There are few places on earth where I feel like I have slipped into a mythical time period, and Egypt is one. The ancient Egyptians were geniuses, creating some of the greatest marvels of the world. During my visits, the historical sites were never-ending and always impressive, but what intrigued me most were the people. Incredibly insightful, and very willing to discuss life, politics and cultural issues over tea. The openness of the people was surprising, and enjoyed talking with them more than I enjoyed the tourist sites (don’t get me wrong, the sites are truly incredible achievements). Over tea, we could delve into these discussions of politics, history and philosophy, all of which added to the flavor of country and its culture. The one consistent trait that seeped into every conversation I had with my Egyptian friends, was their great pride in their country and their astute eye to Egypt’s problems. The pride is deservedly so with their rich history, and the criticism mirroring their frustration in seeing their country fall from once a great empire to one rife with political struggles and a growing lack of opportunities for their population. True patriots.
Cairo still fosters great philosophers and ideas, but outside the large city the educational infrastructure is in tatters. An educational system in tatters does not bode well for the future, and Egyptians understand this yet are paralyzed with the current changes within their country. Egypt is a country rich in tradition, from the Bedouin to the arts and sciences, and more than one Egyptian believed that it is this same rich history that has the power to pull the country apart at the seams.
“What is our next step as a country?” was the frequent question, and then as if to acknowledge the futility of an easy answer, they would ask my thoughts about the last historical site we visited. While I did enjoy the smaller villages and great historical sites with Karnak and the Nile Valley perhaps being the highlight of the trip for me, nothing came close to the relationships (however short they were) developed with the people, our guides and security team that accompanied us. Cairo has always fascinated me, and will always remain a city where I would like to spend more time even though I doubt that could ever be possible. When mentioning to my Cairo friends that we were going to the Sinai Peninsula, they immediately told me to take time for an early morning hike up Mount Horeb, (also known as Mt. Sinai). The hike is about 7,500ft. change in elevation, and roughly a 2.5 hour climb starting at around 3:30am to ensure arrival at the summit prior to the sunrise. One friend, Ain, stressed that at sunrise we would be able to feel the history of a great Egypt and with the morning energy it would then be possible to successfully head into the future and one day return the promise to return to Egypt in glory.
The words were prophetic, as we made it to the summit prior to dawn, ate a small and simple breakfast and as a few more hikers arrived, together we witnessed a beautiful sunrise. Among strangers, we all shared that great moment and I wondered just when I would make my return in glory to this great land of Egypt…
As the hikers began to leave, I started prepping for the trek down when one of our guides and a security agent told us (3 other Americans in the group) that we could stay awhile, and they would prepare a smoke on the hookah so we could enjoy the serenity and talk for a while before heading back down. I realized why I have enjoyed travel: rooted in most cultures is a desire to learn. Sitting down to share ideas, be it over tea, coffee or a smoke. Ideas that may be contradictory to the other, but nonetheless concepts that are shared. Looking around at the peaceful surrounding, I thought it pretty cool to have the top of the mountain secluded for another great learning experience.
The current strife and chaos within the Egyptian political system is very disheartening, especially as many Egyptians understand the country needs to be engaged with the west and the US. While I have yet to make it back to Egypt, there is much to share, learn and grow between us. More conversations over tea, coffee and smokes are needed to bring greater understanding and peace. Wish my Egyptian friends the very best.