Tuesday, June 9, 2009

Egypt- Final Thoughts; like should I go

Final Thoughts On Egypt

Is Egypt worth visiting? Yes, definitely, though for me the pyramids are the primary attraction and what I will remember most vividly. They are quite breathtaking and once in your life, it's worth the pilgrimage to see them.
Getting to know the culture of Islam I personally found quite interesting as well. While Egypt practices a much more tolerant brand of Islam than Iran, the Saudis, or God forbid (please) the Taliban. I still have my doubts whether or not women are seen as equals as I was told, though assuredly they are far better off than some places.

Without tourism Egypt would be exceedingly poor, think Yemen. It is easy to understand that in the Middle East, where six children + per family is the norm (or at least was) in other lands whose greatest resource is vast quantities of sand, and the corrupt governments do little to provide opportunity for the youth, that there would be an air of discontentment, and make them easier targets of recruitment for militant groups.

A few stories for you—
The Burka Incident

I was at a local Egyptian restaurant and came within millimeters of bumping into a woman clad in a Burka so black I couldn’t see the slits for her eyes. I have no clue how they eat in that thing, maybe they’re only allowed to eat at home, I dunno.
But coming literally face to face with Darth Vader, I couldn’t help but stare for a few moments. I really don’t know what was under the mask, but nevertheless, I sat there for a few awkward beats gazing at what for me was a novelty seen up-close for the first time.
Bad move! My guide Hend had told me earlier that the most dangerous thing in Egypt-- to stare at another man’s woman. (although in fairness, I had no way of knowing for sure that Vader was female) Egyptian men are notoriously jealous, and her bearded husband was with her, and I immediately felt his dagger stare. I quickly turned around and started speaking to Hend.
“Please be careful, Mr. Richard,” Hend warned me.
Well, as it was on my mind, I began asking Hend questions about the burka, specifically how a man could be jealous in this circumstance. Imagine going to the museum and having all the exhibits covered by a dark cloth so you can only see their approximate shape, and then being asked to describe the details of what you saw. You clad your woman up like that for a reason dude. Maybe she’s what I call “low break” (ugly) and you’re embarrassed to be seen in public with her. I realize this is not PC, but I don’t like dagger stares at me either.
I just don’t get it. I believe in allowing a woman to shine, to radiate. No matter how it is explained to me, I disagree with the burka. I wanted to tell the woman, “Girl, you don’t have to dress up like no beekeeper!! Take it off!”
Of course, unbeknownst to me, the man overheard and worse, understood at least part of my conversation, and announced quite loudly in Arabic that he spoke four languages, including English, and he was looking forward to me looking at his wife again. Testy testy.
Well, tempted as I was to see what would happen after Hend related to me what he stated, I did my best to keep my vision averted from their direction.

The Accident

Egyptian traffic is like a video game where you earn points, at a max speed of two miles an hour, every time you get another driver to cow to your will. Also, if you take your eyes off the road for even a split second, someone else will surely jump in front of you, and you’ll hit them (losing points.) This actually happened the last day I was in Egypt, and when my driver, despite my scream of “Whhhhooooaaa!” from the backseat as I saw what was about to happen, rear ended a cabbie at max speed (two miles per hour.)
The drivers got out of their respective automobiles, and in classic human tradition, began to yell at one another.
Now, I have rear ended two people in my life. Both at one mile an hour. The first time I was 16 years old and the other guy just laughed it off, cause it was obvious there was nothing wrong with his car. The second time was like five years ago in West Hollywood, when a BMW inexplicably stopped in front of me while we were both making a right hand turn onto an absolutely empty street.
The guy was an interior designer, and even for a gay guy was prissy, and in all honesty, there was NOTHING wrong with his car, but nevertheless he managed to get $750 from my insurance company for “possible interior structural damage to his fender.”
Now, in the case of my Egyptian driver, it was clear to me even from the back seat, that there was definitely damage done to the rear end of the taxi. They argued for a few minutes, and agreed that my driver would meet the cabbie at a location nearby to site I was supposed to see- Coptic Cairo.
I found out later that the accident, which in the U.S. would have been a minimum of $1,500 to fix, was settled for fifty Egyptian pounds. (About $9.50 US) which is actually a substantial amount for my driver.
I immediately pulled out $10 to pay for the accident. For a second I felt like Bill Gates. I guess the dollar still goes far in some countries.

The Intersection

There are is no such thing as a four way intersection in Egypt. Even on major streets you just keep driving til you find a place where you can “attempt” a U-Turn, and then drive the other way until you come to your street where you make a right hand turn. The last successful left hand turn was completed in the time of the Pharaohs.
However, on the smaller side streets, we came to a three way intersection, a T in the road if you will. Three cars arrived at exactly the same time, and because of an illegally parked vehicle, only one car at a time could squeeze through.
the scene of the crime which I had the foresight to take a picture of from inside our car
So, what did our Egyptians drivers do? Immediately all three of us backed up to let the other one through. Realizing that we were all giving each other the right of way, my driver smiled at the other cars, and sailed through the intersection, as they tipped their caps to him, and then made it through themselves.
Haha! And if you believe that could ever possibly occur in Egypt than I also have a rather large pyramid to sell you. Great location too!
No, what happened was all three cars slowly advanced, daring the other to show weakness and back down, but no one did because they all knew they’d lose three points in the manhood depart, not to mention their license if it was reported to the Egyptian DMV.
So now all three cars are inches away from each other, blaring their horns while traffic piles up behind them, further exacerbating the damage to my ear drums by honking their horns as loudly as possible, while the three main drivers got out, and calmly explained to each other why the other was an idiot.
It took damn near twenty minutes before everyone backed up and traffic began to move again. And even when we got through the intersection, a cabbie, who must not have been happy about his wasted time, was occupying the middle of the road, a protest to stupidity while at the same time contributing to it, as we could not get by. It took six cars piled up behind us, blaring their horns simultaneously to get him to finally move out of the way. Egypt is a crazy country.

With that said, if you do choose to go to Egypt, I feel it my duty to recommend to you my guide Hend Harb! She is relatively inexpensive, very very honest, very knowledgeable, punctual, and interesting, and she speaks good English.

Hend Harb- great Egyptian tour guide for Egypt, Cairo, and Alexandria—
contact info
noda2555 AT yahoo.com … I don’t want her email getting spammed.
Cairo – Egypt
Cell phone: +20 10 618 47 26

Peace be upon you
As always
Rich

1 comment:

  1. Hi Richard, I'm Muhammad, from Egypt!
    With all respect,I just read this post, and I have a comment about 'The Burka Incident'. Answering your questions, why the woman was dressed like that? And why was her husband jealous about her?...the answer is one word: CULTURE!

    Yes, Richard, it's a different culture, as you've learned from traveling the world, two important things; accept different cultures & Respect them. If you applied these two lessons on the situation of 'The Burka Incident', may stop wondering. Thankfully that the husband didn't grab your hand, and break your nose with one punch - I'm not exaggerating!
    Nice blog, and enjoy world-travel.

    ReplyDelete

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