I don't remember when fear and I stopped talking. But it was around this time I realized that I didn't miss our conversations.
With the exception of a few close friends, most people I told about an impending trip to Egypt were shocked. They were even more surprised to learn that I wanted to stay, for an extended amount of time. But when they asked why, I had no answer. I could only explain that I was NOT going to Egypt just so I could snap a few pictures with pyramids, gawk at local cuisines or follow the well worn trails of tourists circulating through the country like a passing gust of wind.
And if I couldn’t give a good reason to random people, I most assuredly couldn’t explain to my parents why I decided to fly around the world, landing in a country whose language I couldn’t speak. At the time, all I knew was that I felt trapped in the States; my dream job had bombed out. Debt collectors were calling, still expecting timely payments. All this, on top of the prospect of potentially having to move back with my parents created an errant sense of claustrophobic dread. I just knew I wanted to say sayonara to the states for a year or more. I needed to see outside of the system.
All I knew was that I wasn't going to Egypt to see the pyramids.
I was extremely apprehensive to tell my parents about my plans, for fear they’d attempt to stop me in some way. When I finally managed to get the cat off my tongue, they practically treated me like I was joining ISIS or something. They questioned my love of country, wondering where they went wrong in raising me. This furthered my vague reasons for leaving. After they bombarded me with vaguely racist falsehoods about how "over there they chop off hands," I dropped my own truth bomb, telling them I’d already booked my ticket. I didn’t give a shit about how they felt.
I didn’t dare tell my parents that for 2-ish years I’d been chatting with an Egyptian woman I met through Facebook, who, at the time, was in what felt like a permanent existential crisis. Over that time, our late night 7 hour time zone convos became sapiosexual romps. Our mutual love of Adyashanti’s blunt force satsangs & Lynch’s abstract, dream napkin storytelling nourished our needs of philisophical thought. I thought she could be my guide, and maybe there was a chance I could be her guy.
All I knew for sure was that I wasn't flying to Egypt to see the pyramids.
Regardless of what my parents thought, I knew I couldn’t stay. Sure, the woman from Facebook was nervous, but she understood my need to see more. She felt it too. She didn’t see herself staying in Egypt. But still, she did wonder what kind of person would jump across an ocean just to meet her. Honestly, I didn’t know either. But we’d also bonded about our shared, slight paranoid claustrophobia of being trapped in one place. It reminded me of my senior year of high school, when I applied to only one in-state college due to a serious case of wanderlust. Somewhere in my mind, a little voice kept insisting I needed to peace out ASAP, otherwise opportunities to vamoose from the little conservative town I grew up in would be few and far. Later, but before my job imploded, I had read articles about regrets of the soon to be dead, how many wished they’d stay true to themselves instead. I didn’t want to do the whole Cat’s in the Cradle dance of procrastination, waiting until retirement, hoping no hospital visit or expensive medication torpedoes my world travel savings. And based on my family’s genes, the prognosis for that NOT happening was slim, fast approaching the exit.
All I knew for sure was that I wasn't going to Egypt to see the pyramids.
Truth be told, I didn't even know how I was going to make any dinero. I only started thinking about it a week before my plane took flight when a sister art goddess friend suggested I could mistami inglizi (teach English). The woman I wanted to see agreed that was smart, and agreed to start on my job search.
I went to have my mind broke open wide. Once I arrived, I didn't care about being over there where people stared at me for my exceptionally white skin. Felt like I was in Atlanta all over again, just more molten. It’s more strange to be seen as rich since that's how white Americans are perceived. To them, white automatically meant wealth. The woman explained the unwritten rules of the dusty, littered roads; how a bloke like me was totally preferentially treated unusually passively by police while people born in the country didn't often see the same proclivity.
When I arrived in the sweltering heat of summer 2013, tensions between the people and their newly elected brotherhood leader were barbed wire razor sharp. There were whispers of another revolution, #2, but the music was still building to a crescendo. Walls and streets were filled with graffiti seeking to empower the people.
