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"'Revolution in Cairo!' was the first thing I heard upon my return from a short desert trip. It was Friday 28 January and I had arrived in a small village in Fayoum Oasis, where my saddles and equipment are stored."
Image by Arita Baaijens courtesy Arita Baaijens, SOURCE
Did not die in vain.
Image by Arita Baaijens courtesy Arita Baaijens, SOURCE
"Since I arrived many days have passed. Police was taken off the streets in an attempt to create chaos. Mobiles didnt work. Internet was cut. "
Image by Arita Baaijens courtesy Arita Baaijens, SOURCE
"Every time when I worry too much I go back to the square, where men sleep in front of the tanks to prevent them from moving forward. Women and men are prepared to die for a better future."
Image by Arita Baaijens courtesy Arita Baaijens, SOURCE
"People are so proud to be an Egyptian now, you cannot imagine."
Image by Arita Baaijens courtesy Arita Baaijens, SOURCE
"What surprises me most is the fact that demonstrators come in all sorts and sizes. Religious people with beards, heavily veiled women, secular women in jeans, the very poor and also the well-to-do, young and old, doctors and illiterate labourers. They pray, sing, hold up signs, wave flags, share food and blankets. I could go on and on about the wonders I have seen there."
Image by Arita Baaijens courtesy Arita Baaijens, SOURCE

From the saddle: Arita Baajiens inside Egypt, "those kids really pulled it off!"

Posted: Feb 10, 2011 03:11 pm EST
(By Mikael Strandberg) They just would not give up. "My address is Tahrir till Mubarak goes," Arita Baajiens told ExWeb was one slogan she just read on the square. It seems they have been heard. "Your demand will be met" the Millitary reportedly just said to the crowds in Cairo. History is being made as the second country in short time is overthrowing its president.

Dutch explorer Arita Baajiens is a legend to desert travelers. A scholar of the Middle East, she also speaks Arabic. Knowing she was traveling somewhere in the deserts of Egypt, ExWeb's extreme trekker Mikael Strandberg set out to find her as soon as the uprising in Egypt gained speed. He eventually located her right in the midst of Tahrir Square demonstrations, where he got this exclusive interview yesterday.

ExWeb: Arita, did you expect this to happen in Egypt? And where were you when it did?

Arita: Not at all. Revolution in Cairo! was the first thing I heard upon my return from a short desert trip. It was Friday 28 January and I had arrived in a small village in Fayoum Oasis, where my saddles and equipment are stored. Sure, I said, laughing. Revolution in Egypt... that would not happen in my life time. But, the scenes on television were true enough. I could not believe my eyes. Those kids had really pulled it off!

ExWeb: Did you feel any personal threat?

Arita: No, on the way to Cairo we passed many tanks, checkpoints, soldiers. I had trouble adjusting. What had happened in the short time I had been away?

ExWeb: What happened when you arrived to Tahrir Square and Cairo?

Arita: Since I arrived many days have passed. Police was taken off the streets in an attempt to create chaos. Mobiles didnt work. Internet was cut. Thugs and police in plain clothes were sent into our neighborhoods and into the square to scare and rough up people.

But civilians organized themselves in no time and since then vigilantes protect the city after curfew. The kids on Tahrir Square bravely fought back the thugs and kept the square. I was there when guys on camels and horses raced onto the square. Stones were flying like snow balls.

People were killed and wounded. But I can assure you that nothing can stop the people on the square from doing what they do. My address is Tahrir till Mubarak goes, is one of slogans I read today on the square.

ExWeb: From your perspective, what is the biggest surprise with observing what is happening in the Tahrir Square and the rest of Egypt?

Arita: What surprises me most is the fact that demonstrators come in all sorts and sizes. Religious people with beards, heavily veiled women, secular women in jeans, the very poor and also the well-to-do, young and old, doctors and illiterate labourers. They pray, sing, hold up signs, wave flags, share food and blankets. I could go on and on about the wonders I have seen there.

ExWeb: What did people tell you?

Arita: I interviewed many people in and outside of Tahrir Square. Often I saw tears. The youth gave us back our soul, said a business woman. My heart is with those kids on the square, answered a university professor. The tears were often also a sign of guilt and shame. Because the youth had shown more courage than the older generation, they only critized the regime but had never acted upon it.

ExWeb: Can you see any change in the Egyptians compared to your earlier visits?

Arita: People are so proud to be an Egyptian now, you cannot imagine. Thirty years of intimidation, corruption, humiliation severely damage the soul and the mind. But the ban is broken and no matter what will happen, Egypt and the Egyptians will never be the same. There is so much more to say... but the intercafe is closing in a few minutes time and I have to go.

ExWeb: Just a last question, what is your take on the future of Egypt?

Arita: I worry about the future because many people have already been arrested and the press does not check up on the fate of these people. But every time when I worry too much I go back to the square, where men sleep in front of the tanks to prevent them from moving forward. Women and men are prepared to die for a better future. Who am I to worry?

Arita Baaijens grew up in the bible belt of the Netherlands, close to farms and wood lands. She escaped her native town Ede to study biology at the Free University in Amsterdam.

In 1990 she gave up her job as a consultant in environmental affairs, bought camels and ever since has explored the desert of Egypt and Sudan during the winter months with her small camel caravan. In Egypt she mostly traveled solo, the solitude transforming fear for the unknown into a positive force. After years of traveling in the empty desert of Egypt, Baaijens went to Sudan, a land of nomads. She made spectacular treks through the inhospitable northern Sudan, which borders on Chad, Libya and Egypt. Curious about the backgrounds of famine and ethnic conflict, Baaijens made several journeys in Darfur.

The contrast between the rich' westerner who can afford the luxury of travelling through the desert for pleasure along with the Arabs she employs is a rich source of lively anecdotes. Arita's travel companions were all men - her guide and armed protectors led her in her voyage of discovery to virtually unrecorded ruins, hidden springs and lost cities.

After the war broke out in Darfur Baaijens returned twice to find out what had become of her former travel companions. Some had joined the janjaweed; one of her former guards refused to kill his own people and had left the area. That guide was still working in the desert, bringing camels to Egypt.

After listening to all the stories Baaijens came to the conclusion that a man always has a choice, even in wartime.

After two decades of sand, camels and Arabs, Arita Baaijens has broadened her horizon. She found a new challenge in southwest Siberia where she will buy horses and explore the remote Altai mountains in Russia, Kazachstan, China and Mongolia. This new project is called Search4Paradise.

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