This is a really, really, long blog entry and I still didn't add everything!
As our plane landed, there was a beautiful sunset viewed from my window seat. For this trip, there were four of us. Joe, Lakisha, and I flew together and the fourth person, Kevin, flew a different route and time to avoid a longer flight. We were excited. None of us have ever been to Egypt. However, we were going to spend ten days and nine nights here!
We were greeted at the gate by Ahmed, the manager of the company we chose to tour Egypt. Since Egypt is a mostly Muslim country and we do not speak Arabic, we decided to use a guide to maneuver around the country. He assisted us with getting our visa, luggage, and checking into our hotel. I don’t know if my travel mates inhaled a deep breath of Africa, but I sure did. I was breathing, sensing, and touching the home of my ancestors. I appreciated the blessing and connection I was feeling.
The next day was our first day of full touring! On the itinerary: Pyramids of Giza, Camel Ride, Sphinx, Step Pyramid of Zoser, Pyramids of King Titi, and Ancient City of Memphis. The weather was perfect, around 83° F! I can’t stand extreme heat and was thankful the temperature wasn’t on boil. With my eczema, I would have been one big walking rash. The sun was bright, white, with a yellow ring around it, and appeared closer to us than my view of it in Chicago. It was starting to feel magical!
We could see the pyramids from our hotel room. HOWEVER, nothing compares to seeing them up close. The closer we arrived at the pyramids, the more in awe I became. Africa has been a top contender on my Bucket List forever! There is sand as far as you can see at the location of the pyramids with the city of Cairo in the distance looking like a mirage. I can only imagine what it feels like to the inhabitants to have a huge reminder of their history visible every day!
We took a few photos of the area and was immediately bombarded by vendors selling almost everything for tourists. We purchased head scarfs and embarked on the back of camels for a closer examination of the pyramids. I won’t lie, I was a little nervous getting on the camel. I’m afraid of heights and falling. The camel is double jointed and sits on folded legs. It slowly rises from a few inches from the ground to a couple of feet in the air when standing. I named my camel, Lenny, after Lenny Kravitz and LaKisha’s camel, Lenny 2 (Come on now. You know that man is my celebrity crush!). Lenny 2 was VERY friendly. He kept inching his way towards me. I was pretty “dramatic” on several occasions but I enjoyed the ride once I stopped panicking from the height.
We arrived closer to the pyramids and our guide, Manar, provided insightful historical information regarding the pyramids. OK. I’ll admit this too. I was half-listening because I was busy taking photos (my MO the entire trip) and enthusiastic to be in Egypt. It took me at least a day to pay attention to our tour guides. You really can’t go with a large group if you want to truly enjoy Egypt. This is a place in which you must take your time to embrace the history and magnificence of it without being crowded and rushed around with a huge group.
After ogling the pyramids, we headed to Khafre’s Valley Temple and the Sphinx. As we walked through a corridor in Kahfre’s Valley Temple, I dropped a US dollar bill into the well in honor of my ancestors – much like spilling liquid as an offering before drinking it in reverence to their memory back in the US. We took the playful photos of kissing the Sphinx that all tourists take. The Step Pyramid of Zoser at Zaqqara is also a wonder to look at. It’s the oldest pyramid in Egypt.
Another adventure in itself is the interaction with the vendors. They are the most hustling people you will meet in your life! Vendors will make that money! The vendors will swarm around you like flies (The flies swim in insect repellant here. Our sprays, lotions and oils did not work!). Some of the vendors use the tactic of flattery by mentioning your Nubian skin color if you are of a darker hue. “Just like me!” “My sister!” Others will wrap something around you, walk off, and hope that you’ll buy it when you return in their direction. Many use the phrase, “No hustle!” They are aware that hovering around may lose a sale. Wherever I travel, I try to blend in to avoid any type of harassment and out of respect for the place I visit. However, these vendors are relentless. It was exciting bargaining with them. The plus was that they were willing to accept US dollars!
