From Battlefields to Bouquets

Until a few days ago, I had never photographed a wedding. The idea of it stresses me out. So many expectations are packed into a single day, and unlike photojournalism where you work with the elements to create a story, in wedding pictures people have to look good. So I hadn't shot one, nor had I intended to, until a good friend from California asked me to shoot her wedding in October. In Southern California. In Laguna Beach. 

Christina and I met in Turkey while she was teaching English and I was studying sociology and trying my hand at photography. We had the chance to travel extensively in southeastern Turkey, a hotspot for conflict between the Turkish government and Kurdish rebels at the time. Between smugglers and checkpoints, she was even game to take a jaunt down to Northern Iraq on a whim, which earned her impressive street cred. After going our separate ways, she ended up in Washington DC, and met an equally sharp and hilarious guy. One thing led to another, and the next thing I knew, she and Michael were getting married. Over Skype, she asked me to shoot the wedding. It took me at least a week to think it over.

Nervous would be the best way to describe my feelings on the day of the ceremony. While I still get terrified when shooting protests, it's a stress I understand and can work within. This was a totally different ballgame. What if I forgot to take my lens cap off? What if I messed up on the exposure and focus? 

Much to my surprise, the day went perfectly, with the weather and subjects all co-operating as I snapped away. Below is a sampling of the results.

Enjoy!

 

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Islamists Rally in Support of Embattled Egyptian President

Tens of thousands of Egyptians took to the streets of Cairo Friday to show their support for the beleaguered President Mohamed Morsi.

The rally took place in the Cairo suburb of Nasr City outside Raba’a al A’adeweya Mosque, where the crowds gathered for Friday prayer amid growing voices in the opposition calling for Morsi to step down and for early elections. The rally, organized by the hardline group Gama'a Islamiya, was meant to denounce what many see as impending violence as Egypt plunges deeper into political and economic uncertainty. Chants in support of Morsi thundered throughout the square, with many calling for the implementation of full Islamic law and the establishment of an Islamic government. The rally was also meant to be an invigoration of support for the Muslim Brotherhood president, as an increasing number of Egyptians grow frustrated at what they see as a failure follow through with the January 25th Revolution’s goals.

Opposition groups have declared June 30th, the anniversary of Morsi’s election, as a day of protest, and have called on all Egyptians to return to Cairo’s infamous Tahrir Square in solidarity against the government. While there have been no direct appeals for violence on the 30th, many worry that clashes will break out between the secular opposition and supporters of the Islamist ruling government. 

The ‘Tamarod’ (Rebel) campaign, which claims to have 15 million signatures, is demanding the resignation of President Morsi and calls for early elections. Leaders of the movement argue he has lost legitimacy as president, as the country’s economic situation continues to deteriorate alongside the crippling Egyptian pound. Rolling power blackouts frustrate many, and lines of trucks and vans clog the highways as they wait for diesel. 

Ahmed Abdel Satar, a member of the conservative Al Watan party, suggested that while the ‘Rebel’ campaign had many supporters, it didn’t capture the general sentiment of the Egyptian public. “In Egypt, we are almost 90 million. They say they have 15 million [signatures]. That means there are more than 75 million against the ‘Rebel’ campaign.” The tens of thousands packing the square serve as a stark reminder that while Morsi faces a unifying opposition, he still commands the following of many Egyptians. The busloads shuttled in from neighboring villages shows the Brotherhood’s superb organizational abilities.

In the last week, Morsi has been forced to endure yet another political headache following his recent gubernatorial appointments. In a move that angered many, Morsi tapped Adel al-Khayat as the chief of Egypt’s most important tourist city. Al-Khayat’s party, Gama’a Islamiya, is considered to be a terrorist organization for the violence it waged against the Egyptian government in the 1990’s. The group renounced violence in 2006 became political party following the January 25th Revolution. Workers in Luxor, whose incomes depend on tourism, blocked roads in protest at the appointment. During a press conference on June 20th, Al-Khayat dismissed calls for his resignation. 

“I am appointed by an elected government, by a government of an elected president,” he said. 

The rally they led today was under the auspices of ‘No to Violence’ and showed the power of the Islamist parties to mobilize. Members from the Muslim Brotherhood, the Al Watan, and Gama’a Islamiya all were present. This pacifist approach is meant to temper the uncertainty in the streets as June 30th approaches.

The themes of democracy and legitimacy was present in today’s Islamist-led demonstration. Ahmed Mohsen, a 33 year-old graphic designer and member of the conservative Salafi party, attended in order to show his support for the president. “On June 30th [2011] he was elected. That is democracy. All parties wanted democracy, and Dr. Morsi was the winner.” One protestor held a sign that read “Legitimacy must be honored,” an idea echoed by Mohsen and many of those in attendance. 

“When we elected President Morsi, we did so for four years, not two. That is not how democracy works,” said Mohamed Said, a 25 year-old English teacher and supporter of the Muslim Brotherhood’s Freedom and Justice Party.

On a day meant to show support for the president, small clashes also broke out at the mosque attended by Morsi in the suburb of New Cairo as he attended  Friday prayer. Instead of these rallies and petitions showing a sense of solidarity, they only serve to highlight the deep divide plaguing Egyptian politics. 

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The Celebration of Sayeda Zeinab

My friend Amru called me in the evening telling me to get downtown for a celebration. i had exams to grade, but the sound of the celebration seemed too good. Here's the result.

Cairo, Egypt As traditional songs intermingled with prayers blared over loudspeakers, thousands of Cairenes took to the streets the evening of June 4th to celebrate the birth of Sayeda Zeinab, the granddaughter of the Prophet Mohamed.

While Cairo is the site for Sunni pilgrimage, Shi'a Muslims believe that her tomb is located in Syrian town of Set Zaynab. This difference in belief accurately captures the dogmatic divide between the two sects.

The tomb of Sayeda Zeinab is nestled in the heart of Cairo and boasts a stunning mosque enveloping the holy site. The celebration, which draws people from all walks of life in Cairo, is a decadent mix of carnival and piety. Sellers hawk plastic children’s toys beside merry-go-rounds, while the devoted flow in and out of the mosque.

Typical of Sufi mysticism, the men will twirl for as long as they can, with many succumbing to the inevitable dizziness that follows. The devout writhe and spin to the music, eyes often glossed over as they transcend the music in an attempt to make a spiritual connection.

Exhausted from both the stifling heat and the journey, hundreds of the pious Muslims lay asleep on the carpets inside the mosque. Many have taken the traditional pilgrimage of 7 days from villages in Upper Egypt to visit the tomb of Sayeda Zeinab. Beside the tomb as the hundreds clamour to touch it, perfumes are sprayed in the air and camera phones waved about in an attempt to photograph the holy site. The room holding the tomb is packed with people and sweat drips from the brows of every individual. Much of the practices during the celebration of Sayeda Zeinab’s birthday, like the perfumes and the goods for sale, are more cultural traditions than Islamic prescriptions.

The tens of thousands that flock to the street may seem standard to Cairo's image (forged through conflict and civil unrest) but the sense of revelry and celebration is a breath of fresh air to the stagnant summer heat of Egypt's political situation.

Sufi dancers twirl to the beat of the drums.

Sufi dancers twirl to the beat of the drums.

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A man taunts young men to shoot the blasting rocks from his hand with air rifles in a carnival game.

A man taunts young men to shoot the blasting rocks from his hand with air rifles in a carnival game.

Thousands try to file through the overwhelmed entrances of the Sayeda Zeinab mosque.

