10 Experiences from EgyptMarch 16th, 2012
Right now I’m at the Siwa Oasis – about fifty miles from the Libyan border. See map below, which shows the 1,000 mile route I’ve taken so far since entering Egypt. From Taba (the border of Israel) down to Dahab, then on to Cairo, Alexandria, and now Siwa. All Egypt is desert except along the Nile and the scattered oasis’s.
Here are some events that have happened or things I’ve observed since posting on here last, in no particular order.
1) Visiting the world famous Cairo Museum. It may be world famous, but the inside resembles more of a musty old storage warehouse than anything else: thick layers of dust, poor lighting, and many exhibits unmarked. However, I was happy to see King Tut’s golden mask and sarcophagus, as well as a bunch of mummies.
I didn’t see King Tut himself, but amazingly did see both his mother and grandmother. While some mummies look like freak props out of a horror flick, it is surprising to see others remarkably well preserved. For instance, King Tut’s grandmother Queen Tiye had more hair left on her at the ripe age of 3,402 then some people do at the ripe age of 50. Here she is:
The craziest thing about Queen Tiye (I thought) was how she was just laid out in this old glass/wood box that looked like something I could have cobbled together! No sealed, air conditioned exhibit case for her. The pride and care the Egyptians take of their antiquities is astounding. I’ve heard this lack of concern is partially to be blamed because modern Egyptians aren’t descendants of the ancients, but that may not be true.
2) Had multiple locals try to scam me and also openly lie, which has been upsetting. The good news is the Berbers out here in western Egypt are honest folk. They are restoring some of the faith in this country I had hitherto lost.
3) Spent a couple days at the port city of Alexandria. There I visited an ancient Roman amphitheater (and stood right where the gladiators of old enacted their macabre deeds), the mighty Citadel fortress guarding the harbor (and explored the ramparts and towers therein), the underground catacombs of Kom el Shoqafa, and the massive Alexandrian library (which replaced the famous one burnt to the ground back in the 3rd century). In the Alexandrian library I saw a section of Louis L’amour books, which convinced me the new library is undoubtedly superior to the old.
4) Have observed abject poverty and squalor… some places coming close to rivaling Port-au Prince (my gold standard for misery). I’ve seen areas pictures wouldn’t do justice, and that couldn’t be appreciated unless you visited them yourself. Also, many buildings in Cairo and Alexandria are old and crumbling apart while the occupants remain inside! I saw one occupied high-rise apartment building leaning at a pronounced angle! Not safe.
5) Have walked through crowded, tight little streets. One I was walking yesterday was lined with open market stalls and jam packed with two-way car traffic, two-way animal cart traffic, thousands of pedestrians, and two-way tram lines! All this in a street half the width of Maize back home. Incredible. At one point I saw a man with his back to the street (not a good idea) looking over a table of merchandise when a car literally backed into him, squeezing his legs against the table. Luckily the car wasn’t moving fast, and when it moved forward again the man was released and seemed to be OK, just quite angry and yelling at the driver, “what for.”
6) Hardly seen any Westerners (except at the Pyramids). The tourists I do see are mainly Egyptian. Egyptian tourists seem nice enough, and, believe it or not, frequently want their picture taken with me. This has happened quite a few times. Celebrity status is a new one… Maybe I should start charging money? Once, to be funny, Tomasz and I stepped into the edge of a group picture some Egyptian tourists were posing for. They all seemed to think this was quite hilarious and moved us to the center of their group so we could be front stage in their photo!
6) Played soccer with a group of teenage locals I ran into on the street. That was fun, except my team lost. The game ended by my shooting on goal and the goalie deflecting it into the Mediterranean sea! I was glad they recovered it without incident. Before I left, they wanted a photo-shoot:
7) Astoundingly inexpensive food. Here are two examples, for the mathematically inclined:
Ex 1: This morning I purchased a stack of ten pieces of pita bread hot right out of the oven for only 1/2 EGP (9 cents). Then a bunch of cheese for 6 EGP (50 cents). That fed Tomasz and I both lunch and supper today, for the grand total of 59 cents! Granted, the meals weren’t balanced, but we were both stuffed for both meals.
Ex 2: Foul (pronounced “fool”) is something like a bean burrito you can buy in cafes here. They only cost 1 EGP (9 cents). A nice supper of three fouls and a can of coca-cola fills me up and only costs 6 EGP total (about 1 US dollar).
How in the world food can be sold so cheap is beyond me. I’m guessing it has to do with gasoline being ridiculously cheap. Which reminds me that I heard the #1 money maker for Egypt is tourism, followed by #2 money maker being fees on the Suez Canal, followed by #3 being oil exports. None of those three they have to work for much. If the local gasoline prices ever go up, I’m afraid the millions here who live in poverty will be really hurting.
8 ) Hearing the call to prayer multiple times a day. This evening here at the Siwa Oasis Tomasz and I climbed up high to see the sunset… then the deafening call to prayer began from the loudspeakers of every minaret in town and we decided the calamituitous noise was more impressive than the sunset, though it too was impressive:
9) Travelling by every which way of locomotion. So far in Egypt I’ve been transported on tram, subway, train, bus, shuttle, taxi, camel, horse, and my own two feet… I leave the country by plane.
10) Sights I’m not used to seeing…
1) All the women wear head shawls in public: some covering just their hair, some covering all their face except the eyes, and some (the Berbers here out west) covering their entire face – these latter resemble wraiths. Here is a picture of the “slit-for-my-eyes” variety:
2) Women talking on their cell phones hands free… by sticking the phone into their head shawls!
(I don’t have a picture of the hands free head shawl trick, but here is a picture of two Berber men jabbering away)
3) Donkey carts everywhere… they look fun
4) Men dressed up funny-like…
5) Restaurant chain spinoffs…
Ok, sorry for the abrupt ending, but it’s late now – so that’s my update!