1

Feb

Photo Essay: Faces of Egypt

  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Photo Essay: Faces of Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Photo Essay: Faces of Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Photo Essay: Faces of Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Photo Essay: Faces of Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Photo Essay: Faces of Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Photo Essay: Faces of Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Photo Essay: Faces of Egypt

With Egypt in the news, I wanted to share some photos of friendly faces I encountered there during my visit there in January 2009.

To bring you up to speed on recent events:

  • Tens of thousands of anti-government demonstrators have taken to the streets demanding an end to President Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year rule.
  • Protests started weeks after similar protests in Tunisia which caused their president to flee the country
  • In 1979, Egypt was the first Arab nation to sign a peace treaty with Israel cementing its relationship with the U.S.
  • Egypt has received annual aid from the U.S. averaging around $2 billion since.
  • The U.S. Embassy in Cairo is now closed indefinitely

11

Jan

Ferry, Ferry Nice

  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Ferry, Ferry Nice
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Ferry, Ferry Nice
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Ferry, Ferry Nice
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Ferry, Ferry Nice
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Ferry, Ferry Nice
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Ferry, Ferry Nice
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Ferry, Ferry Nice

The difference between the fast ferry and the slow car/truck ferry was just $10, but about 3 more hours of travel time across the Gulf of Aqaba to Jordan.  And hanging out on the slow ferry with all the truck drivers on a Saturday morning was not something I really wanted to do. One guidebook said that the fast ferry runs everyday at 3pm except on Sunday.  Another one said it ran early on Saturdays. The owner of my beach camp in Nuweiba called what he said was the port and they said there was NO fast ferry on Saturdays, but the slow ferry would leave at 2pm. The book, of course, said the slow ferry leaves at noon. And to top it all off, the man said that the ticket window closed at 11am either way. What?? It was like an awful middle school math problem!

So just to be on the safe side, I arrived at the Nuweiba port at 10:30am to find out the Fast Ferry was running and would depart at 3pm just as my book said. So I proceeded to waste the next 5 hours wandering around the scruffy port area all the while schlepping my bag through litter covered, crumbling sidewalks and gutters. I sat in one café hoping to eat lunch, but was never served. The only other customers were a table of Egyptian men smoking shisha pipes. No one ever came to my table except a cute little girl who presented me with a ‘bouquet’ of leaves. I thanked her and she pointed to the ring on my finger that my mom had given me years ago. I guess this was the exchange she wanted, but I would not trade. I moved on to a second café and had some decent falafel on pita and read my Israel travel guide for a very long two hours.

Finally I moseyed to the port entrance. The signs were all in Arabic so luckily the security guards and policemen every 100 meters were pretty helpful. First I went through a security check where my bags were x-rayed. Then I was pointed into a large bright hall where I sat on a hard bench before going through immigration. After getting my passport exit stamps, I sat on a hard bench in a large dark hall.  Here I came in contact with the first westerners I’d seen all day. About twenty passengers sat waiting…a handful of them tourists. Next, we wereferry to jordan 2 2 1 1 150x150 Ferry, Ferry Nice herded onto a bus that had definitely seen better days. What was once a luxury coach with plush seats was now dirty, torn and tattered with broken seat arms and seat backs that no longer stayed in the upright position. When I finally boarded the ferry at 3:30pm (of course it was late), my ticket and passport were checked no less than five times and then I entered another world. It was as nice and plush as any big fast ferry I’d been on before. These kinds of ferries are kind of like business class in an airplane, but with much more room, larger comfy seats, a coffee and snack bar and general luxury compared to where I’d hung out all day.

It was a Saturday and also low season so myself and just the few others on board rode the huge empty vessel past Saudi Arabia on the East and Egypt’s Sinai Peninsula on the West up to Jordan under a full moon.

ferry to jordan 1 1 1 1 150x150 Ferry, Ferry Nice  ferry to jordan 6 1 1 150x150 Ferry, Ferry Nice  ferry to jordan 4 3 1 150x150 Ferry, Ferry Nice

10

Jan

Alone Again

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  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Alone Again
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Alone Again

Tears welled up in my eyes as we hugged and said our final goodbyes. I stood alone on a small hill of rocks and sand with both arms in the air waving as their minibus drove out of sight. I was alone again.  And it was bittersweet.  I felt a tug of sadness to say farewell to my new wonderful friends, but also that old hint of excitement to be all alone in the world again ready to fend for myself and explore places unknown.

islamic cairo 6 9 1 150x150 Alone Again giza 32 5 1 150x150 Alone Again luxor karnak temple 8 1 1 150x150 Alone Again

For the last two weeks I have toured around the country of Egypt. The pyramids of Giza, the temples of Luxor and the tombs at Abu Simbel were mind blowing.  I’ve slept on a plush overnight train, under the stars in a sleeping bag felucca 8 26 1 150x150 Alone Againovernight train 3 7 1 150x150 Alone Againon a basic Egyptian felucca (sailboat), and in a wonderful small thatch hut on the beach.

