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Archive for the ‘Egypt’ Category

Honk if you support peace

Americans tend to use their horns sparingly in my opinion.  My experience is that our horns do not go off unless we feel like we’re in danger (we might get hit), someone has cut us off, or when we’re simply upset with another vehicle and occasionally engage in road-rage. Things we want to say with our horn: “WATCH OUT!”  “HEY, I’m right here” or “You $!@#*%”.  And quite honestly, I don’t hear a horn that often in my own country.

Now my husband has already experienced the horn-honking culture shock while he studied in Israel back in 1992.  I have not – at least not until my visit here in Egypt, Cairo especially.  It would be impossible to travel the length of a block in Cairo without honking your horn a minimum of 6 times.  When an Egyptian honks their horn it can mean a wide variety of things.  From letting someone know that you’re on their left, on their right, you want to turn, you are going to run them over, that you are tired, happy, you want to say hello, you are cool, or maybe, just because you want to.  It is a clear form of communication while driving in Egypt.  No need to signal with our blinker here, just use your horn.  No need to wave hello to someone, just honk your horn.  No need to sing aloud to a song on the radio that you like, just honk your horn to the beat!  Some honk quickly, some honk longer.  They mean different things of course.  For instance, when we’re all sitting in traffic and not moving (most of the time), you may hear a honk that is long and loud.  Usually that means someone is angry.

I decided to go for a run one morning during our “boat-el” visit.  The only place to run was along the road.  Aside from the multiple strange looks I received from virtually every person I passed (oh, and the police car who put it’s lights and siren on me twice), I endured so many honks along that road that I finally surrendered.  I thought I was going to die.

Honk!

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I think I’ll save the good for last.  So lets start first with

The Bad:

–        Having to pay every time I want to use a bathroom.  Whether I am carrying my own toilet paper in with me or not, I am accosted by the bathroom attendant at every bathroom, squatter hole or toilet that I have used in Egypt.  I mean, literally, poked with a hand in my side until I give her/him some money.

–        The terror I felt on our first night in Cairo when we were dropped off for the cheesiest Nile River dinner cruise you could imagine (complete with whirling dwarf – Casey). The terror came with the realization that this could be what the next 8 days were going to be like.

–        Never seeing an itinerary for the entire 8 days we’ve been here “on tour”.  Not knowing if we’re going to get picked up, if we have to fend for ourselves, or, if we are being gypped.   Clarifying that yes, we did indeed pay for 9 nights, but we’re only in Egypt for 8 (a mistake made by our travel agent).  The feeling of being taken advantage of.  And the worst of it all, we paid for this.  Plenty.

–        Feeling like a walking wallet.  The Lonely Planet Egypt Guide says it best when they describe interactions with people on the street as, “A cheery ‘Hello, my friend’ is double-speak for ‘This way, sucker’.”

–        I may be a woman, but I’m tired of being called “lady”.  “This way Lady.”  “I have for you Lady.”  “Very pretty Lady.”  “You are lucky man to have this Lady.” (And many of the men will reach out and put their hand on Cara’s arm – touching a woman like this is something they would never do to an Egyptian/Muslim woman.  This pisses me off.)

–        Feeling like outcasts on our cruise boat.  We are the unpopular Americans sitting in the corner by themselves (where we are ushered by the boat staff), not being invited to any activities, tours or asked to talk into the cruise video camera.  All because we don’t speak German.  Insert pout.

–        Finding out that our four-night Nile cruise actually meant: eat and sleep on a docked boat for 3 days and only cruise on the water for a day and a half.  So for the first 3 days, we were told to explore the city of Luxor (where our boat was docked) and were to be carted back to the boat to eat and sleep.  Thus we named it “our boat-el.”

–        Wondering where our oasis in the desert is.IMG_4677IMG_4600

The Ugly:

–        Realizing that we actually contemplated stealing toilet paper from the “Winter Palace Hotel” in Luxor.  But mom, it was so soft and there was a roll available in each stall!  This is of course, after pretending to be guests of the hotel and sneaking into their lobby in order to use their clean bathroom (as well as their wifi, which we shamelessly pirated).

