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.
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!
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.
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.
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 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!
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!
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.
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.
*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.