Friday, February 20, 2009

Caught in the 1973 Arab-Israeli war

My wife Jeanne and I were in Luxor, Egypt when the Yom Kippur War broke out. Everyone was making a mad dash to the train station to get back to Cairo where we could hopefully catch a plane to get out of the country. These drawings were done for an article about our adventure that appeared in the Detroit Free Press.

War 4

Jeanne had bought a man's robe and was wearing it when we left, not sure that was a great idea. She was the focus of all the men's curiosity who had probably never seen a woman in a man's garb before. With hundreds of people trying to get out of Luxor it was a real nightmare at the train station as the airport was closed.

War 2

It seemed like hours before we finally left Luxor. During the trip I remember passing an airport and seeing Egyptian military jets taking off. When we arrived in Cairo we were taken to the Sheraton Hotel until preparations could be made to get us out of Egypt.

War 7

We were told to stay in the hotel where we would receive instructions about how we would be evacuated out of Egypt. Jeanne and I were having a drink in the bar on the roof of the hotel when suddenly two rockets were fired into the sky, the Israeli Air Force was overhead. We were told to all get back into our rooms, not to turn on any lights that night and to have all of our luggage packed and ready to go.
From our balcony we could see a steady stream of Russian transport planes heading for the Cairo airport. It was a strange experience and we had no idea if we would actually be able to leave in spite of the assurance of the US consulate. Leaving by air was impossible as the Cairo airport had been closed down for commercial traffic.
At about 3 AM we got a frantic call to get down to the lobby with all of our belongings, we would be leaving at any moment.

War 5

I think there were six buses in our caravan, all had large green crosses painted on their roofs, we were on our way out of Cairo, headed for Bengazi, Libya. Along the way, we saw a few Egyptian jets fly low overhead.

War 6

We stopped at El Alamein where we saw the remains of World War II German tanks, this was the location of two major battles in the war.

War 1

When we reached the Libyan border it was total chaos, many cars , trucks and buses were trying to leave Egypt. The Libyan government refused to let us through unless we had each of our passports translated into Arabic. Naturally, this took hours, but we finally were on our way again. The officials told all the women not to leave the bus as there was the possibility of them being kidnapped, no one questioned it and they all remained on the bus.

War 3

Sometime in the middle of the night we reached Derna where the buses gassed up, then we were on our way again. soon after dawn arrived we were in for another experience, we were caught in a terrible sandstorm which made driving almost impossible. After a few hours we finally reached Bengazi. The officials there took my cameras away and left them on the floor of the bus near the front door. I protested, not wanting my equipment to get stolen. They said that would not happen here as the punishment for stealing in Libya is to have one's hand cut off. So there was my Nikon equipment just laying on the floor of an open bus in Bengazi, Libya.
At that time we didn't have a consulate in Libya, but the US sent a representative to help us get hotel rooms and to get us out of Libya. A day later we were flown to Rome on a Bulgarian airliner and I still had my trusty Nikon with me. Needless to say, by this time we were all worn out, Jeanne even became ill and could not enjoy her stay in Rome.


This is a map of our trip to Bengazi which I estimate was about 700 miles. Near the end of our journey, somewhere between Al Bayda and Bengazi, is where we got caught in that terrible sandstorm, as if we needed more problems.


harald said...

Interesting to read and very nice drawings!

Leif Peng said...

What a crazy adventure, Harry! How good to know you and your wife made it safe and sound.

I absolutely love the style of your drawings from this series... does this come entirely 'from within' or was there someone influencing you at the time? David Stone Martin, or Jacob Landau, perhaps?

Harry Borgman said...

Hi Leif,
It certainly was a crazy adventure and also a bit scary as our government was not on very good terms with Libya, we thought that they might keep us there for a while. The art was done for a newspaper article on our trip and I decided to do the drawings in the style that I use when doing sketches while traveling. It's a style that's quite natural for me, almost like handwriting, they worked especially well for the article.

Anthony said...

Stunning, beautiful sketches. I agree with Leif -- I like the technique very much. Were the blacks done with a brush? or marker? (looks like a brush). To be going through this and produce such beautiful work while living throught it is amazing.

Harry Borgman said...

Hi Anthony,
Thanks for your comments. These sketches were actually done for the newspaper article after I had returned from the trip. The black areas were drawn in with a brush.