Memories of Misr - Part 1

Misr is the mystical sounding, classical Arabic name for Egypt. Prior to actually going there, I had heard and read a lot about it over the years. I mean, who hadn’t? From The Ten Commandments to The Mummy movies, Hollywood has done much to put Egypt in the spotlight. But of course, the Egyptians will be within their rights to say that Egypt has been around long before Hollywood even entered the picture (pun unintentional) and needs no introduction. Aside from movies, I had also read Agatha Christie’s Murder on the Nile and several of Elizabeth Peters’ fiction novels about the archaeological discoveries in the Valley of the Kings, all of which made a deep and lasting impression on me. Now, having just vacationed in Egypt, I have so many other memories to add to my montage of this wonderful country.

I never really thought I would have the opportunity to go there. Egypt has seen much turbulence during her long history but after the Arab spring revolution in 2011, the political turmoil and strife has been especially bloody, leaving her teetering on the brink of economic ruin. This state of affairs was definitely not conducive for a visit. Now that things have become a bit more stabilized, fate decreed that it was time my husband and I visited Egypt and I couldn’t have been more excited.  

I knew I wanted to see the Nile, the Valley of the Kings, the Pyramids and the Sphinx. To find out what other attractions were worth seeing, I did a Google search on must-see places to visit. That’s how the Egyptian Museum and Siwa Oasis got added to the list. My husband wanted to visit Alexandria, so we added that too. It was a logical move to engage the services of a tour guide, and a very sensible decision as we were to find out. There was no way we could have done the tours on our own. The best person to show you around a foreign country is a native of that country. After a lot of back and forth, the itinerary was finalized to our satisfaction.

On Wednesday, August 22, we flew with Turkish Airlines from JFK Airport to Istanbul. After the nine-hour flight, we took a two-hour connecting flight to Cairo Airport. Yes, it was longer travel time but cheaper than flying directly to Cairo. Turkish Airlines offered some interesting in-flight movies and the time flew by (literally) as I dozed and watched a few movies in between. I had taken my laptop to do some work but the space between my seat and the one in front was too narrow and trying to type was uncomfortable, so I gave it up. Except for a little work done while we waited for our flight from JFK, I never opened the laptop again during our vacation.   

When we got to Cairo, we had our first glitch. My suitcase wasn’t to be found on the carousel. We waited until it stopped moving and had no more suitcases to spit out. We checked the surrounding ones as well but there was still no sign of my suitcase. I couldn’t believe it. I had never had a suitcase not show up in all my years of travel. It was always something that happened to other people. I had to face reality then. Except for what I wore, every stitch of clothing I had brought was missing.

Tired and disgruntled, we went to Baggage Claim to file the missing suitcase report. There were a couple of people ahead of us in the line and when our turn finally came, we filled out the paperwork, putting in the address and phone number of our place of residence in Egypt. The guy behind the counter was very pleasant and seemed confident the airline would find my suitcase and deliver it on Saturday since they were going to be closed on Friday. By now, I had resigned myself to the idea of doing some shopping that very afternoon, so I would have a few outfits to wear until my suitcase showed up. If it ever did. I had to face the fact that it might not. I felt pretty optimistic that it would show up, so I didn’t dwell too much on that disappointment. I thanked God that our flight had come in during the day and not late at night. I had the whole afternoon to go clothes shopping.

As was pre-arranged, we were picked up by a taxi and taken to the place we would be staying at. At first sight, I was charmed by the city of Cairo. It was a sprawling, dusty, chaotic place teeming with activity as people went about their daily lives. Massive apartment buildings sat close to one another, some shiny and new, others old and run-down. Among them were numerous shops, some large and well-to-do and others small and squalid. The streets were filled with traffic but there were no traffic lights to regulate the flow of vehicles nor any pedestrian crossings to provide safe passage from the onslaught of speeding vehicles. Despite this, harmony was somehow achieved and I was left shaking my head in wonder that there was such cohesion amid the chaos.  

We soon reached our destination up in the mountains of Mokattam. We ate lunch and decided to have a rest before setting out to replace my missing wardrobe. Jetlagged after flying halfway around the world and disoriented by the time difference, I was almost falling asleep on my feet. After a few hours rest, it was time to go. It was then we learned that Uber car service was very popular in Egypt. With the Uber app on your phone and a credit card attached to it, you can be picked up and dropped off anywhere in a mere matter of minutes. With the exchange, a ride was just a couple of US dollars.  So, we took our first Uber ride to Maadi City Centre mall, which had some familiar stores like H&M, Bath and Body Works, etc. I found most of the clothes I needed at H&M and Carrefour, the huge supermarket chain. I was quite impressed with the mall, especially the fact that there was a prayer area there. It was so very convenient for shoppers wanting to offer their prayers without having to step out of the mall.

I had heard about the poverty in Egypt and saw much evidence of this in the decrepit buildings and desperate people who hawked wares in the streets or begged from tourists. But I saw evidence of much affluence too in such neighborhoods like Maadi, which was very upscale. Like so many other countries, Egypt had its dichotomy of rich and poor too. I could not help feeling great sympathy for the simple folk; those who have borne the brunt of the struggle and continue to do so, still standing strong and proud, taking fierce pride in their homeland and its marvelous heritage.

When we returned home that evening, I had several new outfits from my impromptu shopping spree and God Willing, was very much looking forward to Day 2 of our vacation.

Zeenatul ZamanComment