Cairo, Egypt: Part 1 of 3
It has always been a dream of mine to walk among the great pyramids of ancient Egypt. I realize I’m not unique on this matter. It seems like everyone that’s alive would like to do this as well. And on March 27th of 2009, for the first time, I gazed upon their immense power from the back of a camel. The universe had aligned for me, and I finally made one of my life-long dreams come true. It’s important to point out, however, having a root canal can be a dream come true as well. Sometimes the pain leading up to the dentist visit can leave one fantasizing for the pain to stop in any way imaginable. In Egypt, I found myself looking for the eject button, begging the universe for the pain to stop quicker than you can scream the words: “women’s rights.” India taught me how to stop being superficial, to cherish and respect what I already have, and how to begin gazing into a human’s soul. Egypt taught me that standing before enormous beauty can be quite costly financially, emotionally and mentally. At times, she can be a high-maintenance girlfriend on steroids and crack, who’s beauty runs only skin deep. Let this story begin here and now.
The area in upper Egypt was the first major city mankind ever built. It was the place where, for the first time, we stopped roaming the earth as nomads, and came together to live in one place. And from that civilization, the seeds of our way of life were planted. These are the people who gave us the precious pyramids, the beautiful Sphinx, and countless great temples. 4,500 years later, their descendants would be begging me to get in their taxi cab, harassing me to ride their camel, barking at me to take their picture for a fee, and eventually stealing from me in a store. 4,500 years later, some of them will even ask for a bribe inside the tomb of the greatest pyramid man has ever seen. Why? So that I could crawl inside the coffin and have my picture taken, “if I wanted to.” Their king would’ve been rolling over in his grave, but he was removed from his place of rest a long time ago. His tomb, with all his precious gold, was also raided and stolen from, over a long period of time; symbolic for the behavior of generations to come.
Egypt is a hard place, filled with many angry pyramid-building descendants, now roaming the desert as taxi cab drivers. I often wondered why everyone seemed so angry with each other, and thought maybe they were still resenting their past-life days as ancient slaves. Admittedly, anthropologists recently claim pyramid-building slavery is a myth. So someone should send these fine people in the tourism industry the memo. Regardless, in 3 days, I witnessed at least a dozen acts of rage. Taxi cab drivers screaming at each other, fighting for my business…road rage episodes…guards fighting with tour guides who refuse to pay a picture-taking fee. I honestly thought there was a small chance I’d see my first murder on this fine weekend. It’s quite a sight to see two men screaming at each other at the top of their lungs in the middle of a desert. This happened because I took a picture of the pyramids, and the guard thought I, or the camel-dude tour guide, should pay a fee.
Hustles and scams targeted at tourists are rampant. If you get in a cab, and negotiate a 20 pound fee for a ride to the pyramids, that means absolutely nothing. And I’m talking about the money, as well as the destination. “On the way there,” you will stop on the side of the road, and sit in front of a store. The few moments of silence that follow the driver’s engine being turned off, leave you just enough time to wonder how this man feels about Americans. A moment later, a walking verbal sand storm emerges from the store. The slick store owner then pounces over to your cramped, dirty, rolled-down-window-of-a-car and verbally harasses you to come inside his store to “buy some perfume for your wife.” I don’t have a wife. He brags about having five. 15 mentally draining, painful minutes later you’re finally able to convince the man it’s not happening. When you finally get to the pyramids, the driver will explain that the ride costs 20 pounds for each passenger, not 20 pounds total. This happened so often, that on the last day I got in a cab by myself (my friend Sean had enough at that point. He chose to spend his last day, de-stressing, curled up next to a beer in a hotel bar). So I quickly started barking at the driver. I figured I would try using anger right away, as they seem to understand that emotion more clearly than any other. Instantly mad at someone I’ve never even met before, I told him I’d pay 40 pounds to drive me to the Sphinx…10 pounds if the car stops at any point during the trip. Well, the car stopped in the middle of an intersection. And sure enough, faster than you can scream the words, “cab drivers suck,” a store owner ran to my window and tried to coax me out of the car. I rolled up the window in the man’s face, almost crushing his fingers. I turned to the driver and told him, “if we’re not moving in 10 seconds, this ride is free.” And off we went.
In Egypt, you can’t even buy a bottle of water without being scammed. I walked up to a vendor, and pointed to the bottle I wanted. I actually lifted it in the air, being extra clear water was my beverage of choice. Would you believe the kid actually opened up a bottle of Coke in front of me? His scam was to try and get me to pay for the Coke he opened, and the water I wanted. I became upset with him, and told him, “either you give me the water now for 10 pounds, or I take the water AND the Coke, and they’re both free. Your choice.” His response, “but I already opened the Coke.” 10 hard minutes later, I finally had my water.