After leaving the Sphinx, we headed for lunch. As we passed a canal, we spotted a truck dumping oil in the canal! Yes! The truck was pouring the oil in like a cement truck about to pave a sidewalk! A little ways down, we noticed a man fishing. We questioned the guide about the type of fish in the water. She stated bass. As soon as we arrived at the restaurant, we started teasing each other about having "Canal Sea Bass" for our meal. Sure enough! Fish was on the menu. We started laughing and for the rest of the trip any fish we had was "Canal Sea Bass." The food was delicious. We then journeyed on to Memphis.
While riding with our guide and driver, I snapped a few photos. The city of Cairo has over 25 million inhabitants. There are many rows of apartments stacked on top of each building. Driving through the streets, you will see all types of modes of transportation: cars, buses, vans, horses with carts, motorcycles, and creative variations of all weaving in and out of traffic. I recall seeing one, maybe two, stop lights during our entire time in Cairo. The driving is insane! Driving through a one-way street is not unheard of in this city. Matter of fact, we experienced this ourselves and our reactions were hilarious! The constant beeping of horns is almost like a musical melody. For the residents of the city, crossing the street is like playing a game of Froggy but the inhabitants take it in stride. I videoed our attempt at crossing the street (with the help of a restaurant attendant) which is one of the funniest highlights of our trip! One day, I’ll put our Egypt videos all on one video.
In the city of Memphis, we visited the open-air museum of Ramesses II, one of the greatest pharaohs of ancient Egypt. The statue at this location is huge! The larger statue is lying flat inside of the museum. A smaller one is located outside.
We had extra time and visited a papyrus shop. Unlike the papyrus sold by street vendors, the papyrus from the shop is real papyrus and decorated gorgeously! A representative of the shop gave us a demonstration of the making of papyrus and how to distinguish real from fake. We purchased several. My budget was going out of the window already and we had been in Egypt less than three days.
Next up was an essential oil store (we visited two of them) with hand-blown glass jars to hold the oils. This store smelled fabulous! It smelled better than the perfume or candle section of a shop in the US. Once again, I dipped into the budget and purchased oils.
Afterwards, we stopped at a gold shop that created personalized cartouches. The proprietor studied the writing of hieroglyphics. Double letters are not used in creating one and silent letters are not spelled. For example, Lorraine. Only one “R” is used and the “I” and “E” are silent, thus not used. He also described my personality based on my first name and first initial of my last name. He stated that our names belong to us from birth and even if we changed it, we couldn’t change who we are. He nailed the reading of my personality. Yes. I had to have one! Later, I purchased one on our cruise ship and the spelling was off. I felt I had been cheated by the first shop owner. Later, I apologized to him when I had complained to our tour guide. When I'm wrong, I will admit it and apologize. However, I'm seldom wrong. He got that part of my personality correct too. Ha!
Another stop was a shop that sells Egyptian cotton and other items. LaKisha posed in a very beautiful dress and scarf. I purchased the softest t-shirts that I have ever felt in my life. The Budget is becoming “budget” with a small “b.” I took more photos of the street scenes.
The next day, we flew to Luxor and checked onto our cruise ship floating on the Nile River. The room was better than our hotel room. The food was basically the same for our entire stay and not worth taking a photo of. However, the experience was fabulous. The evening sky filled with stars is not a sight I can usually view due to being obscured by the city lights in Chicago. I became accustomed to the call to prayer heard from the boat and throughout Cairo. Planned activities included: belly dancer, male dancer, games, tea time, cooking class, and barbecue on deck. It also has a small gym, masseuse, and gift shop.
