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We had spent at least eight hours in a worn looking ferry, crossing from Aqaba in Jordan, to Nuweiba in Egypt. We still had a long bus journey ahead of us across the Sinai peninsula to Cairo, Egypt.
My mother and I were travelling to visit Egyptian friends of hers that she had known since the 1980’s. Back in the day, while my parents were away travelling, they had rented their house. Mohammed was studying for his PhD in the UK with his wife and two young children. He and his family had had difficulty finding a place to rent. Due to their Egyptian nationality, people had refused them as tenants. My parents knew a lot of foreign students faced discrimination and difficulty finding accommodation, so they used the University to find tenants, specifying they wanted foreign students to live in their house.
The most powerful memory of our trip to Cairo was the humbling hospitality we received from my mother's friends. They did not allow us to put our hand in our pocket once, not once, for the whole time. They were kind, gracious and generous.UM
Mohammed and his family were very relieved when they were introduced to my parents and finally able to find a place to stay. They became friends after meeting this way, and they kept in touch for a number of years. Over time, because it was before the dawn of the internet, they inevitably lost contact. My mother had recently managed to find their son through the internet and, through their son, found them.
After many years my mother would be reunited with her old friends.
In Nuweiba we boarded the bus to Cairo. The bus took us on a journey through dusty, worn, sandy landscapes, through tired looking small towns, through police checkpoints where people were removed from the bus, past abandoned beach camps with battered parasols flapping in the wind. Finally we reached the outskirts of Cairo.
The city is big, chaotic, heaving, dirty, encompassed in a thick smog, yet the heart of the city pounds with the thrill of a vibrant energy.
Mohammed met us from the bus and ushered us to his car. We drove through the city and I watched the places pass by. The shops and souks were open even though it was late, people bustling here and there, a glimpse of the Nile, young people meeting on a bridge, then we arrived at the apartment of our hosts.
Once inside we were given tea and a simple but tasty meal of bread, olives, olive oil, cheese, yoghurt and salad. After a long chat, time to look through old pictures of them with my parents back in the 1980’s, time for my mother to catch up with her friends, we retired to bed.
Over the next couple of days we were treated to a wonderful tour of Cairo city. We visited the art museum close to Cairo University, embarked up Cairo Tower for beautiful views across the city, we visited the Mohammad Ali Mosque with its towering minarets and breath-taking architecture, the sturdy Mosque-Madrassa of Sultan Hassan. One evening we enjoyed a tasty meal in view of the glittering Nile, we visited our friends’ beautiful garden outside the city with a small rustic cottage they had designed themselves, and lastly, of course we visited the pyramids of Giza.
The pyramids… well find me someone in the world who hasn’t heard of the pyramids. For me, I suppose I felt a little blasé about them, one has seen so many images, studied them at school, seen them in documentaries on the television. I felt one ought to see them in reality, but somehow I couldn’t feel that excited about it. I get excited about unusual places, places no one has heard of, the natural environment, the little details of a place that others might not have noticed, watching people going about their daily lives, but “oh” there they were in might, in giant stone. I hadn’t realised how big they are. I knew but I didn’t “know.” The photos never convey the sense of scale very well. I hadn’t realised how huge the stones are that they are built from, how perfectly they fit together. All this despite the fact that they were made so many years ago, before the age of the machine. I have to admit, even cynical me was somewhat blown away. I was struck by how quiet the site was and that we were not hassled at all. Then there was the desert, stretching away from the city and the pyramids, I hadn’t realised its proximity. You could just keep going and going with nothing but sand dunes ahead of you, the pyramids and the city behind you. The atmosphere of the place really has to be experienced, and now I would say the pyramids of Giza are not a place you ought to visit as some kind of traveller’s duty, rather a place you must visit to experience a sense of wonder in mankind and the mysteries of the past.
The weekend came to an end and it was time to move on, time to continue with our travels. The inevitable bittersweet goodbye, thank you and Insha’Allah we will see you again.
The most powerful memory of our trip to Cairo was the humbling hospitality we received from my mother’s friends. They did not allow us to put our hand in our pocket once, not once, for the whole time. They were kind, gracious and generous. I would like to thank them for their lesson in hospitality, and for giving me the opportunity to gaze up in wonder at the towering pyramids of Giza.
For more, please read Living in Wadi Rum, Jordan.