Thousands try to file through the overwhelmed entrances of the Sayeda Zeinab mosque.

The last leg of the journey to the tomb of Sayeda Zeinab.

The last leg of the journey to the tomb of Sayeda Zeinab.

Pilgrims rest from their journey and the heat of the evening.

Pilgrims rest from their journey and the heat of the evening.

Worshippers clamour to touch the tomb of Sayeda Zeinab.

Worshippers clamour to touch the tomb of Sayeda Zeinab.

A child tries to to photograph the tomb of Sayeda Zenab amidst the crowds of pilgrims.

A child tries to to photograph the tomb of Sayeda Zenab amidst the crowds of pilgrims.

Thousands pack the area outside of the mosque, where impromptu dancing and music begin to alleviate the wait to enter.

Thousands pack the area outside of the mosque, where impromptu dancing and music begin to alleviate the wait to enter.

Right To Movement Marathon

Note: This story was originally published by Al Jazeera on April 21st, 2013. To see the set of images, go to http://www.aljazeera.com/indepth/inpictures/2013/04/2013421121436894902.html

This marathon was a great opportunity to shoot a story that was more uplifting than the stuff I had been covering in the few months. While the weather was finger-numbingly cold and wet, spirits were high for the runners as they took to the streets.

One interesting thing that I noticed was the way the 'Separation Wall' has been turned into a tourist destination. Much of the art along the wall isn't done by Palestinians, but by American and European artists who spend a short time in the area and leave their mark on the area in the form of inspirational graffiti. The trend was started by infamous street artist Banksy, and now shops have sprung up to capitalize on the wall's new-found commercial value. Many Palestinians have less than kind things to say about the wall's art. One event organizer told me that "the wall is oppression. Don't try to beautify the oppression."

The following are a few shots that didn't make it into the Al Jazeera piece. 

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Animals!

Most of the time, I take pictures of people. Originally, when I first bought my camera, I was excited to snap pictures of wildlife, but soon learned that I lacked the patience for great wildlife photography. I also hated zoom lenses.

In Sri Lanka, I decided to change things up a bit, and point the lens towards the hilarious and curious animals that were almost everywhere we looked. I still (unjustifiably) dislike zoom lenses, so all of these shots are from my 35mm lens.

Nap time for a monkey by the side of the road near Delhouse.

Nap time for a monkey by the side of the road near Delhouse.

I love elephants, and getting this close to one is just too good.

I love elephants, and getting this close to one is just too good.

This monkey in Yala National Park tried to take a backpack and also wanted a ride in our jeep.

This monkey in Yala National Park tried to take a backpack and also wanted a ride in our jeep.

This little guy might just be the next big wildlife photographer. 

This little guy might just be the next big wildlife photographer. 

Chances are, at least one wall would have a whole family of these geckos each night. 

Chances are, at least one wall would have a whole family of these geckos each night. 

We were lucky enough to see green turtles come ashore and lay their eggs, just as they've been doing on the same shore for thousands of years. These turtles are huge!

We were lucky enough to see green turtles come ashore and lay their eggs, just as they've been doing on the same shore for thousands of years. These turtles are huge!

The turtles will lay their eggs, often 6 or 7 at a time, and then bury them and swim back into the water. 

The turtles will lay their eggs, often 6 or 7 at a time, and then bury them and swim back into the water. 

Like I said before, this guy was pretty interested in getting a ride with us.

Like I said before, this guy was pretty interested in getting a ride with us.

Monkeys: arguably the most hilarious of all animals in Sri Lanka.

Monkeys: arguably the most hilarious of all animals in Sri Lanka.

Sri Lanka

The tear-shaped island of Sri Lanka, resting in the Indian Ocean, has been home to many peoples throughout history. Settled roughly 30,000 years ago, this "pearl of the Indian Ocean" has seen its fair share of invaders, including the Indians, Portuguese, Dutch and British. The latter referred to the island as Ceylon, and used it for the mass cultivation of tea and rubber. The island is also home to a Buddhist majority, but also Hindus, Muslims and Christians, making trips to holy sites an eye-opening experience. 

Sri Lanka recently faced dark times, as a 27-year civil war ravaged the country. Separatist Tamils in the north fought with the Sri Lankan army, leading to the deaths of more than 90,000 people (UN estimate). In 2004, the tsunami that devastated Indonesia hit the south eastern part of Sri Lanka, killing almost 70,000 people. The war ended in 2009 and the island has undergone a rebuilding process (both internally and externally), leading to amazing infrastructure developments. Currently, Sri Lanka is only South East Asian country to rate 'High' in the Human development index and has a literacy rate of 92%.

And yes, the food is amazing.

Rice and string hopper noodles join forces to scoop up as much curry as possible, made from lentils, jackfruit, coconut, fish and every other delectable item that could be conceivably added. Breakfasts include milk and cinnamon rice slathered with a curry and onion spread, while stops by the side of the road merit hearty servings of water buffalo milk curd (yogurt) and honey from the rich, orange king coconuts.

Our journey was all too short, as any adventure lasting a mere 9 days is sure to be.  In the end, we managed to traverse the tea-laden hills of the centre by train as monsoon rains drenched everything we owned. After leaving the warmth of our beds at 2 in the morning, we

summited the 5,000 steps (actually) up the holy mountain of Sri Pada flanked by pilgrims. We encountered our fair share of monkeys, elephants and egg-laying sea turtles, felt monsoon rains drench everything we owned and relax on beaches as the waves tumbled over each other onto the shore. Framed by dark clouds, we walked through walled cities left from empire-builders of a time that is now a distant memory.

In the end, Sri Lanka was a great way to celebrate my quarter of a century on this wonder-filled rock in space!

All of the shots were taken on my Fujifilm X-Pro 1.

The water source for rice-paddy irrigation can also double as a great shower! Of course, we went swimming in it!

The water source for rice-paddy irrigation can also double as a great shower! Of course, we went swimming in it!

Coconuts make for a great mid-afternoon drink!

Coconuts make for a great mid-afternoon drink!

Travelling by train is the best way to get around Sri Lanka, and the beautiful scenery is just an added bonus.

Travelling by train is the best way to get around Sri Lanka, and the beautiful scenery is just an added bonus.

We travelled during the off-season- my favourite!. It turns out its off-season for a reason. The rains pour each day, but almost always at the same time (2 in the afternoon) and stop after only an hour or so.

We travelled during the off-season- my favourite!. It turns out its off-season for a reason. The rains pour each day, but almost always at the same time (2 in the afternoon) and stop after only an hour or so.

This guy was great! He was the neighbour of our hosts in Tissa, and was always down for a photo.

This guy was great! He was the neighbour of our hosts in Tissa, and was always down for a photo.

Looking this good at 70 is pretty impressive.

Looking this good at 70 is pretty impressive.

Another reason why I love train rides.

Another reason why I love train rides.

Sri Lankan tea (often called Ceylon tea) makes up roughly 50% of world tea exports. 

Sri Lankan tea (often called Ceylon tea) makes up roughly 50% of world tea exports. 

A statue of Siddhartha Guatama Buddha marks the beginning of the path to the summit of Sri Pada. Buddists believe Buddha left his foot print on summit, whereas Christians and Muslims believe the print to be Adam's as he fell from heaven. Sri Lanka practices the Mahayana form of Buddhism, whereby they often regard him as a god.

A statue of Siddhartha Guatama Buddha marks the beginning of the path to the summit of Sri Pada. Buddists believe Buddha left his foot print on summit, whereas Christians and Muslims believe the print to be Adam's as he fell from heaven. Sri Lanka practices the Mahayana form of Buddhism, whereby they often regard him as a god.

