“Naharak Saeed” (“Good Day”) from Egypt! I struggled with how I would blog about my visit. Egypt is complex, a bit schizophrenic & absolutely breathtaking. I’ve been waiting my entire life to visit this magnificent place. In one day, I found myself in awe of the great works that were achieved thousands of years ago…and then repulsed by current conditions. As always, I’m planning to keep it real so you are going to get Egypt straight with no chaser. I hope you are ready!
I read several books on Egypt in order to educate myself on the history & culture of the country. The history of the pharaohs can get a bit complicated so I’ll try to simplify it as best I can. I am going to give you a quick background so that you will understand my reaction to certain situations I recount later.
Islam is the official religion of Egypt (with about 90% of the people being Sunni Muslim) which means that it’s a pretty conservative country. Women must cover up (long sleeves and pants even in the HOT sun) and drinking and gambling in public are frowned upon. That already puts me out of the mix as I don’t like to be wearing a lot of clothes when it’s hot and how am I supposed to hit the jackpot without a cool alcoholic beverage to clear my mind? However, I believe in trying to live like a local so I wore long pants and a long sleeved shirt (and reserved my drinking for home).
I read an article a couple of years ago which focused on Egypt having a high rate of sexual harassment. The article stated that Egyptian men think western women are “loose” (since we drink and wear tank tops). If you expose a lot of skin, the men think this is an “invitation” and may expose their genitalia as an offer for sex. Recently, I read an article on “Using social media tools to battle sexual harassment in Egypt” by Rima Abdelkader, NBC News which said “The Egyptian Center for Women’s Rights in Cairo called harassment in Egypt a ‘dangerous social cancer’ in a survey in 2008. The survey reported that 98 percent of foreign women were sexually harassed and 83 percent of Egyptian women experienced harassment throughout Egypt.” I don’t know why the men just don’t import some of those erotic calendars from Pompeii. They may not have access to the internet but they can certainly carry those calendars around to satisfy their lust. I found them in a pocket-size version. A little something for freaks on the go.
My guidebook also recommended that women not look a man directly in the eye as it is seen as an “invitation”. That was hard for me because I am used to looking people in the eye as a show of respect (plus it shows that I’m listening to you). If my eyes drift…so has my mind. I’m not saying it’s right, it’s just how it is. I think I suffer from adult ADD. Anyway, I made sure to wear sunglasses the majority of the time because I didn’t want men thinking I’m soliciting them for sex. But, um…there were some really good-looking men in Egypt 🙂
I also observed a man offer 5 camels to buy a woman from the man that she was with. Apparently, in Egypt, camels are currency & women are commodities. So, you could be walking along the Nile River and Ahkbar could just come up and be like, “I’ll give you 7 camels for Betty.” It happens. Better hope your boo doesn’t owe too much to Bank of America because you may be making papyrus on the Nile.
Environmental, Health & Safety Issues
We were told COUNTLESS times not to drink the water or eat any uncooked food. While this is what you hear whenever you go to Mexico, it’s on a whole new level in Egypt. I will cover this in more detail in the next post on Cairo (as that is when it really hit home). This was the most shocking and disappointing aspect to the trip.
Egypt has a 50% unemployment rate. I will touch upon this issue in the next blog post since it has not only a rural impact but a major urban one as well. This is where “hustlin’” was born. I thought it was bad in the Dominican Republic. They are amateurs compared to the Egyptians. I’ve never seen anything like it. There has been a lot of governmental corruption so be prepared for me to get on my soap box.
What is Egypt like? I think the answer is different for each person. It’s all in what you make of it. If you love history (like me) then you will be able to see past the crazy, absurd and disappointing to focus on the beauty of this African country. So, let’s get started!
We arrived in Alexandria around 6am…just in time to see the sun rise. I could hardly sleep the night before in anticipation for what I’d get to see. The first thing I notice as we pull into port is that the water in the harbor is dirty and there are sunken ships (which were actually pretty cool).
Alexandria is the capital where Cleopatra ruled from 51-30 BC. The city was named for Alexander the Great when he conquered Egypt from the Persians. The story of Cleopatra is fascinating. One thing I did not realize is that she was a descendant of Greeks (Ptolemy, who was a general of Alexander the Great). Cleo was highly educated (she spoke 8 languages) and hard core (she killed her sister in order to have the throne). A big thing back in the day was for sisters and brothers to marry each other and procreate in order to keep the royal bloodline going. Of course, this resulted in genetic deformities and poor health for the offspring (see the latest article on the DNA testing of King Tut) as well as a touch of the crazy. Anyway, Cleo was married off to her brother (Ptolemy XIII aka “P13”) but she was like, “this is gross and I’m out.” So, she ended up falling out with him and Julius Caesar had to resolve the conflict of who should rule Egypt. P13 thought he could outsmart his sister and keep her from using her charms to get Caesar to rule in her favor. But, he underestimated her. Where there is a will, there is a way. Cleo had herself rolled up in a carpet and was taken right past her brother’s guards in the palace to Caesar. She put her charms on, was granted the right to rule Egypt and made Caesar her first baby-daddy.
After Caesar was killed (“et tu, Brutus?” is one of my favorite lines), Cleo put her charms on Marc Antony and had 3 kids by him. Marc ended up living in Alexandria and boozing it up. When he was defeated by Octavian (Caesar’s heir to the Roman throne and his rival), he was told that Cleo was dead. So, he killed himself. Cleo actually wasn’t dead and when she found out Marc had committed suicide and she had lost the throne to Egypt, she killed herself by having a deadly snake, an asp, bite her. It’s so tragic. Her kids ended up being taken to Rome where the boys were killed so they wouldn’t pose a threat to Octavian but her daughter, Cleopatra Selene, was allowed to live and ended up becoming the Queen of Mauretania.