Saturday, August 18, 2007

In the Desert, fate awaits

From IHT:

"Egypt really is a logic-free zone," said Amr Shannon, a desert guide, "When you go to the sea, you get prepared; you will pack your towel, your bathing suit," he said in an interview in his apartment. "When you go skiing, you pack skis. Now you are coming to Egypt; get prepared for it as well. If you expect logic to prevail, you will find your intelligence insulted 200 times a day."

Shannon is a unique blend of East and West. He says his religion is "let it be," a very common state of mind in Egypt. But he also pays attention to detail and has a tremendous work ethic, values Egyptians are not known to cherish.

As a young man, Shannon planned to follow his father into the military but instead found his passion in art. He studied for three years at art school in Venice but eventually returned to Egypt and his first love - the desert.

Shannon's musings can sound preachy, and a bit loaded with too much homespun philosophy. He seems to be engaged in a constant internal struggle to accept the limitations of people around him, and so he cloaks his frustrations in aphorisms, it may be the result of the four days he spent stuck in the desert, convinced he and his cousin were about to die. They survived on nothing but their own urine and a determination to stay calm.

It was 1989, and Shannon was driving in a desert rally. When his four-by-four broke down, he turned on an emergency beacon and figured he and his cousin would soon be rescued.

They had run out of water - having made the wrong decision when they put the last of their drinking water into the radiator, assuming they would soon reach the finish. But the race organizers never came. It was only after Shannon's uncle, the governor of the Suez region, called the military that they were rescued. That was in the middle of the fourth day in the scorching sun.

"Events don't change you," Shannon said of the breakdown. "They can bring out what is already in you. People go through hard and dangerous situations all the time, and they never learn."

So what did this bring out in him?

"We were actually very calm," he said. "It must have been based on the belief nothing really matters."

Nothing matters, and everything matters, in the desert. Money is meaningless. During his four days in the desert he said he watched thousands of Egyptian pounds held in the glove box of the car blow away in the desert wind. Bad decisions can lead to death. These are lessons learned; the journey is important, not the destination.

When Shannon and his wife prepare for their last few tours they will have spare tires, extra water, food, a GPS device, a satellite phone, a small sink and stove - a do-it-yourself, one-stop fix-it shop. But as Shannon says, the most important thing to carry in the desert is the right attitude. First, accept Egypt for Egypt.

But the second "let it be" can be applied to the desert, or to the life of a man who once wanted to be a military man and then an artist, but ended up a guide in the desert.

"People want to go from point A to point B," Shannon said. "But sometimes fate gives you another path."

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