Thursday, October 11, 2012

What Do You Do With A Great River?

Cunegonde and I recently got back from a Mediterranean cruise that included stops in Egypt and Israel.

Our two Egyptian tour guides - one each in Alexandria and Cairo - mentioned that their cities are having problems with increasing population. The cities are more and more crowded, traffic congestion and its attendant air pollution are getting worse all the time (a problem brought home to us during the nearly three hours we spent stuck in traffic in our tour bus during our day in Alexandria).

Most people know that the Nile River runs all the way through Egypt. Not many are aware that both Alexandria and Cairo have canals running through them.

Call me simplistic, but it seems to me that the answer to Egypt's overcrowding problem is as close as the Nile: run aqueducts and irrigation systems from the Nile out into the desert. Where there's drinkable water, people will follow.

I know the Egyptians hate the Jews who live next door to them, because as we all know, the Jews are responsible for all the ills of the world, not to mention being the both the cause of World War II and its loss by a major European power. But Cunegonde and I were both surprised at just how prosperous Israel is. You could drop Israel into the middle of Indiana and the only way you could tell there was something odd going on would be by looking at the funny lettering on the highway signs (okay, the Negev Desert looks more like Arizona or Utah). There are modern towns and cities everywhere, and in between them are farms, with fields and orchards growing all manner of vegetables and fruits. So the Egyptians should be able to do the same thing - and they wouldn't even have to become Jews to do it.

Yes, just build aqueducts and irrigation systems.

The Egyptians have a better idea what to do with their water supply.

Have you ever seen photos of a city in the middle of a garbagemen's strike? Trash all along the sidewalks and into the streets? That's Egypt. Except that the garbage isn't just in the cities. It's between the cities. Cairo and Alexandria are 120 miles or so apart, and there's trash on the road every inch of the way between them. There's trash all over the ground even in the city parks. During the two days we were in Egypt, I spotted a grand total of two trash dumpsters and one trash can about the same size you have in your bathroom..

Well, those same people who don't mind trash covering the solid ground where they live aren't shy about dumping it into their water supply. Remember those canals I mentioned? They're full of trash. In many places, the garbage pile is so deep that it effectively blocks the flow of water completely; the canal is literally turning into a landfill.

You see this filthy water and the thought crosses your mind that Cairo and Alexandria shouldn't have an overcrowding problem because everyone there should be dead of dysentery or typhoid or cholera. Our cruise ship advice was to not buy any food or drink from anyone on the street in Egypt. Hell, I was afraid to breathe the air (there's an old Tom Lehrer song in there somewhere).

One of the great rivers of the world, instead of being treated as a precious, valuable  natural resource, is used as an open sewer. And the government tells its ignorant people (school is compulsory only to age 12, according to one of our guides) that they're poor and wretched because of the Jews next door.

It's jaw-dropping, but understandable in a crazy sort of way in a country that has been ruled by kings, dictators, or generals for the last 4,000 years, that has no history of capitalism or liberal democracy, and where the populace is in the thrall of a religion that tells them their wretchedness is Allah's will and defiance of Allah's will is punishable by death.

So before you try to tell me that I'm killing Mother Gaia because my car doesn't get 40 miles per gallon, shut up.