I had a busy traveling schedule this past month. A few days after my return from the States, I got on a plane for a twenty-two hour flight for Cairo, stopping in Singapore and Dubai for hours along the way. Officially, I was in Egypt to visit and survey its medical program and healthcare facilities as a medical student—the first medical student exchange program in Egypt with Asia in fact. But, we all know my real motivation for this trip: It is Egypt. And, despite the recent riots and potential dangers of Egypt these days, it is Egypt.
So, many pictures and some stories.
Benha, where I stayed for the majority of our trip, is about an hour drive from Cairo. The hostel is walking distance from Benha University, the host of this exchange program. The welcoming party was held at a fancy private club overseeing a branch of the Nile River.
Egypt is not a well-developed country, and its streets reflect that. The drive from the airport to Benha presented a stark, bleak, and sandy impression.
This is the roof—or rather top floor—of the hostel. Many buildings are missing their top floors, as if constructions were abandoned midway. The walls are rundown and the city desperately needs better civil engineering. I soon learned that there is no traffic light. Pedestrians, donkeys, horses, goats, and the ubiquitous microbus (the white vans often with their doors open) share the streets in any way they can. This is only one of the many inconveniences of living in Egypt. Plumbing, water, garbage, and other basic elements of a good city are all sorely lacking.
Still, the people of Benha are incredibly kind. I was treated to breakfast one morning by some local strangers while taking a stroll.
The Pyramids and the Sphinx need no words. My poor photography does them and their visceral presence little justice.
I kind of fell in love with the Sphinx for a little bit.
A word of warning for those who plan on visiting Egypt: Be careful of the merchants and the people, especially around major tourist attractions. At the entrance to the Pyramids, I was circled by a group of men, who shoved a souvenir pyramid replica into my hands. Then they asked for a a tip. When I refused and attempted to return my “gift,” they started yelling and grabbed my bag. They would not allow me to leave. When I gave them five Egyptian pounds, they demanded more: twenty American dollars. Luckily, my university appointed body guard noticed that I had deviated from the group and found me before things turned uglier. And, of course, the Egyptian merchants took back their present.
My brief time in downtown Cairo is scarier and more chaotic than even that ordeal at the Pyramids. Merchants in the streets are dangerously aggressive. I remember almost being dragged into a shoddy shop in a narrow alley when I gave a shisha a second look. That night, I did my tourist thing—post cards, souvenirs, cloth, cotton, and bargains (with the help of our Egyptian friends)—and left.
The presence of Islam is easily felt, and it is not just from the Hijab and mosques on every other block. As an aside, Cairo is also known as the city of a thousand minarets, which are the spire structures of mosques. Fascinating cultural differences and subtler gender tensions followed my stay in Islamic Egypt.
The architecture of the Mosque of Muhammad Ali in Cairo Citadel is breathtaking. The details and intricacies of all the arabesque designs are radiant, luxurious, but unobstrusive.
I lied down—shoes off—on the gentle rug, and stared at the high ceilings for about an hour.
The Village and Wedding
One day, an Egyptian friends from Benha University invited me to a little farm out in rural Egypt that he owned. Shisha (water pipe) and rustic delicacies were had. The skies were studded bright with twinkles unlike any sky I have seen. After all, the Village is in the middle of nowhere and far from city lights.
One night, my friends and I crashed a wedding. Egyptian weddings are quite the spectacle. They are open to all visitors, and we were the uninvited star guests from the Far East. There was plenty of dancing and a few knives.
Bibliotheca Alexandrina is built on the site of the past wonder, Library of Alexandria. I love the lighting and the modern design. Sitting down at a table and writing post cards there was a highlight of this trip. Few offer a more relaxing time than that.
Close to the Mediterranean and a popular city among European tourists, Dahab has a uniquely relaxed, touristy atmosphere compared to Cairo. I spent the last three days by the Blue Hole of the Red Sea in a upscale (relatively) hotel in this quiet, Middle Eastern coastal town.
There are gobs of stray cats in Egypt.
“And the Lord came downe upon mount Sinai, on the top of the mount: and the Lord called Moses up to the top of the mount, and Moses went up.” – Exodus 19:20, King James Bible
The Bible makes it sound so easy. Moses just went up. What the Bible did not mention was that it was a six hour walk and climb to the top either under the scorching sun during the day or subzero temperatures in the night. And that is today, with the trail already loosely defined (though only barely).
The sunrise made it all worth it.
Canyon and the Oasis
A brief walk and climb in a canyon and a drink and food on the rugs of a hut in an oasis.
The food tended toward too salty and sweet for my palate, and almost everything is eaten with bare hands. Once I got used to the cuisine and customs—and I did so quickly—the meals were a delicious part of my Egyptian experience. I especially love their cheeses and olives.
I have much more to say about my fantastic adventures in Egypt, but school and work start again tomorrow. Maybe I will get another chance to talk about shopping in Egypt—aside from those unsavory moments—and the precious gifts for my lovelies. As well, I might talk about their healthcare and medical education, which is the main purpose of our trip. For now though, I retire back into the busy life.