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 28 May 2012

Postcard from Sinai, Egypt

by Petty Officer Kirstin Watt

As-Salamu Alaykum (an Arabic greeting which literally means “Peace be upon you”). I arrived here in early February and I can’t believe the first part of my deployment is already gone. It seemed only last weekend when we joined the Multinational Force and Observers (MFO) and were welcomed warmly by the New Zealand contingent. How time flies!

Having been briefed during our pre-deployment training about the instability in Egypt in recent months, I braced myself to expect the unexpected. In my first three months, protesters often gathered at the gates of the MFO compound, burning tyres and putting roadblocks. Finding alternate routes to accomplish our tasks could be frustrating. But during those times, the famous Kiwi “can-do” attitude rose to the occasion without fail.


Petty Officer Kirstin Watt (left) with Leading Writer Monique Jellick after the Anzac day ceremony in Jerusalem's war memorial cemetery


I enjoy working with the Green Machine (a.k.a. the Army). We often engage in a friendly inter-Service banter and I kindly remind them which is the senior service. Of course, there are things I learnt in the Navy which have totally different meanings in other Services. For example, an IPC stands for Initial Planning Conference, not an Inshore Patrol Craft as we know in the Navy.

The MFO is comprised of uniformed personnel from 12 nations. New Zealand, for its part, has a 28-strong contingent, which is relatively small compared to the Columbians or the Fijians. The Kiwis though are pretty well-known around the camp; the Egyptian workers call us “kiwi kiwi” when they see us in the Mess or at the Foreign Exchange. And there is always some activity to foster camaraderie, like salsa dancing with the Columbians or pizza nights on Tuesdays. 

In March, I visited the Egyptian town of Taba for the weekend. Taba is the location of Egypt’s busiest border crossing with Israel and is a favourite weekend getaway for Egyptians and tourists. From Taba, I drove across to Israel’s southernmost city of Eliat for some shopping and could not help but notice the sharp contrast between the two countries. Egypt, which is only 10 minutes away (excluding the 40 minutes it takes to walk 200 meters from the border),  has many unfinished buildings. In contrast, Israel has very modern infrastructure.

It was an honour to take part in the Anzac day ceremony in Jerusalem. The war memorial cemetery is impressive and I felt a whiff of Anzac pride as I stood alongside our Australian MFO colleagues.

We recently welcomed Rotation 2-12 and said goodbye to Rotation 4-11. I have made some fantastic friends over the past three months and I feel sad to bid them goodbye. On the other hand, I am looking forward to making more friends and seeing the Pyramids of Giza and the historical city of Petra in Jordan, which the BBC had described as one of the 40 places you have to see before you die.

I would recommend this deployment to anyone considering it. Many Army drivers have been deployed here more than once and I can fully understand why.

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