

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Israel imposed itself and the Jewish folk conquered the Holy Land. Everything is in the right place. During that time, the first Jewish migrants made many kids, who are born Israeli, with an Israeli passport and not necessarily the one of their ancestor.

So even if the conflict got stuck, one cannot send them “back home”, we need to find an other solution.

On the road, we pass in front of many buildings or parks “generously offered by …”

How Israel was able to resist so long and so efficiently, even if it was only a state in construction? In fact, Israel is getting money from a bit everywhere: many Jewish people around the world are part of really rich families, many of them high positioned in the society. Therefore Israel took great benefit of the economic help coming from the diaspora. The United-States is Israel’s number one economic partner and is a big financial help to the country. Meanwhile Israel quickly became a modern country and is now really advanced in sectors like agriculture or weapons, hereby creating a huge gap with its Arabic neighbours.

Are you Jewish?” two out of three drivers ask.

“Euh no.” One of the questions we got most asked. “Oh so you are Christian?” Still not there. In the beginning we didn’t understood well because some people told us they were Jewish but not religious at all, or didn’t had the faith. It’s only after few weeks that we got it. To make it short, being a Jew means getting circumcised when you are 8 days old and having a Jewish mother. And you cannot escape from it! One doesn’t loose his Judaism like one can loose its Christianity and one can be a Jew (being part of the Jewish folk) and be in the same time atheist.

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It’s also of course a religion, but it’s mainly a culture, with many rites and rules that people are more or less strictly following. Sabbath, the equivalent of our Sunday, is a special day when you are not allowed to press buttons, including the use of a phone, an elevator or a gas stove. You are also not allowed to move too far from your home. All these rules come with a good amount of strange things and work-around. For example around the villages you can see a kind of metal string 4m high in the air, like an eletric string, that is used to limit the village: during Sabbath you’re not supposed to go beyond it because you should not go from a private sphere (village or district) to a public sphere (the rest of the world). There is also the famous the electrical counter to light automatically the devices in the house without touching any buttons, or even the elevator that stops at every floor for the same reason.

The state of Israel is a Jewish state that respects the Jewish law of Talmud.

Following soon, the next article.

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Lost in divided Cyprus

It’s on the 22 of February that we arrived in the port of Girne/Kyrenia in Cyprus after a night on the ferry. We arrive on the island after having stayed three months in Turkey, eager to discover a new country. Cyprus is made of two folks, the Turkish Cypriots in the north and the Greek Cypriots in the South. Before you could see mosques and orthodox churches in the villages, side by side, these two cultures living in peace. But the people in power decided otherwise!

In 1974, answering a coup d’état organized by the Greek military dictatorship to take control over Cyprus, Turkey invaded the northern part of the country and established the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus. Since its creation this state is not recognized by any country except Turkey and the Southern Cypriots still call it the “occupied area”. During the separation the Cypriots were forced to exile, the ones of Greek culture to the South, and the ones of Turkish culture to the North. Many towns and villages until that mixed were emptied from a part of there inhabitants. The vestiges of this mix are still visible on each part of the island and take the form of many abandoned buildings, or churches transformed into mosques.

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The border opened step by step since 2005 and Cypriots can now move freely to each side, but for the United Nations the island officially remains a conflict zone. All along the border called the Green Line, a buffer zone controlled by the United Nations has been created despite that there are no fights. Nowadays there are only two villages that remain mixed and we crossed one called Pyla located inside the buffer zone. In this village you can see a mosque and an orthodox church, and on the village square a Greek café next to a Turkish one. One inhabitant of the village tells us with great enthusiasm “Here international! No problem!”. And added to the areas controlled by the United Nations, the ones controlled by the Greek Cypriots and the ones by the Turkish Cypriots (which means more or less controlled by Turkey), there are as well two British zones kept since the independence of the island from Great Britain in 1960. Quite a mess for such a small island!