–        14 hours in a car on Day-2.  Not just in a car mind you, but in bumper-to-bumper traffic.  Stop.  Go.  Stop.  Jerk.  Carsick.  Pollution.  Jerk.  Ahhhh!  At one point, we sat for 45 minutes without moving.  I timed it.  And did anyone in this traffic choose to turn OFF his or her car?  Absolutely not.  All this, for a disappointing 3-hour visit to a city up north.  I repeat: 14 hours in car and traffic, for a 3-hour visit (including lunch).

–        Today I saw some shoes that I liked at one of the forced visits to a bazaar outside a temple site we attended.  The vendors are lined up outside all the exits and there is no way to get to your transportation without being accosted by a minimum of ten or so “Hello, my friend” or “This way Lady” offers during the forced walk through the bazaar.  So I engaged, for the shoes, and spent a good ten minutes trying to find a pair of shoes that fit my very long but narrow feet.  No luck so we didn’t buy.  My dear husband, feeling for the guy who had given his time with no purchase from us, hands the vendor a few Egyptian Pounds (EP) and says to him, “as a thank-you for your time.”  The man refuses, hands the money back to Casey, and says “No Egyptian Pounds.  I want Euro.”  Casey tells him we haven’t Euro and that we are offering him money for his time.  As a thank you.  He doesn’t just want Pounds though, “No, I don’t want.  I want Euro”, and instead, starts to barter with Casey to give him more than 3!  So not 3 Egyptian Pounds, but 5 EUROS – “Give me 5 Euros” – the equivalent of 38 Egyptian Pounds (US$7)!  Lesson: you should never refuse free money. (The guy was ridiculous.  I put some money into his hand as a thanks and because it wasn’t euros he wanted to give it back.  He put it back into my hand.  When he realized I wasn’t giving him any euros, he then wanted the Egyptian pounds back.  Sorry pal, I told him.  You didn’t want it and gave it back to me.  You shouldn’t give a guy his money back.  You are SOL.)

–        Sneaking in a picture with our iPhone in one of the tombs in the Valley of the Kings.  No cameras allowed.  We only did it to spite them.  This was because we had just been handed 2 pieces of cut cardboard from an old box to use to fan ourselves (we didn’t ask, we were force fed them) and then poked for money when we tried to return them.  We were feeling spiteful.

–        The reality that both of us have started to question everything as a scam.

–        The mass tourism industry in Egypt.  It is nothing but ugly.  Tourism accounts for a full 20% of Egypt’s GDP. This is, without a doubt, the ugliest part of our RTW thus far.  And because of it I won’t be encouraging people to go the route we did.  If you come, stay in Cairo a maximum of one day/two nights – then get out into the real Egypt.

–        The realization that we haven’t gotten the chance to really know the country of Egypt, or the people of Egypt. This is a beautiful land with beautiful people.  But we’ve been restricted to the “tour” industry and as a result, have been given a very stilted view of this place.  This is a tragedy.

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Cairo Rail/Train Station

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Egyptian heiroglyphics

The Good:

–        Standing in front of the Pyramids of Giza.  After seeing pictures of this our entire lives, we were standing in front of them.  Touching them.  They are absolutely incredible.  No other way to describe them. IMG_4606

–        I am cruising on the Nile River, the most famous river in the world, with the Love of my Life.

–        Seeing King Tut’s coffin and the treasures that were buried in his tomb with him (The Egyptian Museum).  Then visiting the mummy room after!

–        The birth of our second family codeword.

–        Visiting ancient cities much older than Ephesus, or any other ruin/ancient city we have seen.  And, the ancient Egyptians were so advanced.

–        Walking through the Valley of the Kings (where King Tut’s tomb was found) and visiting three tombs underground.  Viewing the intricate hieroglyphic carvings and paintings, some of it plated gold, along corridor after corridor, which go deep in the ground.  These long corridors led to the main tomb chamber where the sarcophagus (coffin) lies.  It was amazing how much time and honor that was given to burying the pharaohs (kings) by the Egyptians.

–        Going on an overnight sleeper-train to and from Cairo.  It felt like we were traveling back in time.

–        Our visit to the Pharaonic Village (www.pharaonicvillage.com).  This is Egypt’s version of Disneyland.  The theme-park brought some of the best laughs from our bellies, at the end of a rough 8 days in Egypt.  It was so terribly bad, that it was good.

–        That we are in this together.  Not only have we experienced similar challenges, excitement, and culture shock in this part of the adventure, but we are doing it together.  An experience that strengthens and always will be a part of our marriage.

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Standing in front of the pyramids

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