Cairo: A land of mixed emotions- The beginning

The airport is a good introduction to what the country will have in store for you. These immigration lines should be embarrassed to call themselves ‘lines’. Because lines are linear, and these are not. So I fumble and trip my way through to these lines and ended up squished between men hacking/coughing onto me and then speaking in loud tones above my head until I am forced to give them a dirty look which makes them back off a quarter of an inch. Not a comfortable distance, but I’ll take that quarter over nothing.

So I’m in this land, where the language is complete gibberish to me. Mind you, Arabic is not completely foreign to me, as I can easily pick up some dialects. But this is a completely unique language. It goes totally over my head and I’m left flailing like Mario (from the Brothers fame) when you can’t decide if he should go left or right. So here I am, its 4 am, my driver (a person I have never seen before but have been assured will pick me) is nowhere in sight, and I am lugging two suitcases and holding my purse in a death grip (some misinformed people told me muggings are quite the norm at the airport).

Finally, I call him, we communicate in two different languages and he finds me. Here, begins my 8 day adventure. I won’t delve into the work bits, because to be honest, they’re quite ordinary. But the sightseeing was fascinating (feel free to interpret this word either positively or negatively because I honestly haven’t made up my mind yet).

I’ll begin with the first day I got the chance to venture out on my own. I hired a tour guide, a sweet lady called Hanan, and we were off. The whole way I bombarded her with questions about the ‘Byramids’ (as the Egyptians call it). I would have loved to say we arrived at the pyramids and it was mind-blowing. But it wasn’t. The peaks appeared from a distance, my heart skipped a beat, and then the car was instantly surrounded with people trying to be ‘helpful’. Yelling statements like ‘I’ll buy your ticket!’, ‘Ill be your guide’ etc etc, (as translated by Hanan) are being thrown around as they rap furiously on our car windows. We finally make our way through the crowd onto the plateau and go straight to ‘Panorama’, the tourist picture spot. There, as Hanan is taking my picture, my arm is passionately grabbed by an old Egyptian man who wants to take a picture with me. He poses, he flashes the peace sign, we look cool in the picture and then he demands money. Yup, he asked me money to be in the picture with me, by his choice. So obviously I say no, to which this gentle old man transforms into an aggressive businessman as he keeps questioning as to how dare I NOT pay him for taking a picture with him.

We run to the car and I ask to be let off in front of the middle pyramid because i just want to take in the beauty. So we get off and I prepare to take some artsy pics of this World Wonder. I am obviously not left alone. Men selling T-shirts are hovering around, pushing the t-shirts into my face and very obviously into any artsy pictures I was attempting to take. So we run back into the car and make our way to the Sphinx. We go into the alleyways leading to the Sphinx in a very Egyptian way. Pushing, shoving, going wrong way in the line until we are right in front of it. And was it majestic? Yes it really was. The history of it engulfed me and made me stand there in awe, completely unawares of the crowd hustling bustling around me. But my daydreams of Pharaohs and mummies were interrupted by a cute little girl in a colorful galabiya and head scarf. She snatches my camera from me and makes me pose. I’m a bit taken aback and the Pakistani in me is keeping one foot ahead of the other, ready to chase her if she makes a run for it with the camera. But I pose and I think, what a sweet girl. Not for long though. She hands me back my camera. quickly and breathlessly asks me ‘Pictures ok’ and I nod to which she replies ‘I take care of you, now you take care of me’. So I dish out 20 pounds to which she makes a face. 30? Nope. 40? Nope. 50? Thank you! And she scurries off.

My tour guide looks sheepish and slightly guilty but I notice a proud glint in her eye as if to indicate ‘My little girls can take on you tourists any day.’ I smile back and we are done. I glance back at the pyramids and smile. They may have been a bit too rushed and hey, they were top on my list of things to do. And I don’t regret it. Not one bit. To rub shoulders with Tutankhamun, thousands of years later? I wouldn’t trade it for the world.

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