The summit of Sri Pada, as seen from the distance. A Buddhist shrine has been built on the top of the mountain, and on weekends the path up to the top becomes choked with pilgrims.

The summit of Sri Pada, as seen from the distance. A Buddhist shrine has been built on the top of the mountain, and on weekends the path up to the top becomes choked with pilgrims.

Blurry, pixelated, but still great. The first look at Sri Pada as we began our ascent.

Blurry, pixelated, but still great. The first look at Sri Pada as we began our ascent.

Buddhists pray during sunrise at the summit of Sri Pada.

Buddhists pray during sunrise at the summit of Sri Pada.

Candles and incense sticks often adorn Buddhist temples.

Candles and incense sticks often adorn Buddhist temples.

Obligatory monk photo.

Obligatory monk photo.

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We stumbled onto a dance rehearsal in the walled city of Galle, giving us a great behind-the-scences look at traditional dancing. 

We stumbled onto a dance rehearsal in the walled city of Galle, giving us a great behind-the-scences look at traditional dancing. 

Trains plus rain? Love it!

Trains plus rain? Love it!

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The view from our hotel in Ella. Not bad!

The view from our hotel in Ella. Not bad!

World Nomad's Travel Writing Scholarship

BIO/WHY I SHOULD WIN: The moment I finished university, I packed up and moved to Egypt. I took a job as a history teacher to put money in my pocket. My goal was twofold: to experience the unexpected realities of revolution, and to become one of the few employed philosophy majors in existence.

I got sucked into a place that overwhelmed my senses in every possible way. The sights, the smells, the shapes, the stress all meshed together into an absorbing existence that made little sense until I told it as a story. Travel has always helped me understand my own place, and writing shares that journey with others.

And I want to keep sharing.

This opportunity would give me the chance I need to fully immerse myself in the craft.

I want some hard, honest words from someone who’s been there and knows it. I want my ideas battered, swatted, pummeled and punched until they emerge as a great story.

Or collapse in on themselves. But let’s hope for the former.

I tell my students they need to do what they love. For me, it’s writing and taking photos. I’ve spent the last couple of years teaching. Now, it’s my time to learn more.

"I'm an inventor," he told me. His hairy fingers gripped fresh green almonds. Bits of salt spotted the green like the grey spotted his black hair.

"What have you invented?" 

"A water pipe that you don't smoke. You use cough syrup." A better answer couldn't have come from a polyester-suited Syrian who sped around town on an electric scooter. 

"Really?"

"Really. Almond?" Hand thrust forward, he munched and thought, crunched and pondered. "Come with me for dinner."

In the thumping heart of Hama, Syria, the arteries pushed through car after car, horn after horn.

"Don't be scared- I do this all the time," he assured me as he readjusted the mirror on the left side, bent freshly from hitting a stopped car.

We flitted and jolted through the bloodstream. 

"We'll meet my friends," he said as three men sauntered over to the scooter.

'Stayin' Alive' by the Bee Gees played in my head as the trio strutted ahead of me, pleated legs swaying and glances swerving. Nods given and hands gripped, these men were movers, and judging by their gait, shakers. They ran the town with their swagger alone. They knew a place. A friend's. Good food. Welcome. Welcome to Syria.

I'd been given lessons earlier in life about table manners. You never know when you'll be eating with the Queen, I was told. Tonight I was eating with the Kings of Style. Convention was tossed out. 

"Try the salad. With lemon- no. Like that. Did I tell you my brothers and father were killed here almost 30 years ago? Ah- try this humus. Use the bread."

We danced for the whole dinner, sidestepping and twirling away from talk of the town’s dark past, bullets, and green cough syrup. The bill couldn't have come at a better time, and the expressions couldn't have been more worrying. The inventor scrunched his forehead, the hair-helmet moving as one. He called over the owner. They talked.

"There has been mistake- he is not my friend now. There is no discount." A bill landed on our plates. 

"So sorry. Please, let me take you for tea." We indulged him. 

Sipping warily, he excused himself to the toilet. 

"Your friend has left without paying," a beanstalk of a waiter sidled up to the table. We'd lost our man.

Maybe the embarrassment of not getting a discount had made him flee. Maybe an epiphany about his invention had caused him to take flight. Or maybe the coiffed inventor had played us. The King of Style had struck again and somewhere on a dark road, the lyrical notes of a time passed, played to his strut.

There's so much that was beautiful about this country.

A Change of Pace

Sometimes it's time to take a break from shooting protests. Not because the weariness or repetition sets in, but because the more Egypt becomes defined by conflict, the more self-prophesizing this conflict becomes. Conflict begets conflict begets conflict. 

Yesterday I was invited to tag along on an adventure that took me from bookshops to bed shops, and shoe workshops to fantastic french fries. Making this journey through my favourite part of Cairo even sweeter was my brand new addition to the photographic family. I recently purchased a Fuji camera, as it seemed to be the perfect companion to telling increasingly better visual stories. I wanted something smaller, quieter, unobtrusive, and killer in low light. It's like a match made in heaven! Here's the first smattering of shots from the (still to be formally named) camera.

Shoe workshop, Islamic Cairo.

Shoe workshop, Islamic Cairo.

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The timber/bed workshops. Islamic Cairo.

The timber/bed workshops. Islamic Cairo.

Facades of the city. Attaba.

Facades of the city. Attaba.

The wood-cutting room. Islamic Cairo.

The wood-cutting room. Islamic Cairo.

The walls of the shoe workshop.

The walls of the shoe workshop.

Home of the best fries in all of Cairo. 

Home of the best fries in all of Cairo. 

Tea break!

Tea break!

The timber yard office. Islamic Cairo.

The timber yard office. Islamic Cairo.

Camera's first street test: a success!

Camera's first street test: a success!

The Verdict

Backgrounder: Last year, 74 Al Ahly football fans were killed in a stadium riot in the canal city of Port Said. On January 26th, 2013, 21 of the defendants were given death sentences, with the remainder of those charged to hear their verdicts on March 9th.

On Saturday March 9th, the courts ruled on the remainder of the defendants from the Port Said Massacre. I was at the Al Ahly (Gazeera) Club early in the morning as thousands of hardcore football fans (known as 'Ultras') packed the streets. These Ultras have amazing organizational ability- with a single hand gesture, 4 thousand rowdy youth are immediately quieted. The tension was palpable in the air as the verdict came in. Ears were pressed against small radios and mobile phones. The Ultras broke into groups of 3 or 4, all sharing earpieces.  When the courts announced the death sentence for the original 21 would be upheld, a roar erupted. This was outdone only by the fireworks and flares that pierced the sky and dusted the crowd with swaths of red and orange. The emotional outpouring that followed was so intense, that it was difficult to figure out where to point my camera. The chanting grew louder and louder, drums beat furiously and the bangs flares and fireworks persisted.

The jubilation soon turned to anger and frustration as the news came through that all but one of the police officers had been acquitted. A general sense of uncertainty followed, with no one certain what the next course of action was.

Some Ultras then decided to attack the Police Social Club and Football Association in the upscale Zamalek district. I got there as the fires were still burning at the Police Club. The insides had been gutted- both by looting and fire. Workers sat on the grass, visibly shaken.

For those hoping for a return to stability in Egypt, yesterday's verdict deviated even further from stability. The days are becoming increasingly confusing, as different factions and powers clash, both in politics and through the proxy battles being fought on the street.

