Blogs > Millennial Traveler

New and traditional ways of exploring the globe, and your own backyard.

Monday, January 31, 2011

Egypt and the Key of Life

I’m wearing my Ankh necklace today that I bought during my 2007 trip
to Egypt. It’s silver and a little tarnished, as most of my jewelry
seems to become.
But my memories from that enchanted country have not dulled.
I remember how refreshingly-different Egyptian society is from what I am
used to here in the Capital District – there’s beautiful, echoing
calls to prayer regularly and daily, scarf-wrapped women’s mysterious
dark eyes that peer out curiously, you take your life in your hands
every time you cross a street with more traffic than any road in New
York City, and men and their families invite strangers to enjoy small,
glass cups of tea in the afternoon heat.
Oh yes. In this ever-snowing winter, I remember the heat that actually
melted my pink little Nokia camera.
My friend Anzinga and I probably broke every rule with visiting a
Muslim nation – we did not regularly wear a head covering and we did
not go with a male escort. But, ya know what, we had no real problems
from the Egyptians. In fact, they were more than interested in showing
us their beautiful country.
We were summoned from a woman’s balcony in Cairo to visit with her and
her family in a modest one-bedroom apartment that somehow slept about
five people. Our cab driver in Luxor brought us to an engagement party
in his village on the Nile’s west shore, where residents are known to
proudly state: “West is Best.”
The one problem we almost had was in Aswan in the southern part of the
country. This area is infamous for kidnappings since it is so close to
the Sudan border. That’s why those interested in going to the gigantic
Abu Simbel monument have to wake up at 3 a.m. for the police escorted
caravan in the dessert.
But that’s not what our problem was. It started when Anzinga was
friended by a young boy named Abdul. He invited us into his home, just
as the other families had. What we did not realize was that this time
there was actually an agenda. His family offered us food and drinks
and then a ride to our train station.
Just as we were admiring the beautiful end of our trip, Abdul’s
brother asked us for money. We were planning to pay them for the ride,
but out of our own kindness not because we had agreed to. And then he
asked for about double what we planned to pay.
Not only did we almost miss our train, but it left a bad taste in our mouths.
Yet, I do not blame them.
With all of the amazing artifacts and historic sites we saw – King
Tut’s tomb, the great pyramids, Memphis, Karnak – we saw much poverty
along with it. Cheap souvenirs like fake ebony pyramids and sphinxes
sold by insistent but desperate individuals who seemed to have a keen
eye for who the tourists were.
It amazed me to hear that the Egyptian Museum was broken into this
weekend and items were possibly damaged considering the security I saw
when I went in – I couldn’t even bring my camera.
But it seems the residents are getting even more desperate to get
attention to their cause and to oust their president. And now travel
is highly discouraged into the country at this unstable time when more
than 100 have died and thousands have been injured. And Tuesday a mass
protest is scheduled in Cairo, a place I remember as bustling but
It really did amaze me when I was there how such a resource and
history rich area could be so poor. Friends of mine put it bluntly: 30
years of corruption.
I have not looked into this nearly as much as I should have while I
was there. In fact, I took the coward’s route and said I was Canadian
in most social interactions but I don’t think that would have mattered
for anyone I conversed with, like the kind man and woman on the train
from Cairo to Alexandria who taught me some Arabic.
Just as the Ankh symbol – the key of life - has lasted millennia, I
believe the Egyptians will pull through this. I just hope this
conflict will end before their reputation as a progressive,
tourist-friendly Muslim country is tarnished too badly.