Random thoughts on Egypt

Trip Start Apr 16, 2006
Trip End Jun 07, 2006

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Monday, May 1, 2006

I can't believe my time in Egypt is up. I really can't even explain how much I got out of it, how much I learned about the world and myself. I was constantly surprised. My perspectives on the Middle East are much different after having been here and had first hand experience, and I'll never watch the tv news with the same perspective. The people have been incredibly kind and have taught me so much.

A few random things, which I may add to as I think of them in the future...

* Egyptian frogs? Croak differently than American ones.

* If you go to Cairo, make sure not to miss having a tea or coffee at Fishawy Cafe. It's really very, very cool.

* While much of it is full of sand dunes, it is shocking how green Egypt is. How many plants and trees it has because of the Nile (especially compared to Southern California, where people need to set up massive sprinkler systems to get a green lawn). It's amazing how there are these beautiful, fertile areas and then suddenly everything drops off into sand dunes. Cairo is a huge city, and literally it just drops off into the desert at one point. One minute you're driving down packed city streets, the next you're offroading in sand by a pyramid.

* If you plan to travel Egypt there's no better way to get around than to splurge and have a good tour set up for you. You really do NEED to have a driver who speaks Arabic, and having a tour set up your itinerary makes things SO much smoother. While sometimes I didn't like staying in the sterility of a Hilton in Cairo, or not being able to really wander and explore with much free time to myself, I thank God that I didn't once have to suffer with an Arabic phrasebook in hand, trying to find my way. I was always taken care of, and in two weeks I saw more of Egypt than most people ever get to see. That said, while I'm incredibly thankful that iexplore hired Abercrombie & Kent to do my tour because they were very professional and handled everything perfectly, I'm ten times more thankful that I splurged to take a PRIVATE tour. Watching a group of ten or twenty tourists file out of their big bus and wander around with only one guide, it looked like the most torturous thing ever. Meanwhile, I was able to zip around Egypt and ask any questions I wanted, go at my own pace, and I was able to get to know my guides on a very personal level. I learned more about Egypt from the personal conversations with my guides than any guidebook or art history speech could've given me. Had I been in a large group, that experience wouldn't have been something I could've gotten.

* Egypt has the worst drivers on the planet. I actually found it totally entertaining because for some reason I firmly know I'm not meant to die in an Egyptian car accident. Thing is, you can BUY an Egyptian driver's license. You don't HAVE to KNOW how to drive. So there are lines on the road but honestly nobody knows what the lines mean. So NOBODY pays an ounce of attention to them. Or to street signs. Or lights. Or... anything. Really, it's shocking I didn't see more fatal car accidents than I did. I actually see just as many accidents on the 101 heading to work from San Mateo.

* I was warned that the people selling stuff in Egypt will harrass you horribly until you buy something and will not take no for an answer. I didn't find them to be as bad as in other countries actually. After watching my guide, I found that just shaking your head and putting a hand up (Yes, as in, "speak to the hand") worked well. I now can do a mean "No thank you" in Arabic, and it works immediately. The second they hear me speak Arabic they know I'm not going to buy their tourist junk, and in the bazaar when I said it, the salesmen all became much nicer and started chatting with me about America. It's amazing how positively people will react if you just show that you respect their culture.

* Egypt in April/early May is no hotter than Southern California. I'd take it over a Santa Ana in Van Nuys any day, but by June I think it'll be too hot for me. I will tell you that the sandstorms aren't very fun, though. There was one on the day when I was walking to the Sphinx and it made me cough horribly. Yuck.

* I'd say the biggest thing I've learned from my time in Egypt is that there are a lot of things that people in America take for granted, just basic human behaviors, that people in the Middle East don't have. Either due to law or religion. Even just the ability to leave the country... only 20% or so of America owns a passport, and meanwhile Egyptians who want to leave the country are forbidden to do so because the Government fears they will never return.

It's hard to be as excited about leaving for Istanbul when I know that the people I've become so fond of over the last two weeks will never be able to step on a plane to see it themselves, even though they want to. They can't visit me in the States. They must remain in Egypt, and now I have to leave them. It's more than a bit heartbreaking to me, really.
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