The streets fell quiet as fans held phones and radios. The moments leading up to the verdict were heavy, no matter what language was being spoken.

The streets fell quiet as fans held phones and radios. The moments leading up to the verdict were heavy, no matter what language was being spoken.

Feelings of justice were tangible.

Feelings of justice were tangible.

These flares, while giving off a choking smoke, were still amazingly cool.

These flares, while giving off a choking smoke, were still amazingly cool.

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Unbelievable organizational skills. It's no wonder the Ultras are a major driving force within the context of the revolution.

Unbelievable organizational skills. It's no wonder the Ultras are a major driving force within the context of the revolution.

As smoke began to rise near the club, police helicopters circled low overhead. 

As smoke began to rise near the club, police helicopters circled low overhead. 

By the time we got to the Police Club, the fires were already raging inside.

By the time we got to the Police Club, the fires were already raging inside.

Workers tried in vain to contain the blaze as thick smoke poured out of the building.

Workers tried in vain to contain the blaze as thick smoke poured out of the building.

All that wasn't looted, was burned in the end.

All that wasn't looted, was burned in the end.

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Efforts to extinguish the blaze were hampered by broken or leaking hoses. After about 45 minutes, the firefighters began to gain control over the fire.

Efforts to extinguish the blaze were hampered by broken or leaking hoses. After about 45 minutes, the firefighters began to gain control over the fire.

The Anniversary

While January 25th is understood to be the anniversary of the revolution, February 11th also marks an important day in Egyptian history. Two years ago, the incumbent president became the former president when he announced that he was stepping down. The statement was met with jubilation in Cairo's iconic (and now notorious) Tahrir Square.

Fast-forward two years. Egypt is still plagued with protests and each Friday becomes an inevitable volley of tear gas canisters and injuries. As the situation deteriorates, a new group of protestors has emerged. Using protest techniques from the 'Black Bloc' which involves destroying property while clashing with security forces, the black-masked protestors attack cameras and those who try to capture their vandalism on film. Making their first appearance January 2013 in Egypt, they have been labelled as terrorists by the Egyptian government. 

Last night, only a handful of protestors arrived at the Presidential Palace to protest the current regime. For the first few hours, the number of news photographers outweighed the number of protestors. As night fell, small marches arrived. Black Bloc members then tried to pull back the barbed wire around the palace. Fires were soon lit around the gates, and rocks hurled over the wall to the guards behind. Water canons were used to disperse protestors, although they did little to mitigate the stones being thrown over and at the wall.  The sound of sirens was soon heard, followed by the bangs of tear gas grenades. The police quickly swept in, arresting protestors and clearing the streets with a barrage of tear gas shots. 

Graffiti has been drawn all over the Presidential Palace walls by protestors. 

Graffiti has been drawn all over the Presidential Palace walls by protestors. 

This is the de facto suit-and-tie combo for news photographers in Cairo.

This is the de facto suit-and-tie combo for news photographers in Cairo.

A French photographer surveys the growing crowd. He helped me out a lot during the clashes. Nothing beats a veteran's experience in the field.

A French photographer surveys the growing crowd. He helped me out a lot during the clashes. Nothing beats a veteran's experience in the field.

News photographers wait for the crowds to grow. For the early part of the night, it became photographer social hour.

News photographers wait for the crowds to grow. For the early part of the night, it became photographer social hour.

The anger, after two years, is still very much present.

The anger, after two years, is still very much present.

A protestor calls for the fall of the regime against the backdrop of the Presidential Palace.

A protestor calls for the fall of the regime against the backdrop of the Presidential Palace.

Members of the Black Bloc attempt to burn the main gate of the palace with a spray can and lighter. The protestors were able to also breach the barbed wire barrier.

Members of the Black Bloc attempt to burn the main gate of the palace with a spray can and lighter. The protestors were able to also breach the barbed wire barrier.

Protestors hurl rocks at the palace as water canons fire at protestors. 

Protestors hurl rocks at the palace as water canons fire at protestors. 

A member of the Black Bloc taunts the guards firing the water canons. 

A member of the Black Bloc taunts the guards firing the water canons. 

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One of the few times it rains in Egypt. Or at least water comes from the sky. 

One of the few times it rains in Egypt. Or at least water comes from the sky. 

Some kids as young as 9 or 10 were hurling rocks at the walls.

Some kids as young as 9 or 10 were hurling rocks at the walls.

Members of the Black Bloc set fire to another gate at the palace. Moments later, the police moved in.

Members of the Black Bloc set fire to another gate at the palace. Moments later, the police moved in.

Tear gas wafts towards protestors as they prepare to engage the police. Since the palace is beside the tram tracks, stones and chunks of cement are taken from there to throw at police. And this is when I left. I'd rather be safe and with a camera, than the opposite of that.

Tear gas wafts towards protestors as they prepare to engage the police. Since the palace is beside the tram tracks, stones and chunks of cement are taken from there to throw at police. And this is when I left. I'd rather be safe and with a camera, than the opposite of that.

The Money Traders of Istanbul

Istanbul, Turkey.

I'm trying to get away from single shots- as recommended by a friend of mine. Rather, I'm trying to tell better stories through a series of photos. 

Positioned, perhaps symbolically, in the Grand Bazaar's gold district, the street currency traders are loud. Really loud. So loud that my hand went directly to my camera, thinking a Cairo-esque protest  was around the corner.

Instead of finding a sea of red and black flags, I saw 20+ men in leather jacks, red faces and sharp eyes. They were packed intimately on a side street- one of the few uncovered areas in the 'Covered Market' (the Turkish name of Grand Bazaar). 

These guys are the pulse of Istanbul's money exchange- armed technological warriors of the 21st century, iPhones are now the de facto tool to trade millions of dollars. The shouts of prices gets incredibly confusing, especially when the word used for US Dollar is 'whole one'. 

The men pay service to a time honoured tradition of capitalizing on the ebbs and flows of the global currents markets, housed in this narrow street for generations. Trading global currencies on the street used to be illegal, but those times are now just a memory. In the most reductive sense, these men are the moves shakers for the fluctuation in the lira and dollar seen by most shoppers in and around the market. Employed by currency houses and banks, the 20+ set the rate. 

They spend their days alternating shouts with a phone pressed tightly against their ears. Tens of millions of dollars will pass through their hands over the period of a few hours.

While I usually try to shoot colour, sometimes I can't resist juicy, rich black and white. B/W should be used sparingly, but there are also times to indulge. This is one of them.

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Should You Pay People For Their Portrait?

Before I get into this discussion, I'm referring to travel photography, not commercial/fashion stuff. That part of the industry plays by a whole different set of rules.

This question came up a couple of times during the trip to Ethiopia, and one that I'd struggled with previously. I would be talking to someone, and raise my camera up, or be passing through a crowded market with my eye to the viewfinder, and the 'Hello, money!' response would arrive.

Granted, there are photographers who home in on the poorest areas they can find, looking to exploit poverty for their photographic gain. And in this case, when asked for money, one might conclude there ought to be a level of compensation to the people. There also seems to be a trend in photographing homeless people in the pursuit of 'raw' or 'authentic' images that in virtue of their exploitative nature would also morally merit a degree of compensation.

I'm inclined to think the question boils down to this: 'If you see something of value in the setting and the person can profit from this value, should you pay them for it? If you're going to sell the images, should the person in the scene get compensated?'

I rarely sell any of my images. For me, I just love capturing scenes. It's the first part of the question that troubles me most. For example, near a village in the Simien Mountains, a bundled up group of men were sitting against a vibrant turquoise wall. The beauty of all the elements coalescing in this one frame led me to ask if I could take their photo. One of them shook his head, and said "Money." I declined.

