It’s probably better for me to write about Egypt now that we’re not there. Not that it was so horrible or anything but let’s just say it’s nice not to be there anymore. I know Ryan took lots of notes so he’ll gove you the blow by blow activities, I’ll just reminisce…
More than anything else what stood out to me about Egypt was how very different everything was. In every place we’d been we’ve tried to ‘blend in’ as best we could. In Egypt there was not a chance of going unnoticed. The language, food, religious majoroty, architecture, ideas of cleanliness and manners, attitudes, everything. There wasn’t anything familiar about Egypt the way there was in Europe. It’s not that I was expecting it to be, I guess I didn’t anticipate feeling as uncomfortable as I was there. I am so happy that we decided to join a tour group for the Egypt leg of the trip because I didn’t want to go anywhere without them and our tour guide. And because of them, I’m sure that we had the Egypt Lite version of the country but it was about as much as I could have taken. As it was, we usually holed up in our air conditionedhotel room when the group stuff was done for the day, as did most of the other 7 people on our trip. But we played lots of scrabble and watched the 24 hour english movie channel which showed such gems as Ghostbusters 2, Black Night, and Species. You know, the award winners. I’ll be the first to admit being frightened.
Cairo is a bustling metropolis with an unemployment rate of around 40%. It rarely rains so the streets never get washed clean, they just collect more and more dirt, there is garbage everywhere and dirt or dust on every surface. The government puts a tax on all completed buildings and so none of the buildings put up after the tax was instated are finished. On purpose. In many cases you can’t tell if a building is just old an crumbling or is newer and was never finished. The view out our hotel window in Aswan looked like a bomb had gone off the day before. Nope. Just everything falling apart. And as long as the building is wrecked, let’s just throw our garbage in there. Good place for it.
You are surrounded by pedlers everywhere you go. Men and children blocking your way in streets, pulling you by the arms into their shops, throwing postcards at you, telling you to take a picture sitting on their camel in front of the pyramids, for which they’ll charge you of course. men will literally walk into the photo you’re taking and then ask you for money for taking their picture. And it’s a hostile business too. In front of the sphinx I sw two groups of pedlers get into a territorial dispute. Yelling and arm waving, hitting and then one guy nearly got hit in the head with a wooden giraffe. No one notices, the tour guides keep talking, poeple just walk on past like it happens all the time. You spend all of your time at the sites, the reason you came to Egypt in the first place, with your head down, missing the view, trying not to make eye contact with anyone, shoeing away people trying to sell you their junk. The first phrase I learned in Arabic was La’a Shakrun. No Thank You. They ask where you’re from and have an answer ready for your reply. Canada “canada dry!” America. “Oh. I love the USA. I want American Wife.” Sure you do buddy.Once we got “How now Brown Cow?” and that had us scratching our heads. There are almost as may pedlers as there are flies, which also swarm around you, fighting with you for every bite you take. There’s no kidding yourself, you know if there are this many flies in the dining room, how many are abck in the kitchen? And let’s not even discuss the heat. Wait, it’s 9 million degrees and you’re telling me I have to wear long pants and long sleeves and cover my head? Oh, but Ryan can wear shorts because he’s a man… huh! That’s interesting.
There are tourist police in white uniforms everywhere who are supposed to keep you from being harassed but mostly they try to make a little cash by holding ropes open for you, telling you that it’s ok to climb on the pyramids or other structures when it really isn’t, asking to take your photo beside something which is clearly labled “No photos” all for a charge. And they’re armed. Heavily. With the tourist police, military police, ordinary police, gaurds and then an occasional random guy all toting AK-47’s it feels like there are guns pointing at you from all directions and like something horrible could happen at any second. Everytime we ventured out of the city in our air conditioned mini van it was accompanied by a police convoy. It was mildly terrifying.
But that’s the bad. There were wonderful moments too. We rode camels through the desert to a monastery at sunset. My camel’s name was Maccarena and was led by a 14 year old boy named Abdullah who chain smoked the whole way while smacking my camel on the butt with a bamboo cane. Ryan’s camel ride was clouded by his still tender tailbone, every step a painful jolt. We rode in a boat to Elaphantine Island with a Nubian Elder who’s skin and hands were dark and lethery with big fingernails so smooth and pointed he look like he was turning into a croccodile. He was soft spoken and told us the history of the Nubian people, and talked about authors like Alex Healy and Ernest Hemingway.
The highlight for me was the dayI got to relax. We spent 24 hours in a Felucca, a big one sailed boat, on the Nile. We sailed and stopped for the night at what looked like a bankside cow pasture, cows and wild packs of dogs roaming around. When the cows went to bed, it was the first quiet since arriving in Eqypt. We splept on the deck of the boat under a million twinkling stars. I woke up in the middle of the night to the 3 am “call to prayer.” Call to prayer happens every day, 3 -6 times a day usually and it’s where each someone in each mosque reads from the Quaaran and then leads a prayer over the PA. It can last up to an hour. In the middle of the night, no one else awake or around, the voice came out of nowhere, and then 2 more mosques started their own calls. It was like listening to surround sound, all out of sync. Musical, almost song-like chanting and praying by the prayer leader and then underneath the three main voices, a murmur of individuals praying along from at least half a mile away. Lying in the dark, on the boat in the Nile under the stars listening to muslim prayers in arabic at 3am. It was at once mystic, scary, beautiful and haunting. Not something I will forget. When was the last time you got out of bed at 3am for anything. It happens every night here simply for prayer. Incredible.
All of the sites, the pyramids, the temples, valley of the kings, they were all fanatstic and spectacular and I’m glad to have had the chance to see them and be there. But I’m also glad to be done with Egypt. It was nine days and it went by very quickly. And that’s a good thing.
If you do ever find yourself headed to the middle east, please consider using Emirates Airlines. They are so high tech and luxurious. TV’s in every seat, mul;tiple channels even and video games! It was so sad that it was a night flight and I had to sleep. There was even a channel that was the forward view of the plane… from the pilot’s window. And one that had a ground view too. A camera under the plane! Ingenious. And the Dubai airport was also fantastic. 24 hours always busy. We were there at 3am and it may as well have been the afternoon. We had heard that Dubai was the place for electronics so we bought a new digital camera there. The same as our old one. The camera is now treated like a baby. We should name it.
I was worried after Egypt that I would feel the same about Thailand, everything being so shockingly different but there’s something different about the people in Thailand. Ah the land of Buddha and Pad Thai. We got here yesterday afternoon and have already eaten more here than we did throughout Egypt. Last night we had a full dinner for 90 Baht. 1 US$ is worth around 40 baht so our whole dinner was just over 2 bucks. It’s really cheap just like everyone has told us. We’re here in Monsoon season so it’s mostly overcast and rains (downpours) in the afternoon. We’re off to the east part of the country tomorrow to do some island hopping and elephant washing and then we’ll go on down to the south islands for more beach and hopefully some sunshine.
Love you all and hope that your 4th’s were happy and full of friends and fireworks. (BTW I was so sad that night, thinking of all of you, Ryan went down and bought me a twinkie from the corner shop. It was the only American food he could find.We want to have a major barbeque when we get back.) OK, time’s up.
posted Tuesday July 2006