This is a country of contrast and paradox–not so different from the U.S. in that way. Religion and politics are strong factors–also not so different from the U.S. What is different so far, in my experience, is the willingness to openly discuss these things. That’s because I’m traveling with Overseas Adventure Travel (OAT), which makes a point to encourage this. This is meant to be more than a sight-seeing tour; it’s also an immersion into the culture, to the extent that’s possible in a few weeks. More about the cultural and religious insights in future posts. This first post, two days after arrival, is just a glimpse.
It’s taken two days to recover from jet lag and figure out how to post with a tiny tablet and portable keyboard. (I left my laptop at home.) International travel can be grueling anytime, but especially in these times of required vaccine records, negative test results, and masks. Turkish Airlines and OAT both still require masks, and most Cairo indoors locations likewise, so far. I now wear it on a lanyard around my neck, where it often tangles with the name tag, sunglasses, etc! 😉 We joke about it rather than give in to irritation.
“We” on this trip is 45 members of the Pentagon Ski Club, of which I’ve been a member for decades. (It also sponsors trips that have nothing to do with skiiing.) I know many of the people, but just met my roomate. I’m lucky; we have much in common. When you travel alone and are paired with a stranger, you never know how it will work out.
Why Egypt, my friends ask. Because there is such deep history here…world history, ancient history. And because it’s the Middle East, which has played such a big role in our foreign affairs for decades. And because it’s a Muslim-majority country — 85% Muslim, 15% Christian. I’ve been to other Muslim countries, but never long enough to understand them. I know this is just a dip, but better a dip than no exposure at all. Since 9/11, I can’t shake the feeling that we need to keep working on this cross-cultural and inter-faith dialogue. We were doing a lot of that in the years after 9/11, but it seems to have slowed or stopped.
This is a nation of about 100 million, compared to the U.S. population of 330 million. Cairo’s population is about 25 million, compared to New York City’s 8.5 million. We’ll spend four nights here before heading south on the Nile River. This is a huge city! We can hear the Muslim call to prayer from the hotel room…and also modern music, and the incessant beeping (but not honking) of horns. Daytime temps are in the 80s and 90s; it will get hotter as we go south. We feel very safe, and not just because the hotel is next to the U.S. Embassy. An armed policeman escorts our bus, in an agreement between the Egyptian and U.S. governments dating back to the 70s, but it seems unnecessary.
Photos and captions from the trip here, and Day 1, below.
(I’m posting this under “Reflections” on the blog menu. For those interested only in the boat, choose “The Boat” from the menu. I will return to the boat, and The Loop, after this trip. I’m blogging mostly from my phone, so please excuse any typos.)