My fight from Athens to Cairo signaled a change in cultures and provided a lesson in how deeply ingrained our prejudices can be. At the gate in Athens airport, I watched with interest as an Egyptian passenger argued with an affable Egypt Air employee about why he couldn’t take his over-sized bag on to the plane. As his pleas grew louder, he paced and waved his arms. He was scruffy, nervous. I struggled to view this passenger as any other with a temporary sense of frustration, but the stereotypes kicked in. If the bag went into the hold. he would not be able to detonate the bomb. How did he get that bag to the gate? Why weren’t they arresting him? Eventually, he got on the plane without the bag and seemed to melt into the wave of mostly male Egyptian passengers boarding the plane, praise Allah.
I made my way to my seat and settled in, happily anticipating the next leg of my adventure. And another weird thing happened. Dozens of passengers were still in the aisle when the plane started moving away from the gate. I looked around and no one seemed to notice. The flight attendants continued to help passengers stow their carry-ons and find seats. Why weren’t they doing something? Why didn’t the pilot know we weren’t ready for take off? Before I could build up enough hysteria to publicly announce the obvious, the plane stopped. A picture of a mosque appeared on the screen in front of me and the men in the seats next to me began praying. The plane had turned to face Mecca.
Here is the view from my hotel room on my first night in Egypt.
I stayed at the Pyramids View Inn in Giza, a gritty district of Cairo adjacent to the pyramids that has managed to hold back tourist development and retain the local culture, which is mostly Bedouin. I was on my own for a full day before joining a tour group. At my hotel, Samy and his staff took great care of me and made sure I got to ride the hottest Arab stallion in Cairo. And when I say hot, I mean I was working hard with every muscle to stay in control (and four days later, I still hurt). About half way through the ride, I traded in the tall stallion for the shorter one. I loved them both. Arabs are the most personable breed in the horse world and lived as full fledged family members with Bedouin tribes. In Giza, they are still an integral part of the local community. It is hard to describe the thrill of galloping up and down the dunes in sight of the pyramids.
It is obvious that Egypt is struggling with the loss of tourist dollars. In 2010, 18 million people visited the pyramids. Last year, it was fewer than 2 million. People are desperate to make a couple of dollars and the infrastructure everywhere is tired.
Before I left Giza to meet my tour group in downtown Cairo on Saturday, I took a long walk through the local village. Young boys are always engaging me in my travels and I enjoyed the company of these young men who tried to get me to pay them for photographs by yelling “HARAM HARAM!” which means “forbidden.” We settled on a large bunch of bananas.
To overcome evil with good is good, to resist evil by evil is evil.
The ink of the scholar is more sacred than the blood of the martyr.