The only two first things that really surprise us compared to Turkey when we arrive in the North part is that people drive on the left and that there are much more English inscriptions. We decide to visit the Dipkarpaz peninsula. The coastal road we take is beautiful if you take away all the hotels and residential areas. The invasion of English and Russian tourists is definitely not a success for Cypriot nature and culture. There are as well hundreds (thousands?) of hectares reserved to ultra-rich constructions.

The reasons that make this little island so attractive are numerous, and one can easily understand why tourists come to visit or to invest in real estate: three hundred days of sun per year, you can cross the island in about three hours, the houses are cheap and the infrastructures follow the European standards.

Before coming to Cyprus, we were picturing Greece and its small traditional villages. But no! Most of the old part of the villages got destroyed by the 1974-war or with the time, and one mostly see concrete buildings built one on top of the other. The cities sometimes have vestiges of the old times but are mainly made of new and quite ugly constructions. Cyprus is often assimilated to Greece because their respective cultures have the same roots, and in fact the Greeks often wanted to make the Enosis, which means to rally Cyprus to Greece. In reality many Cypriots would like to take their distances from Greece, at an economic level for example but not only. The Cypriot language, closer to ancient Greek than the modern Greek, is a indicator of this cultural differences.

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The island because of its strategic location between Europe, Asia and Africa, between the Eastern and the Western world, got influenced by many cultures. Moreover, until 1960 the Island was a Great-Britain colony, hence the left driving and other British influences of a dubious interest. A question often asked by people who don’t know the island is to know if Cyprus is really a country or just a region linked to Greece? Cyprus is indeed a country and is part of the European Union. All of this form a kind of a bizarre aggregate standing at the cross of many roads, hard to understand from a first impression.

During our stay we spent a lot of time in Nicosia. This town, capital city of both sides, is very atypical. It is the last capital in the world that is split in two by a wall and the contrasts found on the island are very noticeable there. Inside the old town you can cross the border, only by foot, to go from the North to the South. You switch then from small streets usually pretty messy, empty as soon as the sun goes down, to the beauty of Europe and globalization, clean streets with McDonald’s, Starbucks and restaurants for tourists. As a general fact the influence on South Cyprus of the capitalist world, of Europe and especially the United Kingdom is very clear. There are a lot of big clothes companies, everybody speaks English, everything is more organized.

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We noticed as well that stealing and cheating is not a major issue in Cyprus, and even if the evolution of our societies seems to change this little by little, people still look like they trust each other and we often see houses with open door. Actually Cyprus is like a big village where everybody knows everybody, with all advantages and problems it entails. We have met very quickly the alternative scene and network a lot thanks to the very kind people of Utopia, an associative café. Cyprus remains quite conservative and religious but opens himself to the alternative movements. Since several years now the eco-villages are growing, parties different from the mainstream clubs, parades with music are organized or lunches with donation are proposed. The European influence has most likely something to do with this. These movements are still small now but they are supported by motivated people.

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Now in all this, is there really any chance to see both zones reunited after 40 years of separation? The trend seems to indicate small hope but we are afraid that the process would take too much time. Since several years now Cypriots can finally cross the borders and thus create links with each other. Mustafa Akinci elected end of April 2015 at the head of the Turkish Republic of Northern Cyprus is in favor to reunification. But well, Turkey has military forces on the island much stronger in both number and power, and Erdoğan the current president of Turkey does not seem to be willing on giving up Cyprus. Today there are about 30,000 Turkish soldiers and only 9,000 Turkish Cypriots.

There is a big propaganda on each side of the country supported by a long military service, 24 months for the South and up to 15 for the North. New generations, who are not born with the old cultural mix, have as a general matter not the same sensibility, respect for the other folk and see them as strangers. Cypriots we have met told us they was propaganda at school where each side accuses the other of committing atrocities, whereas the responsibility is much more shared than they want to make believe. We noticed as well that many people don’t cross the border by principle, some because of the memory of the invasion and many to protest against the fact of showing your passport or ID to travel in your own country. And on top of sending soldiers, Turkey follows a classic invader pattern by sending Turkish civilians in Cyprus, some kind of settlers that will step by step transform the Turkish Cypriot culture and wander them away from their old brothers from the South. It is difficult to imagine a quick reunification, but in 20 years, when two sides will be too far away from each other, will it really possible to go back?

