Inolvidable Cairo

A compilation of tales, thoughts and images from the never-ending adventures...Click on any of the images for a blown-up version. Thanks for visiting.

Wednesday, October 06, 2004

Cairo Update - July 2004

Warm faces, earthly smells, magnificent history, and of course, the work…. These are the main images that characterize my first month in Egypt. It really has been a great month. Brian and I have already learned a lot in our short time here and we are excited about what lies ahead.

Warm faces. I was greeted at the airport by a friendly driver, Said, a meeting which was thankfully arranged in advance by a friend. He was very chatty and eager to point out all the major landmarks we passed on the road to our temporary apartment. “Ahlan wa Sahlan” (welcome to Egypt) he repeated over and over. We have heard this expression many times since our arrival. Most Egyptians that we have met have been very friendly and eager to help out if they can. Our Arabic teachers are young Egyptians and they explained to us that this is the typical Egyptian way. It is so nice to be greeted so warmly so far away from home.

Earthly smells. Some combination of the intense heat, the dry, dry land, the Nile River and the Egyptians expertise in irrigation makes for a wonderful smell – something similar to the smell after a rainstorm in Atlanta. Despite the desert, parts of Egypt are quite tropical. Walking home from a friend’s house the first week I was here I was overtaken by this rich smell, in combination with the nighttime humidity and the frogs that were making a raucous in the yard next to me. Is this really Cairo?? And then there are also the smells that are more typical of Cairo – the heavy smells of gasoline and exhaust and (mixed with a healthy body odor) that greet you whenever you enter a taxi or the metro. But those were to be expected when moving to the developing world, right?

Magnificent history. Yesterday we went to the Egyptian museum. It is truly overwhelming with ancient relics, artwork, manuscripts and mummies dating as far back as 3100 BC. And they are everywhere. Brian and I spent around 4 hours there and we didn’t begin to process all that was around us. The monuments and relics are just lying around everywhere… I typically do not like museums but I was fascinated by the history that was told through the mausoleums, papyri, jewelry, mummies and stelas (stones with writing). King Tut’s tomb was just one of many. Egypt is truly blessed to have such a rich history, and that even the minimal part that was preserved is still such a magnificent display. We also had the chance to take a long weekend trip to the Red Sea and while there, climbed Mt. Sinai. While the walk up was a long haul (we headed up at 1:00am to climb to the peak at 2,285m in order to be there by sunrise) it was humbling to think how many people had taken that pilgrimage to honor the biblical history of Moses and the Ten Commandments. It was remarkable to be in the spot where historians believe God spoke to a human being, not to mention all the beauty and grandeur of the high Sinai mountains in the middle of that stark desert.

And, the work…I have faced two major challenges since arriving to Egypt: learning Arabic and learning how to do business in Egypt. Both are essential for survival. I have a feeling that the first will be easier than the second… We are taking language classes with a small language center about six hours a week. I am finding myself needing to unlearn some of my Syrian Arabic to learn the more colloquial Egyptian Arabic. Our teachers are young and enthusiastic and they make learning fun. It is just the homework and study time that can be difficult! The second challenge…learning to do business in Egypt…well let’s just say I am still learning. I am enjoying the challenges that are brought daily in the work that I am doing with Sanabel. I am sure that I will be a more polished diplomat before I leave this place.


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