Walk Like An Egyptian

My time in the Middle East has come to an end. At least for now. Egypt was my last stop before what I thought was a much needed break from constant travel. I haven’t even been back in America for a week and I’m already itching to leave. After spending a couple months in the Arab world, I figured I’d really crave these creature comforts of home. I imagined myself landing safely in the good old US of A and feeling a sense of relief and relaxation flood over me. But it’s jus the opposite. I feel sort of sad and anxious. I’m realizing now that coming home for a visit directly from Egypt was a mistake. It’s just too much of a culture shock.

Even though I have only spent a few months in the arab world, I learned very early on that you either get on board and blend in, or don’t. You have to adopt a lot of the culture and traditions as your own if you want to fit in with the locals, and not even the actual arabs, I mean the expats too. You can basically be yourself in almost every other part of the world. Let your freak flag fly and be true to your authentic self. You can’t do that in the Middle East. I think that’s why it has such a lasting impression on most travelers who have spent a lot of time there. It really gets under your skin, for better or worse, it becomes a part of you.

Egypt was a lot different than the other arab countries I’ve visited. The driving is something I had to see for myself to believe. There are just no rules. Stop signs, speed limits, lanes and even headlights are only suggestions in Cairo. Yet, somehow, I didn’t see even one car accident the entire time I was there. Everyone just kind of goes with the flow of the chaos. There’s no time for second guessing anything. If you want to get anywhere… you have to be aggressive. Violence, aggression, and testosterone seem to rule in Cairo. Like many arab men, Egyptians see Western women as easy. They expect you to invite them into your bed and when you don’t, they can get pretty grabby.

Walking down the street alone is not advisable. Men find excuses to bump into you and touch you in any way that they can. I was in a taxi with the windows down and while we were stopped, a guy who looked maybe 20 years old reached in the window and grabbed my chest. I swatted his hand away and the taxi took off. Another driver’s advice to me later was to “sit in the middle.” The local women simply don’t put out and thanks to every western movie and television show, these young men grow up thinking this kind of behavior is acceptable, but only with tourists. Because if they tried copping a feel with an arab women, her father and brothers and cousins would kill him.

Other parts of Egypt are much more tourist friendly, you could easily go to one of the beach resorts and walk around in a bikini and no one would bother you, but in Cairo, it’s a different story. I learned the hard way that sometimes you just need to suck it up and pay for nicer (safer) accommodations to put your mind at ease. I hate it when I have to make adjustments to my trip solely because I’m a woman traveling alone, but contrary to popular belief I won’t actually put my safety at risk just to try to prove that I’m tough enough to handle the riff raff.

Overall, Cairo is an amazing city, made up of very rich and very poor people. For instance, some of the nightclubs charge more for entrance and drinks than the fanciest places in Los Angeles. But head out to the Pyramids and you’ll see some seriously heartbreaking poverty. Three and four year old kids riding horses and donkeys by themselves, trying to sell tours. Five year old valets ask for change to watch your car, even though you park it yourself in a public place, you know if you don’t tip the kid, something bad is going to happen either the kid, or your car, or probably both. Toddlers are walking the streets barefoot, covered in sand and dirt trying to sell kleenex while horses fight with dogs over scraps in the dumpsters.

I’m finding it very hard to wind down from the fight or flight mentality I had adopted these last couple of months in Jordan, Lebanon and Egypt. Compared to the poverty and women’s right issues I’ve mentioned here, we have it pretty good in America, but still… when I told people I was coming back to the states they told me to be careful, because based on what they were seeing on television, America isn’t safe. Talk about embarrassing.

The end of this month marks one year since I set out on this journey so I’m going to give myself some time to adjust to being back before I write my year in review. But before I get flooded with emails and comments asking if I’m “done.” Let me just say now that I already have my next five countries planned out for this summer, with many more on the list before this trip comes to an end for me. Remember to subscribe if you want to follow the rest of my journey!

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