Getting into the swing...

Trip Start Apr 16, 2006
Trip End Jun 07, 2006

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Flag of Egypt  ,
Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Hi everyone. Before I get into talking about the adventures I've had over the last three days, there's something I really want everyone reading this to know. Egyptians are absolutely AMAZING people. Every single person has been so incredibly kind and wonderful to me. The number one comment I've gotten from people back home is for me to "be safe" and I have to say, I've never felt safer. To be honest, I've felt far more unsafe on the streets of Los Angeles. Safetywise I'd rather travel through Egypt than Mexico any day.

I really lucked out with the people who were assigned to me (I'll introduce them later), and every person that I've met so far has been nothing but warm and gracious. As I've traveled around, I feel like precious cargo. Whenever we drive through a roadside checkpoint & my driver declares "One American" the guard's responses have ranged from "Only one?" to a laughing "Well, even two would be okay!" I have not experienced one single sign of rudeness or anti-Americanism towards myself, quite the contrary. One waiter at a restaurant told me that he wants to walk to America to become a lawyer there and asked me my advice. I told him if he could walk across the ocean he could probably have any job he wanted.

Because of the television news and such, Americans are almost trained to lump all of the Middle East or islam together into one neat bow of terrorism and anti-Americanism. And honestly, it's not fair. There aren't many Americans traveling here (I've mostly met French, English & Australian tourists and one expat family from Canada.), and the people here understand that if an American has come to Egypt they are giving Egyptians work and are interested in their country. They don't like George Bush & the American government, but that's not exactly rare. If you are an American in Egypt, that's a different story really.

What I have found is that I am very, very lucky to have been born in America, especially as a woman. And secondly, I am very very thankful to live in a country where whenever I want to I can get on a plane to explore the world. The majority of Egyptians have never left Egypt, it is very difficult to get a Visa. Generally, to be allowed to travel freely you must have a great deal of money. About 60% of egyptian tourguides are women and sometimes they can get Visas to do tour business but the men often cannot. The Egyptians I've met so far are fascinated to hear what life outside of Egypt is like.

My guide in Alexandria, Randa, is my age. When I asked if she was married, she said no. I said I wasn't either, and then she exclaimed, "But you can have a boyfriend, right? We are not allowed to have boyfriends." I could hear a tone in her voice that made me immediately realize how lucky I am and how almost trapped she feels.

In Egypt many marriages are still arranged by family friends and such... first the man meets the family, then he meets the girl, and if things are good between them then they plan the engagement. If he has a lot of money and everything is in place to prepare for the wedding then it can happen quickly. Otherwise the engagement could be a few years. But on a whole the men and women in the culture are kept very separate and have little real communication with eachother compared to what we are used to in the states. Women are not allowed to have boyfriends, and if a man is arranging to marry her he will probably want her to stop working upon their marriage if she has a job. This is difficult for some of the women who have studied for many years to become career women (an Egyptologist, for example) because they don't want to have to give everything up. Egyptian men are good family men and love children, but it's still difficult. In Cairo and Alexandria I saw many women on the streets, but when you leave the main cities women are often expected to stay indoors. When they do go outside, some women just wear headscarves, but I have seen more than a few women in full Islamic dress. They often dress how they want to at home though, so if you look under the hem of their robes you can often see sparkly shoes and designer jeans.

Alexandria was very nice, although I didn't see much of it really. It's much cleaner and slower than Cairo. I saw many groups of men hanging out on the streets drinking turkish coffee and the markets were bustling. I wish I could've taken more photos but I was being shuttled around from place to place so fast that I never had a chance. In one day I was driven from Cairo & then toured the roman ruins, Alexandria National Museum, new Alexandria Library, & the Alexandria catacombs.

By nighttime I was pretty burned out so I decided to take a walk through the Palace Gardens at Sunset. As I was leaving my hotel, an Australian lady named Anne was starting about the same walk. We ended up walking the whole garden together and then I joined her & her sister for dinner at the Housy Restaurant a few blocks away. A gigantic plate of shish kabob (4 kinds of meat), rolled vines, soda, tea, and turkish coffee for three... for $11. As we ate, we were serenaded by a lute player who began to play the entire movie theme songbook from the Godfather to Dr. Zhivago.

Anne & her sister began to tell me about their tourguide and tour, and I quickly realized how lucky I have been. Their guides had always been at least 20-30 minutes late every day. They had been lumped along with other tourgroups at times, and their guides were mostly somewhat pious Islamic men who made a point to talk about their good Muslim wives... especially whenever Anne & her sister ordered a drink.

But on the contrary, my tour representatives have not been late one single time. I've had mostly lovely Egyptian women as city guides so far. My driver, Maged, is hands down the best driver in Egypt (we passed a lot of car accidents, so I know this firsthand) and has a wonderfully sweet and mellow personality (I've also found out that he has a weakness for dark chocolate). And keeping me company for the long drives has been Bassel, the tour company representative, who has become a very, very good friend to me. Unlike Anne & her sister's guides... Bassel is a very funny, single, whisky-drinking Egyptian guy with a lot of British friends (so our senses of humor completely mesh). After spending about 20 hours in the car with him and a deck of cards, he is also the current World Champion of "Go Fish"... I swear I've never seen anyone become so hopelessly addicted to a card game so quickly. Wehave made eachother laugh constantly, which is very handy when you're spending SOOO much quality time with someone you've just met. We got along so well it was almost a shame when the long car rides were over. (Almost.)

So on that note, after a lovely night's dinner in Alexandria I went home to get some sleep. I had to be in the lobby of my hotel by 5am to start my drive to the Siwa Oasis, the most secluded oasis in all of Egypt.

And yes... for all of you who know me well, I know the idea of me awake at 5am is making you laugh out loud. But I actually did it & survived just fine.
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