I imagine a visit to Egypt is different today than it was in 1983 when I visited. Society there was secular then. Men wore mustaches; the only beard I saw was my on the face of my husband, Ken. The primary mode of dress was western. I remember dressing modestly in a skirt that hung below my knees and a shirt that covered my shoulders, but the outfit was largely turquoise and my hair was in its poodle phase, as my daughter, Juliet, so kindly puts it. We definitely didn’t physically blend in but nevertheless were warmly welcomed by Egyptians.
When we arrived at the airport in Cairo, we took a city bus to the central Tahir Square. This was no ordinary experience. At home, we sedately wait on line to board a bus or train. There, the doors opened and all the passengers rushed to climb in the windows. We were left behind on the street pretty astonished. When we arrived in the Square, the same thing happened in reverse: everyone climbed out the windows.
Next we were faced with the challenging prospect of crossing from the Square to the opposite sidewalk which was separated by a multi-lane roadway that had a never-ending stream of cars, buses and trucks zooming along. We must have looked pathetic standing there wondering how to navigate when a well-dressed man asked if he could help. When we confessed our fear about getting to the other side, he gamely picked up my suitcase and told us to follow him as he stepped boldly into the chaotic traffic. After safely arriving, he asked if we had a hotel reservation. I told him yes but that since the street signs were all written in Arabic, I couldn’t read them and therefore wouldn’t be able to find the hotel. He asked the hotel name and was familiar with its location so he took us there, apparently not trusting that the two of us could find it on our own.
Next, it was time to go to the Pyramids of Giza. While waiting for the public shared car to take us there, several locals struck up a conversation with us and were so thrilled to learn we were American that they insisted on paying our fare. We had another surprise in store when we arrived at the pyramids and were shocked to see that they were surrounded on three sides by apartment buildings and trees. A hotel coffee shop was located just across the street. I had imagined they would be located in the middle of the desert surrounded by nothing but sand! Well, that was true on one side where all of the photos must have been taken.
Later on in the trip, we flew to the Valley of the Kings where the Temple of Luxor and many temples, tombs, and antiquities are situated. There we rented bicycles for three days and visited the tombs of Queen Hatshepsut, and the boy King Tut, among many others. Along the way, we met a twelve-year-old boy, Ali, who impressed us with his knowledge of English and all things American. He was a delight to talk to.
The singularity of my experiences in Egypt makes them as fresh and enjoyable today as they were then.