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Egypt- Heaven and Hell
by Nancy Kman,posted Jan 30 2011 4:45PM
My visit to Cairo in 2008 was a dream come true. Ever since I was young I was mesmerized by Egyptian history. My mother and I took a Mediterranean cruise in April of that year, and we did an overnight stay in Cairo. It was both the highlight and lowlight of our trip. It was everything I dreamed of, mixed in with a tremendous amount of disappointment.
We arrived at the Port in Alexandria and our bus was in a convoy of dozens of buses from the ship on the 3 hour journey to Cairo. The convoy is escorted by armed guards all the way. Egypt makes most of it’s money on tourism, and the Luxor terror attack in the late 1990’s really put a damper on the trade for some time. While some tourists decide to go it on their own, it’s a risk.
When we were making our way into Cairo, there was shock at what we saw outside. The smog, the dirty conditions of the city, the streets, the vehicles, the homes. You’d find 10 people crammed inside a tuna can car, there were no traffic signals, it was a fly by the seat of your pants ride. Traffic is a nightmare, cars in all directions, horns honking. We saw toddlers in diapers wandering rocky and glass strewn streets without an adult in sight. Things that would freak you out at home were commonplace there. Our Egyptian guide told us that the population of the city was exponentially higher than what the infrastructure could accommodate.
Housing in Cairo
Average Eyptians live on just a few dollars a month. It’s no wonder one citizen involved in the chaos told a reporter “we are forced to live like beggars or thieves, I don’t want to be a thief”. There were beggars everywhere in Egypt. I felt so uncomfortable during a stop at a Papyrus shop in Cairo. It’s a routine stop for the cruise tour. I was waiting onboard after my purchase for the rest of the travellers to board. Right outside our bus a woman stood breastfeeding a baby with a toddler girl at her feet. The little girl was crying and begging, and the woman was mouthing “please” as she pointed to her baby’s mouth. The Egyptian guide told us in no circumstances should we pay her any money.
A couple of beggars at the Pyramids
There were thieves too. I remember one waiter on a Nile Dinner Cruise who would take payment for your drink, then come back later and demand payment again, pretending you never handed over any money. This man would come up to you again and again and it was threatening enough that we couldn’t wait to dock and get the hell off. It was the worst part of the trip.
One of the better streets in Cairo
The bus safely took us to all the important places. Our 4 star hotel, the Sphinx, The Pyramids, the Egyptian Museum. I felt as though we were in a cocoon the entire time. The undercurrent of tension was everywhere. I wondered what these poor people thought about the ‘rich’ foreigners who drove through their lives with little interaction. I am not surprised by what is going on today. I don’t pretend to know everything about what has happened in their country. I do know that my gut reaction to what I witnessed on that trip was that the government should be very ashamed at the way they allowed their people to live. I hope the people of Egypt can find a leader they can believe in, who can help raise their standard of living so that Egyptians can live a life that is worthy of their magnificent history.