However, the highlights of being on the cruise ship were the very bold vendors rowing along the side of the ship and on dock tossing their goods onto the ship for a sale. If you like an item, you keep it and put money in a weighted plastic bag to throw back to the vendors. Vendors kept throwing their goods at me. I continuously told them I didn’t want it. I became frustrated and I tossed back an unwanted item. Unfortunately, I'm no Jackie Robinson. It fell in the water. The vendor was not happy with me! If looks could kill! However, it was fished out by one of the vendors on the boat. I felt guilty and eventually purchased a cotton dress with a peacock on it for my mother. It was an exciting experience bargaining with the vendors.
The following morning at around 4:00 a.m., LaKisha and I traveled by boat for a balloon ride over the Valley of the Kings in Luxor. I can literally say that I swam in the Nile when half of my body fell in the river while crossing onto land. The landing step and the land did not connect completely. The little gap not visible in the darkness swallowed my petite frame. Fortunately, I was grabbed quickly before the other half of my body fell into the river. Now, that I think about it, it was pretty funny and scary at the same time. All I could think of when I slipped was that a crocodile would grab my leg and pull me into the dark, swirling water. Everything happened so fast! My tour guide was more panicked than me. Not on his watch would a tourist fall in the Nile! The men used the light from their cell phones to look for the gap in which I fell between the boat landing and land. It’s a blessing that I didn’t fall completely in the river. They may not have found me until days later. The water is murky and dark too.
The balloon ride was my first and Lakisha’s second. My fear of heights didn’t overwhelm me. However, the bouncing and singing of the women on the other side of the balloon basket was working my nerves. They were so excited that they kept making the basket jerk. All I could do is hope that my tiny behind did not bounce out. I held onto the edge of the basket for dear life and pretended I wasn’t afraid. Once I became accustomed to the motion of the balloon, I enjoyed the sights. Looking down at the monuments, excavations and the city was magnificent!
We visited the temples of Karnak, Luxor, El Dear El Bahri temple of Queen Hatshepsut, The Valley of the Kings, and Colossi of Mammon. My spirit was dazzled by the enormous antiquities and the magnitude of their creations. The rest of this blog (with the exception of the visit to the Nubian Village and mosque) will consist of photos from the various places we visited. I loved the beautiful items in the alabaster store! The fish in Alexandria was the best and freshest fish I've ever had. The Egyptian Museum and it's artifacts were inspiring and breathtaking. We even found Shaq's missing shoe (just kidding).
One of the best experiences of our trip was visiting the Nubian Village in Aswan. Touring on the Nile River, we could see the colorful painted homes of the Nubian Village, much like the homes of Cuba or Mexico. As we exited the boat, we were approached by vendors. We managed to get pass them. However, we saw the cutest little girl around four years of age. LaKisha and I had to take a photo with her. Her father allowed us and she bashfully posed.
Next, we went to the village’s school. It’s located in a courtyard with other buildings and a large center yard. Our guide translated a few words to us stating that the Nubians of the village have their own language. The teacher we met spoke English. He also taught us a few phrases, the spelling and pronunciation of our names in his language. He playfully punished the men of our group if they were incorrect with their answers. Afterwards, we shopped in their village, LaKisha received a henna tattoo, and we were generously offered hibiscus tea in one of the homes. We had an amazing time!
We visited several mosques. We were required to remove our shoes and LaKisha and I covered our heads and any exposed skin. We walked around one of the mosque, Al Azhar Mosque, and peeked inside a chained door. An Imam approached us and let us in. More on that later.
As we exited from the Citadel of Salah Al-Din, we ran into several groups of children that bombarded us and wanted to take photos with us. Our guide stated that due to our skin color and that we had our heads wrapped, they felt a connection to us. It was an amazing feeling. Since LaKisha is in the education field and I write children’s books, we felt very special and loved.
The end of our trip had quickly approached and we were going to miss Egypt albeit very exhausted. Although LaKisha and I both had food poisoning (the guys were perfectly fine and eating well), I will definitely visit Africa again.
Egypt is now going through a disheartening period. Attacks are being made on mosques and churches in certain sections of Egypt. Violence is everywhere all over the world. The US has its share of upheaval as well. I sincerely hope that the people of Egypt, US and the rest of the world, will come to peace.
