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"The world breaks everyone, and afterward, many are strong in the broken places." -- Hemingway
|Episode 26: Walk like an Egyptian|
@ Where`s Cherie?
Aug 05 2002 - 16:22 PST
|cherie writes: August 2000|
We always seem to land in a country and experience the "greatest" thing that has ever happened. The continent of Africa is no exception. Currently, they are having the greatest heat wave to hit the continent in 20 years. The heat is unbearable, like a fever you can't break. It is like being in a sauna when the temperature gage is broke. My first few breaths seared my lips and burned my mouth before the air warmed my throat and rested smooth in my lungs. The heat sits on you and plays with your thoughts, like a teenage brother pinning you down. Delusional I thought: "Maybe the best thing about Egypt isn't the pyramids--it's the air conditioning."
The heat distorts everything, even the Arabic writing on the signs. It looks like meaningless squiggles. It's only upon closer inspection that you realize--hot or cold--Arabic writing looks like a bunch of squiggles anyway.
The heat wouldn't be so bad if we didn't have to cover ourselves. Egyptian women hide their bodies (head to toe) under the opaque folds of a sari. Out of respect, we try to wear long sleeves and ankle skirts.
It is the Saudi Arabian women on vacation here in Egypt that arouse the most curiosity within me. They look like black ghosts, their eyes barely visible through a narrow slit in the encumbering fabric. I can't imagine what it must be like to be required to dress like a black solar panel in the scorching heat of summer. When you take a picture of a Saudi Arabian woman, the only way you know she is smiling is the wrinkle near her eye. Or is that wrinkle something else, a tiny fold of skin holding back the weight of unshed tears? With my camera I have taken a snap-shot of her life, but what develops after this picture?
These thoughts mix and linger with the memories of our past few days in Egypt: hearing the Islamic call to prayer--a faint song, like a breeze, drifting through the Sahara Desert; tasting warm bread, baked fresh in the desert sand and savoring the sweet refreshing flavor of Hibiscus juice; and the fragrant smell of lotus flowers hung loosely around our necks.
In Cairo, the buildings are sand blasted the dusty color of the surrounding desert, as if they themselves had risen from the earth. The teetering structures look like carnival equipment: old, rickety, and unsafe. It is not until I was in the Cairo Tower, 150 feet above the highest pyramid in the world, that I appreciated Cairo, in all its splendor.
They have red and green lights everywhere in Cairo. In the USA, we would stop at the red ones, and go at the green ones. But here, the traffic signals are more like red and green decorations left over from Christmas--no one pays them any attention. Especially, Yasser.
Yasser is the man of a thousand disguises. He's an Egyptian police officer and the new favorite undercover cop of four uncovered women (Kristi, Carter, Renee and I) Yasser has become our official friend and unofficial tour guide. Driving in his black Mercedes we dart through the frenzied streets of Cairo, looking like the four wives that Islamic law allows each man. I am not sure which was louder, the music inside, or the siren outside. As we screeched in and out of traffic, cars skid helplessly out of our way. It was like a ride; we were exhilarated and hiccupping tears of giddy laughter.
Then panic struck. Yasser jumped the center divider and swung into on-coming traffic. The lights were blinding and the siren was deafening. I heard screaming and I realized it was me--but it was too late. The ride was over. We were at the valet of the swankiest club in Cairo. Yasser turned his head, cocked an eyebrow and said "You like?"
Before we could answer, people rushed the car. They couldn't wait to open his door, shake his hand, kiss his cheek, light his cigarette, show him to his table and pull out his chair. It is like Yasser is in the Mafia. When I say that he has "tables" at all the hottest restaurants--I mean no one sits at his table except for him. If he isn't there, it remains unused.
Side-note: the Egyptians are the friendliest people in the world, they really make you feel like a million pounds. (Not a million bucks, the currency in Egypt is the pound.)
It is a wonder to be here in Egypt--especially since Khufu's pyramid (the tallest pyramid in the world at 441 feet) is the only remaining wonder of the seven ancient wonders of the world. (Ironically, the king who has the largest tomb in history, also has the smallest statue. The only remaining figure of Khufu is three inches tall!)
It was through the wispy curls of sand, squinting in the Sahara Desert, that we first saw the 4700 year old incredible stone structures. Amongst the calming sensations of the vacuous desert, the great pyramids seemed like a hallucination. Closer, when we saw the masses of air-conditioned buses, the pyramids seemed more like a Hollywood back-drop.
Then we saw the Sphinx, the colossal stone monument protecting the pyramids: a man's face, a lion's body and the head-dress of a Pharaoh. The wisdom of a man, the strength of a lion, and the leadership of a king. Even in the miserable heat of the day, seeing it gave me chills.
Kristi, Carter, Renee and I rode up to the pyramids on camels. (Renee is a school teacher from Virginia who has come to join us for a month of travel. Her two most amazing traits are that she always smiles and her lipstick never comes off.)
I imagined that the weepy-eyes camels would trudge through the sand with sluggish and dreary steps. But did you know that camels can run? They began with a slacken and languid trot, but progressed into a galloping fury. Just when I was certain that we would be the victims of a tragic camel crash, a pain shot through my body. It only takes a few rapid bounces to wedge your undies in that not-so-comfy spot. In other words, camel ride equals camel toe.
Stay tuned as we attend an Egyptian wedding on a cruise down the Nile.Cherie
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