One of my favorite stops was the small village of Daraw, not far from the banks of the mighty Nile. Our felucca drifted ashore on a small strip of sand and we hopped in a truck taxi (where we all sit in the back on two benches facing each other) and bounced down the dusty road into town. On the way, we passed fields of sugar cane, boys walking donkeys loaded down with crops, and little children who laughed and waved with glee as we passed. Daraw is a small town, most known for its weekly camel market where as many as 200 camels are sold and traded. Large caravans of camels are brought here through the dusty desert from Sudan. It was just a little slice of life and a small taste of real Egypt.

daraw 6 27 1 150x150 Alone Again daraw 12 29 1 150x150 Alone Again daraw 9 28 1 150x150 Alone Again

I have seen so much that I know it will take some time to sink in. But, as I have mentioned in the past, what made my trip here so memorable was the people I met along the way. I decided to do an Intrepid Travel tour through Egypt as after traveling alone for so long I like to take a break from time to time and let someone else do the planning and thinking for me. Plus, in a sometimes chaotic, sometimes strange place like the Middle East, I thought it was okay to let myself off the hook and splurge on a tour.

abu simbel 2 17 1 150x150 Alone Again aswan 25 12 1 150x150 Alone Again luxor temple 14 2 1 150x150 Alone Again

As I have experienced so many times over the last couple years, it seemed that my group was special.  And, again, traveling so close and intensely with strangers for several days, it is amazing how close you can become and how you open up to new people more than perhaps in real life in such a short time.  One woman, from Sydney, was smart, well aswan nye 10 24 1 150x150 Alone Againtraveled and easy going. Some time into the trip she revealed she’d been estranged from her own daughter for several years because her daughter was under a sort of spell from a cult she had joined. It was incredibly sad to listen to her story and see how powerless she was to help her own child. Another passenger was a funny, nearly always laughing guy who lived in London. In time, we found out he had been adopted as an abandoned fifteen-month-old baby in Vietnam just after the war.

He was found on the street and taken to an orphanage in Saigon. He narrowly made one of the last rescue planes out of the country – a 747 stripped of its seats in an effort to fit as many passengers in as possible – and was flown to Sydney, Australia.

“Apparently I was a determined little rascal and I wouldn’t let go of one of the female care worker’s legs from the orphanage. I wasn’t supposed to be getting on the flight, but even at that age I knew something was up and I wasn’t going to let go because my life depended upon it.”

He has no idea what happened to his family and was lucky to be adopted by a wonderful Australian couple. Growing up wasn’t exactly easy for him…and in many ways his life is a small miracle.aswan nye 6 23 1 150x150 Alone Again

There was also an amazing mother/daughter duo from Toronto who I clicked with almost immediately. They were both smart and worldly and I loved them for that North American direct and sometimes sarcastic wit.  I really admired another great girl from Australia. She was hilarious, confident, open minded and ready to take on the world. Perhaps she reminded me of myself. I am sure I will see her and some of the others again.  We laughed, we shared our abridged life stories, we rode for hours and hours in tiny cramped buses and out-dated trains together through the magical and stunning landscape of Egypt. We celebrated the passing of another year together and we, in one way or another, will never forget each other.

nuweiba 6 14 1 150x150 Alone AgainAfter their bus rode out of sight, I padded barefoot out to the deserted sandy beach of our lovely and simple beach resort on the east coast of the Sinai Peninsula. For the last two nights, we’d slept in cute wood thatch-roofed huts on a mattress on the floor covered in a blue mosquito net. We relaxed by the blue waters of the Gulf of Aqaba and dreamed of what was across the sea in Saudi Arabia – it seemed so close, yet worlds away. It was a truly magical end to our time together in this ancient land of Egypt. Now I felt that pang of excitement again to get back on the ‘road’ of travel. An hour later I was in my ‘taxi’ truck heading for Nuweiba Port where I would hop a ferry to Jordan. I sat around the unattractive and scruffy port area in a smoky outdoor café where the Al Jazeera network blasted out of the big Toshiba television on a wooden shelf. The news showed image after image of protests of Israel’s invasion of Gaza all across the Middle East – yelling and chanting people, the burning of Israeli and American flags, bias promos edited showing Israel’s Prime Minister saying ‘every life was precious’ intercut with images of the death and destruction all over Gaza. Not the best timing for my adventure here as a Jewish American. All alone, I was a bit nervous, a bit excited, and ready for the next challenge.