A few minutes later, I was sitting down and I saw a boy who was also bundled up. He looked at me, and gestured for me to come over. He then asked for money, and for me to take his picture. I told him no. I also told him I had a camera that could give him his picture. We talked some more, and then I asked if I could take his photo, if I gave him one in return. He loved the idea. In the end, the interaction was defined by a reciprocal transaction- one where each of us gave something. Is money just a placeholder for this reciprocity, or should we look beyond money to more meaningful form of remuneration?

This child who got the photo rushed over to show the older men by the wall, who then wanted me to take their photo. The dynamic with them, that had only recently been defined by a monetary transaction, had totally shifted. This suggests that maybe what people sometimes want is a level of respect many photographers don't give. In the pursuit of a good photo, photographers can forget the two way street our actions ought to encompass.

I posted previously on how much I loved using a photo printer and instant camera in the field, as it forged a connection with the subject. After Ethiopia, I see how it can address a tough issue that photographers face- do you pay your subjects? For me the issue still isn't resolved, but I'd love to hear thoughts on the issue! Please join the discussion and leave comments!

Below are some of my favourite photos of people holding their portraits.

The picture of the boy in the Simien Mountains. After we talked and he got this picture, we both left happy.

The picture of the boy in the Simien Mountains. After we talked and he got this picture, we both left happy.

An early morning portrait in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

An early morning portrait in Lalibela, Ethiopia.

Asafa, on the first evening in the Simien Mountains.

Asafa, on the first evening in the Simien Mountains.

Abdul (our guide) with a machiatto in Harar.

Abdul (our guide) with a machiatto in Harar.

This guy also wanted money, but was definitely into the printed photo.

This guy also wanted money, but was definitely into the printed photo.

Asafa, one more time. Because he's just that awesome.

Asafa, one more time. Because he's just that awesome.

The Amazing Rock Churches of Lalibela

Some places in guidebooks inevitably disappoint. Top shelf superlatives are tossed around recklessly and writers wax nostalgic about a magical scene that disappears at the first sight of pleated khaki pants and fanny-packs.

Lalibela is none of this.

Way up high in the mountains of Northern Ethiopia, the place is surreal. Churches hewn from the stone of the mountain hide below the ground while pilgrims in white and yellow cotton robes mill around the site.

We were fortunate enough to arrive a few days before the Ethiopian Orthodox Christmas. The event draws pilgrims from all over the country. They stream in via airplane, car and foot. One group told us of how they trekked 8 days barefoot in order to reach Ethiopia's second holiest site. Yes, I felt lazy as heck after hearing this. But I still felt tired on our walk back to the hotel. Altitude! Blame the altitude!

And the history of this place. Wow.

As the story goes, Orthodox Christians were getting killed crossing North Africa and the Middle East on their way to Jerusalem. King Lalibela of Ethiopia decided to recreate Jerusalem in the mountains, in order to provide a site of safe worship. He had the 11 churches built below ground in order to prevent invading armies from discovering them. And it totally worked. The churches of Lalibela have been a site of continuous worship for more than 500 years.

On our second morning, we got up early to catch the meditative sounds of the pilgrims moving along the paths towards the church, hymns and bells wafting from the stone. It was a magical picture as the robes converged up a single path towards the rock churches. 

On the last morning, I shed the comfort of a warm bed once more to catch the sunrise and morning prayer at Bet Giyorgis, the only church in the complex shaped to resemble a cross. Yes, taking photos has started to make me like mornings. The scenes were amazing and I was (for most of it) the only foreigner there, witnessing a pious event in its most raw and undistilled form. And it was beautiful.

I could write so much more about this place. But I'll let the pictures do the talking instead.

Pilgrims gather early in the morning to attend prayers at Bet Giyorgis.

Pilgrims gather early in the morning to attend prayers at Bet Giyorgis.

To say the churches are magnificent would betray the transcendent feeling you get being there early in the morning.

To say the churches are magnificent would betray the transcendent feeling you get being there early in the morning.

The floors and walls of the churches are dotted with people deep in study.

The floors and walls of the churches are dotted with people deep in study.

A group of young boys read from the Bible as priests sing around them.

A group of young boys read from the Bible as priests sing around them.

I'll skip the obvious metaphor.

I'll skip the obvious metaphor.

A priest awaits the pious as they stream in during to be blessed.

A priest awaits the pious as they stream in during to be blessed.

I love this one. A stream of worshippers criss-cross down the path towards Bet Giyorgis.

I love this one. A stream of worshippers criss-cross down the path towards Bet Giyorgis.

Wax candles are brought past a young priest at Bet Giyorgis.

Wax candles are brought past a young priest at Bet Giyorgis.

A priest leads pilgrims into one of Lalibela's 11 churches.

A priest leads pilgrims into one of Lalibela's 11 churches.

The journey back to camp after a day at the churches.

The journey back to camp after a day at the churches.

Many of the pilgrims sleep in the grass near the churches, with only a blanket and minimal supplies.

Many of the pilgrims sleep in the grass near the churches, with only a blanket and minimal supplies.

I also love this one. Sometimes the fairytale-esque happen in real life. 

I also love this one. Sometimes the fairytale-esque happen in real life. 

World Nomads/National Geographic Travel Photo Scholarship Entry-2012

When photography and I first met, almost by accident, I underwent a transformation. I saw how light hit the faces of my friends. I saw how they moved, how they gestured. I became addicted to capturing it. Now, I’m a sucker for natural light and even (gasp!) a morning person.

Photography gives me hunger while consuming me in the process. The moment I finished university, I packed up and moved to Egypt.  I took a job as a history teacher to put money in my pocket, while at the same time exploring what came to be unexpected realities of revolution.  Through my lens came a new perspective on a well-worn story. It’s become a ritual to share these photos with my students. The conversations that bring the classroom alive are a testament to the power of visual storytelling.

Everywhere I go, I seek out local photographers. There is always something to learn, and always someone to learn from. Always. Syria. Iran. Iraq. Egypt. Ethiopia. The people in the streets have taught me more than most textbooks. I tell my students they need to do what they love- what gets them out of bed. For me, it’s taking photos. I’ve spent the last couple of years teaching. Now, it’s my time to learn. 

Perched high in the mountains of Northern Ethiopia, the small town of Lalibela is a place of pilgrimage during the time of Orthodox Christmas, and Ethiopian Christianity's second holiest site. Wrapped in shrouds of early morning mist and cotton, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians stand in prayer at the edge of Bet Giyorgis, the rock church carved to resemble a cross.
Perched high in the mountains of Northern Ethiopia, the small town of Lalibela is a place of pilgrimage during the time of Orthodox Christmas, and Ethiopian Christianity's second holiest site. Wrapped in shrouds of early morning mist and cotton, Ethiopian Orthodox Christians stand in prayer at the edge of Bet Giyorgis, the rock church carved to resemble a cross.
In the 1500s, King Lalibela had 11 churches hewn from a 'mother rock' in order to create a holy place below ground safe for pilgrims to worship and evade detection. The result was so captivating that the first European to enter the site wrote "I am weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more."  Lalibela'svision ensured continued worship for hundreds of years, with masses of the pious still congregating each Christmas.

In the 1500s, King Lalibela had 11 churches hewn from a 'mother rock' in order to create a holy place below ground safe for pilgrims to worship and evade detection. The result was so captivating that the first European to enter the site wrote "I am weary of writing more about these buildings, because it seems to me that I shall not be believed if I write more."  Lalibela'svision ensured continued worship for hundreds of years, with masses of the pious still congregating each Christmas.

