Cultures of the World - Stories from Egypt
We had only just arrived back in Aswan after a three hour van ride from Abu Simbel. It was the second one of our day, but our guide was rushing us to grab our bags from our floating hotel. They were holding them for us since we checked out at 4:30 in the morning and we needed to pick them up before lunch. It was 2:30 in the afternoon, and this was the second half of our month in Egypt.
Most of the taxis in Aswan are older cars with large metal baskets on their roofs to hold luggage. We took one to the Grand Restaurant & Cafe in Aswan, but thought it was odd that only two of the five of us had been served lunch. Our guide asked the restaurant to pack our food to-go as the three of us needed to catch our train to Cairo soon, while the other two opted for an evening flight instead. He saw our disappointment and asked if we could eat it within 15 minutes. We were hungry, so we said “Yes!” and did our best. I guess it didn’t register with us exactly why the guide would have wanted to pack our lunches “to-go”.
Usually, the taxis are everywhere. Not this time. When we finally found one it was a race to the train station and through security. As we rushed toward our train car, the conductor pointed at an open door and shouted something. The guide told us to jump in as the train had already started to move. Once the bags were in, our guide said “I need to get out!” and jumped off the train. We didn't know that he wouldn't be joining us. While all of us stood there dazed at this revelation, he called out a few times as the train picked up speed "Go to Car 4!" We hadn't quite made it to where we needed to be yet. After dragging our luggage through 3 train cars, we arrived at our seats. The 15 hour ride to Cairo had just begun.
Traveling through Egypt has been an adventure full of amazing historical places and a culture that has opened our eyes. People have told us to be careful here, but then again people across the world also tell us that it is dangerous to travel to the United States. In our experience, the people of Egypt have been unusually kind and extraordinarily generous. Our first Airbnb host, Ahmed, brought us out to dinner on two separate occasions simply to make sure that we experienced Egyptian foods, such as Molokhia, Fatteh, and local fish varieties. They were all very delicious! Additionally, he drove us through Al Muqattam City (Garbage City) to see the Coptic Cave Churches (see below for location) and even gave us a tour of Islamic Cairo. Apart from the entrance fees, he did this absolutely free of charge! It is easy to say that Ahmed has become a new friend!
Egypt is a big place! It may not look so big on a map, but we have learned the hard way that it does take time to get around. Even getting around Cairo can take some time, but not everything is in Cairo. We’ve learned that to see the ancient Egyptian sites, you really have to travel to the south of Egypt (also known as “Upper Egypt” because the Nile river flows from southern Egypt and into the Mediterranean Sea). Yes, the Pyramids, the Sphinx, Memphis, and Saqqara are all near Cairo, but to see sites such as The Valley of the Kings (where Pharaohs were buried), Luxor Temple, Karnak Temple, and Abu Simbel you will need to travel to Luxor and Aswan in “Upper Egypt”. Also, a train ride from Cairo to Luxor or Aswan is 10-12 hours long! It’s a HUGE country!
Egypt is the country of Pharoahs, Pyramids, Luxor, the Nile River, and Moses - the same story in the Bible and the Quran, connecting a great history of Christians and Muslims who not only coexist in Egypt today, but are even best friends. There is a level of appreciation for religious difference that sets an example that should be learned and mimicked by other major countries - including our own, the United States of America. The local Egyptians, comprising of 85% Muslim and 15% Christian, have told us that they are a society that believes in the real history of religious similarities & understanding (not religious difference). They inform me that Muslims believe that Jesus is an extraordinarily special prophet, while Christians believe he is the Son of God (and part of him) and Jews don’t believe he was a prophet at all. So, they have “taken the middle ground” on Jesus, so-to-speak. They have told us that true Muslims do not believe in harming anyone. Additionally, at least in Egypt, they are taught in school about religious differences, and the value of kindness to each other. One tool that they use to teach this is a “historically accurate” American movie called “Kingdom of Heaven” - which we watched while in Egypt. It promotes religious understanding and respect while telling the historical story of the Christian and Muslim crusades.
Did you know that the word “God” in Italian is “Dio”, in French it is “Dieu”, in German it is “Gott”, in Japanese it is “Kami”, and in Arabic it is “Allah”? Even though they are in different languages, they all mean the same thing and they all refer to the same God. Amazing, right?