Will ouzo ever be friend again with the baklava?

To see more pictures have a look at the gallery!

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The Turkey of happiness

After letting our fans down for two months because of intense vagabonding, we finally take some time to talk to you about Turkey.

Now in the south of Cyprus after staying 3 months in Turkey, we are missing something: food! Yes, it is not easy to loose weight when staying two months in front of the computer eating ciğ köfte and gözleme the one after the other, with halva and baklavas for dessert, and the famous tahin-pekmez mix for breakfast. And still, it would be easy if Simona was not taking care of us and making delicious and fat meals with the products of the market.

It is every week at the the big covered market of Antalya that we were loading up on fruits, vegetables, cheese and others locals delicateness like the carob, that we like to call the Turkish Redbull. It’s so easy to get fresh, local and mostly delicious products that in three months we’ve been to the supermarket only to get toilet paper. A food addict dream, but also a trap when the cheese girl takes out her smile and beautiful eyes and makes us go back with our hundreds kilos of cheese, yogurt and butter. « Did we buy some dates? No », ok let’s go for it and get enough to survive the week. A stop at Mister Olive’s place for the tasting and we are leaving with 2kg for the week to go with the beers.IMG_4669

Well beers is not really the best part, because even if the food price is more than reasonable, the beer is far more expensive, compared to the price of Bulgaria the neighbour country for example. In fact, we ask ourselves how the Turkish we see drinking in the street can afford paying for alcohol more expensive than in France with a salary approximately three times lower.

Before going to sleep, we started to have always the same tradition. Alcohol being too expensive and the city of Antalya a bit too boring, we decided to invest into a shisha in order to spice up our daily life. We sit on our balcony in our comfy sleeping bags, open a bottle of Marmara, the cheapest beer we could find, we challenge ourselves to make the most perfect smoke rings with the shisha, watching « les Guignols », a famous french satiric show on the computer that connect us back with the country of the 300 cheeses.

We were following the attacks of Charlie Hebdo from our balcony. They had repercussions until Turkey, even if some of the locals don’t really know what is was all about, only one opposition newspaper dared to reproduce Mohammed’s caricatures. We cannot say that the Turkish government, getting more and more conservative and pro-Islam makes a good job in term of press freedom, Turkey being the country with the most imprisoned journalists in the world. The way of governing of Erdoğan is not really appreciated by the Turkish we have met : he’s advocating a more fundamentalist Islam, make mosques grow all over in the cities and even in universities, strange fact from one of the first secular country.IMG_4804

When Mustafa Kemal ‘Atatürk’, literally « Father of the Turks » build in 1923 the current Turkey on the ruins of the Osman Empire, he quickly started to implement a lot of very new avant-gardist laws, like rights for women and secular state. Since 12 years now it is the AKP and Erdoğan that rule Turkey and it’s a real retrograde step for all supporter of Atatürk and the secular state. Laws become more and more strict, the taxes on alcohol raise (‘çok çok problem’, big problem), the Islam plays again a new important role in society and in the official business. In Istanbul and the big cities, the trend is clear: people are against this government which has all chances to be elected again for the next election. But in the areas of the countryside the votes go to Erdoğan’s favour hanks to the state’s investments. All these investments result as thousands of hostels on the coast and ‘gorgeous’ buildings in the cities, in a perfect discord with traditional architecture and the beautiful Turkish landscapes.

Turkey is a country full of paradoxes. But well, maybe like in all countries? When we see Istanbul, all these pubs, the squats that are starting since the Gezi protests, and all these open-minded people, we feel we could be in any European capital. The countryside is still thirty years behind frozen in time. The people are divided between a will of European integration and still keep on having a very strong Turkish culture. The young people are all putting their seatbelts on while these are sometimes even cut in the cars of old people.