Everything in Egypt will cost you money. Everything. One guy even tried to charge my friend 50 pounds for a “good idea.” His idea was simply to take my picture as I walked out of a tomb. You’ll also get people jumping in front of your camera as you’re taking a picture of the pyramids, and then demanding payment from you. It never ends. Ever. From dawn to dusk, into the night, and all waking hours…you will be scammed, hustled, harassed, bribed, and coaxed out of your money. It’s mentally grueling, exhausting, and disgusting.
And finally, as a white westerner, you will be stereotyped against and made fun of. If you need to buy two tickets to gain entry to two pyramids, you will be sent to three different lines. They find enjoyment passing the white boy from line-to-line, making him wait as long as possible. I noticed the Arab tourists were able to buy all their tickets in one line from the same man with no problem at all. It’s all good though. My culture back home, in the good ‘ole U.S. of A., is famous for racism, profiling, and stereotyping. It was only 50 years ago, African Americans weren’t allowed to sit in the front of a bus. Today, anyone wearing a turban is thought of as a terrorist. So fine, this behavior happens everywhere. It was interesting being on the minority end of this treatment, and is a whole blog entry in itself.
With all of this said, believe it or not, you simply must see the pyramids, the Sphinx, and the Nile River. Gazing upon them is a spiritual experience. They are worth the price you may or may not pay. Yes, right now, I just threw you a curveball of the likes you’ve never seen before. You see, no one ever said accomplishing dreams would be fun or easy. I certainly never thought this for one second. And if there’s a lesson Cairo reminded me of, it’s exactly that. Accomplishing dreams can be very hard work. Sometimes it can be devastatingly hard work. And just because some blog-writing punk rants about how hard or difficult something is, doesn’t mean you should be deterred from living the dream yourself. And I’m also talking about whatever your dream is in life. Find a way to see your own pyramids…no matter what anyone else says or believes.
I don’t regret my trip to Cairo. I loved seeing everything that crossed before my very eyes. It’s just that, experiencing love can give one a headache from time-to-time. That’s all. Thankfully, love is always worth the price of admission. I’ll never stop looking for, or experiencing it…even in the sandiest of places.
Beauty and the Price
Luxor, Egypt: Part 2 of 3
If you’re a fan of stereotyping people and places, then my writing might lead you to believe that all of Egypt is like the one mile perimeter surrounding the pyramids. Honestly, I even caught myself doing this, and claiming I’ll never be in the middle east again. That’s not just a mile…that’s a few thousand. I’ve had enough life experience and too many hours of self-analysis to just let that thought drift through my brain unnoticed. Still, when you’re in the eye of a storm, this kind of introspection doesn’t seem to matter very much. Emotions rule the day, and you find yourself getting irritable sitting in the back of Satan’s Cab.
Something had to be done. This was a 4-day weekend, and after day 2, the trip was mentally over for me. So, on a Monday morning, I implemented Operation Lost Ark. It was a top secret mission to be executed in the undercover of the night. The goal? To be standing in Luxor by dawn. At 3:00 a.m., I was in a taxi cab in Cairo. By 6:00 a.m., I was on a one hour plane flight. 8:00 a.m. had me standing before the gates of the Karnak Temple in Luxor. The escape plan was perfectly executed, and the results were breathtaking. If Cairo is the hot, super-model girl that everyone talks about, Luxor is her beautiful younger sister that is a lot more fun to be around.
Luxor is a small, quiet, beautiful town that sits on the banks of the Nile River. In ancient times, it went by the name of Thebes, and was the capital of Egypt during the Middle and New Kingdoms; or roughly 900 years of existence. The main tourist attractions are the Karnak Temple, Valley of the Kings, Luxor Temple, Luxor Museum, and of course, the Nile River. I experienced everything on that list, with the disappointing exception of the Valley of the Kings. I’ve heard the Valley is a must-see, and have seen it in many documentaries. There’s no doubt I will see the Valley in the future.
The Karnak Temple is off-the-chart breathtaking for it’s beauty, but especially its history. You move through centuries of Egyptian history when you walk through this temple. It wasn’t built all at once. Instead, it was made piece-by-piece over 2,000 years, under the rule of many pharaohs. The scale is epic, as it can hold ten cathedrals of average size if it wanted to. It’s the largest religious site in the world. Every corner, crevice, and square inch of this place is awe-inspiring. The attention to detail, in the seemingly infinite number of hieroglyphics, is inspirational. If you’re anywhere near Egypt, you have to see this place. Trust me. It’s the second most visited site, after the Giza Pyramids, for a reason. I could’ve sat in Karnak the entire day, soaking in its history and beauty. But time was short, and there was still so much more to see.
I eventually made it over to the Luxor museum and saw my first mummy. A man in a window-case coffin lay before my very eyes. His body was still wrapped, but his black, charred, 3,000 year-old face was not. It was definitely unique seeing him, and I’m happy I saw the museum. You can get through the entire museum in about an hour or so. By contrast, the world famous Egyptian Museum, in Cairo, may take you a week.
