And so started my three week tour of Egypt. During that brief amount of time we went from the Mediterranean city of Alexandria all the way south to Abu Simbel, close to the Sudanese border. We flew on local airlines and sailed down the Nile. We watched the wealthy Egyptian socialites dressed in tuxedos and strapless dresses party at the Nile Hilton and farmers in their simple abayas lead their cattle to the banks of the Nile.
When I was in graduate school, I studied the history, architecture and geography of Egypt; I also have many friends who had lived and worked there who generously shared their knowledge and insight with me; but for me to truly experience the country I had to open myself up to adventure and visit it and in doing so I picked up a few colorful insights about the Egyptian people.
- Egyptians like to laugh and have a great sense of humor.
- Egyptians love to talk politics.
- Egyptians are excited and proud to show you their country. We experienced incredible hospitality and generosity.
- Egyptians are fully aware of the dysfunction of their own government - but feel completely handicapped in bringing about a shift for the better and so they learn to survive with the status quo.
- Egyptians drive without their headlights at night. (Especially so in Aswan. It will be pitch dark but not one car will have their headlights on).
- The delineation of lanes on the streets of Cairo mean absolutely nothing. If there is any space on the road in Cairo, there will be a car. A two lane street will have five rows of cars all honking trying to squeeze through. Side lanes will also have donkey carts and occasional goats added to the mix.
- Many Egyptians live in buildings that will remain under construction indefinitely. There are miles of mid rise buildings with rebars peaking through unfinished concrete columns. I was given two explanations for this. The first reason is that owners of buildings only have to pay taxes on their buildings, when construction is complete. Thus, owners prefer to 'technically' not complete construction on their building. The second reason is that only when an individual has purchased an apartment do they actually build that apartment level, thereby curtailing any potential loss in investment. Therefore, the completion of construction of these apartment buildings can take a very very long time. I am not sure if either reason is valid.
- In Egypt, you may be toothless, illiterate, barely able to eke out a living but you will have the fanciest newest mobile phone on the market.
- It is no secret that Egypt is not a wealthy country and many in their population work extremely hard to sustain a living. However, since jobs are limited and many are illiterate, many Egyptians also find the most creative means to earn a living. Frequently sited were soda, tea and bread stands on the side of the road (or a freeway). I was also shocked to see the number and variety of vendors on rowboats selling wares to tourists on the deck of cruise ships sailing down the Nile. I also came across an individual 'helping' tourists to cross the road in Giza given that crosswalks and traffic lights are hard to find (all over Egypt) and Egyptian drivers love to speed.
- While many of the buildings that constructed these days lack the intricate craftsmanship of centuries prior; and while many Egyptians perhaps cannot afford ornately decorated homes there is still nevertheless such an appreciation of color and design. Artfully painted walls, delicate iron and copper work animate and liven up so many simple buildings and share stories about the lives of the residents inside.
- The entire purpose of metal detectors are missed by the Egyptians. Metal detectors are located at the entrance to every major hotel and tourist site all over Egypt perhaps with the intent of keeping tourists safe from those with less honorable intentions. (No doubt a reaction to the 1997 Luxor massacre). However, while tourists are generally herded through the detectors, the constant beeping from the detector is treated more as background noise than a signal that a metal item has been discovered and requires further investigation. I beeped everywhere. It could have been my keys, my cameras, my belt buckle, my jewelry. But no guard ever seemed remotely interested. So then why bother installing them at all?