Egypt in Plain Sight

Photographs and Writing by Mehher Hasnany

 

My body was shivering uncontrollably under the three winter jackets piled on top of me. The thermometer read 102.6 degrees, but I felt ice cold. The distinct sound of a british accent announcing gate numbers began to fade as I fell back asleep.

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“Allahu Akbar Allahu Akbar.” The call to prayer woke me up and I found myself in a bed bathed in the afternoon sunlight. Directly outside was a mosque surrounded by mid-rise flat buildings, some more worn than others, and an orphanage. I crawled out of bed using all my energy to watch small children play an enthusiastic game of soccer. I was in El Maadi, but I couldn’t recall the trip that brought me here. The next few days would be just as much of a blur.

I spent most of my time in Cairo. I knew the desert would be dusty, but the city itself is too. Every time I rode in a car with windows down my ribs ached from coughing up dust. The driving is exactly how you see it in the movies, where there are no established lanes. Imagine four cars fitting in the equivalent of two lanes in the United States. Most cars didn’t have seat belts or indicators. Well maybe they had indicators, but everyone used honking and flashing their lights to signal they were encroaching another car’s space. Egyptians take jaywalking to a whole new level. There are no crosswalks, so people run in and out of the street whenever they see an opening in the road.

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The driving may be aggressive, but the people in Egypt are super friendly. You could roll down the window and ask anyone on the side of the road for directions and they would be more than willing to help. Although the language barrier made it difficult for me to get to know locals better, I cherished the few interactions with those who spoke some English. Our tour guide at the pyramids, Ahmed, spoke English with a heavy middle eastern accent. He named his camels Charlie Brown and Mickey Mouse, and told us to call him Bob Marley. After our hike up to a view where you can see all three of the Pyramids of Giza in a row, we rode camels down to the Great Sphinx. I have to admit, the Great Sphinx was pretty underwhelming after seeing the size of the pyramids. I still can’t wrap my head around the fact that people lifted those huge, heavy sand stones with their bare hands to create these structures that have lasted centuries. Six weeks later I can still find sand in my Converses and it blows my mind that I stood amongst one of the seven wonders of the world.

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The maze of shops at the famous Khan el-Khalili market were just as astonishing as the pyramids. The market was lively from the moment the vendors opened shop well into the night. My favorites were the shops with brightly color lamps that illuminated everything around them and the stray cats that wandered the market in search of food. From having breakfast on the Nile, drinking unreasonable amounts of fresh juices, to paying no more than two US dollars for Uber rides, Egypt truly felt like a dream.

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