We hit the ground running, bright and early on our first full day in Egypt, although we have spent the previous 36+ hours traveling without much sleep. We learn quickly that sleep has a low priority on this jam-packed adventure, if we want to get all the “fun stuff” in. We can sleep when we get home (and on the buses, every time we have more than 5 minutes’ travel time). We fill two large travel buses–Drew and I are on Bus 1 with Steve and Gayle Halversen as guides, while the other 42 in our group are on Bus 2, with Chal and Janeen Halversen (Steve’s son and his wife).
At 8:00am we’re on the bus in Cairo–a sprawling, bustling, NOISY city of about 17 million people–in a Third World Country. This is most evident in the contrast of old and modern modes of transportation and dress visible everywhere on the crowded streets. Donkey-powered wooden carts loaded with fruits, vegetables, breads and other wares share the roadways with buses, bicycles, and old cars, many of which are crammed full of more bodies than seems possible (or prudent). The traffic is downright frightening, the noise from car horns deafening. I am grateful to be aboard the biggest vehicle on the road as I watch cars darting every direction and making 5 lanes out of the 3 painted lanes on the road. Now I understand why all the honking. I see very few traffic lights or stop signs, and I wonder, “Do they have traffic laws? Speed limits? Seat belt laws?” (They probably do–I just can’t read Arabic. I’m skeptical about those seat belt laws, though.)
The people on the streets are more fascinating than the crazy traffic. Many of the men wear turbans and lightweight robes, but many also wear modern pants and shirts. Virtually all of the women wear veils on their heads (but not over their faces), with traditional dresses or more modern pants, skirts and blouses. The older women wear plain black veils, but the veils of the young women are noticeably different–they are varied and brightly colored, often embellished with sequins and rhinestones. Like their veils, their demeanor is markedly different from that of the older women–they are smiling and animated in their conversations, in contrast to the stoic faces of their elders.
I have the urge to be turned loose in a street market, to be able to interact with the people, taste their bread, and look at their wares, but we never get the chance to do this because of time (and probably safety issues, too).
In addition to Steve Halversen, our guide from LDS Travel, we have an Egyptian guide and a security guard packing a serious weapon (which is supposed to be hidden in his suitcoat, but I can see it sticking out), This is a requirement for every tourist group in Egypt, for safety and other reasons (control). Our guide, , is friendly and knowledgeable and answers all of our questions in good English and with patience. (Bus 2 is not so lucky–their guide is very hard to understand).
As far as I can tell, the masses live in poverty. They don’t seem to have a “middle class.” I see no houses, no suburban neighborhoods like what I am familiar with–only row upon row upon row of drab red brick apartment buildings, with laundry hanging from practically every window. Most of these ugly buildings are in some state of construction. We are told this is because the people can avoid paying taxes if their dwelling is “unfinished”, and also because whenever a child marries, an apartment is built on to the rest of the structure for their new “home”. Seeing these living conditions makes me feel very blessed. We just don’t realize how much we have in America!