There is a marked difference as well between East and West of Turkey. Our trip has briefly brought us in Kurdistan. The Kurdistan is a geographical and cultural area mostly inhabited by Kurds and shared between four countries, Turkey, Iran, Iraq and Syria, the Turkish Kurdistan remaining unrecognised by the government. Since the beginning of the Turkish Republic, Kurds are the victim of a huge discrimination, especially under Atatürk’s governance but it remains until now. During our stay in Urfa and Mardin in Turkish Kurdistan we discovered much more about this people and its fight. The cities we visited were clearly different of the rest of Turkey, more authentic, more oriental and less European. And they were by far the most beautiful cities we have seen in Turkey, the other ones only being a gathering of old and newer building made like nobody cares.IMG_1038

We talked much about the PKK, the Kurdistan Workers’ Party, organisation that leads an armed guerilla against Turkey for several reasons. Recently they made themselves famous heard when they freed the Syrian city of Kobanî from the Islamic State’s occupation, thanks among others to their regiment of women soldiers. Whereas in the rest of Turkey statues and portraits of Atatürk are to be seen everywhere and is an idol for most of the population, here in Kurdistan we discovered the other face of the “Father of the Turks” that massacred many Kurds during his years of governance. If the Turkish are helpful and generous, it is even worth here in Kurdistan! We also have the feeling that Kurdish are more aware about the world’s issues, maybe thanks to the conflict they have that make them think about different things. What does not change is that both Turkish and Kurdish seem to remain placid to many things. You can easily hitchhike with five people on a snowy road and be taken by a car with already two people inside “problem yok” no problem, or you can sleep with 6 people in an hotel under construction and wake up in the morning under the smiles of the workers and having for only remark from the manager “you are my first hosts”, or even being three guys at night on the highway and stop a truck with ease. As a general fact Turkish are very hospitable and hitchhiking is a piece of cake. Tip of the day: if you are hungry in Turkey, just go hitchhiking! About one driver out of two will offer you food or at least a çai.IMG_1146

The çai, in English chai, is a tea that people drink all over Turkey, every time and everywhere. There is nowhere you cannot find one! There are even many sellers going on the streets with a suspended tray full of çai glasses, and gathering on their way back the empty glasses that are dropped everywhere. The çai glasses are typical, the same in all the country in the shape of a tulip, probably studied so that the çai does not fall off easily.

Turkish people generally don’t speak a word of English, some don’t even know what “no” means, or maybe they will just be able to say “where are you from ?”. While hitchhiking we learn how to imitate a baby to ask if they have children, and little by little we learn Turkish, a quite easy language. In 3 days of hitchhiking, we learn more than in one month in Antalya where we go out of the flat just to get some bread. So we managed to have conversations, usually basic, but not always. Depending on the skills of our driver and sometimes with a little help of internet on a smartphone, we could even go really far. And when a person stopped and spoke English, then it was a crazy, a complete surprise, and we could eventually ask all our unanswered questions.

We also noticed that even if the radio was often playing the same musics, it was rarely the ones of our radios. And on the TV, every time turned on in all houses or cafés, was playing mainly Turkish TV shows in between the news and the car crash videos. Actually Turkey has a kind of a local mass culture. First producer of TV shows in the world, yes, before the US, there is also a high music scene, in Istanbul or elsewhere. People know how to sing and they do it commonly in the streets or in the cars that stop for us, the bars often have live evenings with Moustache Man playing bağlama. As well as for the the food, even if the awesome soft bread and Nutella is coming into the supermarkets, the Turkish remain attached to the simits and other egg-tomatoes-cucumbers in the morning.

So here is the few reflections and global impressions we had in Turkey. We really enjoyed travelling in Turkey, country in which we still have a lot to discover. And particularly we would love to explore more Kurdistan, area where our short stay left us with an unaccomplished feeling. When we come back from our trip we will definitely go in the forest for a little training with a PKK regiment.

In the next article we will talk to you about the itinerary that we did in Turkey, be prepared for castle squatting, shisha smoking in hotels under construction and camping in the snow. All of that spiced up with unbelievable new protagonists, that we are sure you are gonna love.

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