Seeing the pyramids has been high on my bucket list since before I was old enough to know what a bucket list even was. By third grade I was hooked on all things Egyptian. Fact or fiction, the strange images of the hieroglyphics, the unique vision of the afterlife, the mummification process, the myths, legends, and curses, the reverence for cats, eight-year-old me soaked it up and longed to see the pyramids.
Almost twenty years later, my inner child was silently squealing with joy as we touched down in Cairo International Airport.
Let’s be blunt, our decision to extend our layover in Egypt from six hours to three days evoked some strong reactions. The 2011 Revolution, the demonstrations in Tahrir Square, the continued travel advisories from the US State Department, none boded well in the eyes of family and friends. Emails and phone calls, when Egypt was mentioned, dripped with concern. But, to Cairo we went.
Egypt was immediately striking and unique, a city that runs abruptly into the pyramids and the desert, as though divided by invisible walls. From the strangely silent and solitary camel ride through the desert to the massive, warehouse-like feel of the Antiquities Museum, everything felt incredibly, well, Egyptian.
And then there was everyday Cairo. Revolutionary street art and the incredibly welcoming and warm Egyptians themselves. A ubiquitous presence of stray cats. Savory kofta, falafel, lamb, and pita sandwiches available from street carts for next to nothing. Men, young and old, lounge about in sidewalk cafes, drinking tea, playing dominoes and smoking hookah.
Smiles, conversation, and advice abounded. Hello. Welcome to Egypt. Ah, I love America. Close your eyes, pray Allah, and keep walking; it’s the only way to cross the street in Cairo. We were made to feel safe and welcome. Even the tanks parked outside of the museum felt nonthreatening, like slumbering giants, aware but not on guard.
We had braced ourselves for the worst, for the possibility of having to stay holed up inside the airport should we have arrived to a Cairo in distress. Instead, we had an overwhelmingly positive experience. Thank goodness we listened to the Rachel of third grade instead of all the modern day Debbie downers.