Narrow tunnels underneath the churches and within the mountain connect the churches, and as the number of pilgrims swell dramatically with Christmas approaching, the passages become an increasingly tight traverse. Stories of long treks echo off the cool stone, with one pilgrim telling me of his group's barefoot journey of more than 8 days in order to reach Lalibela. As so many villages are within reach, more than 60,000 pilgrims descend on the churches each Christmas.
Narrow tunnels underneath the churches and within the mountain connect the churches, and as the number of pilgrims swell dramatically with Christmas approaching, the passages become an increasingly tight traverse. Stories of long treks echo off the cool stone, with one pilgrim telling me of his group's barefoot journey of more than 8 days in order to reach Lalibela. As so many villages are within reach, more than 60,000 pilgrims descend on the churches each Christmas.
Resting against the rock face of the church, an Orthodox Christian is caught in a moment of contemplation. Each of the underground  churches contain a thick and richly coloured curtain hiding a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, viewable only by priests, deacons and bishops.

Resting against the rock face of the church, an Orthodox Christian is caught in a moment of contemplation. Each of the underground  churches contain a thick and richly coloured curtain hiding a replica of the Ark of the Covenant, viewable only by priests, deacons and bishops.

Serenity and fulfilment consummate one's spiritual journey. For the pilgrims transfixed in prayer, the experience has been a voyage both into the depths of the earth as well as the depths of their own faith.
Serenity and fulfilment consummate one's spiritual journey. For the pilgrims transfixed in prayer, the experience has been a voyage both into the depths of the earth as well as the depths of their own faith.

Harar and Hyenas

Lying in the in the eastern corner of Ethiopia is the walled city Harar. In close proximity to Somalia, Somaliland and Djibouti, only good could come from this foray into uncharted territory.

The first European to enter Harar was the famed explorer Richard Burton, who penned an account of his disappointment with the mysterious city.

Had Burton joined us on our two day stint, I'm sure he would have written an entirely different story (and if he had a time machine).

Harar, in all its noisy, crowded, colourful and intoxicating majesty, is a city of contradictions. 

In a robustly Orthodox Christian country, it hosts a predominantly Muslim populace. It is the fourth holiest city in Islam, yet boasts a large number of watering holes and even its own (amazingly good) brewery.

People chat on cellphones while passing the hundreds of years old ages of the city, and satellite dishes are nested on houses that predate the concept of electricity by hundreds of years.

While drugs are strictly forbidden in Islam, men lay sprawled out in shops and in the streets, with the green leaves of 'qat' (or chat) at their feet as the telltale sign that they've been chewing the narcotic plant. It induces a feeling similar to drinking 5 or 6 cups of strong coffee, but the men all look as though they're about to sleep.

The roads so windy you can lose both your thoughts and yourself, and colours are so rich that your wanderings take on a dreamlike feel.

If only Harar's uniqueness ended there... 

The city also has small holes in the walls for wild hyenas to enter at night; invited guests that roam the old city in the dark.

Youssef is the local hyena feeder. Each night, as his father did before him, and his father's father before that, he calls out the names of the local hyenas once the sun is safely gone. Timid at first, they emerge from the dark, lured by the prospect of fresh meat. The few tourists that do make it to Harar come to watch, but he still performs the ritual if there aren't any 'frenjo' (foreigners) in the city.

Harar's chief exports are meant to keep the world spinning: much of the world's 'Arabica' coffee beans come from that area, and 'qat' is said to have originated there. Yemen and Somalia are so hungry for the Harari qat that the trucks carrying the plant are locally referred to as 'Al Qaeda', since so many people are killed in high-speed accidents with these vehicles rushing to keep the 'qat' fresh.

Shockingly, only an estimated 2,000 tourists make it to Harar each year. In only two days, we found ourselves consumed by the life emanating from the old streets.

A big thanks goes out to our awesome guide Abdul, who navigated the labyrinth of the old city with an intuitive expertise.

Enjoy photos from a city that let's you live the past in the present.

An impromptu street market forms. Oh colours, how I love you. 

An impromptu street market forms. Oh colours, how I love you. 

Sometimes, the old part of the town didn't even feel real.

Sometimes, the old part of the town didn't even feel real.

Claire demonstrate proper coffee consumption in a traditional Harari house. All of the ornaments on the walls are actually bowls and plates to be used during wedding festivities. Practical, and definitely not understated.

Claire demonstrate proper coffee consumption in a traditional Harari house. All of the ornaments on the walls are actually bowls and plates to be used during wedding festivities. Practical, and definitely not understated.

Harar may be the fourth holiest city in Islam, but it's definitely the Mecca of great coffee.

Harar may be the fourth holiest city in Islam, but it's definitely the Mecca of great coffee.

An all-too-familiar sight. There was one man who rarely left the corner near our guesthouse, and every time we passed by, a handful of green leaves were at his side.

An all-too-familiar sight. There was one man who rarely left the corner near our guesthouse, and every time we passed by, a handful of green leaves were at his side.

Qat is used by both shopkeepers and students alike- the effects mimic caffeine, and concentration ability spikes.

Qat is used by both shopkeepers and students alike- the effects mimic caffeine, and concentration ability spikes.

This is kind of scary. And amazingly cool, at the same time. Wild hyenas are way bigger than I had imagined, but also much more timid.

This is kind of scary. And amazingly cool, at the same time. Wild hyenas are way bigger than I had imagined, but also much more timid.

Youssef is fearless in his interactions with the hyenas. Which is a tough feat, when being circled by hyenas looking for a meal.

Youssef is fearless in his interactions with the hyenas. Which is a tough feat, when being circled by hyenas looking for a meal.

Claire demonstrates how to allow wild hyenas to climb up on you while they tear apart strips of meat. Well done.

Claire demonstrates how to allow wild hyenas to climb up on you while they tear apart strips of meat. Well done.

The Simien Mountains

This post will have more than my usual 6 or 7 images. Just a warning.

3 days. 40 kilometres. High elevation. Awesome travel companions. And an 89 year-old (in appearance) guard, clad in a worn suit jacket and plastic, clog-like shoes.

The Simien Mountains of Ethiopia had captured my imagination ever since I first saw it in the BBC's Human Planet. And they stayed there. Oh, did they stay there.

Marked by striking changes in biodiversity and landscape, this national park is the result of old-school volcanic activity mixed with new-school vegetation and wildlife. The peaks jut up from the rich-green floor like a fantasy movie, and the valleys are so far below that they almost become distant ideas.

Gelada monkeys dot the grasslands in troops sometimes numbering in the hundreds.  Our awesome guide, Gech, told us there are more than 17,000 of these furry creatures feeding off the flowing grasses of the mountains. When Gech wasn't guiding us through narrow mountain passes and fields of barley, he'd sit by the campfire at night and regale us with tales of Ethiopia's storied past.

Despite the high elevation (more than 3,500 meters), the mountains are speckled with villages. We were fortunate enough to be passing through during the harvest season. The villagers have only 5 or 6 days to harvest the barley and teff (the grain that's used for the spongy 'injera' that makes up most dishes) and are always watching for the thieving geladas and birds which will strip the crops if given the chance.

While the sun hits you hard during the day, the moment it dips behind the mountains, cold rushes in. Our second night in the camp brought in sub-zero temperatures and frost all over the ground and our tent.

