The content and opinions expressed in this blog are mine. They do not represent the US Government or US Peace Corps - Jud Dolphin

Sunday, January 9

Egypt: Part I

Without thinking, we step on to a moving sidewalk at the Istanbul airport. I am with Fran, my Peace Corps travel buddy. We have a 5 hour layover before proceeding to Cairo Egypt. So engrossed in conversation, we don’t notice the end of the walkway approaching. Suddenly we spill across the floor. Hand luggage scatters along with our legs and arms.

What happened? Quickly we check for broken bones and scurry out of the way before more people tumble upon us. We are okay with more bruised egos than anything else. We look at each other and think, “How could we be so stupid?” Then uncontrollably, we begin laughing and laughing and laughing.

This incident becomes a metaphor for my trip. Egypt is all about shock and awe. I find myself in places I never thought possible. I experience the intensity and chaos of Cairo and then step into the stately antiquity of the Pyramids. I consciously try to learn to let go of control and just savor the experiences – good, bad or indifferent. It's about enjoying the ride for as long as I can and remembering to jump and not fall off the end.

Cairo is a densely compacted city of 7.8 million with as many as 10 million more people living in close proximity. Intense is an understatement.

Cars whiz along as if trying out for the Indy 500. Three lanes become 4 and sometimes 5 as cars swerve to gain an advantage of a few feet. I’m in the front seat and have to close my eyes more than a few times. Amazingly, I never see an accident although I certainly think one is about to happen. It’s as if cars become an extension of the people driving and they can calibrate the closeness to another within fractions. It’s uncanny.

Car horns beep and blare…constantly. It’s like they are talking to each other. Some taxis have special beepers. They emit a rapid high pitch and crescendo before ebbing in a wave of sound. The cacophony assaults the senses. I think maybe Cairo Egypt is where John Cage got his inspiration for his compositions of sound effects.
I try to cross the intersection to get to the Egyptian Museum which is directly across the street from our hostel. I walk a half a block to a traffic light, but quickly realize that lights are more ornamentation than traffic control. Egyptian drivers ignore them…yikes!

How to get across? At 9:30 am there is no break in the traffic and like I say, traffic lights don’t help. I watch other pedestrians. How do they do it? They boldly walk out in front of the speeding traffic. Of course, car horns blare, “Get out of the way.” The pedestrians extend an arm in a stop motion and then dodge between on-coming traffic. It’s magical. Cars mostly slow down.

I pick out a cluster of Egyptian pedestrians and decide to follow closely. Even though my blood pressure probably shoots up 30 points, I make it. I’m alive. By the end of the trip, I am doing it on-my-own. I just extend my arm in a stop motion and magically cross to the other side. Egypt is Pyramids and the Pyramids are everything you can imagine. However, getting to them is a challenge. We buy a tour from our hostel. It's a mistake. Our “English Speaking” driver has a limited vocabulary - very limited. Try as we do, there is no way to communicate. I now know the frustration my Ukrainian friends feel when they try to communicate with my limited Russian.
Our driver gets us to the Pyramids and then the tourist hustle begins. Everyone seems to have a scheme to help me spend money. It can be the shopkeeper who prices bottled water at 10 Egyptian Pounds when the local rate is 4 EP or it can be the dozens of long robed men trying to grab my attention with a deal not to be missed.

“Come with me....what is your name? This way please....where are you from? I have very good price. What you want…camel…horse…carriage? I get it for you,” they say. I feel like I’m being picked apart by the constant barrage of offers. I’m exhausted going a few hundred feet. It’s a hectic touristy craziness.

I fend off offers…although I am tempted a few times. I’m still a neophyte in the Egyptian bartering system. I don’t know a fair price and I don’t know what may lie ahead. Fran says she yearns for a shop with price tags. We buy tickets to get into the Pyramid area. At 60 EP (less than 12 USD) it's a deal and maybe the only one we will encounter today.

Spinx stands guard

After going through a security scan, AD picks us up right out of the crowd. He is 61 and soft spoken. At first I think he is checking our tickets and then I think he is a part of our entrance fee. Silly me. He explains that he is not trying to sell us anything. Huge relief.

For about an hour he escorts us around the Pyramids. It’s a sunny day with a touch of dusty grayness or is it pollution hanging in the air? I feel like I have walked into a National Geographic layout. All my life I have seen pictures and now I am here gazing at mortuary monuments from Egypt’s Old Kingdom, some 4500 years ago.

The Giza complex includes three large Pyramids for the afterlife of the Pharaohs and three smaller ones for wives. A mortuary temple and complex is attached so that offerings can be made to the god-king and his resurrected life secured for perpetuity.. A causeway has been discovered that connects the colossal monuments and smaller tombs for nobles of the Pharaoh’s Court.
The volume of the largest Pyramid of Cheops is roughly 2,500,000 cubic meters. Based on these estimates and building over a 20 year period, workers (or were they slaves) would have installed about 800 tons of stone every day. Similarly, it means that of the 2.3 million blocks of stone, about 12 would have to be put into place every hour of every day for twenty years.

To learn even more go to

The Pyramid area is so vast that even with many tourists, moments of calm reflection are possible. I realize that here ancient people have made an insistent and passionate protest against death.

The Pyramids are an affirmation to life and a supreme revolt against the darkness and silence from which no one returns. They evoke mystery and deep soulful thinking.AD brings me back to the present as he finally makes his pitch for a “tip.” I give him 100 EP and feel satisfied that he is getting a fair compensation and I have not been taken too badly. After all, I reflect, “In the face of 4500 years of antiquity what difference does $20 dollars make?" I smile to myself, "There are better things to occupy the mind - life and death and beyond the horizon.”

1 comment:

  1. Love this one too, seen again from the newwest blog.