The past few weeks in Cairo, residents have seen unimaginable turmoil and danger as a result of mass protests against the Egyptian government and Hosni Mubarak’s 30-year tight reign over the country.
We left Cairo for Dakar two years ago this May after living in Egypt for three years. Our departure was quite hectic as I was 6 months pregnant with Remi-Roo and Sacha had just returned from working in Iraq for a year.
Regardless of this, I loved my time in Cairo and living there will always remain one of the greatest adventures of my life.
I visited Egypt for the first time when I was eight years old with my family. My Mum’s cousin Martin lived in the city of Alexandria, three hours northwest of Cairo where he wrote and produced texts books for Egyptian schools. Experiencing Cairo for the first time was a bit like being in an ant farm at that very moment when something disrupts the procession of ants-utter chaos, complete disorder and thousands and thousands of people jostling in front, behind, and beside you. However, as much as this might seem scary, I was more fascinated by it all than worried.
Years later as a young, married mother of a toddler, we moved to Cairo where my husband Sacha worked for US AID. Sacha and I were accustomed to living in Africa. We met as Peace Corps volunteers in Cameroon, Central Africa in the late 90’s. Cairo is in a category all of it’s own, though. A city of almost 20 million people, it is bursting at the seams with bustle and frenzy.
I was particularly fond of the old market, the Khan El Khalili, which dates back to 1382. Parts of the original market are still there, from the café and shisha bar Fishawi’s (who’s claim to fame was never once closing its door in all of its existence) as well as stunning walls and gates that make way to thousands of crowded stalls and vendors selling their ware. The market was dusty, dirty, crowded, and frantic, but I loved it and thoroughly enjoyed puttering about with friends. The smells of spices, the loud banter of folks bargaining, the entrancing sounds of Arab music lingered through the air. I was hooked on my first visit.
We also got to know the Great Pyramids of Giza over the course of the three years that we lived in Cairo. Mia rode the camels around the pyramids so many times that she had names for the camels! The pyramids still were mystifying even after all those visits. I remember going to see them as a child when you were still allowed to climb all over the gargantuan boulders. Not allowed anymore, but still amazing. My father, my sister, and I went into the Great Pyramid on our first trip to Egypt and I still recall vividly having to crawl along at one point to get to the middle. Not for the claustrophobic tourist! When we lived in Cairo, we eventually got to know the best views of the pyramids, the places where there we no tourists and you could take photos of those amazing structures without anyone else in them.
So many wonderful memories of a beautiful, yet troubled country. Visiting the ancient temples of Luxor and Abu Simbel, cruising down the incredible Nile River, finding peace in the stunning desert oasis of Siwa after our dear friend John’s death in the Sudan, discovering the amazing city of Alexandria, floating around in the divine waters of the Red Sea, puttering around the incredible Egyptian museum, performing with my inspiring
belly dancing troop, the list goes on and on.
In the end, I had a group of girlfriends whom I met in Cairo that kept me sane through the crazy moments and supported me through the difficult times. And of course, my friends and family all over the globe. This was the start of Facebook and there was a rush of feeling connected to old friends. I am still grateful, for all its distractions, to social networking as a result!
I am also still hopeful, in the end, for Egypt and its future. So many people, young and old, pulling together as a force to change things, hopefully for the better.