It was a humbling experience to see that while we were often doubled over trying to catch our breath ('From the elevation!' we claimed), our guide and guard were showing no signs of any exertion or fatigue. It definitely puts 'being in good shape' into context.

A special thanks goes out to Claire, Carrie, Nola, Tadele, Gech, Asafa and Messi for making this trip so unbelievably awesome.

I wish the photos I took did the place justice. But no click of a shutter can capture striking peaks and lush valleys. The lens couldn't even come near to conveying the beauty of the geladas as they slowly picked their way through flowing grasses that matched their rich coats.

Having said that, here's my best shot at it. Enjoy!

One of the early views of the intimidatingly beautiful park.

One of the early views of the intimidatingly beautiful park.

We ran into a troop of geladas, and came surprisingly close. When scared, they'd scream and then tumble over the side of the cliff (somehow finding footing), only to appear a minute or two later.

We ran into a troop of geladas, and came surprisingly close. When scared, they'd scream and then tumble over the side of the cliff (somehow finding footing), only to appear a minute or two later.

Asafa was our trusty guard. Armed with a single shot gun and a seemingly everlasting endurance, he was always a meter behind us. In the evening, Carrie and Nola came back to their tent to see him standing guard. Such an amazing person.

Asafa was our trusty guard. Armed with a single shot gun and a seemingly everlasting endurance, he was always a meter behind us. In the evening, Carrie and Nola came back to their tent to see him standing guard. Such an amazing person.

Ethiopians have an amazing ability to bundle up. All it takes is a blanket, and somehow we were the only ones shivering.

Ethiopians have an amazing ability to bundle up. All it takes is a blanket, and somehow we were the only ones shivering.

Passing through a small gathering of goatherds and a musician, this child's gaze and intensity was something that I had to photograph. Fortunately, he obliged.

Passing through a small gathering of goatherds and a musician, this child's gaze and intensity was something that I had to photograph. Fortunately, he obliged.

The landscape changes so fast that if you blink, you might forget where you are. After passing through a forest, we arrived in fields of barley being harvested. The Ethiopian government wants the villagers to leave  in order to protect the park, and the villagers want to stay, given that it's been their home for hundreds if not thousands of years.

The landscape changes so fast that if you blink, you might forget where you are. After passing through a forest, we arrived in fields of barley being harvested. The Ethiopian government wants the villagers to leave  in order to protect the park, and the villagers want to stay, given that it's been their home for hundreds if not thousands of years.

Children often keep watch over the crops. This kid and I had a great time talking. He spoke English very well, and was pretty happy when I handed him a photo I'd take of him. (People holding photos of themselves is coming soon, don't worry!)

Children often keep watch over the crops. This kid and I had a great time talking. He spoke English very well, and was pretty happy when I handed him a photo I'd take of him. (People holding photos of themselves is coming soon, don't worry!)

The sunsets are phenomenal. Even though it marks the coming of the cold, it still becomes of highlight of each day.

The sunsets are phenomenal. Even though it marks the coming of the cold, it still becomes of highlight of each day.

Sometimes pictures just compose themselves. In the Simien Mountains, as long as you're holding a camera, you're in photographic heaven. As dark clouds rose up in the distance and the sun set, it was impossible not to get this one right.

Sometimes pictures just compose themselves. In the Simien Mountains, as long as you're holding a camera, you're in photographic heaven. As dark clouds rose up in the distance and the sun set, it was impossible not to get this one right.

Yeah, it got pretty chilly in the mornings. After living in Cairo for this long, frost was such a beautiful sight.

Yeah, it got pretty chilly in the mornings. After living in Cairo for this long, frost was such a beautiful sight.

Gech demonstrates the proper and awesome use of a slingshot. Most children are seen with these braided crop-defenders slung over their shoulders. The speed and accuracy with which these unassuming weapons work is enough to send any gelada running.

Gech demonstrates the proper and awesome use of a slingshot. Most children are seen with these braided crop-defenders slung over their shoulders. The speed and accuracy with which these unassuming weapons work is enough to send any gelada running.

A village tucked onto the cliffs of the Simiens was a beautiful farewell to this magnificent place.

A village tucked onto the cliffs of the Simiens was a beautiful farewell to this magnificent place.

Ultimatum Friday

There were tragic events on Wednesday, December 5th. After protesting in front of the Presidential Palace on Tuesday, the Muslim Brotherhood announced they would protest the next day. This announcement set the stage for a showdown, as tensions were high between the polarized groups.

In the end, more than 800 were injured and 6 killed during the clashes between the two groups.

Today, thousands of protestors converged at the Presidential Palace to protest President Morsi once more, and to give him an ultimatum: leave now, or face the anger of the people. Shouts and signs of "Er7al! Er7al!" (Leave, Leave) defined the protest.

The military and Republican Guard built a cement-block wall up in the area where the clashes happened on Wednesday, and stationed tanks around the palace. Many protestors tried to dismantle the barbed wire so that they could cross. Angry shouts were exchanged between the Republican Guard and the Opposition protestors.

A big thanks to Ramez Takawy for his help today, being the man with the eyes and ears in the crowd! Much indebted, ya Ramez!

As of this writing, protestors finally cleared the barricade and surrounded the presidential palace.

On a side note: I was asked to speak to BBC World about the situation here in Egypt regarding the protests: 

http://www.bbc.co.uk/podcasts/series/whys (Click the December 6th link)

A protestor in a Guy Fawkes mask stands at the barricade erected by the military. Many protestors wear the masks, reminiscent of the movie 'V for Vendetta.'

A protestor in a Guy Fawkes mask stands at the barricade erected by the military. Many protestors wear the masks, reminiscent of the movie 'V for Vendetta.'

A member of the Egyptian military gestures with the sign to 'Wait!' at protestors. Protestors and the military exchanged heated words (at times) through the barbed wire.

A member of the Egyptian military gestures with the sign to 'Wait!' at protestors. Protestors and the military exchanged heated words (at times) through the barbed wire.

Members of the military and Republican Guard watch as a protestor, on top of the cement wall/barrier hangs a sign from the barbed wire. 

Members of the military and Republican Guard watch as a protestor, on top of the cement wall/barrier hangs a sign from the barbed wire. 

Many are angry at Morsi for doing little to address the ongoing constitutional issue, as well as take blame for the violence that occurred outside the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, December 5th.

Many are angry at Morsi for doing little to address the ongoing constitutional issue, as well as take blame for the violence that occurred outside the Presidential Palace on Wednesday, December 5th.

A hand reaches over to untie the wire holding the barbed wire together. More and more protestors climbed atop the barricade to dismantle the wire. Many people complained about the wire, demanding it go so they could protest in front of the palace.

A hand reaches over to untie the wire holding the barbed wire together. More and more protestors climbed atop the barricade to dismantle the wire. Many people complained about the wire, demanding it go so they could protest in front of the palace.

Members of the military and Republican Guard link arms in anticipation of protestors crossing the barrier. It was later breached, and protestors flooded the street in front of the Palace. The Guard, surprisingly, showed them no resistance.
Members of the military and Republican Guard link arms in anticipation of protestors crossing the barrier. It was later breached, and protestors flooded the street in front of the Palace. The Guard, surprisingly, showed them no resistance.
A member of the military jokes with a protestor as he is handed candy. In order to diffuse the tension, soldiers passed over Egyptian flags to the protestors, and protestors handed the soldiers candy or small items in return.

A member of the military jokes with a protestor as he is handed candy. In order to diffuse the tension, soldiers passed over Egyptian flags to the protestors, and protestors handed the soldiers candy or small items in return.

