The thing that stands out about this trip as I reflect was an underlying sense of familiarity. This was my third time in Egypt – once in 2010 with my family, which was focused on sightseeing across the country, and now twice for OISMUN, both times staying with Amina and her family.
When I arrived at Amina’s, it felt kind of like being reunited with distant relatives. And when I left Egypt this time, I had this feeling that it wasn’t a permanent goodbye, but rather it was just a matter of time until I would be back. It’s hard to explain, but I have undeniably bonded to this country. It’s the place where my eyes were first opened to a world unlike any I had seen the US and Western Europe, where I was first genuinely pushed out of my comfort zone, where I got to experience a completely different way of life firsthand. It’s messy, hot and slightly dusty, a bit imperfect and yet it’s all these things that contribute to its beauty and that never cease to fascinate me. The delicious food, the chaotic traffic, the sense of the strength of the people… I truly love it.
This time around, I focused more on getting pictures of the little details – the things I hadn’t taken pictures of before. I was prepared for the fact that the majority of what I would see of Cairo would be through a bus window, so I took many pictures of things we passed on the way to the school each day, then ultimately narrowed them down to just these snapshots.
Depending on whether you live under a rock or not, you may know that Egypt has recently been going through a period of political turmoil (to make a massive understatement). But I wouldn’t be surprised if most people don’t know much more than that; considering that there’s been three governments in the past three years, there’s a lot to keep up with. The most recent power turnover occurred this past July, when the military removed then-President Morsi from power in a coup d’état. This means that until elections take place (hopefully by next spring), Egypt is kind of a military state. And let me tell you, the military is omnipresent. Here are just a few pictures of common sights on the way to and from the conference each day: tanks and armed soldiers that monitor the roads from above in little perches.
Back in Minnesota, there is a curfew imposed by the county for minors. Same thing here in BiH; there’s a curfew that those under 18 can’t be out past 11pm. But in Egypt, the military declared a state of emergency after Morsi was ousted, which includes a curfew every night from 1 am to 5 am, except for Fridays, when it starts at 7 pm. (In Egypt, weekdays are Sunday-Thursday and the weekend is Friday and Saturday. The worst protests had been on Friday evenings, resulting in the much earlier start time.) And this curfew doesn’t just apply to minors – it’s for everyone. So if you’re driving somewhere at 7:30pm on Friday and pass some soldiers (which you will, because as I said they’re everywhere), they’ll make you pull over and sleep in your car until 5am the next morning. It’s that strict. To hear my host family and other students talk about it, everyone just plans ahead – teens might organize sleepovers with friends, families could plan a “family night” where they all hang out and watch a movie, and definitely make sure that you have all the groceries you need to make dinner that night, because there’s no quick runs to a grocery store – and no grocery delivery service that will bring you something if you call and place an order, which is a thing that exists in Egypt. By the way, they love ordering delivery for everything over the phone, and it really seems that there is a delivery service for everything. Not just your average pizza delivery, but all fast food (including McDonalds and KFC), groceries, cleaning supplies, even clothes depending on the store.
Anyway, back to the trip. The only thing I haven’t covered yet was our sightseeing day. While I do still acknowledge how impressive the pyramids are, they’re definitely not as dramatic the third time you see them. So this time, I took more pictures of the things around the pyramids, which yielded some interesting shots.
After the pyramids and a delicious midafternoon meal, we went to Khan el-Khalili, a huge bazaar. There are many sights, smells, and sounds to take in, although you don’t have much time to enjoy it before being bombarded by shop owners desperately trying to get you to even acknowledge their presence. If you do, you better be prepared to buy something – or break their hearts and have them follow you, offering a lower price than before. Nevertheless, it was colorful and captivating; I only wish my pictures could do it proper justice.
So that wraps up my series about my trip to Egypt! I will end it with one last picture:
….although I don’t think it’ll be the last picture we take together.