Egypt Welcomes Volcano-Stranded Tourists

April 22, 2010 by · Leave a Comment 

By Charlene Gubash, NBC News Producer

Egypt’s Ministry of Tourism is determined to keep the good times rolling for stranded visitors.  Although hotels are overbooked by 7 percent in the Red Sea resort town of Hurghada and well over 80 percent in Sharm El Sheikh, hotel owners have been ordered not to expel guests who have overstayed their reservations.

Tour companies must continue to foot the bill for tour groups who overstay and if lodgers are traveling solo, hotels are obliged to offer them low rates. If travelers are in financial trouble, they have been advised to contact their embassies.

Stranded Europeans are taking full advantage.

“The travel agent, they pay all for us, room, food, drinks, everything,” said Ulf Daahlbom of Gothenburg Sweden.  He took a five hour taxi ride from Hurghada to take in the sites in Cairo.  “It was beautiful here.  I have been at the Pyramids and the Egyptian museum.”

Two engineers from Ireland and Scotland couldn’t conceal their smiles as they sat in the shade of a tree after a day in 100 degree heat at the Pyramids and Egyptian Museum.  They had been on their way back home from work in the Suez Canal zone when they were obliged to take an all-expense paid vacation.

Charlotte Krum, a stewardess for Scandinavian Air, has nothing to go back for since her airline has been grounded.  She and her husband and four children were on a Red Sea get-away when spewing volcanic ash extended their stay.  “It’s nice for us to have the opportunity to show them [the children] all the sites in Cairo,” she said. “We just came from the Pyramids and now we go to the museum.  We are trying to make the best out of it.”

Krum and her family came to Cairo to try and get a flight to Greece, but seemed in no hurry. Traveler’s insurance covered the first four days of their stay.  “Everything has been working out quite well.  We have some nice rooms here.”

Egypt jealously protects its biggest money earner: tourism.  About 12 million tourists, at least 65 percent of them from Europe, bring in about 11 billion dollars a year and 12.6 percent of the workforce lives off of tourism.  All guests are welcome, even those who overstay.

While many hotels over overbooked, EgyptAir and other regional carriers sit idle on the tarmac.  They are suffering to the tune of 250 million dollars a day.  Before noon on Monday, more than 16 planes were grounded on Cairo’s tarmacs.

But in Egypt’s airports, you won’t find hapless visitors trying to catch some sleep on makeshift bedrolls, or slumped in plastic chairs. Tour guides are under strict orders not to drop anyone off at the airport until they have confirmed their flights.

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Masjid Nabawi (click this text to see links — full tour)

October 22, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

(click below items for full tour of Prophet’s (s) mosque with history and more!)

 

British soldier: ‘I realised the Afghan war was wrong’

July 23, 2009 by · Leave a Comment 

Lance Corporal Joe Glenton is 27 years old and has been in the army since 2004. For the last two years, after he was told that he would have to return to Afghanistan, Joe has been absent without leave and on the run. He spoke to Yuri Prasad about his experiences.

‘In 2006 my regiment was posted to Afghanistan for seven months. And if I had to describe my feelings about the tour in one word, I would say “confused”.

We were never really told what was going on, and the whole campaign seemed to be suffering from “mission creep” – the goals just seemed to be changing all the time.

Around the time that we arrived in Afghanistan the fighting with the Taliban revived and it got pretty rough. I was based at Kandahar airport and although we weren’t on the front line, the base was attacked frequently.

My regiment was there to support Three Para with all their logistical needs. We were told that the British army was there to keep the peace. But we actually ran out of artillery shells because they were calling it forwards to the front lines in such large quantities.

There was so much shelling there were periods when we would work solidly for 20 or 30 hours at a time.

There was an undercurrent of fear as well. I was fighting alongside people that ranged from just 18 years old to guys in the their mid-40s. We were hit by mortars and rockets.

Luckily, I never had to see one of my colleagues injured but the constant shelling does have an effect on people. A lot of guys, especially the younger ones, really struggled to cope.

Politicians

Afghan people were attacking us, even though our politicians said we were going in to help them. It came as a real shock. We kept asking ourselves, why are they doing this? That’s when I became aware that there was something seriously wrong with the war.

Initially we were told that we were in Afghanistan to put an end to the opium crop. Then we were told that it was to rebuild infrastructure. Then it was about bringing democracy – but none of this really seems to have happened.

Maybe there was an initial plan, but it kind of snowballed. By the end of my tour it was attrition and war fighting.

That had a massive impact on the Afghan civilian population who were put in a lot of danger. There’s no way you can fight a war without ordinary people getting caught up in it.

When I got back from my tour of Afghanistan I was quite shaken by the whole experience. But there’s a definite feeling running through the army that they just expect you to get on with it no matter what’s happened to you.

While I was still struggling to come to terms with my experiences in Afghanistan and adjusting to returning home, I was promoted and posted to another regiment. And from that point on things started to go very wrong.

I was singled out by a senior officer who started bullying me – and there is very little support for someone in the army who finds themselves in that position. I tried to go through the army’s formal procedure but it didn’t resolve the problem.

I realised at this point that I could no longer trust my chain of command. I felt like a victim of the “old boys’ club”.

Around the same time I was told that my regiment wanted to deploy me to Afghanistan again – even though this is against the harmony guidelines which stipulate a minimum time between tours of duty.

I’d only been back in Britain for about six or seven months.

At that point I decided that to protect myself my only course of action was to go absent. I was having some kind of a breakdown and I got away as far as I could to Asia, where I knew I could live cheaply for a couple of months.

My initial plan was to stay there for a while then come back to Britain and prepare to be courts martialed and kicked out of the army – but I just couldn’t deal with it.

So I pushed on to Australia, stayed there for two years on a working visa and met my now wife. Together we decided that I should come back and deal with things.

I’ve handed myself into the army, and I’m now on a fast track courts martial. As far as the army is concerned I’m guilty and it doesn’t matter what I’ve been through.

They’ve just upped the charge against me from absent without leave to desertion. In the worst case scenario I face two years in a civilian jail.

Meanwhile, the politicians who send us to Afghanistan don’t even seem prepared to spend the money that’s needed to keep us safe.

Looking at the way the war has developed, I don’t think Britain is doing any good there and I think our troops should come out.

All we’re doing now is stacking up casualties. The Afghan people will probably go with whoever is winning, and right now we’re not.’

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