Not sure what day it is anymore. I think Monday, January something, how many days we've been traveling has been up in the air.
Egypt was warm and dusty. We boarded a coach and drove through Alexandria to the highway for Cairo. The people of Alexandria (on the route we took) live in deplorable conditions. Many of them do not have running water, although some do, and they wash laundry and dishes in the street. The streets and buildings are so dusty and dirty that I can't imagine washing laundry does much more than to take off a layer of dust. Clothes hang from almost every window and balcony of the crowded, crumbling buildings.
The streets are crowded with those funny little 3-wheel taxi jobbers, vegetable carts pulled by pathetic looking mules, pickup trucks, vans and buses. Instead of a Starbucks on every corner, there are Coca Cola and Orange Crush signs heralding people to convenient stores in Arabic, just little open-air rooms with shelves of supplies. Everything is broken and dusty, so when there is a spot of color in the Crush or Coke signs, or in the colorful homes, it's a stunning and beautiful contrast.
The ladies wear black if they are married. They are not allowed to wear bright colors because it could attract the unwanted attention of a man other than their husband. Their robes (I forgot the name and it's not "burka") seem like they would be hot, being black and in the sun, but our guide explained that they wear white underneath, which reflects the sun and heat back out.
The men... well, they were my biggest fans. I was probably one of the youngest women on our bus and had a window seat. Since the windows are large and not tinted, people stared at us just as much as we did at them. Some children waved and ran along side the bus, happy to see Westerners, others stuck their tongues out and gave us the hand. It was a 50/50 split. Lots of men, smiled at me, winked, raised their eyebrows, waved. Even the soldiers.
Along the highway, there are plenty of half-built homes and housing developments, long abandoned from lack of money and loss of interest. Pickup trucks crowded with 15 or so people in the back ran along side the bus, waving and shouting to us. We even saw pickup trucks carrying horses and goats standing in the back... open air, unsecured, moving quickly along the highway. As we neared Cairo, we saw successful farms and grand estates, children on bicycles, more vegetable carts (farm stands) and more peace than in Alexandria.
The main attractions in Cairo were the pyramids and Sphinx, of course. (Side: We met a lovely Jewish woman, Erica, in the hot tub the other day, who said she couldn't wait to see the Sphinx. "After all," she said, "my people built it. And it should be called the Schvinx." Awesome.) Each site, especially the pyramids, were crowded with tourists and aggressive panhandlers. People are so poor in Egypt that they are desperate to make some money and can be pushy at these sites. Some will come and place an item on your person and charge you, or drop an item so you will pick it up for them and then they charge you.
We fell for that once, but it didn't work out well for the guy. He was trying to give us something "for free" because Craig "look like Arab" with his beard and he then asked for a tip, which we were warned about. We genuinely didn't want 3 headscarves, didn't bring money and kept trying to refuse politely. He opened one of the bags and put a headscarve on Craig's head. Craig finally had to be very firm with him and neither was happy... but that's unfortunately what it came down to with us and many of our traveling companions. Some weren't so firm, coming back fleeced out of money with loads of trinkets they didn't want. I think that's fine... it's a symptom of desperation, sadly, and our companions won't be hurting for the few euros they passed.
Lunch was served at a grand hotel at the base of the pyramids. It was clean and the food was very good. As we walked up the steps, a band of horns and drums greeted us on each side of the stairs like we were royalty. I have video of it, but that will come later. It was the best lunch welcome I've ever been given. Outside, security guards stood in groups with machine guns.
The afternoon held more pyramids, men trying to barter camels for me (5,000 was the highest, I think, which might not be good), more sand and dust. I was emotionally drained, having seen families dig through dumps, seeing pulluted canals and yards, after being harangued by panhandlers and pervert men, hearing the annoying remarks of some of our coach mates ("This is worse than Mexico" was a gem), watching soldiers and bodyguards with rifles and machine guns in awe, smelling camels and seeing the sad state animals and children are in. I was feeling somewhat introspective about my own life and angry that people are living this way in the world I'd naively thought to be progressive and abundant with "stuff."
For me, it comes down to that the Egyptian government should be ashamed for the way its people have to live. They tout a 5,000 B.C. civilization, but lack accountability and responsibility for healthcare, roadways, hygiene and human rights. Much of that trickles down to the people themselves, I know... but within that system, how can they possibly mobilize for a cultural shift in a short period of time? Sure, they have experienced improvements that I am unaware of, but there needs to be more opportunity and empowerment. I sense a deep corruption of human values in the government there, without knowing anything about it. I only know that I have been living on the sweet side of life and that it should be that way for anyone who wants it.
I now look at myself and how I live my life. I've been one of those people that Ben Folds referred to when he sang, "These people don't give a f*ck." I've been that person... so ignorant and sheltered from the reality of the world. I'm very lucky and despite the disagreements we have in our nation about politicians and their administrations, we've had a very good government system throughout history, really supporting us. I suppose it's because it's sort of run by the people, but there's more to it than that. There's a constant eye on the brass ring, freedom and empowerment. Our government is organized and has a full body of people to answer to when things get sideways.
I sit here on this ship, now, feeling different. I feel like my eyes are open... just a little bit. And that I've been so indulged and walking through life blindly. I understand a lot more than I did and it's not nearly as much as I should understand. I'm trying to get there. I'm humbled.