Yes, Egypt is 85% Muslim. Thus - and don’t be alarmed - you will hear the Islamic prayer over the loud-speakers 5 times per day as it happens at just about every Mosque in Cairo (and there are many). The first one occurs at first light (quite early), the next when the sun is directly overhead, the third when the shadow is the same height as the person, the fourth at sunset, and the last at last light.
I talked to a prior service Egyptian military member, whose unit trained with the U.S. Navy’s SEAL Team 6, as part of a counter terrorism unit - and he said that Egypt is definitely not part of the “Middle East” as we know it, “it is Africa”. Egypt and America have special ties and actively cooperate in preventing terrorist activities from extremist groups - effectively keeping them out of Egypt. This is a country where you should feel safe and welcomed. We felt more safe here in Egypt than we did in parts of London! And we were certainly greeted and welcomed by a number of store owners and security guards - something we rarely see across Europe or America.
Egypt is a country that has become super affordable to travel to as well. One dollar buys about 18 Egyptian Pounds. It is so cheap that we were able to rent a fully loaded two-bedroom apartment in a newly built city just east of Cairo - that would rival new suburbs in the US - for $26 per night on booking.com, take 1-hour Uber rides for less than $10 each - and many others for less than $1, a 1st class train ride from Cairo to Luxor - a 12 hour trip - also for just $10, and even a liter of gasoline or a 1.5L bottle of water for only 25 cents each (although we don’t recommend driving in Egypt!). We were in Egypt for a full month and spent less than $2,000 combined - tours, food, transportation, and bnb all included!
Egyptian Salespeople will generally be found in the Markets, Bazaars, or even at shops at the exits or entrances to Ancient Egyptian landmarks. However, they can also be found simply walking the streets in areas where you wouldn’t expect them. While Egyptians are known for their kindness - and we have mentioned this earlier - that refers to the non-salespeople Egyptians. The salespeople are what we would consider “fake-nice”. They might as well have Doctorate Degrees in Sales as they are “Level 999” in Sales strategies. Learn the phrase “La, Shukraan” which means “No, Thank You.” You may need to repeat yourself in a stern voice if they persist on being kind to you. Even say “La Laaa LAAA!” if you must.
You may find salespeople like these in Rome as well, especially near the Colosseum, but this is about Egypt. You will be approached by someone who doesn’t seem like they are selling anything and they simply seem like a kind local. They will tell you some interesting fact about something nearby or ask you where you are from (or both). Then they will attempt to help you find something you are looking for - or, even if you are just getting an Uber they will recommend an “Uber pick-up location” that is nearby. Either way, they will attempt to follow you and detour you in another direction or you will find yourself following them to that location - which will actually be a store where they’ll want to show you things that they, themselves or their family members, made.
They will LIE LIE LIE and if you stop to think about everything they have said so far, you’ll realize that this is true. But, if you are not strong willed or you find it uncomfortable to be rude, you will find yourself having tea with them (also sounds quite “kind”). And at some point you will realize that you are in the middle of a Timeshare Quality Sales Pitch to purchase some expensive things that they have for sale in their shop - additionally, they will never have actually helped you get the thing you were looking for to begin with - or, if they have, it is usually of lesser quality or unsatisfactory. Beware of the salespeople. We’ve sat down with too many - enough for you as well - so, don’t feel obligated anymore. Your time is already paid for!
Will traveling to Egypt change your life? Absolutely. Our adventure has been absolutely jaw dropping. We managed to explore Cairo, Giza, the Fayoum Oasis, took a Nile Cruise from Luxor to Aswan, saw the temples of Luxor, Karnak, and Kom Ombo, wandered around Aswan, and visited the High Dam, the unfinished Obelisk, the Temple of Philae, and Abu Simbel. Despite the rush to the train in Aswan, which was a terrific way to start this article, everything else was quite relaxing and breathtaking. We intend to return to see the Siwa Oasis, Alexandria, Hurghada, Sharm El-Sheikh, and Dahab. Our journey in Egypt has been one fun filled story after another, stories we'll be able to share with our children, our friends, and our family forever. And it didn't break the bank!
The pictures here were taken as part of a tourradar tour called “Discover Egypt,Cairo & Nile cruise 8 Days”.
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