Interview #3 – Mennatollah Gamal – The Egyptian Girl on a Bike

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After meeting with Dr Ahmed Samy in Maadi, I met with Mennatollah Gamal, a 24-year-old woman from Helwan, a suburb at the south of Cairo.

Diagnosed with type 2 diabetes in 2015, Mennatollah’s treatment initially consisted of daily injections of insulin, combined with the intake of tablets with her meals. Mennatollah was also advised by her doctor to change her diet and to exercice on a regular basis. She followed the advice and changed her life pattern.

She first tried indoor team sports like volleyball and basketball, but quickly understood that team sports were not for her. However, she immediately knew, when she was introduced to cycling, that that was the sport she wanted to practice.

The cycling scene in Cairo is rather limited. So much so, that bicycle shops are concentrated on a single street. Yet, the strong solidarity between cyclists makes up for the modest size of the community. This is how Menna, as she likes to be called, integrated into a group of cyclist who goes touring in different parts of the country once a month. She was given cycling clothes by one of the bicycle shops and offered a bicycle at a discount price, so that she could be part of the group. The main difficulty was obtaining a female bike.

Yet as a young muslim woman evolving in a traditional social environment, Menna had to receive permission from her family before she was allowed to cycle. She started by Continue reading “Interview #3 – Mennatollah Gamal – The Egyptian Girl on a Bike”

Egypt #8 – There is only one hotel in Edfu

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I’m at about 20 km from Edfu when I’m ordered by a high ranking police officer – he has eagles on his shoulders – to load the trailer and bicycle at the back of a pick-up and hop in. The night has already fallen and there is no point discussing.

I didn’t make it to Edfu on time because I left Luxor late in the morning and stopped in Tod, a village situated south of Luxor, in which Live is Beautiful is active in a school. Kris and Galal, a member of the organisation, invited me over for tea and introduced me to some of the children they tutor.

The pick-up stops in front of « Paradise Hotel », at the entrance of Edfu. I unload my gear and enter the hotel, not sure if it’s really there I want to stay, as I’m always suspicious when I’m told by someone I have to stay somewhere.

The officer leads me to the office of the hotel manager, sitting behind a desk covered of paperwork piles and an ashtray brimming with cigarette butts. The manager Continue reading “Egypt #8 – There is only one hotel in Edfu”

Interview #2 – Kris Huybrechts – Live is Beautiful

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In Luxor, I meet with Kris Huybrechts, founder and manager of Live is Beautiful, a non for profit social organisation providing after school activities for children as well as healthcare services, in and around Luxor.

As a local medical organisation, Live is Beautiful identifies two challenges the local community has to face. The first one is the diagnosis and treatment of diabetes, the second one is Continue reading “Interview #2 – Kris Huybrechts – Live is Beautiful”

Egypt #7 – Police Escorts

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I am looking forward to a day of solitary cycling, after my dodgy night at the Zaafarana police station. It is around 6:45am when my luggage is packed and loaded on Rafiki. I get on the bicycle and cycle towards the checkpoint to access the road going south, to Ras Gharib. At the checkpoint, yesterday’s officer asks me to wait a few minutes again. He calls « the general » on the radio.

The reason why I decided to make a detour along the Red Sea instead of taking the more natural way along the River Nile, is because a section of the Nile route, situated between Cairo and Qena, is restricted for tourists. Taking that route would necessitate a police escort through the territory. Besides being constantly followed, having escorts would also prevent me from stopping when and where I would like to, and would most certainly impede encounters along the way.

A reply from the general Continue reading “Egypt #7 – Police Escorts”

Egypt #6 – The Dodgy Zaafarana Police Station

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It is around 2:30 pm when I get stopped at the Zaafarana checkpoint. The officer in charge asks for my passport and my whereabouts. He writes the information down in a logbook and asks to open my bags and trailer for inspection. Once the inspection is finished, I get on my bike again to continue my route, but immediately get stopped. I’m told to load my bike and my trailer in the back of a pick-up to be brought to Ras Gharib. I explain that I don’t want to get there by car but by bicycle. I am hence told to wait as « the general » needs to be called on the radio. After quite some time, at around 3:30pm, I am told that I will only be allowed to cycle on the next day as it is already too late in the afternoon. I am told to follow a police car which brings me to the nearby police station where I am to spend the night.

Though in the middle of nowhere, the Zaafarana police station seems to Continue reading “Egypt #6 – The Dodgy Zaafarana Police Station”

Egypt #5 – Highway to the Red Sea

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I’m in the desert, at about 40 km away from Zahraa el Maadi, when I stop to picnic on the side of a round-about. I sit on the railing and watch trucks and cars pass by as they wave their hands and sometimes greet a «Welcome to Egypt!». I wave back and shout thank-yous in response. Some of them stop to ask if I need water. I think of all the weight I already have on my bicycle. I left this morning with 6,5 litres of water and still have more than 5 left, for two days of cycling through the desert. I believe I have enough, so I decline the offers.

Except for some minor detours, the road I’m on, runs parallel to the highway, separated by only a few hundred meters. The traffic is rather busy and mainly consist of trucks. I often have to cycle on the side of the road to avoid conflict, especially when being taken over while another vehicle approaches from the opposite direction. When cycling on the side, I have to be particularly cautious to avoid stones, sand, road waste and the likes, scattered on my way.

There are only two roads going to Aïn Sokhna from Cairo. The road I’m on, and the highway. Set in the middle of the desert, the round-about I’m at is connecting the shoulders of the highway to the road and industrial facilities. I was told by fellow Egyptian cyclists that the best and safest route to take to reach Aïn Sokhna, as a cyclist, is the highway. Yet, I decided to take the road as, for the European cyclist I am, highways are a no-go zone. Not just because cyclists are not allowed to cycle on highways, but because highways are synonymous of high speed traffic, and, the higher the speed of vehicles, the higher the vulnerability of the cyclist.

I check the map before getting on my bike and notice that there is another shoulder just further on the highway and one about 10 km away. Knowing that, I decide to test my friend’s advice after all, and this is what I find : Continue reading “Egypt #5 – Highway to the Red Sea”

Egypt #4 – Oasis International School

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The bell rings and the children run from the playground to the front of the school building. Classes are organised in ordinate two by two lines, forming, together, a nice compact square. Facing the children are the director of the school and his staff. The Egyptian national anthem resonates while the flag is being pulled up. After the anthem, the director introduces me to the children. He announces that Continue reading “Egypt #4 – Oasis International School”