I arrived in Egypt yesterday afternoon. I thought that since the longest leg of the flight (8 hours) into Frankfort was overnight, I would sleep well and be somewhat rested when I got here. But between the time difference and my time of departure, I was only getting sleepy when we were about to arrive there. So no sleep on that flight. I didn’t get any on the flight into Cairo, either.
One of the characteristic things about Egypt is that it is extremely unpredictable. I was reminded of this as soon as I arrived. When I came here in November, I was told to pay in Egyptian Pounds when I requested my entry visa. Of course I didn’t have any EP on me, so I was directed to an ATM machine that dispensed in the local currency. I thought I was smarter this time, and went to the ATM first to get the EP before getting in line for the visa. HOWEVER, when I got there, I was told they do not accept Egyptian Pounds, only US dollars or Euros. The ATM only dispenesed EP, and I had no American cash on me. I went to two different windows and was rejected like this, so I got stern with them and told them this is what I had and asked who I needed to speak with to get my visas. They took me to a third window who was willing to take the currency I had, but nicely added about a $30 EP surcharge (without telling me, of course- I saw this when they gave back the wrong amount of change) to reimburse themselves for going to the trouble. This sort of thing is really not unheard of here- and rather than risk my ability to get through immigration I just took what they gave me with my visas and headed out.
Egypt is truly whimsical. Following standards is not a priority, and you can never know how things will go. When I got to customs I was expecting to have my suitcases searched and answer questions as to what I was bringing with me. Instead, I was passed right through the checkpoint without even being requested to present my passport as everyone else was.
Fortunately, getting out of the airport only took me about 45 minutes this time. Last time it was about 2 hours. I had to find my host outside, as they were not letting anyone in to the lobby to meet arriving travelers. Even though I was ridiculously tired, and it was about 80 degrees out, the day was hardly over. I was taken directly from the airport to a nearby mall. The malls here are much larger than the ones we have in Atlanta. We are talking FIVE levels of shops. There are many similar vendors as what we see in American malls- particularly in the food court. And yes, I took advantage of the opportunity to get a halal Hardee’s burger there! But one thing I wasn’t expecting was a security checkpoint (like the kind you have entering a government building- scanner and baggage check) upon entry into the mall. I was told that the reason for this is because malls are sometimes targets for terrorists attacks (on the infrequent occassions they happen). The irony to me in this is that while Americans are so afraid of what happens in Muslim countries like Egypt, thinking it is overrun with extremists and terrorists, they are just as concerned about it and actually going to greater measures to secure themselves against it than we do (at least when it comes to shopping at a mall lol)!
When we left the mall, I saw a group of about 10 men walking past. Four of them were military police, and I was told that the rest were probably troublemakers and they were probably being taken for questioning. What was interesting about all this was that they were all walking like a group of friends- one officer even put his arm around one of the other guys in an affectionate way. There was no sense of anyone being in trouble, nor any unnecessary show of authority by the officers- in fact the opposite! It’s always amazing to me when I see incidents that totally contradict the American stereotype of Egyptians or Muslim nations in general.
I fell asleep immediately in the car ride back to Banha. That was despite rough roads, blaring horns and frequent sudden stops because of traffic. Driving in Egypt is a story in itself, and in shaa Allah I will go into more details about it tomorrow. I will also have to write a separate blog about the apartment I am staying in- it’s phenomenal! I think I spent the entire evening after we got back in last night checking it out, then finally going to bed early around 9:30 PM local time.
Since the apartment still needs a better internet connection, I am writing right now from the cafe I spent a lot of time at in November when I first came to meet and visit with Ahmad, the man I will be marrying here in Egypt before I return to the US. One of my favorite things about coming to Egypt is just this- sitting in a cafe enjoying some tea and the social atmosphere. Indeed it is a daily ritual here for most everyone, and something I miss a lot when I’m back in the US.
The plans for the rest of the day are to go grocery shopping and fix up the apartment in a way I like a little bit in shaa Allah. Tomorrow I will include a lot of pictures in the blog post!