8

Jan

Holy Moses!

  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Holy Moses!
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Holy Moses!
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Holy Moses!
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Holy Moses!
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Holy Moses!
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Holy Moses!
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Holy Moses!

sinai 9 3 1 150x150 Holy Moses!sinai 8 2 1 150x150 Holy Moses! The Sinai Peninsula’s strategic position between Asia and Africa has always made it a highly contested spot in the world.  This rocky moonscape-like area is home to famous Mount Sinai. The 2285 meter-high mountain (about 7500 feet) is the often-contested but supposed location where the Big man himself gave a couple tablets (stone ones, not aspirin) to a cool dude known as Moses.

Many who come here make a pilgrimage and a special hike to the top. Our group was not going to let this opportunity pass us by. There are three choices here – ride a camel three quarters of the way up and then climb the final 750 steps yourself, walk the camel trail and then climb the steps, or go all out and a bit insane and climb the entire 3750 steps of penitence all yourself. Well, part of our group (aka Team Tank) were superheroes and major sinners so they had to climb up and repent. The rest of us (me included) decided on ‘door number two,’ the slightly less taxing, but still quite strenuous two and a half-hour hike up the trail culminating in 750 steps (a mini penitence if you will).

sinai 12 9 1 150x150 Holy Moses! sinai 13 5 1 150x150 Holy Moses! sinai 20 6 1 150x150 Holy Moses!

This was no walk in the park. And half of the way up we were being followed by snorting camels and their touts sinai 22 7 1 150x150 Holy Moses!just waiting for one of the lazy tourists to give up and overpay for a lift to the top on a double humped taxi. But we would not give in and trudged up the mountain by our own might and the help of a sugary Twix bar bought along the way. The dusty terrain around us did have a mars-like beauty of jagged red barren rocky outcroppings making it mysterious and mystical.

The final steps were exhausting, but halfway up them, I got a mental jolt of energy, not only knowing that I was almost to the top, but knowing that my friends in Team Tank awaited me at the summit. I didn’t feel like Moses and wasn’t presented any commandments, well, except the words “thou shall not do this climb again” kept coming to me, but I was never so happy to see my friends at the top where we laughed, took the requisite photos and watched the sun sink into the hills of the Sinai Peninsula.

sinai 30 11 1 150x150 Holy Moses! sinai 24 8 1 150x150 Holy Moses! sinai 28 12 1 150x150 Holy Moses!

7

Jan

Down on the Suez Canal

  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Down on the Suez Canal
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Down on the Suez Canal
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Down on the Suez Canal
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Down on the Suez Canal
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Down on the Suez Canal
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Down on the Suez Canal
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Down on the Suez Canal

egypt map Down on the Suez Canal

The Egyptians built the pyramids and all these other amazing temples and tombs…surely they can sail ships through the desert. Why, yes, they can. The Suez Canal is a culmination of hundreds of years of attempts to enrich trade and connect the Red Sea to the Mediterranean. A digging of the canal in one form or another was literally started in 610 BC. The French eventually completed today’s modern canal which was completed in 1869 officially slicing Africa off from the continent of Asia. The canal itself was owned by the French and the British for nearly a century, until 1956 when the UK and the US withdrew their pledge to support the construction of the Aswan Dam due to Egyptian overtures towards the Soviet Union provoking the “Suez Crisis”, in which President Nasser nationalized the canal and blocked Israeli ships from using it. British, French, and Israeli troops took the canal by force, but were forced to retreat after international appeals and the creation of UN Peacekeeping forces. The Canadian Secretary of State for External Affairs, Lester B. Pearson, proposed the creation of the very first United Nations peacekeeping force to ensure access to the canal for all and an Israeli withdrawal from the Sinai. The resolution mandated that UN peacekeepers stay in the Sinai Peninsula unless both Egypt and Israel agreed to their withdrawal. Pearson, who later became Prime Minister, was later awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.

