Cairo is a complex travel destination. Our visit to one of the earliest cradles of civilization carries with it a dichotomy. Egypt, and Cairo specifically, can be beautiful and ugly, and in some cases can be both at the same time. This ancient land holds some of the earliest and greatest evidence of human civilization, monuments built in ancient times by long dead rulers amaze the viewer, but it seems squandered by it's modern inhabitants. A once great culture seems corrupted and undone by it's modern inhabitants. The art of the con, the grift, the swindle, the culture of corruption is rampant. Once these things have almost beaten you into submission, you start to believe that everyone in Cairo is out to rip you off, swindle a few pounds from your wallet. Then you encounter a kind, funny, caring, genuinely helpful egyptian who loves their country, their culture, and their food, and wants to share it with you.
Upon arrival it becomes apparent that you have indeed left the western world, and like a good traveler should, you set aside your bias and let the new and exciting culture envelop you. This proved to be very difficult and at times, scary; specifically for Berkley. The gender gap in Egypt, and most noticeably in islamic Cairo is massive. Women are subordinate to men and we were told that the culture of the burka is becoming more not less prevalent in Egyptian society.
Our trip to Al-Khalil Market left us with shocked and stunned, this market has been the location of pick pocking, robbery, kidnappings, and the occasional bombing. None of this was made aware to me until we were on our way back to the van. Vendors are packed in tight in these narrow alleys, selling everything from diapers and spices to rugs and appliances. After a fairly strange speech by our guide warning us about pickpockets and robbers, and after much coaxing, he reluctantly agreed to accompany us into the alleyways. Aggressive doesn't begin to describe the furor at which these vendors pitched their wares. After a brisk 40 minute walk through the stalls we returned to the place where we were dropped off. While waiting for the car, our guide looked nervous and told us nonchalantly that we were standing right where the bomb that killed the French girl was detonated. Then he told us to wait there, and that he was going to go find the car. His timing couldn't have been worse. Without event, we left the market safe and sound, but this experience made us even more cautious when dealing with the locals.
The sense of exclusion was made apparent the following evening when in a show of solidarity we wanted to break the fast in the evening with the locals. We walked in 90˚ heat for about 30 minuets to the Nile where they have a series of floating restaurants. We were turned away by four different restaurants, they told us, "no foreigners allowed", although we could see inside a huge amount of open tables, they still refused to seat us.
My feelings on Egypt are mixed, and if we had escaped the massive city of Cairo and ventured out into the country, it might have been different. The landscape, the pyramids fill you with awe, but we were met with suspicious glances, or sly smiles. Cairo truly is, a whole new world.