“So Pharaoh said to Joseph, “I hereby put you in charge of the whole land of Egypt.” Then Pharaoh took his signet ring from his finger and put it on Joseph’s finger. He dressed him in robes of fine linen and put a gold chain around his neck.” — Genesis 41:41
There is something sinister about desert heat. The wind may be blowing, but it doesn’t offer any relief from the sun. It weighs down on you and beats you like it has something against you. Feeling that heat was a great introduction to the Egyptian people looking to make money from tourists, they just don’t let up and they really don’t care.
As soon as I left the airport, I was hounded by a taxi driver asking to drive me into Cairo. He had a hard time with “no,” he followed me up and down the outside of the airport terminal asking to let him drive me. I tried “no, thank you,” it didn’t work. I tried walking away, it didn’t work. I tried ignoring him, it didn’t work.
My last option was to become confrontational. I’m in a foreign country where I don’t speak the language and where they don’t especially like Americans, so confrontation didn’t feel wise. I stared at him directly in his eyes. I widened my base with my left foot slightly forward and put my weight on my back right foot. I was now fully prepared to bring a right hook across his jaw. “How many times do I have to fucking tell you NO! Get the FUCK outta of my face.” That worked.
Somehow Uber has made itself known all over the world. For all the controversy surrounding its representation in San Francisco, it felt good to know that there was a brand you can trust to get you where you needed to go, at the stated price and you’re shown the route along the way. You need a service like that in a place like Cairo.
I debated about coming here. Living in Nairobi the past few weeks I started to feel an itch to leave town. Being that I’m not into the nightlife scene and the city of Nairobi doesn’t have many cultural or food attractions, I began to feel like I was running out of things to see. I made contact with the US Embassy, which has been like a gold mine of contacts. They’ve started to connect me to people doing work in my areas of interest. The Embassy loved the story of Mission Bit and invited me to speak to a group of students they’re teaching how to code. However, being that I scheduled all these short trips, I unfortunately won’t have the time to do it.
I scheduled a weekend safari trip to Maasai Mara and my final full week here will be spent at Lamu Island on the Kenyan coast. It still didn’t feel like enough. I started to consider that it might be awhile before I come back to Africa. With that in mind, I figured I should see one more country before I fly back to the states. My top options were Accra, Ghana and Cairo, Egypt.
My rationale for each trip was different, but both were connected to legacy. It’s believed that most black Americans can trace their ancestry to the western region of Africa. There are still relics of the transatlantic slave trade in Ghana. Also, there has been a growing community of black expats that have moved to Accra, the country’s capital. On the other hand, many consider Egypt the birthplace of civilization. Its legacy is older than the Bible. In fact, it’s debated that Egypt’s methodological figures such as Horus were some of the inspiration behind the story of Christ.
Here were my options: a) reconnect to a legacy of bondage b) experience the place responsible for innovations that completely changed the world. Sunday night I booked a flight to Cairo that departed the following morning. I was at the airport at 5:30am for a 7:45am flight.
The streets of Cairo are a maze. The traffic is chaotic. We are in the period of Ramadan and the influence of Middle Eastern Islamic culture is pervasive. Men that are close friends walk down the street together locked in each other’s arms. There are also mostly men walking the streets, I don’t see as many women.
My first night in town my driver Omar explains to me that the hijab is a must for any good woman. “Me, personally, I look down on the woman that doesn’t wear it. Why? Because here we consider you not proper for marriage.” He goes on to share it’s not required and his sister doesn’t wear one.
These are the types of conversations I have during my three days and two nights in Cairo. A place filled with strong opinions and pushy salesmen. It wasn’t all aggressive. The day of my departure a young boy around nine or ten years old walked up next to me on the street speaking Arabic. I can tell his ancestry is Nubian. He greets me with “Salam,” I greet him back. He asks me if I’m from Sudan. I tell him no, he says asks where, I say America. His eyes get big, he smiles and walks away.
I flew to Cairo to see the pyramids at Giza. I got a cultural experience and education that has been a defining part of this trip. Cairo is not for the faint of heart — the chaos of the streets, the shady tactics of the tourist vendors or the weight of the sun may stress you out. But I’d do it again 10x to ride those camels to the base of those pyramids and touch that history. I don’t think I can look at the future the same way again. Some people may shrug their shoulders at it, but I have been forever changed.
Film Recommendation: Moonlight