29 October, 2011

Gluttony, Reverence, and Chilly Awesomeness

On October 20th to 23rd, Scott and I joined a group of people from his work as well as representatives from Britain, Australia, New Zealand, France, Germany, and Italy (to name a few) to attend a World War II memorial service.

We took a 3ish hour drive to northern Egypt to a small town on the Mediterranean coast called El Alamein.  Now if you are better informed about our history (which assuming you are a 4th grader or more, you most likely are), perhaps you already know all about this place.

Just in case, here's the lowdown:  Commonwealth Forces (and a couple others) fought German and Italian Forces there between 1940 and 1942.  Winston Churchill has an allegedly famous (I'd never heard it before...) quote about the battles fought there: "Before Alamein we never had a victory. After Alamein, we never had a defeat." Well, many people on both sides were killed so there is a war cemetery there as well as memorials for the Commonwealth, the Germans, and the Italians.  There are 37 Canadians buried at the Al Alemein War Cemetery where we went to attend the service.

Before tending to the solemn purpose of our trip, we were treated to a wonderful, marvelous hotel stay.  A rather grand hotel that literally stepped out onto the beach.  Being that it was the ONLY hotel open around (everything else was closed for the winter - yes, apparently even in the dessert this happens), we were awfully lucky that it was so great.

Neither Scott nor I had ever visited the Mediterranean before and truly it was spectacular.  White sand, turquoise waters.  Here is a view from our balcony.  Though the evenings are cooling off a bit, we were able to sleep with our patio door open and fall asleep to the sound of the crashing waves.  Yes, you should definitely feel sorry for us and the time we are having here.

We were actually treated to lots of free time and Scott was needed for only a small part of our time there.  We lounged and walked by the sea, played Phase 10 (it's a fun card game!), chatted with friends, and ate our FACES OFF.  That's right we're talkin' three buffets a day, each and every day.  There were so many salads and desserts that I rarely made it to the hot entrees.  But melon sculptures and banana swans just keep calling me back up for seconds and thirds.

Despite all the eating, when we finally gave swimming in the sea a try, we did indeed still float.  It was freezing, but the blue water and rockless bottom was amazing!  We bobbed in the waves and even did a bit of official swimming to work up an appetite.  Bring on the next buffet...

Staying at the hotel with us were people from all the other countries involved.  It was really pretty neat to see and meet the others and especially good to see people from the historically opposing sides all eating and enjoying the beach together.  What a difference 69 years makes.

On Saturday Scott and another co-worker went to set up for the memorial service while the rest of us lounged a little more.  In the afternoon we visited the El Alamein War Museum that had information and various articles from the war displayed.  Then off to the Commonwealth Memorial site.

The space was pristine and maintained year round by a team of gardeners.  There were pale tomb stones as far as the eye could see, several monuments and a huge archway watched by Egyptian soldiers.  A few other quick facts:  there are 7,367 buried in this cemetery and 821 of those are unidentified personnel.

The service was much like a remembrance day ceremony in Canada with a few hymns, the laying of the wreaths, the moment of silence.  And yet it was quite different because we were actually in the region where the people we were remembering fought and died.  The other major difference was that it was not just the Canadians we were remembering - there were people in uniform from so many countries there to pay their respects and represent their country - Australia, New Zealand, Britain and Kenya were all in the rows right near me for example.  It was a pretty special experience that I shan't sully here with my "deep thoughts" - just that I pondered that the world is a fair bit smaller than I  thought before and that it was encouraging to gather here with this diverse group and remember our common need for peace.  Shoot - I just "thought deeply" didn't I?

It could not be helped...  I must also mention that I was very proud to be there Scott.  A handsome young man in his uniform that came to represent Canada and to remember. 

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