When we are at home in Canada visiting and talk about travelling, out of anywhere in the world most people we know always say they want to go to Egypt. They want to see the pyramids. They want to see the symbols of a vast and ancient history to be found there.
We visited Egypt about 10 years ago. For one day. So I only had a glimpse into the country, its people. A few, brief memories.
I think we’ve travelled to about 36+ countries around the world these past 12 years living overseas. Of all the places we’ve been our 1 day in Egypt was spent most under-guard. We were on a cruise out of Cyprus, so travelled to Egypt and were visiting both Giza and Cairo on the day-trip.
We landed at Port Said and spent the next 5 hours driving to Giza. A caravan of about 8 tour buses filled with the cruise ship passengers, along with police-car escorts. Each hour or so, we were stopped along the highway and had to go through a guarded checkpoint.
Along the way two sights remain with me.
One was miles and miles where hundreds (or thousands) of half-completed apartments lined the streets. The tour bus guide told us the reason they weren’t finished was that way the owners don’t have to pay taxes on them. If they were finished they paid taxes….if they remained unfinished, they didn’t. So here were these apartments with just the brick framework, maybe 3 to 5 stories high that didn’t have finished roof tops. But people were living in them. For years, they remained like that.
The second sight I recall while driving along was watching people step out of their apartment balconies and dumping their trash over the side. Which landed on people’s balconies below them, or on the ground. There was garbage everywhere you looked.
When we finally reached the pyramids we went out for an hour or so to have a look and wander around. Before we left the buses we were warned of the touts who might be aggressive in trying to get our dollars for souvenirs. As we walked towards the pyramids, we were accosted by men selling their wares. Two were vying for our attention and didn’t like the competition from each other. Next thing we knew they were throwing rocks at one another. As we quickly turned and left the area, police were there to chase them away. Our kids were little at the time so for them and for us, it was frightening.
What I also recall was how there was nothing around the area. There was no information about anything you were looking at. No signage. No facilities. No information posted about whether you could go in them, their history. Some might say it was left in it’s ‘natural state’. To me it was all rather unkept, run-down, uncared for.
Back to the bus and we set off for the Cairo museum. The site where much of the turmoil has been taking place the last couple of days.
Outside the museum and in downtown Cairo was some of the busiest, wildest, craziest, no-holds-barred driving chaos I had ever seen. An Egyptian friend here told me once that no one ever buys new cars in Cairo as they know they’ll end up in accidents.
It was in the middle of summer so unfortunately very hot in Cairo. What I recall most about the museum therefore was the thousands of visitors going through with us, and no air conditioning. It was sweltering and being so distracted by the heat, I could barely stand looking at anything. The only room that had air conditioning was the location of King Tutankhamun’s tomb. Needless to say, it was packed (not only for that reason of course)!
The violence I’ve watched come down upon the peaceful demonstrators in Cairo yesterday saddens me deeply. A courageous stand by people asking for no more than their freedom, their voices to be heard, justice, security, hope.
Whenever we travel somewhere we hope to gain a better understanding of the people. And even in one day, you can get a small insight into why people behave in the ways they do. Mostly, I believe, they do what they need to (good and bad) in order to survive.
Poverty, despair, lack of freedom and rights … and people wonder why there’s such turmoil in this region.
But ever the optimist … maybe … the times they are a changing.