I ended up staying on the couch of a homosexual Arabic man who taught French. He was her former French mentor. His place was a haven for couch surfers riding waves of eleutheromania. Thanks to him, I met more people from many other far flung parts of the world, more than even metropolitan New York; a city dwarfed by Cairo in size and citizens. At least in NYC, a lot of trash is scooped up by garbage trucks. In Cairo, it felt like dogs, cats and trash were cage free. Some alleys were packed to capacity with nothing but trash. The Nile looked like Hudson River’s doppelganger. How mighty Egypt had fallen it seemed, from undisputed heavyweight king to a kinda tragic nostalgia act like Elvis Presley cashing in on past glory days. Soon, I started imaging Egypt embodied not as the Rocky Balboa movie, but by Micky Rourke’s character in The Wrestler. It didn’t matter though.
I was here to see and experience everything, that is except for the pyramids.
One particular experience reminded me of humanity's love. It was when the woman, her ex-b/f and her former teach all surprised me with a secret birthday bash. I nearly wept with humility as these strangers did this for me. All three would show me different scenes in this ancient city. She would take me to upscale eateries and also show me the hookah smoking spots. He always knew the places and faces of the next party since a lot of his friends were in theater, and models. Her ex was a reminder that depression didn't discriminate. In the past he tried to die by pills or blades. His situation made me contemplate my relationship to a former best friend from college. I didn't know how to connect with her ex.
All I knew for sure was that I wasn't in Egypt to see the pyramids.
There, I learned to trust my heart. But, more importantly, I learned to barter, the heart of Arabian communication. In The States, prices are often final, no take backs. Over there, prices were more of a suggestion, especially when dealing with street vendors and taxi drivers. I learned to never catch a ride in a black taxi, whose meters were often damaged, but the driver "knew" the price, which just so happened to be more if one was white. Regardless, people liked speaking to me, as it gave them a chance to practice their English. Though, sometimes my heart distinguished ulterior motives, like that time some guy kept insisting he'd walk me back to my place even though I knew the way. If I let him walk back with me, I'd probably have gotten big time jacked.
I wanted to have my mind broke open wide, but not like that. So did the youth and expats. Like me, there were those that wanted to explore the world. I met many expats from all around the world who sang the same song they heard; urging them to journey to this ancient place. Their hearts were big, they wanted to help. Despite the light from the burning sun, some felt compelled to come because they could throw some shade around. This ancient town was one of the last wild west frontiers in the middle of the east, breeding a certain type of scum and even a little villainy. Yet, I didn't worry.
Neither did she, whom I partially came to see. She was in the beginning stages of letting her hair down, literally. It was a big deal to abandon the hijab, even in liberal Egypt. I think that’s why she appreciated my wild optimism, since I wasn’t one to judge her choices of dying her hair red. She was flabbergasted to hear all the reasons why I decided to visit Egypt, none of which had to do with seeing the Pyramids.
But I also think I scared her. She couldn't quite fathom why some random white guy would fly to the other side of the world to meet her. Truthfully, I told her it didn't matter if it was me or someone else. I just wanted to show her the possibilities. I wanted to inspire her to let her wildfire dance free. Alas, I suppose we both weren't ready for that.
She helped me finally find a place of my own to stay, an apartment with two female roommates. One was taken; a sarcastic, tattooed Swedish woman who had a penchant for hosting Ecstasy parties and was experienced in bartering everything. Her boyfriend, an apathetic Egyptian nihilist was in a heavy metal band. Then there was the French one, a curious contemplative sort fascinated by the clay makers of Fostat. I appreciated the two because, unlike others, they didn’t find it odd that I was a wanderer just as long as I got them the rent on time. Granted, I conveniently forgot to mention that I was still in the process of looking for a job. Not that it mattered, as I was hired by a private school place a few days later.
When they asked why an American guy like me would want to stay in their Giza apartment, I just told them I wasn't here to see the Pyramids.
Thanks to them, I would make friends with Egyptian citizens and others from further in the middle of the east. All these people treated me like a friend of their extended family. Even this one guy I'd see on my walk to work every burning morning. He couldn't speak English, yet we'd still exchange our pleasantries with some waves and an occasional "yom saed." I got to see the people hustling and bustling, trying to make enough to eat while they contemplated changing their regime again.
