When Rick and I started telling people about our plans to visit Egypt, their first reaction was generally, “Wow, aren’t you scared?” followed by, “That’s on my Bucket List. I’d love to go there.” We’re on a scouting trip for two new TV shows that Rick will do on Egypt. While he’s been here twice before, I’m a first-timer and steep on the learning curve.
My hunch is that our recent perceptions about Egypt since their revolution has been skewed pretty egregiously by the media and others–perhaps not maliciously, but certainly with the credo that “if it bleeds it leads.” This isn’t to say that there haven’t been violent clashes, heated struggles, and misogyny and abuse in the streets of Cairo. But, we, as non-Egyptians, are not necessarily privy to the whole picture when we rely solely on what we see on TV or read in the papers for our understanding of what’s going on thousands of miles away. And that’s why we’re traveling here: to learn what Egyptian life is really like from the people who actually live here.
So far, the people we’ve met have been among the warmest I’ve ever encountered. They’re curious about us as much as we are about them, their history, their culture, and their contemporary realities. Many have a phenomenal command of the English language–particularly in the high traffic touristic areas, but in certain sectors, Arabic is exclusive and all that’s needed. We do our best with the polite expressions we know, and with generous smiles, they do their best with repeating phrases like “Hello!” “What your name?” “Where from?” “Beautiful!” and “Welcome in Cairo!”
Cairo certainly is an intense city–from it’s rule-less, crazy traffic to the hustle and bustle of workaday life in the local markets of the Muslim quarter, from the dishwasher-sized cement blocks that barricade the U.S. Embassy to the thousands of minarets echoing calls to prayer throughout the day, and the massing of humanity crammed into miles of shoulder-to-shoulder apartment buildings and spilling onto the colonial boulevards that starburst from Tahrir Square. It seems a challenge to find an oasis of tranquility in the city. The pulse of the city is so rapid, and rather than sit idly by as their country changes drastically in the post-Arab Spring era, the people here scramble to find new and any opportunities to earn a living. They take newfound liberties to bend all manner of rules that were rigidly abided by during Mubarak’s reign, and they seem to do it with an urgency that makes everything feel like it’s on hyper-speed. They may not yet be gaining the traction they hope for, but they’re not willing to give up.
We’ve been here less than 36 hours, and we’ve already seen and learned a lot–it’s just the tip of the sand dune. But sure as the sun will rise, I’m sure we’ve only picked up a grain of sand in a desert-ful of experiences that are yet to come.
Stayed tuned for this series on the insights we’re discovering about Egypt: the Land of the Pharaohs, the Land of Civilization.
17 thoughts on “Welcome in Cairo!”
What an exciting opportunity! I can’t wait to read more about your time in Egypt.
Thank you, Katherine!
I’m visiting Luxor at the moment (I’m a regular to Egypt) – I think the media has hugely exaggerated the troubles ! Enjoy your trip !
Thanks, Fiona. How fortunate you are to come here so frequently! Have a lovely time in Luxor.
I appreciate your “life-on-life” perspectives in bridging beyond the media. Thank you for the photos and personal stories … I look forward to hearing and learning more. Safe and adventurous travels!
Thank you, Eileen!
Glad to hear you’re safe! Will continue to learn about Egypt with you!
Thanks, Mom! Miss you!
Really excited to follow your trip. I visited Cairo and Alexandria in 2008, and loved it. Now I work for a US startup with a development office in Cairo. The founders (Egyptian-American and Egyptian-Canadian) started the company just one month before the revolution. Overcoming bias towards Egypt has been one of the challenges we’ve faced while trying to grow the company. Exposure like this trip of yours can be so helpful to showing the PEOPLE of Egypt, and opposed to the politics.
Thanks, Liza. We’re making great memories here in Egypt, primarily because of the people we’re meeting. Politics do come to the fore, especially in this time of societal transition for the Egyptian people, but it’s enlightening to discover how the culture, history, religion, traditions, and even language shape their political perspectives in ways that are different from a typical Western point of view. The citizens of Egypt are a beautiful people–and there’s so much to learn about and from them.
I am so excited about your trip to Egypt! My husband and I are two Americans living in Egypt and we welcome your visit with wide open arms. We are Diving Instructors in Sharm el Sheikh and are passionate about this wonderful and beautiful country and want to share it with other Americans. We have hosted several visitors over the last 6 months and we always need to do a great deal of ‘damage control’ due to incessant media reporting that makes it seem like the country is in total chaos before our guests’ arrival. Once our guests are here and have toured the country, they see that there are issues but that the situation is no where near as dangerous or risky as the media would have them believe. One of our guests was so inspired by her visit that she has started an education coalition between the US and Egypt. Exciting, positive things are happening here!
The country is in a transition period, experiencing democracy for the first time with an overwhelming desire to make life better for everyone leaving the population with frustration and impatience at the pace and direction of change.
Egyptian people are warm and inviting and they love tourists, especially Americans! Tourism is extremely important to the country and also to the visitor. There are amazing treasures to be found here both above and below the sea. The Pyramids, Luxor, Abu Simbel, Western Oasis, Moses Mountain and the world’s oldest working monastery: St. Catherine’s set in a stunning mountain landscape. And then there is the glorious Red Sea with the healthiest coral on Earth. It is breathtaking.
Egypt is definitely a place where a good guide is mandatory to navigate throughout the country. There are many different types of trips you could do: Ancient Egypt, diving and beach holidays, desert oasis, and religious (we have Muslim, Christian, and Jewish history). Egypt is a place that you can come back many times to experience it all. There are many good tour operators available from eco-trips backpacking in the Sinai to luxurious 5 star cruises down the Nile or on the Red Sea. By working with different tour operators you could piece together a really unique, out of the box adventure. And Egypt is on sale right now, prices have never been better.
Don’t be afraid, come visit.
Wow. So you get to see daily just how wonderful and friendly the Egyptians are. They really do have such a deep and rich culture and heritage that they’re eager to share. Thanks for sharing your insight, and thanks for following my blog.
Amazing! My husband and I are fans and love your writing and approach to the world. Isn’t travel amazing? Love the pictures!
Wow! Thanks, Jenny (and husband)! I really appreciate your support.
Terrific post. The photos pulled me in. Such a fascinating culture against a very dramatic landscape. I look forward to following along and learning more, especially about the social and cultural intricacies.
Many thanks, Gayla. I’m really finding this culture so charming and intriguing. It’s a real pleasure to be able to share all that I’m learning. Thanks for following the blog!