A KHAWAGA'S TALE: Sandstorms blowing in my head

Peter A. Carrigan
5 Min Read

The world has many problems, the Middle East has many problems and the root to understanding problems is to understand their context.

Take for example the problem of species extinction. You must first understand the issue of human hunger for the resources in a given habitat; or the problem of global warming. You must first understand that humans are at their core lazy, and like to drive everywhere.

If you reverse this logic, you can understand the problems of the Middle East by understanding the sandstorm.

Sand gets into everything. It will set off fire alarms and bring heavy machinery to a standstill. Sand is the enemy of progress; shifting and smothering, you must stay one step, if not two, ahead of it.

The ground heats up, producing convection currents, sucking every drop of moisture from the land and whips the air’s molecules into a frenzy of activity, kicking up stinking winds and horrid humidity.

Just like on Saturday, the Moroccan sands scuttled my plans of strolling around Zamalek’s gift shops, cruising 26th of July street with baby Max’s buggy and dropping in on the mommy’s club in the Gezira Club.

I know this sand came from Morocco, I could taste the sweetness. Algerian grains are somewhat bitter and Libyan sand is course and gritty.

You get to know your sands when you live on the edge of the Sahara.

And that is the context here. We are a desert dwelling people and the sand between our toes is not there for building castles, but to avoid.

The farmers in the delta know. They have a saying for this time of year – “10 days of heat, 10 days of sand and 10 days of cold – the kicker being that they can come in any order.

I was accused during the week of liking, too much, other people’s stories.

Which is not a crime, or is it my journalistic instincts, or is it the desert dweller in me developing?

All foreigners come to realize after a while that Cairo is a village. A story, gossip, disinformation or even the truth, gets around quicker than duty free booze at a Maadi party.

Which brings me back to the context of the desert, and those that dwell amongst her dunes.

Despite our hubris, derived from lifestyle and technology, the war against the encroaching sands is ancient, that cannot be won.

Egyptians are the desert sands. Eighty million and growing fast, find the way of least resistance and will clog the roads and the workings of State, it seems to me more and more.

A well worn slogan in democracy movements is “people are the solution, but it is too simplistic. You need to know the question.

The ebb and flow of change in Iraq, three decades of revolution in Iran, pulsating Palestinian demographics in Israel and Jordan, and contracted foreign workers in the Gulf.

Not all of the Middle East is desert, I need to add, and sand doesn’t always trickle through the hour glass, either.

I was told by a European diplomat on sandy Saturday that Egypt is not considered a poor country on a global scale, which got me thinking about the metaphor of sand in the first place.

But there are many poor people, just check the World Bank statistics of people living on $2 a day.

It is as if the Bedouin mantra echoes in my mind which I heard around a Sinai campfire years ago: “Silence is prayer and nature is god.

The Bedouin get a bad wrap, but they understand sand, shifting with the season is at their core.

As it is with the Middle East; in its post-colonial struggle for security, stability and development. People, politicians, leaders, statesman and soldiers, must shift with the wind.

The problem is to understand the wind. The answer can be found in the context. That the storm is caused by heat, rising and swirling in currents of hot air, that stir the sand into a frenzy and all you can do is take cover.

I could write the answer is blowin’ in the wind, but only for those who don’t shift with the times; otherwise they’ll get blown away.

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