Through never ending L&M cigs and plenty of swigs from bottles of Stella created a penchant for lots of philosophical discussion. Sometimes on the roof of our apartment when it wasn't too hot, but usually inside, with our floor fans, and a little pot. I remember thinking, my God, if only my family could talk to these people like me, they'd see we were all searching for the same things; meaning of life and the freedom to speak that freedom. I see then, why many Egyptians gravitated to their TV's and watched The Program at 9pm, laughing with a surgeon turned satirical comedian due to media propaganda manipulating the message of the masses. After the first revolutionary clashes, Mr. Bassem Yousef would show the masses that their new leader might be a puppet, with highly conservative hands up the “president’s” ass.
When I wasn’t teaching English slang classes, I enjoyed exploring my neighborhood behind the Giza skyline. It was fascinating to see the cheap prices of fruit juices and cup soups, not to mention what Americanized foods had also jumped across the pond; mainly KFC, Little Caesars, McDonald’s and Domino’s. I didn’t know or even think I’d see these eateries baking in the Saharan heat. But I also didn’t expect to see the poverty and grunge of Egypt’s own Garbage City, a literal neighborhood of trash.
Somehow, with just enough cash and without much plan, here I was living in a foreign land, surrounded by many making barely enough. But, it didn’t matter to me. Nor, did it seem to dampen the spirits of the people.
I witnessed this positive spirit particularly in three days when venturing to the beaches of Dahab, a venerable melting pot of cultures that felt a lot like a seaside Camelot, and not (or so I’m told) like that manicured tourist-y spa vacay destination of Sharm El-Sheikh. In the span of these three days, I drank and smoked some Mary J with beach buskers, street hustlers and peaceful hippie types from all walks of life from all over the world. Sure, everyone had an angle, but when the night rang still with actual stars we could see, unlike in the dusty streets and smoggy skies of Giza, we just seemed to want to dance.
It was prolly a bit of the Molly kicking in, but when one sees people from every continent kicking back, sippin' Jack and cokes cracking jokes while discussing stories of love, hope and wanderlust, it must be told that I found myself high in paradise! Watching the sunrise with both strangers and roommates, this was the way we all wanted to live.
But, like one of those festivals, at some point we had to split and get back to our city living. Once returned, I fell sick and could barely stand. Not the best idea to burn a candle at both ends. I knew I’d kick the flu in a day or two, but that didn’t stop some of my roommate’s charming friends from sharing a little peace; a potent hashish and green smoke combo. A moving gesture that still touches my heartstrings to this day.
But soon, a day after emerging from my room, the people of Egypt once again began to croon their songs of freedom. The Revolution #2 was now a reality.
This was, and may be be the only time I’ve seen so many come together to speak as one. The people had enough of their idiot, scandal plagued leader. In the following days, I was fortunate to see the power of the people. What I didn’t see was what my friends and family saw on TV, as the screens of every media channel from Fox to MSNBC made it seem as if Egypt was burning to the ground. I don’t deny people died, but I learned how the media can sometimes make things sound worse than they were, as it was understood to all that there were merely 3–4 neighborhoods we knew not to walk around. Trouble was, my place of employment neighbored one of those wavering areas.
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Unfortunately, as it turned out, my boss of was found to have taken Egyptian pounds from the soon to be ousted president, not to mention that cash was running out fast, not just for me but many as banks and other places had to shut their safes due to the economic instability. And since my employment was close to one of those restless boroughs, when an explosive was found next door I felt like that was the breaking point.
Simultaneously, my flame for the she who I came to see was extinguishing after several frustrating conversations. At the time, her modus operandi seemed to transform into a scornful nihilism. I tried to listen, but her depression just kept insisting nothing had any meaning. I think she felt the pressure of my presence, but the bitter taste of the pain that came out from her mouth made her sound as though she couldn’t see or feel any way out to see any light at the end of the cave. At the time, I suppose, that was something I just couldn’t hold in my brain.
Like the whole revolution, it was complicated to explain.
I wanted to stay. But, too many things were whispering for me to go back the way I came. I knew that myself or Egypt would never be the same after I left. I just wish the leaders of both the protests and government could have found a way to make both sides work. Instead, from what I read, the government an it’s newly new elected to lead, Prez Abdul Al-Sisi essentially banned protests from ever happening again.
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But still, my trip to Egypt is and will forever be something I can never forget. And in case anyone was wondering, yes, I did end up seeing the Pyramids.
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