As an African-American (born in Chicago, Illinois) whose ancestors originated from Africa and other parts, I was asked many times from viewers looking at photos and videos that I posted on my Facebook page if I felt a connection or any spiritual enlightenment while visiting Africa. The moment I landed in Africa, I felt something. The excitement of visiting was overshadowed by a distant feeling. It felt like visiting your childhood home after living on your own for many years. It was my ancestral home but not where I made a home for myself and family. I knew I was welcomed in Africa. However, I was still a tourist. “My sister” or “My Nubian sister” as the vendors would say to me to remind me that I was family (or was it to make a sale). They would tell us that we were the same color as them. I knew that my home was in America. No matter how many times racists like to toss out the words “Go back to Africa,” I knew I was a visitor here in Africa. However, Africa felt familiar to my soul.
As we visited the various monuments and places throughout Egypt, the connection began to build. I saw images that looked like me. I saw people that could have been from various black neighborhoods in any city in the United States. As traveling mate Kevin stated, “He looks like he’s from Englewood in Chicago.” when describing one of the essential oil vendors. Several times, I saw little girls that looked like me as a little girl. I even saw a young man that favored my son. The bond was not only in the skin color, facial distinctions, but family support system that we witnessed, and I recall as a child.
Not too long ago, African-Americans embraced the concept of helping one another. Most of my budget went towards tipping for various services while in Egypt. Did we need both a driver and tour guide? Maybe not. Did we need two drivers and a tour guide to take us on a 3-hour ride? Maybe not. Did we need two porters to bring one missing chair to our room? Maybe not. Did we need two waiters to wait on the four of us while dining? Maybe not. Did we need to pay to enter the WC* and receive toilet paper for the toilet and drying of our hands (we took our own)? Maybe not. However, it all helped a man or woman support their family. I got the necessity of it immediately. The Egyptians were looking out for each other in the most unselfish way. If one got something, so did another.
I begin to wish that upon my return back home to America, I would see a reoccurrence of this tradition among my own people. The African-American community had flourishing businesses supported by African-Americans. However, many of those businesses don’t exist or failed due to lack of support. Many of them were destroyed by racists. Have you ever heard of Black Wall Street, Rosewood Massacre in Florida, or the Tulsa Race Riot in Oklahoma? Research them. I know many people in business (including myself) that have repeatedly stated that we wish we had more support from our own people – including family and friends. Sigh. Enough of that. Back to a positive moment.
As far as the spiritual connection, I felt it immediately. It intensified as we roamed among the tombs, temples, and museums. The calls to prayer heard often in Egypt were energizing because it appeared as if things were a little quiet or "still" at that moment. I inquired about the “birthmark” on many of the men’s foreheads. Our guide told me that the marks were bruises from the men bowing and touching their head to the earth to pray. I also saw and felt the references to Isis and the Virgin Mary. Research it.
I gently wiped tears from my eyes when an Imam prayed for us in a darkened prayer room he unlocked specifically for us. He asked to pray for us and it was the first time in my entire life that anyone asked to pray for ME. He did not ask for anything in return either. His act touched my heart in ways that will live with me forever. It didn’t matter to me that we were of different faiths or backgrounds. His acts of concern and welcoming were touching.
The United States of America will always be my home due to ancestral sacrifices by my people, my own sacrifices and love for it. However, Africa is my spiritual home. I breathed, touched, and felt the earth between my fingers. It was the most amazing experience of my life. I am exceptionally grateful for the journey.
Did you enjoy our trip as much as we did? Feel free to ask questions or leave remarks. Negative or spam remarks will be deleted. Visit Africa and when you do, respect it and the people.
*WC – The abbreviation for Water Close. Per our guide, the door is closed when you use the bathroom. I know. You are probably guessing another explanation for the bathroom abbreviation. We thought it meant Water Closet or Water Cooler.