But relations with neighboring Israel remained iffy and there was never a real resolution of any of the underlying issues. Eventually Nassar make a blockade on the Israeli port of Eilat. While he amassed his forces, Israel struck first, beginning what was known as the “Six Days War.” Hence, just six days later, Israel controlled all of Sinai and closed down the Suez canal which was not reopened until 8 years later trapping a fleet of cargo ships inside for eight years. Humiliated and surprisingly open, President Nassar offered up his resignation, but in an outpouring support for their leader it was not accepted by the people. But just three years later he died of a heart attack while still in office.

In 1973, Egypt’s new president, Anwar Sadat launched an attack on Israeli forces in the Suez on Yom Kippur, the holiest day in the Jewish calendar. Then Sadat did something new. In a time when Arab countries still refused to accept Israel’s existence, he traveled to Jerusalem and negotiated a peace treaty with Israel to be called the “Camp David Agreement” in which Israel agreed to retreat from Sinai in return for Egypt’s acknowledgment of Israel’s right to exist as a nation. This was a controversial and largely unwelcomed move amongst Middle East nations who saw it as betraying former President Nasser’s pro-Arab/anti-Israel stance which created hatred toward Sadat and ultimately led to his assassination in 1981 by a member of an Islamic group and one of Sadat’s own soldiers.

Today the Suez is one of the world’s most trafficked shipping lanes and tolls from cargo ships’ passage bring an, er, ‘boat-load’ of money to the Egyptian government. The canal is 192 km (119 mi) long and it allows passage of ships with up to 150,000 tons displacement.

And now, from the ‘I didn’t know that’ file of random trivia: Apparently, the Statue of Liberty that graces New York’s harbor was originally intended to overlook the Suez Canal. French sculptor Frederic-Auguste Bartholdi designed a lady carrying a torch to represent progress and “Egypt carrying the light of Asia.” But the idea was scrapped due to high costs and ultimately some of his designs were used in creating the Lady Liberty we know today welcoming immigrants and “huddled masses yearning to breathe free” on arrival in the land of the free.

“The New Colossus” by Emma Lazarusliberty 198x300 Down on the Suez Canal

Not like the brazen giant of Greek fame,
With conquering limbs astride from land to land;
Here at our sea-washed, sunset gates shall stand
A mighty woman with a torch, whose flame
Is the imprisoned lightning, and her name
Mother of Exiles. From her beacon-hand
Glows world-wide welcome; her mild eyes command
The air-bridged harbor that twin cities frame.
“Keep, ancient lands, your storied pomp!” cries she with silent lips.

“Give me your tired, your poor,
Your huddled masses yearning to breathe free,
The wretched refuse of your teeming shore.
Send these, the homeless, tempest-tossed to me,
I lift my lamp beside the golden door!”

6

Jan

A City of Garbage

  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px A City of Garbage
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px A City of Garbage
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px A City of Garbage
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px A City of Garbage
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px A City of Garbage
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px A City of Garbage
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px A City of Garbage

giza 16 1 1 150x150 A City of Garbage giza 30 4 1 150x150 A City of Garbage cairo corniche 2 10 1 150x150 A City of Garbage

Cairo is a thriving city with a rich history and amazing sights. The longer I was there, the more I grew accustomed to the noise and air pollution and the more I appreciated the interesting layers of the city that I was just starting to peel away. By the title you may be thinking I mean Cairo is full of litter and trash. And to a westerner’s eye it very well may be. But I am talking about a certain neighborhood in Cairo referred to as Garbage City. And that is just what it is. All of the trash collected from Cairo’s twenty some-odd million people eventually winds up here in the Mokattam neighborhood to be sorted, recycled, and lived amongst. Garbage is piled two stories high, kids play on and in heaps of trash and, like an alpine city is coated in a light blanket of snow, Garbage City is covered with other peoples’ trash.

garbage city 4 5 1 150x150 A City of GarbageThe Zabbaleen are a Coptic (Egyptian) Christian group that came to Egypt about fifty years ago from Southern Egypt and settled on the outskirts of the city. Gradually they began to collect garbage in carts and through their own initiative they started sorting the waste and trading it, eventually manufacturing the garbage in the 1980s with development agency assistance. Over the years, they’ve used their profits from trash to upgrade their neighborhoods, educate their children (nearly all are currently enrolled in school), create jobs for their women, and improve their equipment and methods.

