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Egypt

In the fall of 2003, I visited Egypt with my husband, Babak. The purpose of our trip was for business. However, this did not stop us from sight seeing, and in that regard Egypt has plenty to offer.

Sanam and Babak - The Pyramids


We first arrived in Cairo. Cairo is a huge metropolitan city, and in some ways it is not only the capital of Egypt, but also one of the cultural and business capitals of the Arab world. In the latter role, Cairo is host to the offices of nearly every international agency that is active in the Middle East, including the Arab League, and the regional offices of many U.N. agencies, and international NGOs. Sixteen million people live in this city, and driving across the city (say from the airport to the Pyramids) even full speed, on a modern highway, takes nearly an hour. Driving through the alleyways and getting stuck in traffic would be a nightmare! Although the river Nile feeds the Cairo basin plenty of water, one is surprised to see the city so dry. Egyptians don't bother themselves too much to plant trees on their roadways. Instead what seems to be sprouting out of every Cairo corner is shopping malls, and fast food restaurants, most bearing the famous brand names one could find in the US. Fast food however, is not considered a quick eat. Instead it is a place for socializing.


The Sphinx

Our visit coincided with the month of Ramadan, the holy month in which Muslims fast from dawn to dusk. One afternoon around 3:00 o'clock we walked into a Pizza Hut, with a salad bar. After getting our food, we noticed that we were the only people in the place eating. A group of veiled young Egyptian women sitting at the table beside us, had their plates full and were just sitting and chatting. Upon our inquiry, they explained to us that they were fasting and they were planning to spend the next two hours sitting there until dusk, when they would break their fast, and eat. Cairo is also the crown jewel of Egyptian archeology. The magnificent Pyramids of Giza and the world famous Sphinx, are on the city's suburbs, and the Egyptian museum is located at the heart of city center. We visited the Pyramids on the first leg of our trip, and even though Cairo has a lot to offer we decided to continue our journey to the south of Egypt, on a Nile Cruise.

Nile Cruise

The tourism industry is vital to Egypt's economy, and Egyptians take great pride in their sense of hospitality and the organization of tours. A typical Nile cruise would be between Aswan and Luxor, where most of the infamous Pharonic sites are located. Our itinerary was to fly from Cairo to Aswan, Cruise from Aswan to Luxor, and fly from Luxor back to Cairo. Unlike most of Egypt, where chaos seems to be the rule of the game, the organization of the tour was flawless. The flight from Cairo was pleasant, and the taxis at Aswan airport were very familiar with the docking sites of the cruise boats.

Me at a Nile Cruise Party

The cruise boats are organized such that they dock in the morning near the archeological sites, and sail in the afternoon and overnight. The passengers wake early in the morning for sightseeing that usually lasts between 2 to 4 hours, and return to the boat before the desert day gets too hot. While the boat is cruising in the afternoon passengers usually have lunch and afterwards gather on the deck for a pool party, and at night cocktail parties with various fun activities are organized along with dinner. The quality of the food on the ships is in one word exceptionally magnificent. Lunch is usually buffet, and the dinners are 3-course meals. Everything is included on the price of the tour, except for drinks, and yes there is alcohol and there is plenty of it.

An Egyptian Bazaar

Just like word Nile Cruise, the tours are meant to radiate a sense of luxurious extravaganza, and they do. However, one cannot avoid the juxtaposition that these tours have with the everyday life in Egypt. Herds of magnificently dressed tourists, all carrying the latest digital technology, wave at locals who many of them live on less than a dollar per day, and whose children beg the tourists for a spare change of bakhsheesh (mercy) in exchange for chewing gum. The south of Egypt is truly the beginning of sub-Saharan Africa. Following the Nile not too far from where the cruise ships run will lead to the boarder of Sudan, and further to the mountains of Uganda.

Karnak Temple

Our cruise stopped at temples of Edfu, Karnak, Valley of the Kings, Valley of the Queens, and Luxor. Egyptian archeology is so infinitely delicate that one cannot stop the thought of extra-terrestrial help, considering that these enormous monuments were built without modern construction equipment, some of them over 3000 years ago. The intricate detail of tunnel paintings that sometimes run over 100 feet below the earth's surface and done without the help of even torches to bring (radiocarbon dating has found no sooth in any of these temples) is a truly bewildering thought.

Layers of history have grown one on the top of the other. In the temple of Karnak the layers of history become literal. Excavation under the pillars of a mosque, has led to a Christian church dated to 500 BC, and beneath the church lays the one corner of the remains of the temple of Karnak. One stands looking at this 200-feet structure of layers and can only dream what will be one day built above the golden arches of McDonald that shine in dusk light a couple feet away from the mosque's minaret. However, I finally got the answer to my one question, when I returned to Cairo, and visited the Egyptian national museum. All the while I was wondering not about the majestic pharos, and high priests that I heard their stories and myths, but instead about how the ordinary people lived. In the museum, beyond all the royal artifacts, I found a series of clay dolls, almost the size of Barbies. It was then that I realized that people have, and will continue to dream and play throughout the ages.

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