If Luxor is the beautiful younger sister, this still means she comes from the same family as the super-model, cracked-out, Cairo girl. They were both raised by the same insane parents. True, she broke away from the family years ago, and moved a few hundred miles down the river. However, she still has some left over baggage to deal with. In Cairo, you get harassed every 2 minutes to get in a cab or ride a camel. In Luxor it’s every 12 minutes. It’s a smaller town, so the frequency of harassment is a lot less. However, you also have people bothering you for a boat ride on the Nile River. So maybe Sean and I really wanted to get on a sail boat and cruise the Nile, or maybe we were just too weakened from the Cairo beat-down to say no. It was probably a combination of both. Regardless, we decided to listen to one of these guys, and jumped on a boat. It was a great decision, and turned out to be the highlight of the entire weekend. I’m begging you – if you’re in Luxor, get on a little boat, and cruise along the Nile. You will love it. You can do this in Cairo as well. But Cairo is a city with 18 million people, and more than a few tall buildings on the banks of the river. It has a big-city kind of feeling. Luxor is a small, country town and, in my opinion, makes it a more suitable environment for a relaxing cruise. My time on the Nile was one of the most meditative, relaxing experiences I’ve had since leaving home a couple months ago. Floating in a tranquil and peaceful manner down this ancient river made me feel like I was transported to another universe. Except, in this universe men dressed in civilian clothing, armed with machine guns, approach your boat from time-to-time. It’s true. And it happened. Well familiar with angry humans at this point, I really didn’t feel like getting shot by gunner-boy #1and his pet clone. I grabbed my bag and became ready to swim in the ancient river. As I started to stand up, gun-dude #2 started barking in Arabic at our navigator. The episode was brief, and within a few minutes they were gone. The boat captain was very happy our boat wasn’t impounded, and he looked quite relieved. It turns out they were only checking for a boat license, not my American head. Observing the conversation though, it felt like the penalty would’ve been death. For me, it would have been a life of imprisonment and torture, being forced to drink the local water from the back of a camel, while following a taxi cab to every perfume store in Cairo…for eternity.
As fast as the Nile Mafia boarded our boat, I moved past the experience even faster. I went on to have a very enjoyable lunch at the prestigious Winter Palace Hotel. Built in 1886, the Winter Palace is one of the oldest hotels in the city. In fact, the Egyptologist, Howard Carter, was staying there when he discovered King Tut’s tomb in November of 1922. If you’re looking for a nice afternoon lunch, you should definitely stop by. Just make sure to ignore the man at the hotel entrance. He will be asking you for 20 pounds just to walk in the lobby. I had finally learned that acting deaf is the best way to behave and operate near all the tourist centers in Egypt. It works like a charm, and I will be using this wisdom in the future. So should you.
Unfortunately, the sun must set on every day. And so it did on this day as well. I would go back to Luxor in a heartbeat. It was truly a perfect day.
Beauty and the Price
Egypt: Part 3 of 3
The mental beat-down I received in Cairo left my soul feeling angry, and had seemingly erased any of the life lessons I learned in India. For example, on the way home in the airport, I barked at a man for trying to help me with my luggage. At the time, I assumed it was another hustle to get tip money from me. He explained to me that it was part of the car service. It was at this moment, I realized I was not myself any longer. I reflected on how weak my shield must truly be, and how I used to be very proud of its strength.
Honestly, India was hard for me the first few weeks as well, but for different reasons. Eventually, India changed my life. So I do have to admit, that maybe a few weeks into Cairo, I would’ve somehow had my life enhanced. I can only guess, but I’m sure I would’ve learned great life lessons on how to handle angry energy from surrounding people. And maybe, just maybe, even how to feel love for someone I’m angry with. I failed in this area, and left Cairo feeling beaten down. It exposed, and brought to light, some of the rage that must be floating around inside of me. You see, the emotions and thoughts we feel are rarely a result of what’s happening out “there.” How we see and perceive the images appearing in front of our eyes, is mainly a result of our own internal thought processes. In other words, taxi cab drivers didn’t make me angry. I already had anger inside me, and they were simply the people that put a flashlight on it. That’s all. You may show up in Cairo, have the same experiences I had, and feel just fine the entire weekend. I hope you see my point, and can take responsibility for your own emotional baggage, simply by reading this quickly-becoming-way-too-personal journal of mine. I now find myself wanting to go back and finish some unlearned valuable life lessons.
So, those of you who are keeping score, and feel like using planet Earth as your therapy session; visit India to help you see past superficial boundaries, and how to enjoy life’s journey. Use Cairo to help you learn about your anger issues. Visit the U.S.A. to learn about handling arrogance and power. In America, it’s a lot about trying to be the best at everything you do, no matter how trivial. Competition, winning, arrogance, success, and power are the rulers of the land where I come from. I love America, and wouldn’t want it any other way. We just need to relax, meditate a lot more, and drink less coffee, if you ask me. So too should the Egyptian taxi cab drivers.