More so than the rest of Cairo, this Garbage City is full of garbage-in the streets, in big canvas sacks, garbage city 5 4 1 150x150 A City of Garbagespilling onto the streets, with the smell of garbage that you can imagine. But it is not as bad as it sounds. The gargantuan piles have actually been sorted into recycling garbage city 12 7 1 150x150 A City of Garbagegroups of plastic, glass, and other materials to be reused. The residents of Mokattam count their blessings – unlike others, they have a steady source of income. The Zabbaleen go around and collect trash from the bustling metropolis by morning and sort through it in the evening to see if they can find anything salvageable. Specifically, they try to find recyclables, for which they earn a few more pounds for.  It seems strange to some, but our tour guide tells us that these people are better off than some other poor members of society. In fact, greater Cairo’s approximately 60,000 Zabbaleen, who gather one third of the city’s 10,000 tons of daily garbage, have what is considered one of the world’s most innovative and efficient models of solid waste disposal. They collect the garbage, sort it, and then recycle as much as 80 percent of garbage city 10 6 1 150x150 A City of Garbageit into raw materials and manufactured goods – plastics, rugs, pots, paper, and glass – which are then traded with thousands of businesses nationwide. Driving through the bustling neighborhood, we were greeted with the smiles and waves of happy children. In fact one ten-year old girl with chocolate eyes and a wishful smile literally ran with our bus through the cluttered streets most of the time we were there. Just when we thought we’d lost her, she’d catch up to us and be waving at our side. It was almost like a spirit of life was looking into our eyes and it was quite moving.

2

Jan

Terrorism in Modern Egypt

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  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Terrorism in Modern Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Terrorism in Modern Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Terrorism in Modern Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Terrorism in Modern Egypt
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Terrorism in Modern Egypt

giza 36 6 1 150x150 Terrorism in Modern EgyptThere were more than one thousand deaths as a result of Islamic insurgency in Upper Egypt during the early to mid 1990s. Most were militants or policeman, but sometimes a few tourists got caught up in this mess. Egypt’s extreme Islamic groups’ anger is more of a response to the current bad economic times the citizens face here on a daily basis. Failed government promises and policies have not kept up with the exploding population and many of the citizens live in overcrowded, crumbling buildings in filth and squalor.

Some groups such as the Muslim Brotherhood (from which grew the 1987-formed Islamic resistance movement Hamas – one of the most violent Palestinian militant groups) were denied recognition by the state as a legal political group and they eventually turned to violence to get attention. A culmination of bitterness unfortunately resulted in brutal attacks against tourist through the 1990s including a fire bomb attack outside the Egyptian Museum in Cairo (where I recently saw amazing artifacts from King Tutankhamen’s tomb and other ancient Egyptian marvels) and a massacre of several tourists in Luxor’s Valley of the Kings. Here six assailants, armed with automatic weapons and knives, killed 62 people (mom: stop reading now) by beheading and disembowelment. The attackers then hijacked a bus, but the Egyptian tourist police and military forces engaged in a gun battle with the terrorists, who were later killed or committed suicide.

In 2004, 31 people were killed in a bombing at the Hilton hotel in tourist hotspot, Taba (near the Israeli giza 29 3 1 150x150 Terrorism in Modern Egyptborder), on the beach in the Sinai Peninsula.

The deadliest attack in Egypt’s recent history was just about four years ago when eighty-eight people were killed and over 150 were wounded by bomb blasts. Also on the Sinai Peninsula, the attacks occurred in Egypt’s most popular resort city of Sharm el-Sheikh. The attacks took place in the early morning hours, at a time when many tourists and locals were still out at restaurants, cafés and bars. The majority of dead and wounded casualties were Egyptians. Among the others killed were 11 Brits, six Italians, two Germans, one Czech, one Israeli, and one American. There were conflicting claims of responsibility. Several hours after the attacks, a group citing ties to Al Qaeda issued a claim on an Islamic Web site.

abu simbel 10 19 1 150x150 Terrorism in Modern EgyptThings have been relatively quiet since, now that Egypt’s president, Hosni Mubarak, has caved a bit to international pressure by leaning more toward a Western style democracy and introducing direct and competitive presidential elections so tourism continues at a steady clip. But some major security measures are still in place. Police convoys were introduced by the Egyptian government after these attacks as a way to give tourists a (false) sense of security. I rode in one of these ridiculous convoys from Aswan south to the temples of Abu Simbel, just a mere 40 kilometers from the Sudanese border ( I so wanted to make a run for the border). We had to get up around 3am and join the convoy at 4am (why so early? We have no idea, but some say so the police can finish the day early). The convoy is one long line of taxis and tourist buses driving dangerously fast on poor roads to keep up with the speed demon police vehicle in front. The convoy moves at the same time every day all week long. To me, not only was it an accident waiting to happen as bus drivers sped along the desert landscape just to keep up, it couldn’t have been a more obvious moving target of loads of tourists in one place if anyone wanted to mess with us. So, in other words, if any terrorist group wanted to attack tourists…now it knows exactly when and where they are – seems to defeat the purpose, no?

