You’d think that in the middle of political turmoil within the Middle East and Africa, I’d avoid going to Egypt on vacation… But c’mon, it’s me, you should know better by now.
So just like that, after college graduation, I went on a spontaneous month long vacay with my three best girlfriends. Don’t ask me how, but I managed to find three equally exotic women to be best friends with; Spoz, my Afghan princess, Diana, my lighter Brazilian half, and Omnia, my Egyptian twin. The plan was to backpack Europe until making it down to Rome, and eventually fly into Cairo where Omnia’s family would take us in for 11 Egyptian nights and the last leg of our trip.
I’m going to be completely blunt right now, (judgement free zone ya’ll), I had absolutely no idea what was going on in Egypt before I arrived other than the basic danger alerts I’d heard on the news. I did know that every time I told someone I’d be going to Egypt, they looked at me like I had a huge booger on my face, a look of both horror and extreme surprise. “You sure you want to do that?” I’d hit em’ with a sharp “I will survive” look and became determined to find out first-hand if the dirty looks were necessary. Turns out, they weren’t.
I’m pleased to report that I did survive the trip… in fact, I came back the same way I do from almost every trip, profoundly touched by fully drowning myself in things that had been completely unknown to me before getting on my flight.
1) The most beautiful beaches I’ve ever seen are actually in Egypt
I’m Brazilian, so this first jaw-dropping reality about Egypt really stands out. When I marveled at the intensity of this aqua blue, I was in disbelief. How do colors like that even exist in nature?! The first picture was taken in Agiba, which translates to ‘miracle,’ and is a three hour drive from the largest port city in Egypt, Alexandria. What’s funny is that you’d think you’re on an exotic island, but right behind the perfection is a desert and basically no green. Who woulda thunk it?
Mersa Matru beach
You see how my home girl was mean-mugging me in the picture? I felt like I was either going to get arrested, or land a spot on the cover of Playboy Egypt for wearing a one-piece that showed my thighs and slight cleavage on the beach. Ladies, save your topless tanning for the South of France, Egypt ain’t the place for skin. The reality is that it’s a very conservative country due to their religious and historical roots. As the Brazilian who usually only wears a tiny bikini that barely covers anything, I have to admit I experienced extreme culture shock when seeing a beach filled with umbrellas, no tanning, and women in wet suits. I respect Egyptian women for being so committed to their religion, but honey child, my cheeks were not ready to be covered up.
Toilet in Alexandria
First thing that happened after arriving from a four hour plane ride was an embarrassing situation in the airport bathroom. I do my thang, and as I try to flush, nothing happens. Side note, most countries have different flushing systems and this was definitely the case. There was a button on the wall that seemed like the obvious flush, but it just wasn’t doing the trick. In travel-panic mode, I looked around for another solution and found a silver knob by the toilet that surely had to be the right flush. I turned the knob to the left and BAM before you know it, my stomach and legs were getting power-washed by “El shataf” (sounds like shitoff which makes so much sense) or internal bidet that Egyptians use to clean their junk instead of toilet paper. Yes, this one was a game changer. No toilet paper. It became my mission from that moment on to understand how the process of cleaning the goodies actually happens. This is what I got – you have to position your butt on the toilet so that the jet hits the right holes, after you’re done power-washing, you dry yourself with your own personal towel, and that’s the end of the explanation I was given. So many questions still linger; where do you keep your towel? What if you have guests stay over? Is there a travel towel situation? Isn’t that kind of gross? Let me know if you ever find out.
4) Food on food on food
Kofta and fajitas
Koshari, national dish of Egypt consisting of Rice, Lentils and Macaroni with Spicy Tomato Chile Sauce
If you’re staying in an Egyptian home, wear your stretchies cause the feedings get intense. Before my plate was even remotely empty, another spoon full of food was coming my way.
5) Donkey carriages are equivalent to yellow cabs
Donkey carriage in Alexandria
A family of up to six opts for donkey carriages as transportation because it’s cheap and surprisingly fast. Omnia’s family wanted us to have to real Egyptian experience so despite feeling morally awful about squishing this poor animal, we were put in carriages and donkey raced in the middle of the street. Yes, donkey racing is a thing.
6) The heat of Cairo is unlike any other
Spoz, me, Diana stuck in Cairo traffic
I was wearing a strapless bra on the day we visited the pyramids, and I have scars on my back from how hot the sun was. The traffic in Cairo is terrible, like really, why are there no traffic lights or stop signs? It wouldn’t be so bad if you were in an air-conditioned car, but odds are that it’s 110º and your AC will stop working after the first five minutes of your trip because the air is just that hot to cool off. Be prepared to lose all of your water weight.
7) Egyptians don’t sleep
Night Bazaar in Cairo
When I arrived, it was about midnight, and there were five year-old children running around on the sidewalks of Alexandria. I thought that was startling at first, but maybe it was a weekend thing? No, after a while I started noticing that staying up until 7AM is actually normal for Egyptians. The days are so hot that night is when people really come alive. Which means it’s totally fine to go shopping at spice bazaars at 1AM, to sip Turkish coffee at 4AM, and to head home at 6AM to finally sleep. New York City has nothin’ on Egypt with their “city that never sleeps” shenanigans.
8) Hookah is actually called Shisha
Smoking shisha in Alexandria
Here I was, thinking I spoke a little arabic before arriving because of my “hookah” experience. Little did I know that hookah isn’t even a word that’s used in Egypt, shisha is the real deal. Also, outdoor cafés are engrained in the everyday culture. You see people lounging in the iron chairs sippin’ their little Turkish coffee, which blows espresso out of the water, while smoking their personal shisha.
9) No traffic lights, cross walks, or stop signs. Basically, just run
Traffic in Cairo
Omnia’s dad said I could officially consider myself Egyptian when I was able to run across the street in the middle of traffic and not get hit. It was the closest I’ve ever been to death. A car skimmed my ankle and didn’t even stop. That’s right, I’m an Egyptian bada$$ who can cross the street by herself.
10) The strength of the Egyptian people is unparalleled
Omnia’s Egyptian family, aka my family
I not only had the pleasure of meeting these resilient people that have suffered through two revolutions in the last three years, but I had the honor of living amongst them and hearing their stories of how life was completely reshaped. Despite the corruption, the fear, and the pain of living in silence, they managed to preserve their passion for life and their vibrance has not diminished in any way within the home.
Spoz, Omnia, Diana, and me on our connecting flight to Saudi Arabia