The 'Ultras', a group of hardcore football fans, chant 'Jika! Jika!' in memory of their member who recently succumbed to his injuries. He was shot by the Central Security Forces during the clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street two weeks ago.

The 'Ultras', a group of hardcore football fans, chant 'Jika! Jika!' in memory of their member who recently succumbed to his injuries. He was shot by the Central Security Forces during the clashes on Mohamed Mahmoud Street two weeks ago.

These laser pointers have become a common sight at the protests. They're used by some of the Ultras to shine on news cameras (blocking them), or to sight tear gas canisters in the night sky as they fall, in order to avoid injuries.

These laser pointers have become a common sight at the protests. They're used by some of the Ultras to shine on news cameras (blocking them), or to sight tear gas canisters in the night sky as they fall, in order to avoid injuries.

Palace Protests

The last week saw yet another flurry of political intrigue. Countering the massive protests seen in Tahrir last Tuesday, the Muslim Brotherhood and Salafis organized a demonstration at Cairo University, drawing at minimum hundreds of thousands.

Soon after, protests outside the High Constitutional Court by the Muslim Brotherhood prevented justices from entering the building to render a decision about the constitutionality of the fragmented Shura Council, Constituent Assembly, and the final draft of the constitution they produced. 

Wow. That's a mouthful! Long story short, Egypt's political debates about the direction of the country have become incredibly fractured and polarizing.

Today, hundreds of thousands marched on the Presidential Palace to protest the new draft of the constitution, which will go to referendum on December 15th.

Heliopolis, where the palace is located, is usually an (almost) calm area with beautiful Belgian architecture dating back almost 100 years.

The streets around the palace were lined with barbed wire and dozens of Central Security Force personnel vehicles. The police stood guard as protests shouted chants, calling for Morsi to leave. My favourite to date: "Al shaab yoreed eskat el nezzam" (Translation: 'The people want to down the regime'). There's something about this one that when it's chanted by tens of thousands of people, it sends shivers down your spine.

Soon after I left, protestors breached the barbed wire and were met with tear gas. The Central Security Forces retreated, and many allegedly jumped over the barriers in victory. According to various Twitter feeds, protestors also stole unused tear gas canisters and police shields.

As seems to be the general trend as of late, I was there with my camera. Photos below!

The street outside the palace was heavily guarded- until protestors breached the barbed wire.

The street outside the palace was heavily guarded- until protestors breached the barbed wire.

A protestor hands small candies through the barbed wire to a riot police officer. Candies, I might add, which the officer readily accepted.

A protestor hands small candies through the barbed wire to a riot police officer. Candies, I might add, which the officer readily accepted.

"Al shaab yoreed eskat el nezzam!" (Translation: 'The people want to down the regime') A few people had problems with Amru and I shooting, but any tension was diffused pretty fast.

"Al shaab yoreed eskat el nezzam!" (Translation: 'The people want to down the regime') A few people had problems with Amru and I shooting, but any tension was diffused pretty fast.

Worried that the crowd kept pushing closer, soldiers ordered the barbed wire barrier be reinforced. Some protestors eventually broke through.

Worried that the crowd kept pushing closer, soldiers ordered the barbed wire barrier be reinforced. Some protestors eventually broke through.

Anger with the police started to mount. Many protestors yelled for the barriers to be removed, claiming that the protests would be peaceful.

Anger with the police started to mount. Many protestors yelled for the barriers to be removed, claiming that the protests would be peaceful.

A woman (somehow) got through to the other side, and tried to calm the protestors. She told them not to be violent and to protest peacefully Unfortunately, people started throwing balls of paper at her.

A woman (somehow) got through to the other side, and tried to calm the protestors. She told them not to be violent and to protest peacefully Unfortunately, people started throwing balls of paper at her.

Protestors used the barbed wire as a 'Speaker's Corner' pulpit against the police, and the officers received a tirade of insults.

Protestors used the barbed wire as a 'Speaker's Corner' pulpit against the police, and the officers received a tirade of insults.

A prayer in front of the line of Central Security Forces punctuated the chants.

A prayer in front of the line of Central Security Forces punctuated the chants.

The dividing line. 

The dividing line. 

A View From Above

The running joke here is that there's never a dull day in Egypt. Often it involves terrifying highways or the hilarity that can ensue when simple jobs or task go awry. Like cafes that have no hot water.

Lately, however, the excitement has mixed with frustration, resulting in a week of tumultuous politics.

The Constituent Assembly, which had been given an extra two months by President Mohamed Morsi to draft the Constitution, announced yesterday they had voted on and approved a final draft. Many groups were angered by this, claiming that since the more liberal groups as well as Christians had left the drafting, the document lacked sufficient input. Understandably, this led for groups to call for change (or a second revolution). Morsi aired pre-recored remarks last night to stress the temporary nature of his new powers. This seemed to do little to quell the unrest.

Typically, Friday (the day of prayer) is when the crowds gather in the square to protest. Today was no exception.

Amru, the local photographer celebrity, got us onto the roof overlooking the entire square. Al Jazeera allegedly pays 4,000 LE ($700)/day to use this area. We paid 50 LE ($8). It gave us an unreal view of the protests unfolding. Seeing it from above just puts into perspective how many people show up. The shots below have tens of thousands, but after we had to leave the roof, it ended up close to 100,000. 

One of my favourite parts of protests in Tahrir (other than the incredible energy) is the smell. Vendors push around carts of  sweet potatoes and corn roasting over charcoals. The woody, smoky smell curls up over their carts and wafts around the square.

The smells mix with the never-ending chants for Morsi to step down, the sun starts to set, and the feeling drifting over the crowds is just amazing.

As my favourite cab driver ever, Mohamed, remarked on Thursday evening:

"The people won't let Morsi say and do these things and get away with it."

This seems to be the general theme of the protests. Until Morsi scales back his new powers and a new constitution that is made up of all groups in Egypt, the square won't be empty for a long time.

The sun sets over Tahrir Square. I wish words could capture how amazing the scene was. A mere photo will have to suffice.

The sun sets over Tahrir Square. I wish words could capture how amazing the scene was. A mere photo will have to suffice.

This looks like it'll be the scene for the next few days until an agreement is reached.

This looks like it'll be the scene for the next few days until an agreement is reached.

Other than the light, the one thing I love about this picture is the small photo of Morsi wearing a crown. Enough said.

Other than the light, the one thing I love about this picture is the small photo of Morsi wearing a crown. Enough said.

The sights, the smells, the sounds. It doesn't get much better.

The sights, the smells, the sounds. It doesn't get much better.

Women have had a difficult time in the Square in terms of sexual harassment. So much so, that a group called Tahrir Bodyguards helps to escort women so that they are protected. Everyone should get the chance to protest and not have to worry about being harassed.

Women have had a difficult time in the Square in terms of sexual harassment. So much so, that a group called Tahrir Bodyguards helps to escort women so that they are protected. Everyone should get the chance to protest and not have to worry about being harassed.

Revolution both divides and unites the people. Often at the same time.

Revolution both divides and unites the people. Often at the same time.

Being in the middle of the Ultras (super-intense football fans) as they remember their fallen member can be a very overwhelming experience.

Being in the middle of the Ultras (super-intense football fans) as they remember their fallen member can be a very overwhelming experience.

Chants agains the government and Morsi are framed against the graffiti of Mohamed Mahmoud Street. The murals depict those who died during the clashes last year.

Chants agains the government and Morsi are framed against the graffiti of Mohamed Mahmoud Street. The murals depict those who died during the clashes last year.