29

Dec

Cairo Chaos

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  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Cairo Chaos
  • wp socializer sprite mask 16px Cairo Chaos

cairo 3 3 1 150x150 Cairo ChaosThe streets and crumbling sidewalks are strewn with litter. The unimaginative concrete buildings are coated with blackish stains from years of pollution. The air is thick with dust and car exhaust fumes. The sounds of horns and bus engines fill the air. I walked alone down the cracked and potholed sidewalks of downtown Cairocairo 5 4 1 150x150 Cairo Chaos forcing myself to go against my natural instinct to make eye contact with people nearly taking all of my energy to intentionally look through the crowds passing me instead of at them. Being a blue-eyed, blond-haired (at the moment) woman walking solo, unintentionally I attracted a multitude of stares, hisses, and comments. I passed dozens of shops selling cheap-looking, yet trendy clothes and boots. Couples walked together. Colorfully cairo 9 1 1 150x150 Cairo Chaoshead-scarved women walked arm in arm. Men walked together. It was the rare sight to see a woman alone. Some looked quite western and wore no scarf at all while a very, very few passed me wearing the full chador – the complete black gown mysteriously and exotically covering all but the eyes.

When I arrived at Cairo International airport on my midnight flight from Milan, it was four o’clock in the morning. For the first time since I can remember on my trip, I arranged a pick-up transfer (taxi ride) from the airport. In most cities around the world from Asia to Europe, I’ve been able to hop on some kind of public transport – metro or bus to downtown. But here, I had decided to give myself a break knowing I’d be tired and not wanting be deal with aggressive salesmen (cab drivers). But when I walked through the crowd of drivers holding up their placards, clipboards, and makeshift paper signs with passengers’ names…none said “Lisa Lubin.” Great. I decided to just hang around a bit before I went through immigration. Perhaps my guy was just late. I waited a half an hour. A few other drivers even tried to help me, but they just said to wait. I was tired and not in the mood to be ripped off nor was I in the mood to haggle – hence my foresight to pre-book a taxi…which, to my dismay was no where to be found. In the meantime, I bought my Tourist Visa from a man at a window who did not even want to see my passport, just my $15. I withdrew hundreds of Egyptian Pounds from an ATM and finally made my way through immigration. Soon after, my trusty bag came around on the baggage carousel and I decided to wait just a bit more before starting the dreaded haggling process with a cabbie who would no doubt make some extra cash off this weary American traveler.

I stared down every guy walking around holding a placard. One man was talking on his cell phone and slowly approaching me. We continued to make eye contact and I knew…this was my man. He was 40 minutes late and did not acknowledge this fact at all, but I was just thankful that he was there. He traded me off to another man, the actual driver, a thin Egyptian man with a tired leathery face who spoke with a very raspy smoker’s voice and appeared to be much older than he probably was. During our white-knuckle drive downtown, he told me he had eight children and one wife, but a second wife ‘from Chicago’, he joked, was not out of the question. He sped me to my hotel, most of the way swerving and straddling two lanes on the road.

At 7am, I was able to check into my room, inspected the threadbare sheets (where’s the plush Egyptian cotton?) in which I unhappily discovered more hairs than I was comfortable with (I am usually comfortable with zero hairs of a stranger in my bed), but in my exhaustion, just pulled out my sleep sack and dozed off only to call reception several hours later to actually get them to change the sheets and towels from my room which was obviously not cleaned since the last guest left – different country, different standards. But I am pleased with my new found flexibility for not-so-clean conditions and took it all in exhausted stride. I remember as a kid barely wanting to sit on the edge of a hotel bed in fear of getting the ‘cooties.’ And now here I was snuggling into someone else’s bed of dark curly body hair. Mmmm. I know you just cringed…okay, me too…I’m still no Irish Jesus Backpacker…but I’m working on it.