Monday, October 1, 2012

A Visit to Egypt

As I mentioned in my previous post, we spent 6 weeks in Egypt over the summer. Let me tell you, that's a long trip with three kids. Luckily we were able to leave at night so the kids slept most of the way to our connecting flight in London. The flight from London to Cairo was filled with "Are we there yet?" and "How much longer?" but was otherwise a decent trip as well. Once we landed, and finally made it through customs and luggage claim, we were greeted by nearly half of my husband's family. No, seriously. It felt very much like a homecoming. As soon as we stepped through the doors we were greeted by cheers and whoops of delight as my brothers-in-law swooped in to pluck my sons right over the ropes. We were all passed from relative to relative with handshakes or hugs and kisses on both cheeks. My boys grinned from ear to ear through it all as my daughter, who was meeting her relatives for the first time, eyed everyone suspiciously. Once the bags were loaded, we were off into the city, my boys climbing into the car with their uncles with barely a wave. I was seated in the potentially intimidating position of right between the woman who for all intents and purposes is my mother-in-law and my husband's third mother/Aunt. And then began the attempt at conversation. Despite my best efforts, my Arabic is really lacking. I can understand quite a bit but just can't convince me mouth and tongue to form the words. This is a problem when most of your in-laws have limited English. There are a lot of smiles, hand gestures and simple one word answers in a conversation like this. But we managed mostly.

As for Cairo itself, it's as alive in the evening as ever. There are people and cars everywhere. Daring pedestrians take their lives into their hands and dart across streets as cars zip by without slowing a bit. Cars battle for position, turning two lane streets into six, horns blaring all the while. Did I mention traffic laws in Cairo are pretty nonexistent? On every corner there's someone selling something. As we stopped to pick up food, more street hawkers and pedestrians strolled, toddled or streamed by as people went about their business. In the scorching heat of summer in the desert, most people only venture out at night. As we continued driving, I stared out the windows taking in the familiar landmarks. Even in the dark of night it's easy to see that some things have changed since the revolution, a fact that would become more clear as the trip went on.

As I mentioned, the heat of the desert is brutal in the summer months, especially during the day. It felt very much like stepping into an oven set to broil. And being a Muslim country, there are no shorts and tanks allowed for women. That was a hard adjustment. The evenings, although still very hot, usually cooled off enough that you didn't feel like you were suffocating. Mostly. I would say I don't know how Egyptians stand it, but in reality they're used to it. If it dips below say 85 they think it's getting cold. It takes some getting used to. We did venture to the beaches of Mamoura in Alexandria for several days and it was noticeably cooler there.

Although I didn't feel unsafe in Cairo on either trip, before or after the revolution, there are obvious changes. People seem to be more cautious now. People in Cairo have always had their worries, but before the revolution, in general, the feeling was more relaxed and happier. Now, there's a feeling of people being on the edge and uncertain of their future and the future of their country. Which is really understandable. Despite being more subdued, life does seem to go on as normal in most of Cairo. Tahrir Square, the main sight of the protests, is still active, although calmer than before.

This is Tahrir Square at night. 

There was some damage during the revolution that can still be seen on some buildings such as the one below.

The rumor is that this building was burned by one of former president Mubarak's sons. Directly behind this building is The Egyptian Museum. There's some damage to the side of the museum (the side that houses the mummies) as well. Luckily, it's very minor.

In Alexandria it was a bit more relaxed. The city has a large tourist and visitor population so many people are there on vacation. We stayed in the private beach area of Mamoura right on the ocean. I literally spent hours sitting on the balcony, enjoying the breeze and watching the waves and passersby on Mamoura's version of the boardwalk. 

This is the view from our balcony just before dawn.

And a Mamoura sunset.

Another view from the balcony. I'm not sure of the exact story for this building. I was told it was a castle for a former King of Egypt but I do not know the details.

Early morning fisherman working just off the beach. 

We were in Mamoura for the start of Ramadan. In America, people put up lights to celebrate Christmas. In Egypt lights are put up for Ramadan. 

We didn't venture to any of the usual tourist attractions around Cairo during this trip, but I managed to get some quick pictures as we passed by. 

A view of the pyramids at Giza. 

Another look. Most people don't realize that the pyramids are actually in the city. Most pictures only show them in the desert. There is desert on two sides, but on the other two sides there are buildings and roads. 

This is Cairo Tower. Trust me, it is very very high. Venturing to the top once was enough for me. 

There is more I would like to say about being an American visiting Egypt, but I'll save that for a future post. Stay tuned for Part 2. 

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